Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Delightful Danes

Living in Berlin, I always knew I would make it to Copenhagen someday. Yet despite a general interest to visit, the prospect never seemed as exciting as planning trips to Croatia, Istanbul, or even Krakow. Maybe it's because it's so close: the flight from one capital to the other takes less than an hour meaning the ride from my apartment to the airport was literally longer than flight time. Or maybe Scandinavia just seems too similar to Germany culturally to feel at all exotic. Either way, it was a no-brainer in my travel to-dos, and my excitement soon kicked in upon arrival.

Excited about the discovery of a library-cafe for our first meal
I'm not usually one for stereotypes, but sometimes I make exceptions when they veer on the positive side. Really, I just want to share a few of my impressions of the Danes which will likely be over-generalized and premature given I only spent three days there and had close contact with all of one actual Dane. Not exactly the stuff of ethnographic studies, but enough to affirm some suspicions as well as shed some light on our friendly neighbor to the north. So I hope you'll indulge me just this once.

Copenhagen is every city. But better. It's a ludicrous statement that is highly linked to my very thematic-prone brain, but I'm going with it anyway. Multiple times a day while in Copenhagen I found myself reminded of other cities. One moment I'm jogging along the water and thinking of Amsterdam, and the next I'm peering up at a couple cafes overflowing with people-watchers assembled in rows of outer-facing chairs and picturing Paris. The language and orderliness kept reminding me of home (both of them), and the cosmopolitanism and water everywhere reminded me of Hamburg... and I haven't been to Hamburg yet! Copenhagen felt like a utopian port city: It has absorbed influences from around the world but the influence feels reciprocal and seamless, not forced. 

Danish is like German. No, English. No... Denglish. Kelly and I were in language heaven in Copenhagen. As soon as we got to the airport we were giggling and pointing out words, excited to find so many connections to our languages. In the airport we immediately spotted Ankomst for arrivals which is clearly related to "to arrive" in German, ankommen. Though the language certainly leaned more toward German, a lot of it reminded us of English, too. This makes sense given that English is a Germanic language (English native speakers: keep that in mind the next time you say German is an ugly language). Denmark, like the rest of Scandinavia, is known for their high English proficiency, so we were free to get by in our native tongue while learning a few words just for fun. The word we ended up using most often? Mange tak which means thank you. Mange: what do you see more? "Many" in English or Menge in German ("amount" or "plenty")? Tak: a shortened version of "thanks" or danke? Oh, the joys of language.  

Look! Language!
May as well be the German "Reichstaggarten"
The Danes are the perfect amount of confident. Their education system may not be as good as the Finnish one and they may get the short end of the stick when it comes to IKEA furniture names, but Denmark is still part of the elite club known as Scandinavia. A certain confidence comes with being a member of this region, but people are educated and open to other cultures and languages, coming off as much more modest than those from another country I know. They're a happy and healthy and secure bunch riding their bikes, earning their overtime salaries, and eating lots of omega 3s and whole grains. They struck me as very balanced, and I am a fan of balance.

Mmmmm herring
Denmark is struggling with their growing multiculturalism. Like many European countries, Denmark is still struggling to see itself as a country of immigration and multiculturalism. Kelly and I were enchanted with a neighborhood in the city called Nørrebro which is full of Arabs, Turks, and many other Middle Eastern and ethnic groups. Our (young) Danish friend of a friend slash tour guide was so surprised at how much time we ended up spending there that he said he would start to bring more future visitors to the neighborhood, not having realized it could be so interesting for tourists. Kelly and I were beyond interested: Nørrebro made both of us wish we could spend a summer in the city, and we began devising a plan for me to propose a Copenhagen project to my bosses and for Kelly to tag along as my devoted assistant. A dog factored into that plan somewhere, too. 

Nørrebro mutlilingual statue about coexisting... yes please!
The Danes are puuuurty. I wish I had a picture of the barista at that one coffeeshop. Or the waiter at that Nørrebro cocktail bar. Or the waiter at that Nørrebro restaurant. It's rare I ever find a guy on the street attractive, but in Copenhagen I was accosted by good looks multiple times a day. It didn't help that the men I saw were tall with chiseled features, many possessing that mysterious dark hair, light eye combo that makes me a bit weak in the knees. The girls were nice, too, I'm sure, but I was a bit distracted. Mange tak for the eye candy, Copenhagen.


Ute said...

Dear Sophia, your post made my heart full of that longing feeling to return to a well loved place. I find truth in your descriptions, and share your sentiments. Mehran and I had a fantastic visit in Copenhagen years ago. May I ask, did you visit Christiania as well?(One of my memorable visits when I was 16!) I think I will have to warn my Danish friend Karlina (in Odense), to make up the guest beds soon...

KelMel said...

that job proposal for the summer may be a pipe dream (design concept wasn't half bad, though) but who knows where the Scandinavian wind might take you...perhaps into the paws of a tiny lap dog sometime in the not so distant future ;)

Max said...

aw, very much enjoyed ready this soph! i spent a wonderful week in copenhagen and had many of the same impressions, though i got a lot of rain during my stay. excited to hear more in person soon!