Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Danish Lessons, The Beginning.

After a short time in the land of Vikings, Aqua, and smørrebrod, I have already learned some valuable Life Lessons. For those of you who are contemplating a visit to this small Scandinavian treasure of a land, I share.

1. If you are coming from the east coast of North America, be warned: it is a long, perilous journey through windy skies. The eight hours of non-stop, white-knuckle terror are somewhat eased with the aid of various modern technologies and alcohol. But if you are a member of the Secret Society of Frantic Flyers (which, to date, has its sole member in yours truly), you may want to look into boat travel. Or pioneer the whole walking-on-water thing.

2. Upon your arrival, I highly suggest you indulge in the lone Starbucks in Denmark. It is conveniently located in the Lufthavn terminal, and while its pastries section leaves much to be desired, its coffee is the good tonic of the homeland.

2a. Fear not, worshippers of the aforementioned St. Arbucks: Denmark offers a tasty alternative to the famed coffee chain, something called Baresso. With many convenient locations, light and fluffy pastries, and well-prepared "varm" and cold drinks, this will more than tide you over during your visit. Like everything in Copenhagen, a simple croissant and a latte may cost you an arm and both your legs, but at 9 in the morning, who needs more than one limb anyway?

3. Do not try to pronounce things as they appear. This is the least phonetically friendly language I have ever encountered. Though grammatically simple upon close examination, the words that exist on paper are wholly different than the sounds emerging from the mouth of a tall, striking Dane. Fortunately, most Danes speak perfect English, so when you mangle their language, they respond in your own native tongue with ease. This will inspire feelings of relief (at communicating successfully) and shame (at the fact that their English probably rivals your own, AND you are not even bilingual, unless Pig Latin is now an official language).

4. Do not--I repeat, do NOT--get in the way of the bikers. This is bike country, and they rule the roads. In America, we associate bikers with those Lance Armstrong jersey-clad middle-aged groups who impede our gas-guzzling ways on Saturday mornings. Not so here. In Copenhagen, the bikers have their own lanes, and their own stoplights. They respect the drivers (and vice versa) as well as the rules of the road. If you, as a pedestrian, do not do the same, expect a severe tongue-thrashing that you cannot understand...and yet, somehow do.

5. New Yorkers, prepare to obey the streetlights. Jaywalking is out of the question here. It doesn't matter if it's early on a Sunday morning, the Scandinavian sun is shining, the roads are empty, everything is not yet open and everyone is still in bed. You. Can. Not. Cross. Against. The. Light.

6. If you cannot bear the thought of joining Biker Nation, take comfort in the fact that the Danes have mastered the art of public transportation. Their brand-new Metro system runs on something curious called "Time." So does the extensive bus system, as well as the above-ground train line called the S-Tog. It's all very strange, and very lovely.

7. You will not eat bad food in Copenhagen. It does not matter if you're picking up Shawarma or dining at a Michelin-star Tivoli restaurant for dinner: It won't happen. You will eat tasty food at all meals. And in between meals.

7a. Speaking of in between meals, one of the most important Life Lessons I have learned is that everyone who pays a visit to Copenhagen should--nay, must--make their way to a magical land called Lagkagehuset. Located on a street corner in the neighborhood of Christianshavn, this pastry mecca is worth the wait, and the colorful kroner. Words cannot describe the aromas and flavors that emerge from this place, so suffice to say that although I do not know how to pronounce the bakery's name, each time I leave the place I am quite sure it translates roughly to: "Denmark's Gift to the Universe."

8. Danish currency strongly resembles Monopoly money. It is colorful, occasionally involves hearts, and seems fun to spend. So do not spend your time converting. It will make you sad, and just ruin the experience. Instead, take the Danish coins and string them on a necklace, or a keychain--since they have convenient holes in the middle, clearly for this purpose--and then, when all the coins are gone, you get to make new jewelry with more money.

9. It is perfectly normal for a jar of organic (read: not Jif) peanut butter to cost the equivalent of $12USD.

9a. It is also perfectly normal to encounter more mayonnaise than you ever thought existed, just about everywhere that sells food.

10. It probably goes without saying, but you must visit Tivoli. Rumored to be the inspiration for Disney Land, this small gardens/amusement park/performance venue/restaurant haven is something of a source of national pride for Denmark. And with good reason: For all its kitschiness, the place just works. Specifically, I highly recommend forking over the DKK for a ticket on the Star Flyer. It's the old carnival swing ride on crack, and if one rides at night, it's quite magical.

11. The Danish people are polite, funny, and somewhat reserved. But judging by the noises outside our rental apartment window, once you get a few beers in them they're boisterous as anyone. They love a good sing-a-long at 2am, but then again, who doesn't?

11a. Apparently the Danish language does not have a word for "please." This is ok. When you hear a Dane utter the syllable "Tak" do not be alarmed. It just means "thank you," and they use it often.

12. Denmark is home to ample quantities of very tasty beer. And I'm not even much of a beer drinker. So I urge you, visit a brewery or fifteen.

13. Shops close by 7 at the very latest (with the exception of restaurants, pubs, cafes, etc). Most Danish evenings are spent eating, drinking, and the like. Which, frankly, is fine by me--more time to sample the good Danish cuisine.

13a. Nothing except for coffee places and eateries are open on Sundays. Every first Sunday of the month, however, is "Market Day," so the stores are open. It's a monthly event. I like when shopping is an event.

13b. IKEA is exactly the same here as it is in Hicksville, New York. Except they serve alcohol in the cafe. Other than that, if you simply must visit IKEA in Scandinavia, please do not bike there from Copenhagen. Round-trip it is equivalent to two 10k's, and honestly, if you emerge with bedsheets and some towels, you end up feeling tired and dehydrated. Other than that, though, it's great.

14. Plumbing in Denmark is a source of fascination to this American. The toilet is an eco-friendly world here: When it's time to flush, you often have two options. One side of the flusher button will have a half-filled-in circle, the other will have an entirely-filled-in circle. Depending on the...er...mass of what's in the bowl, you pick one or the other, and it uses appropriate amounts of water. The showers are an entirely different matter. Many involve a squeegee to push the excess water down the drain post-wash, and my first time using a Danish shower took me about 45 minutes to figure out. I'm not good with that sort of stuff, but that is a long time even for me.

15. Finally--for I think 15 Life Lessons are plenty, for now--be assured that unless you have no desire to eat good food, drink good drinks, see a land of fun and culture, and meet lovely people, you will undoubtedly love it here. I cannot think of one person I know who would not at least somewhat enjoy themselves in this increasingly charming corner of the globe, so I urge you at some point to brave the eight-hour death trap and come to CPH.

15a. My favorite word in the Danish language is "hygge." There is no English translation; the closest we can come is "cozy." But this doesn't completely capture the essence of "hygge."

No comments: