Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In the land of pickled herring and sex shops

I was allowed two drinks to limber up before the dreaded question surfaced. “So, how many Danish celebrities can you name?” Hmm. Who would have thought the toughest part of a job interview would be the drinks session afterward? Feeling rather proud of myself, I immediately responded “Lars von Trier”.

“OK, and?”

(Insert slightly uncomfortable pause here.)

There is more than one? Now I was in trouble.

I have to admit, I’d never really thought about Denmark. While I’ve met a few Danish people in the course of my meandering existence, they really didn’t speak about their country much. Now here I was racking my brain for Scandinavian pop culture icons and coming up empty. Good thing the Danes have a sense of humor.

Danish people are friendly. Really friendly. They smile at you in the street and say hello. After Paris, this is a bit unnerving. And this general goodwill is particularly amazing considering they pay some of the highest taxes in Europe, a whopping 65%, all while living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. And yet, while graffiti is absolutely everywhere, even the most expensive bikes lean up against buildings with nary a lock in sight. And Danish people are bikers. And joggers and walkers and boat rowers. This is one fit city. Almost everyone you see sports a healthy glow and a killer sense of fashion. In short, Copenhagen is cool. One might even say idyllic.

So idyllic in fact, that it even features a semi-autonomous free state in its environs. Christiania is an independent collective that was started in the late 70s. Basically, it’s a commune that decided to secede from the EU in the late ‘70s and has rather remarkably gotten away with it ever since. Well, to a certain extent anyway.

And Copenhagen is unique. People wait for the light for the most part to cross the road, but there's a red light district that rivals even Paris's, although it's not as flashy. Even the public statuary is rather unusual. Take these two things I found while walking one day:

I spent at least 5 minutes trying to figure out what on earth this cow was doing. If you have any theories, please, I'd love to hear them.

I didn't even want to begin to think about what these guys were doing. Note where he seems to be hiding his sword... Perhaps the rather large paragraph underneath will tell us.

Oh yes, of course, it's in DANISH. Never mind.

Weird to be in a country where you can't read the food labels, road signs, maps or even explanations attached to bizarre statuary.

You will be hearing more about Copenhagen in the near future as I did, despite my complete failure at the Danish pop culture quiz, get the job. I move on Sunday. Am I sad to leave Paris? You have no idea. I’ve loved my time here. I don’t know how I will manage to cope without snails and quail and rabbit and duck readily available at every street corner butcher. (I walked into the grocery store the day after the interview and I almost cried.) And I love the grey and the grumpiness of Paris, the skeletal thinness of its inhabitants, the fact that I can trot out my atrocious French anytime I want to torture someone – or get a good laugh. If my French is still this sub-par after years of study, how am I going to cope with Danish?


JB said...

Congrats on the job! Copenhagen has to be more interesting than Naperville, even if it not Paris. I know nothing about Denmark either, although I do know I like a good Danish. Mmmmm, Danish.

snooky green said...

Thanks. It's quite a cool city. Or would be if the airline would ever release my bag. More on that one soon.