vendredi 31 mai 2013

Things that bother me about Denmark

I sometimes make it seem like everything is perfect in Denmark and that France is the bad guy. This is not always the case. There are some things that bother me about Denmark. It's not perfect and I want my blog to be honest and reflect MY reality of the place where I live.

My favourite square in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Den Nation.

So without further ado...

1. The drinking culture. It's very similar to the UK, but at least it bothers me less here because it's not as aggressive. I am not the type that likes loud drinking and getting drunk. A lot of student events, like in the UK, revolve around drinking. And I don't want to hang around smoky bars drinking.

2. Which leads me to my second point. Smoking is still allowed in certain bars here. How can that be in such an advanced society? The smaller, pub-like bars allow smoking while in bigger and trendy looking bars smoking is not allowed. That kind of goes against common sense for me, as in a smaller area the smoke would be denser; a bigger bar would disperse the smoke more.

The Danes are the Scandinavian people that smoke the most. Due to high levels of smoking and drinking, they are also the Scandinavian population with the lowest life expectancy. It doesn't really affect me as there are plenty of non-smoking bars, but I can't understand smoking being allowed in small bars.

3. The Danes are hard to get to know. You can break the ice with drinking, but a lot of times it's hard to know what they are thinking. They don't seem to be very expressive. While the French are reserved, once you get them talking about something they are passionate about like politics, they are on fire! Which brings me to my next point...

4. They don't seem to care about politics. They are like Canadians in this way - it's better not to talk about politics. I must admit, though, I miss the fiery political conversations in France. Actually, it seems to me that the Danes don't object to much - they just seem to accept things without much of a fight. While I think that France goes too far with the strikes sometimes, I think it's good and necessary to fight sometimes. Note: Denmark recently had a teachers' strike, but I don't know the outcome of it.

Ebeltoft, Denmark. I love the bright red colour of these summer houses.
Author of photo: Den Nation.

5. I have gotten used to going out in groups of couples in France. While I think it's good that couples have their own friends that they see without their better half, it seems that Denmark has taken it to the other extreme from France. Couples tend to lead separate lives here.

6. They don't really seem to invite you over to their homes. They like to go out to cafés for drinks, but they don't have the long dinner evenings I am used to and love in France. And when you do get an invite, it's quite clear that you are the friends of one half of the couple. The other half often sits there quietly or goes off alone. There's no way that would happen in France.

7. They have a strange sense of humour. I don't know if you remember, but a few years back there was a big scandal with a Danish comic strip that was insulting. Yes, sometimes their jokes can offend. I have not experienced this firsthand, but I know it happens. For the Danes this is normal as they grew up in a culture where it is the norm, so I don't really want to criticise them since I am a guest here, but I know that this is problem for non-Danes.

8. There are certain things I don't want to talk about on this blog. So let's just call this point discrimination. Certain Danes - I am not going to say who - discriminate against certain groups in Denmark. Again, I have not been affected by this, but I know that this is an issue.

Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city. Author of photo: Den Nation.

9. If you want to learn a language, don't pick Danish and don't come here. Pick a country and a language that you can learn more quickly. I'm not saying that Danish is harder to learn than other languages, because although the pronunciation is tricky, it is not especially difficult. It's that the Danes don't want to hear you speak their language. They don't want to hear foreign accents and they don't have the patience to help you struggle through a sentence. I have actually seen some language exchange offers where the Danish person stipulates that they are not willing to accept someone whose level of Danish is too low. So learning Danish takes time and patience. This is not like France, where you can progress relatively quickly and feel like you are getting somewhere.

10. Before somebody jumps down my throat and tells me to go home if I don't like it here (and I really do like it here!), let's just end with my final comment that everyone can agree on - it's sometimes a struggle to cycle because the wind can be really strong. At least the country is flat though!

vendredi 24 mai 2013

Copenhagen's Modern Architecture - Part 1

While I definitely prefer old European architecture - I swoon over cute cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses - I am enjoying modern architecture here in Copenhagen.

I find that some of the buildings are really strange, but they are so different from anything that I know or have every seen that I like them.

Have a look for yourself!

A modern apartment building in Copenhagen. I can't believe people live in here! Author of photo:
Den Nation.

Apartment building in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Modern architecture in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Den Nation.

An office building in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Close-up shot of an office building. Author of photo: Den Nation. 

Yes, these are terraced apartments. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Apartment building in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Den Nation.

These triangles are people's balconies jutting out from the building. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Triangle-balconied apartment building. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Close-up shot of the triangle balconies. Author of photo: Den Nation.

A bunch of stabbing knives. Author of photo: Den Nation.

There is so much interesting architecture here that it just blows my mind away. I love the mix of the old and the new. You never know what is coming around the corner!

dimanche 19 mai 2013

French conditioning

Last Friday I discovered that I had been "French conditioned". Yes, it's time to put a label on my behaviour.
I kind of suspected that I had been French conditioned and Friday confirmed my suspicions.

So what happened?

I am terrible with numbers. I studied languages at universities, the furthest away from numbers I could run. I have a hard time remembering the pin codes for everything. So it came as no surprise when the bank machine ate my card. I thought that as long as I took my card out of the machine after 2 failed attempts that I could keep trying. No, it's 3 tries a day, tops.

The bank had just closed so I went home deflated. Then I remembered that my husband told me that there was another branch open until 5pm (it was 4.15).

I ran home and immediately went into action mode. I grabbed the folders on the desk containing our important papers. I leafed through them, mentally running down the list of documents that could be missing. There was a folder with all of our documents related to Denmark, including our registration certificates (EU citizens need a registration certificate to live in Denmark). I made sure our tenancy agreement was in there, as well as letters from the hospital, my husband's work contract and other letters from the university. Then there was the folder with all of our bank statements and every letter we have ever received from our bank here in Denmark. The third folder contained our personal documents such as our Livret de Famille (family registrer), other mariage documents, my birth certificates (long and short versions), both colour and black and white photocopies of our identity cards and our passports, my husband's documents from France. Etc., etc., etc.

And then it hit me.

"Oh, my God, there are no passport-size pictures in here!"

It was automatic. Usually I keep a stash of pictures in my purse, but because I had just cleaned out my purse, I remembered that I hadn't put them back in there. One must never, never leave without pictures!

I scrambled around the room tripping over cables. Dirty laundry flew around the room. I flipped through other files filled with endless papers. I was sweating profusely.

Finally I found them. I'm ready to go. At least I hope I am. I make sure I have both my passport and identity card with me before leaving.

I fly down the main avenue on my bike. I must make it there asap. As I race by, I think, "At least it's Thursday afternoon, so that's in my favour." As...

France's Office Hours

The Golden Rule is to never, never (and I mean never) go at any other time but between 10AM-12PM and 2PM-4PM.

Caveats to the Golden Rule
1. The closer to 12pm it is, the more risk there is of disappointment. Try not to go after 11.30AM. Same goes for the "afternoon shift". Everyone's just thinking of lunch or going home.
2. Avoid Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. You risk not finding the person you are looking for. Even if you are not looking for somebody in particular, it's the perfect time for the official to come up with the following: "___________ has the afternoon off." It's quite possible that it's a lie, but you have to accept the excuse because of the 35-hour workweek. Be aware of Wednesday morning as well, as some children don't go to school on Wednesday at all so parents are more likely to be away from their desk (and nobody is filling in for them).
3. Even if you are guaranteed to see someone outside the Golden Hours, be aware that the service will often be worse than what you would get during the Golden Hours. This is particularly valid for the afternoon, as people will often just want to get rid of you to leave quicker.

Don't go outside the Golden Hours as it'll probably be a waste of time. Just stay home, I'm telling you.

The best times to get something done in France? Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 10AM and 11.30AM.

I enter the bank and look around. The woman who welcomes me at the door is actually dressed like a banker!

The teller at my local branch in France is about 50 years old but dresses like a 20-year-old. I just don't understand how they could allow that. So the first time I saw her (through the window) I thought, "She looks approachable." Unfortunately that was not to be. She seemed laid-back from afar but up close her face was mean. Then there was the bite, "What do mean you don't know your account number? How could you not know it?" Um, I didn't know I had to memorize it. As I enter the Danish bank I pray that I won't be belittled.

Of course just because my teller in France dresses much younger than she is doesn't mean that all bank tellers in France are like this. Most of them are professional. But I have noticed that some French women like to dress much younger than their actual age.

Anyway, I am directed to the right person right away. And this person is actually the right person. I tell him how I lost my card and he said, "No problem, I'll take care of everything for you." What, how can it be this easy? I was sure he would tell me to go see the branch where I lost my card, leaving me without money over the long weekend. Nope!

"Oh, you need some money, no problem!" he says, "I just need to see some ID."

"Yes, I've got a photocopy of ..." I start to unzip my bag containing all of my folders.

"Don't worry your driving licence is fine." He glances at my driving licence in my open wallet which is sitting on the counter.

"You don't need to see anything else?" I ask. In France a driving licence is not a valid form of ID.

"Nope, that's everything, just take this paper to my colleague and tell her how much money you want and she will give it to you. I've ordered you a new card and it will arrive next week along with the pin number. I'll show you an easy way of remembering your new pin."

My jaw drops to the ground. It can't possibly be this easy! Oh, but it is.

As I ride home I think about how I didn't even get to unzip my bag.

dimanche 12 mai 2013

Why I can never be Italian

My parents are Italian. They were born in Italy and immigrated to Canada. I grew up with Italian traditions and hearing Italian being spoken at home. But I can never be Italian.

I am in Milan for the weekend. This weekend, more than any other time in my life, I have never been so sure of my un-Italianess.

I grew up living in a neighbourhood full of Italian immigrants and their children and went to a high school with a sizable population of students with Italian origins. These students were very proud of their ancestry and could be quite ostentatious with showing it publically. I didn't associate with this group as I didn't have the right look to get in with the "Italian" kids. I was nevertheless proud about being "Italian".

When I was 17 I went to Italy on holiday. I remember telling a bunch of Dutch people how I was Italian. They roared with laughter, saying, "You're as much Italian as I am Greek!" I was crushed, but I learnt an important lesson - Europeans identify with the country where they grew up and your parents' country doesn't matter (at least with white people, but I am not going to talk about race on this blog). North Americans identify with their parents' country (or grandparents' country, etc.). That's when I started to stop saying that I was Italian. But I was still convinced that I was.

Sicily in January. Author of photo: Den Nation.

"But of course I am," I thought naively. "I don't identify with being Canadian at all!" Now I know better. And this is why (please keep in mind that these are my experiences and that I am generalizing):

1. I am too dirty. My house is not spic-and-span. I clean when I see dirt. If there's some dust so be it. And this includes myself as well. Today, upon walking barefoot on my friend's balcony (it's a North-American style motel balcony that is shared with the neighbours) she exclaimed, "What are you doing?! The balcony's filthy and my neighbour never cleans!" Oops, doesn't look so dirty to me. And then there's the "cleaning up" after me. I swear I'm being clean, but there they go moving my shoes, re-making the bed behind me, etc. I'll never measure up.

2. How many times have I been served a glass of water, taken a sip and gagged... I hate fizzy water. Italians love anything with gas in it. Canadians, in general, hate fizzy water. I remember growing up how we would talk about how disgusting tonic water was. In Italy... never. And I don't particularly  like to drink Champagne or anything else with bubbles in it.

3. I don't particularly like wearing heels. Italian woman seem to love them and the higher, the better. Today my friend was talking about how her stomach sticks out too much and her aunt replied, "Wear high heels, that'll fix it!" I can only stand small, wedge-style heels.

4. My clothes are rags (well, I get the feeling that they think this). I almost never buy new clothes and don't really like shopping. Image is everything here. Even though Italy is suffering from the recession, people still magically find the money to look like a million bucks. I just don't care.

5. I go out with wet hair. I hate using a hair dryer. Whenever they see me with wet hair they gasp. If they only knew how cold it was in Canada when I used to go out with wet hair...

6. I love peanut butter, doughnuts and other so-called horrible North American food. Of course most of the stuff I like isn't healthy and filled with chemical ingredients, but I love it just the same. They probably secretly like most of it, but they wouldn't like to admit it.

7. I don't go the hair salon, have never had a manicure, I don't wax anything, have never dyed my hair. They are shocked when I tell them. I really don't care much about beauty.

8. I don't drive like an Italian. I am not confident behind the wheel, I hate driving and am not a risk-taker.

9. I identify more with other anglophones. It took me a long time to admit this, but it's true.

10. I don't know how to cook like them. They can be quite rigid with their cuisine. French people are more innovative in the kitchen; they like to try to be different. Not the Italians - every dish has certain ingredients and there shall be no deviation from this list!

11. I'm probably too polite.

12. I wash my hair way too much. Doctors say that the oil produced by your scalp is healthy for you and they are probably right, but I can't stand it just the same.

13. I can never be "La Mamma" and all that this entails. And I left home at 19, not when I got married (and even then, some of them still don't leave!).

14. I don't think I'll catch cold when I go outside.

15. I'm sure I'll think of some more tonight while I'm waiting to fall asleep.

I just loooooove maple syrup! Author of photo: Den Nation.

The most important thing I learnt about real Italians is that while they are proud of certain things in the Italian culture like food, history and architecture, in general they are NOT proud to be Italian. They know the image they project to the rest of Europe and are actually very disappointed with their country. A lot of Italian-Canadians are completely oblivious to this fact, often openly exclaiming how "Italian" they are. They are proud to be "Italian" and keep up the traditions (many of which are not Italian, but actually Italian-Canadian).

There are so many reasons to be proud of Canada. Things that affect everyday life like having a healthy government. I have realised that food or architecture doesn't make for happy people. I am proud that my country can offer such a good quality of life to both citizens and immigrants alike.

I still love Italy, though! Maybe I sound negative about Italy, but I have a soft spot in my heart for it. I can't just erase my heritage.

mardi 7 mai 2013

The Danish brunch

Denmark is not renown for its cuisine. In the past, Danish people ate mostly pork and potatoes. This has been changing recently as Denmark has embraced innovative cuisine. But that is not what I am going to talk about today.

What do I like about Danish cuisine?


The smoothie tasted like real strawberries! Notice the man in the background drinking beer whilst sunning himself - how Danish! Author of photo: Den Nation.

This is hands down the country for eating brunch. Everyone eats brunch here and it is often served late into the afternoon.

Of course North America does brunch as well, but it's different. In Canada brunch is a full breakfast, often served with homefries, pancakes with maple syrup, sausages, bacon and eggs and bread. It is usually served until 12pm, but some places do all-day breakfasts.

The Danish brunch is more varied than its North American counterpart. No brunch is the same while in Canada they are pretty much the same everywhere (I'm talking about what is served, not the quality).

Most restaurants that serve brunch in Denmark offer a vegetarian option. I never thought I would readily choose the vegetarian option, but I have never regretted it. And I love meat! The Danes are really innovative with their vegetarian brunches. That's why I like to order the vegetarian brunch - I like to be surprised.

Brunch buffet by the lakes. The quality was as good as a regular brunch. Even my husband said that the croissant wasn't bad. Author of photo: Den Nation.

The Danish brunch involves a combination of the following: eggs, sausages, bacon, bread and fruit. I have also seen baked potatoes, avacados, pastries, hummus and other dips, pâté, pasta, boiled eggs, pancakes, smoked salmon, cheese, jam, chocolate mousse, brownies, etc.

Regardless of whether or not you order a vegetarian platter or a non-vegetarian platter, you are always served yoghurt. I absolutely love yoghurt in Denmark as it is often topped with museli and honey.

Vegetarian platter. The drink is a non-alcoholic mojito. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I love the bread in Denmark. Of course French white bread is very good, but French dark bread is not. I love all the different dark, grainy breads on offer in the bakeries here. I really enjoy buying fresh bread at the bakeries (no supermarket stuff, it's not the same!) in Denmark - whoever thought I would love dark bread so much?!

I loved the smoothie that came with this brunch. My French tourists highly approved of the cheese. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I can't wait to try out another brunch!