Danes DGAF

For this post I want to comment on something of a more casual nature, the attitudes of Danish people in everyday life and more specifically in a social sense, framed within the idea of what people are wearing. What I’ve noticed in my first month is that really, truly, no one cares what you wear. Everywhere I’ve been has been casual, and I have never once shown up to class, a meal, cafe, or night activity and wished that I had worn something else.

Everyone here looks stylish, of course, because if you’ve been keeping up with my other posts you’ll remember that it’s pretty commonly known that Danish people are Cool with a capital C. However, dressing stylish-ly does not mean that everyone is sporting heels or their finest furs when they leave the house. Rather, people dress in fashionable ways that are also practical and comfortable.

People don’t really wear sweatpants, and I haven’t witnessed too many examples of true athleisure. However, sneakers are definitely the most common footwear, worn with trousers, dresses and jeans alike. Boots are the second most common, depending on the weather especially.

I’m not writing this post to educate you on Danish style. There are plenty of other blogs dedicate solely to that purpose. Rather, I want to note how the relaxed approach to wardrobe reflects the overall attitudes of Danish society. No one cares about how you dress when you go out because it’s simply not important to them. Sure, people admire nice outfits and I’ve seen a few people receive compliments for their attire. Nonetheless, everyone here has been so normal about what you wear out because your clothes don’t reflect who you are as a person at all.

When it’s cold, you wear a jacket. When it’s raining, you wear rainboots, even if that means showing up to the club with a soaking wet umbrella and galoshes. Everyone bikes or walks to get places, and though it is common to see women biking in skirts and dresses, it’s just as common to see people at the nicest restaurants in plain jeans and sweaters. Scandinavian attitudes towards material items are so dramatically different than the ones I grew up with in suburban America, and the lack of emphasis on what you’re wearing here in Copenhagen has positively affected my experience here in ways that I couldn’t have predicted.

 

A running list of my favorite quotes

In this running list I’m going to try and exclude song lyrics, but some Death Cab songs are just too hard to resist. I plan to date each new entry and include a photo or two that I like, but we’ll see how long I can keep it up for.

26.2.17 (almost 27.2.17 though, since it’s 11:59PM currently)

Who decides what a meaningful life is?

When we do a good job no one hears about it. 

Goals should shock you. 

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. – Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

I often catch myself criticizing my own country. But do I really think it’s that bad a place? Or am I just afraid of seeming nationalistic?…I often catch myself defending my own country. But do I really think that it’s that good a place? Or did I just grow up believing it is? – seen at the Statens Museum for Kunst

All truths wait in all things – Walt Whitman

They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Solitude sometimes is best society – John Milton

Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts – Niccolo Machiavelli

The majority is never right – Henrik Ibsen

I desire the things which will destroy me in the end – Sylvia Plath

 

 

 

 

Denmark is the world’s happiest country, no?

 

We watched this video in my very first class on the Danish Welfare State, looking more closely at the commonly held perception that Denmark is the happiest countries in the world. This video was extremely striking for me, especially the comments made by Sociologist Emilia Van Hauen. After watching this video I could not stop thinking about what she said. As I wrote about a few blog posts back, I think that as an American I view the world in a very unique way. I know that people are critical of the U.S. all around the world, but I also know that American culture and life in America is commonly admired. This video highlighted to me a fundamental difference that separates Americans and people living in America from countries around the world, which is the desire for more.

Upon first writing that, I’m sure many people will be critical. What’s good about having a desire for more? As Dr. Van Hauen said in the video, “we don’t need to be orgasmic happy, it’s more like – we’re satisfied.” Danish people are happy with the lives they live because they are happy with the simplicity of their lives, and have learned to “lower their expectations.” They enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing that their children can go to school, that they can go to work, that if they’re sick they can go to their local doctor. The risk and fear that overwhelms American society just isn’t present here in Denmark. However, what this video highlighted for me the most is that something else is missing here in everyday life – passion.

Yes, it may be more rational to live your life knowing that you will always be alright. It may be wiser to have an idea about how your life will play out, and be settled with the idea of your path. In Denmark you will go to school, then university, then obtain an advanced degree. Maybe after university you will enter a trade or a craft, or maybe you will start a family. You will always be paid enough to live on, you will never fear sickness or injury as an economic threat. You trust your government, trust your community, and don’t feel the need to act out.

This sounds nice, don’t get me wrong. I love living in Copenhagen and meeting people who share these ideas, who live these comfortable lives. But there’s two things I need to point out that are missing from this utopian society – diversity and desires.

Diversity: While in Copenhagen I have noticed that everyone here looks the same. As a relatively homogeneous society, it is much easier for Denmark to institute social policies. Immigration policies have historically caused issues for the Danish government,  and the welfare state was even based on the idea of culturally similarity of citizens. The population is largely regarded as homogeneous, something that people don’t say in conversations about how happy the Danes are.

Desires: The American Dream is one of the oldest ideas of our country. People come to America in search of a better life, better jobs, more opportunity. People come to America who want MORE. Denmark people don’t want anything more, they’re okay with their lives because everything is good. Although it’s common for people to resent this lifestyle, and everyone talks about how Danes are the happiest people, I wouldn’t want to live a life like this.

It is human nature to want more, and I want to live in a place where people dream. And yes, I am in love with Copenhagen and daydream about the unique Scandinavian lifestyle. A minimum of 5 times a day I wish I was Danish, as I’m sure most students on exchange do for whatever culture they’re trying to immerse themselves in. However, I do not wish to live a life that’s devoid of dreaming. I would much rather be sad because I tried to achieve a lofty goal and failed than be sad for never trying. What kind of life is it to live if you accept everything as it comes to you?

Buda & pest

I am finishing up my weekend in Budapest with an intensified interest in the countries of Eastern Europe, especially post-Communist states. I have always been a fan of European history and the influence of the Soviet Union, but after visiting Hungary and spending the weekend in Budapest I have a better understanding of the lasting affects that political systems have on how cultures develop. There were many interesting things about visiting Budapest, but I only want to touch on the few that I don’t think many people know about or wouldn’t expect.

Budapest is actually two areas separated by the Danube river, Buda and Pest – united into one city that we all know, Budapest. Many of the people I met this weekend were totally unaware of this truth, and were confused by the basic question about restaurants and nightlife activities “is it in Buda, or Pest?” The river is not too large, and people move between the two sides all the time. However, there are distinct differences between the two areas. Buda is built into the hill, with Buda Castle overlooking the river alongside Fisherman’s Bastion. Castle Hill is an area on the Buda side that boasts ruins of historical castles, marvelous statues, and outstanding views of Pest below. Pest, however, was where we spent most of our weekend. We stayed in the Jewish quarter, which is known as the hub of culture and nightlife activity. Pest also has Parliament Square, most of the major hotels, the National Museum, and many other tourist attractions like popular shopping streets and the famous Andrassy Avenue. I enjoyed being so close to all of the action with the opportunity to visit the Buda side with ease.

The legacy of communism is still quite clear, even in the currency. Budapest uses the Hungarian Forint, but most places also accept Euros. It’s commonly known that countries that accept more than one currency are in some economic distress, desperate for any transfer of goods and services. You can see how the city is still growing in the wake of breaking from communism in 1990, with an exchange rate favorable to foreigners. Moreover, the buildings themselves represent an interesting mix of history and attempts at modernization. The architecture itself is quite stunning, as every street corner seems to hold an impressive castle-like structure, although most times it’s been converted to apartments or commercial space. However, many of the buildings are decrepit and falling apart, with chipped paint and missing tiles, broken windows and broken staircases. Even walking down Andrassy Avenue it was clear that the once shining mansions were not in good condition, and an ominous feel hung over the city.

Hungary is defined by it’s history. Everywhere you turn there is a tribute to history, with plaques and statues present on every street. Budapest has had a very unique history, with several tales of invasion, foreign domination, cultural development, economic change. The city has seen several revolutions, and Hungarians are quick to recognize how these events have shaped it’s identity as a city today. Unlike other European cities I’ve visited, there seems to be very little modernization, and the emphasis on historical landmarks was a little surprising. As a history buff I thoroughly enjoyed it, although in reflection I’m intrigued by the discrepancy between remembering history and moving into the future.

Budapest is a must see city. Beyond the reputation of an amazing drinking culture and wild nightlife, Budapest demonstrates the stark contrast between Europe and America in terms of historical developments. Doing the stereotypical attractions like visiting Buda castle and visiting the thermal baths was interesting, but it was just walking around the different areas of the city that struck me most. The differences between our Air BnB in the Jewish quarter and the hostel I stayed in just by the Erzsébet bridge were striking, and definitely strengthened my views on the city as a whole.

Now, enjoy some pictures from the different sights of the city 🙂

When 2 hours means 1.5

This semester at University of Copenhagen I’m enrolled in the Faculty of Social Sciences, more specifically Political Science and Sociology. I’m taking 3 classes worth 27.5 credits total, two that last 2 hours and 1 that lasts 4 hours (it only runs through half of the semester).

What I learned from the first day of class at UCPH, though, is that 2 hours actually means 1.5. Everyone talks about the Danish lifestyle and how everyone outside of the U.S. thinks of time differently. In America, time is money. Every second is worth something, and if you want to be successful every second should be spent doing something productive. Here in Copenhagen, the attitude is much more relaxed. Although your class may begin at 1, that means that you won’t really be starting until 1:15. Those stragglers that can never make it to class on time are not seen as stragglers here. Your class may only be listed for 2 hours on the syllabus, but OF COURSE you’re going to get a 15 minute break after the first 45 minutes of teaching. So that you can get coffee or tea – of course! Before you know it, 3PM rolls around, and your 2 hour class is boiled down to only 1.5 hours of learning.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my first week of classes. In addition to being fully integrated into the relaxed lifestyle, I’ve discussed a lot of interesting topics with engaging and dynamic students. Socially, we’ve talked about the cost of education and the vast differences between countries. In Denmark there is a relaxed atmosphere around classes because students don’t pay for attending university. There is no direct monetary value associated with their time in class, and their degree isn’t seen as a costly but (eventually) worthwhile investment. Talking about the cost of studying at Boston University is embarrassing, and one of the few things that I can’t justify when people question why America is the way it is.

Moreover, the content of my classes has been incredibly enjoyable thus far. In the first session of my three classes we’ve talked about themes that have been consistent in my education since freshman year of high school. My three classes all have very similar ideas: Migration, Refugees and Citizenship in a Globalized World; Ethnic Conflict and Peacemaking in Divided Societies; and Danish Sociology: A Look at the Welfare State. Doing the preliminary readings exposed me to topics such as nationalism, European identity, immigration, social services, the role of the government, social integration, and how societies function – all SO interesting and relevant to the world today.

I can’t wait to gush about all of the interesting conversations I’m going to have, and truly nerd out in my classes that directly contribute to my passion for my career. For now, enjoy this photo of where I take my classes, which used to be an old hospital!

 

1200px-Kommunehospitalet_(Copenhagen).jpg

A little distance goes a long way

This weekend I went to Paris to visit two of my friends from Boston University, and I learned A LOT about life in France and realized even more about life in Denmark. I have visited Paris before, but I had never lived in a European city that I could directly compare it to. Every time I travel I think about how cities do things differently than Boston or New York, and even after being in Copenhagen for only a few weeks I’ve noticed my strong ties to the city and its ways. There are three main things I noticed about Paris and, ultimately, about Copenhagen: size/transportation, diversity, and attitudes. The fourth thing would be the weather, but that will be incorporated into attitudes.

  1. Size and transportation. Paris is huge in comparison to Copenhagen. It’s population is almost twice the size, and it’s geographically 20 square kilometers larger. You can see from the metro maps, below, that Paris is much more challenging to navigate, with a complicated web of neighborhoods throughout the city. Copenhagen, in contrast, is organized into several neighborhoods, and as most people know, biking is a much more common mode of transportation than metro. Spending the weekend in Paris made me extremely grateful for this difference. Relying on the metro is both costly and time consuming, and even over the course of 3 days I found myself missing the cool breeze whipping across my face that you’re sure to get when walking anywhere in Copenhagen.

     

  2. Denmark is not known for its diversity. Copenhagen, the nations capital, is praised as the largest city in the country that attracts thousands of people every year to come study, work and live. However, the area is still relatively homogeneous, which has not gone unnoticed. While in my few weeks here I have become increasingly aware of the lack of color on the streets, in restaurants, even at the University of Copenhagen. Visiting Paris reminded me of what melting pot cities really look like, where you hear more than just 2 languages everywhere you go and see all different kinds of people on the metro. Since Denmark is praised as one of the most progressive countries in the world, I look forward to further exploring the true nature of race-relations in the greater Copenhagen area.
  3. The world’s happiest country. Everyone knows that! Denmark is the place to be when it comes to positivity. Beyond the buzz-word that’s gracing style blogs across the world (you know, hygge), Denmark is known for a generally happy society with satisfied citizens who enjoy living here. People smile when they walk down the street, ask the driver to wait for strangers they see running to the bus, and enjoy sitting outside even when it’s freezing cold. It all seems too good to be true, especially for someone like me who grew up in two of the notoriously “harsh” cities (Boston and New York). But it’s real, all of it. People are genuinely happy all of the time, even when the sun doesn’t shine for 10 straight days. Now is when I quickly comment on the weather. Seeing the sun in Paris was a much more emotional experience than I had expected. In Copenhagen people don’t complain about the weather, and I’ve gotten used to thinking positively about the sun coming up at all! However, in Paris, people do not want to help you with directions, or use the bathroom in their store unless you buy something. The contrast in attitudes between the two cities really is striking, and I have become very accustomed to the Danish lifestyle. You can see some of the beautiful Paris streets (featuring blue skies) below.

The last note I wanted to include in this blog post is a very short line from the new Father John Misty song that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s carried me through stressful travel, social anxieties, and any other abroad challenge I’ve faced recently.

In no time at all, this’ll be the distant past.