By now I’m settled into a pretty steady routine of studying, socializing, and living. I go to class four times a week – twice to Danish lessons and twice to lecture. I go out on Friday, and sometimes Saturday too, and do all the normal cooking/cleaning/grocery shopping things in between.
Last week there was a break in the routine as the lovely Edwin came to visit me for five days.
We cooked and baked together, wandered around the entire town, discovered some cute shops and cafes, and had a lovely evening drinking budget wine and eating fancy cheese from a little cheese shop downtown, Le Fromage. Some of the highlights of our wanderings included:
Love’s Bog og Vin Cafe – I had gone by this cafe dozens of times on the bus or on my bicycle but this was the first time we went inside. True to the Danish spirit of “hygge” (coziness), it was a dimly-lit cafe with beautiful dark wooden furniture and candles on the tables. As the name suggests, there were shelves and shelves filled with books you could read while you sipped your coffee, and an extensive wine cellar in the back. Several people were there alone, reading books or newspapers or studying on laptops. It was the kind of cafe that inspires me to don a black turtleneck and a beret and work on my latest novel. I had a hot chocolate and Edwin got a bread and cheese plate with coffee. It was delicious, not to mention a welcome break from the cold and wet weather outside, and the prices for coffee were pretty typical for the city center (starting at 30kr), though the wine was not exactly student budget friendly.
Wonder Who – this is another store I’d passed on the bus often but never gone in. I’d seen fancy clothing in the storefront windows and wondered what was inside. The shop was beautiful. It was mainly an outlet for artistic fashion, but there were also plants, Christmas ornaments, and strategic clutter with vintage-looking household items. The fashion was absolutely incredible, more costume than clothing. We saw acid-green hand-knitted sweaters, cream-colored dresses that could have been vintage wedding dresses, steampunk and goth fashion and accessories, handmade corsets, and silky shoes. The owner was a kind, friendly woman who gave us free chocolate. She said she did all the knitting by hand and had designed most of the clothes in the shop. I plan to write an article about her for Jutland Station this week.
Fromage – a cute little cheese shop on Guldmedsgade with a huge assortment of fancy cheeses, including classic bries and blues but also strange (and delicious) Danish varieties I wasn’t familiar with. The owner didn’t speak much English, but we got along fine and he gave us lots of free samples.
Hamburg (back to the Raper-Bahn)
Since the weather was horrible in Aarhus and it’s such a small town, Edwin and I decided to go to Hamburg for the weekend, which was a good call. Since we’d been there before, we didn’t spend much time sightseeing – just partying at our favorite hangouts along the Reeperbahn. (I know, soooo touristy).
Rather than get a hostel, we stayed with someone from airbnb, which was a new experience for both of us, and overall a positive one. For about the price of a hostel, we got to stay in a beautiful, fully-equipped apartment for two days. Having access to a kitchen saved us some money because we didn’t have to eat out every meal. We also saved money by traveling via carpool websites rather than the train. I checked both the Danish and German rideshare websites, Gomore.dk and Mitfahrgelegenheit.de, which worked nicely. I insisted on going out to dinner one night because I love going to restaurants and it’s something I just can’t afford in Denmark. (A sit-down meal and a drink in Aarhus will probably cost you 200-300kr, or $33-50. As I could buy a week’s worth of groceries for that amount, I have yet to be able to justify a restaurant meal for myself here). I also ate a real German Döner kebab while I was there, which I was absolutely thrilled about because the kebabs in Denmark are so much smaller and more expensive and just not as tasty. Okay, so I broke my commitment to vegetarianism, but it was a special occasion.
Ironically, when Edwin and I had visited Hamburg after living in Berlin, we’d complained constantly about how expensive everything was there, but coming from Denmark, I marveled at how cheap it all was. I stocked up on small luxuries like hair dye and makeup, since those items inexplicably cost more than 100kr ($18) in Denmark and less than 5 euro ($7) in Germany.
During our cheese and wine night, I had my laptop pushed to the edge of the desk to make room for the food, set up and playing music. Well, what happens when you combine precariously perched pieces of technology and drunk people? My computer fell (a.k.a. I knocked it) on the ground, which as it turns out is not good for computers.
It turns out the fall had irreparably damaged my hard drive – my poor, scratched-up, 4-year-old HDD which had already endured years of me popping the computer battery out and force restarting. I went to Facebook for advice and a kindly computer science graduate student, Manuel, offered to take a look for me. In the end I had to buy a new hard drive, an SDD at Manuel’s recommendation, and as of the time I am writing this my files have not yet been recovered, so I have no notes for class or electronic copies of my CV. This was a highly frustrating experience, and the moral of the story is: Don’t drop your computer on the ground, and always back up your files.
I was planning on buying a hard drive from Dell.dk or Amazon.de (as there is no Amazon.dk), but Manuel recommended I get it from ProShop, which is apparently Denmark’s biggest online retailer for electronics and IT equipment. They had a warehouse a bit south of Aarhus, too, so I didn’t have to wait or pay for shipping – I just placed my order online, then biked down the next day to pick it up. This was an interesting trip. Google Maps optimistically estimated that I could cycle there in 21 minutes. In reality it took me more like 45. I guess Google didn’t factor in the hills or the wind. As soon as I left Aarhus C, the area got noticeably more rural/suburban – shops were fewer and further between, but the empty landscape felt oddly lacking in farmland, though there were plenty of empty fields. When I arrived, I had to double check that I was on the right street. Instead of a big fancy store with escalators and shiny lights and window displays, ProShop turned out to be a warehouse, a Soviet-style concrete block plunked in a parking lot on a side road of a side road several kilometers south of the city. It was kind of laughable – this mildewy bunker was Denmark’s biggest online retailer for technology? I presume, however, that having a warehouse rather than a proper retail store helped keep the prices low. I got a SSD hard drive for 469kr ($78).
Some other random observations about Danish culture:
Denmark is a small, homogenous country, and the culture has evolved away from one of selfishness to one more about the greater good, and doing what’s best for everybody. That’s why most Danes I’ve talked to don’t mind giving up half their income in taxes, because they know that in exchange for that, they get free healthcare, free education, and access to government support should they need it. I’m not sure if these are related, but they also seem incredibly honest in terms of not stealing.
While my computer was being fixed, I accidentally left a couple of flash drives at the library, because I’d been using the library computers to study. It was three days before I noticed they were gone, and I was positive I’d never see them again. Some kind soul had, however, turned them in to the lost and found – two 32GB flash drives that anyone could use themselves or sell for quite a lot, yet they had chosen to turn them in. I was immensely grateful, particularly as I’d just lost so many files from my hard drive and I wasn’t keen on losing my music library and old photos as well. This was not an isolated incident, either – one of my friends accidentally dropped some money on the street and a Danish woman picked it up and ran to catch up with him in order to return it. Maybe we were just lucky in these instances, but it seems to me to be a trend. The streets are also incredibly safe. I never feel uncomfortable walking around at night, even in poorly-lit areas, and I haven’t really heard of any violent crime since I’ve been here. I also feel comfortable helping strangers. Twice so far me and my friends have helped too-drunk people out – once when a guy at a Friday bar was trying to take home a girl so wasted she couldn’t stand up, and once when we called an ambulance for a man sitting alone on the sidewalk who looked dangerously close to alcohol poisoning. Which brings me to my next point…
The alcohol culture
Danes are among the heaviest drinkers in the world, up there with Germans and Brits. It’s a big difference from American culture, where binge drinking and underage drinking are much bigger taboos. (Fortunately drunk driving seems to be equally taboo in both cultures.) It doesn’t particularly bother me, besides the attitude of “well, what else is there to do BESIDES drink?” but it does confuse me as to how bad alcohol actually is for you.
Growing up in the U.S., I was taught that underage drinking is bad, not just for the moral decay of society, but also for the development of young brains. I was told that drinking before you’re fully grown will damage the decision-making areas of your brain, and that binge drinking will put holes in your brain. I was also educated on the dangers of liver damage, and shown pictures of bloated, rotten livers from alcoholics to discourage me from drinking in high school. Underage drinking is in general taken very seriously too. Sure, you might get lucky and a cop will give you a slap on the wrist and tell your parents, but then again, you might get an MIP that will stay on your record for a while and have to pay a hefty fine. And while European teenagers (in some countries) are sneaking into bars and drinking in public parks or on the streets with no one batting an eye, American teenagers are being arrested for drinking at private house parties on major holidays.
Well, I didn’t drink in high school, though I would say that was more from a lack of opportunity and lack of interest (none of my friends were doing it!) than out of genuine concern for my health or fear of persecution. Well, plenty of Germans and Danes and Brits I’ve met have been binge drinking since they were 14, or even 12, and they don’t seem to be suffering from brain damage too badly. I mean, I haven’t seen MRI scans, but just saying, the societies as a whole don’t seem to be suffering too much under a workforce crippled by alcohol abuse. And it makes me wonder how bad alcohol genuinely is for you. Were my high school teachers telling us lies and showing us fake science to scare us into submission? Or do Europeans genuinely not know/not care about the harm they are doing to their bodies by binge drinking? Makes you wonder.