Monday, February 23, 2009

10 observations from a watchful eye

I'm no anthropologist, but I thought it about time to record some of my findings about Danish culture. Many times I have been asked if I feel like I'm missing out on learning about the Danes because I don't have a host family, but I have found that being even the least bit observant pays off.

#1: Danish Fitness:

A few weeks ago, I decided to do something to counter the effects of my sloth-like behavior since arriving in Copenhagen and forfeited the 999DKK to join a gym just a few blocks away. After the first few days of getting my muscles used to some sort of physical activity, I began noticing some subtle, yet interesting parts of Danish fitness behavior. First of all, shorts and baggy t-shirts (my usual work-out attire) is out while stretchy pants and running tanks is en vogue for active Danes. Second, while in American gyms are full of 40-somethings trying to cope with mid-life crises, it is rare to see anyone above 30-ish in the gym (at least in the Fitness World that I frequent.) Also, Danes seem to take a lot of down time during their workouts, and not just as between sets breathers. Not to say that I’m always the energizer bunny, but I feel that breaking a sweat is part of the point of going to the gym, and I’m used to seeing people pumping iron like there’s no tomorrow.

#2: Nudity:

In the US, it’s not uncommon to see saggy older women baring it all in the locker-room at the gym, but here, even younger generations are less modest about their bodies. Of course, I’ve heard dozens of times about how differently nudity is treated in Europe, but that still makes it no less of a shock when it’s staring down at you from a billboard or used as part of a TV commercial.

#3: To market to market:

I can’t speak for the outlying regions of Denmark, but at least in Copenhagen, there is no such thing as a super- anything…there are no supermarkets and definitely no super-Targets or Walmarts. Here, grocery shopping is not a once-a-week activity where you stock up like you’re awaiting the apocalypse. Instead, Danes stop by the local Netto or Irma almost daily. In addition to that, environmental consciousness extends into the grocery stores as well, where you have to either bring your own bags or pay for a new one (something that I also saw in China last summer), cutting down on the amount of plastic bags floating around.

#4: Fashion:

Copenhagen has been called “the Paris of the North;” very modern, European, beautiful, and fashionable it is still very Danish and its Scandinavian roots hold firm, something that shows through in Danish fashion. While it is definitely true that Copenhageners are fashionable, they remain en vogue in a conservative, non-ostentatious way. With black the prevailing color and scarves the dominant accessory, girls are typically wearing a combination of leather boots, tights or leggings, long shirts or dresses, and peacoats and guys in tight jeans graphic tees and checkered scarves.

#5: Street Etiquette:

When jostled on the sidewalk or squeezing past someone in the aisle of a store, never will you hear a Dane say “sorry” or “excuse me.” More than once, I have had to bite my American tongue to keep from giving away my foreignness.

#6: Service:

I feel like in the US you can’t go into a store without being berated by the sales people trying to get you to sign up for their credit card or notice their latest promotion. At the very least, you get asked if you’re finding everything ok and if you’re needing assistance, there is almost always someone at the ready. Here, without the promise of commissions or tips driving salespeople or servers, service tends to be very slow and impersonal.

#7: Children:

There are kids everywhere! My theory? Denmark’s social-welfare system leads to less work which lowers the demand for daycare and increases the amount of parent-child time…not a bad deal.

#8: Couples:

Maybe another explanation for the number of kids around is the number of couples. While walking down the street, I have noticed that most people are walking in twos. And it seems that Danes are less commitment-shy, and seem to begin pairing of in early high school.

#9: No reservations:

One of the first things I was told about Danes before coming to Denmark was that they were a very reserved people, but thus far I have only noticed the opposite. Yes, Danes aren’t prone to small talk across a cash register, but once approached, they are more than friendly. For example, lots of times when you ask a Dane for directions, they won’t stop at trying to explain the way and will actually take you to the place that you are trying to find. Or when going to someone’s house for dinner, you are treated like an old acquaintance or family member and the meal will last as long as the conversation, which is rarely shorter than 4 hours.

#10: English:

I have yet to meet a Dane who does not speak English; and by “English,” I do not mean English that is hardly discernable through a thick accent and muddled grammar and vocabulary, but English that often times is better than mine. And yet, Danes never fail to warn you that their English may not be too good and that you should not hesitate to correct them. (I guess that just goes to show a bit of the infamous Danish modesty.)

1 comment:

Ulrik said...

There are supermarkets. (also in Denmark). The largest ones are "Bilka" which you find at Hundige s-train station or at Fields (with the Metro).

In Denmark - the normal supermarkets (what Danes calles supermarkets) are Føtex, SuperBest and Kvickly