Monday, February 28, 2011


Whenever you travel, you, perhaps unconsciously, ask yourself, Could I live here and be one of them? In most countries I’ve visited, I’ve been quite obviously NOT a native. I’m too tall, too fair, too American (or, to some eyes, too German) looking. One novelty of our trip to Denmark was that I “passed.” I was often mistaken for a Dane, and even when I wasn’t, everyone spoke English. Relocating to Denmark would be an easy transition on one level. But for that very reason perhaps not worth the effort.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My little problem

I have a “little problem.” No, it’s not drinking or shoplifting or incontinence. It’s the inability to watch violent or sexually overexplicit or deeply sad movies without experiencing intense anxiety that keeps me awake. So when Other or one of my kids raptures on about some wonderful movie, there’s a flick at my disability: “You wouldn’t like it, though. It would upset you.” This handicap has created a subgenre in our household viewing archives: Movies Mom Can Watch. This is a seriously pitiable category, consisting almost entirely of failed romcoms. Even I find them nearly unwatchable. They include the irritating and offensive “It’s Complicated,” the dispiriting “The Good Guy” and last night’s oppressive “Morning Glory.” I have high hopes, however, for tonight’s showing: “Another Year.” And there was, of course, the joy that was “Downton Abbey.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why bother?

The thing about foreign travel is that once you reach your destination, you wonder why you’re there and what you’re supposed to do. If you’re like me, you’re used to spending your daily life working and doing household chores. Suddenly abroad, how do you spend your day?

In our case, the reason for our trip was to see our daughter C, who is studying in Copenhagen for a semester.  But she was busy much of the time, so we set about exploring the city on our own. Some days we saw three museums.

But why? Other said it was to get to know a different culture. But can you really get to know the Danish culture by staying in a hotel, looking at castles and canals, going to museums and eating in restaurants (which we’re told Danes rarely do)? In some ways, it seems like a hopeless undertaking. A mitigating factor in our case was that our daughter’s host family invited us for dinner and took us on a drive in the countryside, so we had a chance to see how they lived and ask frank questions.  C’s “new mother,” as we call her, is a rather unusual Dane, however. While I go to an office and sit in front of a computer all day, her job, which she has held for the past 18 years, is singing in the chorus of the Royal Danish Opera. “It’s just a job,” she said when I asked her what it was like.

(A digression: When the little girls who live downstairs from us in New York came to visit a couple weeks ago, they asked what happened to our hamster. It died, I told them. What happened to our turtle? We gave it away to someone who wanted a companion for her turtle, I said. Where was our daughter? She’s gone to live with a “new mother and father” in Denmark, I told them. They were horrified.)

Don’t get me wrong. I loved our trip to Copenhagen, but I’m not sure I know it much better now than I did after reading the Rough Guide before our departure. In fact, watching the “60 Minutes” segment on how Danes are the happiest people in the world was probably more informative than observing the Danes firsthand. I never would have guessed their secret inner happiness, since though they were helpful and kind, they rarely smile at strangers and do not exactly exude joie de vivre. 

Perhaps travel makes more sense for the young, who can hang out in bars and meet their ilk. Other and I don’t really do that anymore.

In a way, I feel as if I learned more about New York than I did about Copenhagen. In the days since we returned home, I am seeing the city anew: the garbage and the cracked sidewalks and the ragged homeless—but also the cheap eats and the diversity and the spontaneity. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hej hej, Denmark

The Danes may seem stolid, plainspoken, even drab en masse, but appearances can be deceiving. They have their subtle ways and complexities. After all, these are a people who pronounce “hej” as “hi” rather than “hedge,” say it once to mean “hello” and twice to mean “goodbye.” (Of course, George Bernard Shaw pointed out that if you followed common conventions of English pronunciation, the word “fish” would be spelled “ghoti” — with the “gh” pronounced as it is in “enough,” the “o” as in “women” and the “ti” as in “nation.”)

In any case, my week among the Danes provided me with fodder to make random, superficial and perhaps highly inaccurate observations:

They talk dirty: They call a final sale a “slutspurt” and refer to boating as “baadfarten” and frothy food as “skum.”

Though not exactly friendly, they are ridiculously trusting: They leave newborn babies in their prams when they go into stores or cafes, pile their bikes unlocked outside train stations, hang their expensive coats in unguarded museum cloakrooms, don’t bother to verify that you have nothing to declare in customs but just shuttle you through the exit into their country. It takes ages to get to know them, unless, of course, they are drunk, which the young frequently are, in which case their inhibitions vanish and they want to have sex with you (Note: I report this from hearsay, not personal experience).

They are proud of their country but remarkably understated: They allow McDonald’s and other American fast-food franchises to dominate their lovely  town-hall square, put 7-Elevens on every corner, and tout Carlsberg, their national beer brand, as “probably the best beer in town” as if they weren’t quite sure.

They are ecologically righteous — and wrongeous: Every toilet has two levels of flush, one with lots of water for solids and one with a more modest flow for liquid waste, and your electricity shuts off when you leave your hotel room so you simply cannot charge a laptop without being present. On the other hand, the Danish diet consists largely of great hunks of pork and beef and cheese, among the world’s least sustainable foodstuffs.

You gotta love 'em.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dinner Danish-style

This is no place for a vegetarian. The Danish diet consists largely of grog and animal fat. I guess Danes need both to bolster themselves against the frigid temps and icy winds.

Dinner abroad

It sounds like a concoction a child might invent to be outrageous: liver with raspberries. But when our Danish hosts served us a salad made of spinach, walnuts, chicken livers and raspberries, it was not at all strange, actually delicious. As were the cod with cream, the boiled potatoes, and the apple upside down pie (top crust but no bottom one). Oh, and the vats of wine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

One-track mind

I have a one-track mind. Perhaps there are other tracks, but they are blocked or clogged or temporarily unavailable. So all I can think about right now is whether the best way to stay warm is layers or my god-awful heap of a down overcoat. I've never done layers, but I can't quite face dragging around Denmark in what looks like a big black housecoat. A frigid country 4,000 miles away from my home closet seems like a poor place to experiment ... but I think I will ...

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I've been hearing an awful lot of masturbation jokes lately. Or not exactly jokes but rather references to masturbation that are supposed to be inherently funny just because the word masturbation was uttered. In the movie "Due Date," a dude masturbates to go to sleep. Ha ha ha. And on tonight's "Daily Show," Matthew Perry recounted how he told someone he would "masturbate into some money." Ha ha ha. And Tracy Morgan announced that finds Sarah Palin "serious masturbation material." Ha ha ha.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Segway security

The security forces at the San Francisco Airport skip the moving sidewalks and use Segways to get around.