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.

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