Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Weird Danish traditions

What are you doing for your copper anniversary, we were asked recently. This struck me as an odd question. Firstly we were married in February and it was August so I had little notion I should be celebrating anything anniversary related. Secondly I believed copper was quite an early - one six, maybe seven years so why would I be celebrating several years after the event? And thirdly, I'm not into that kind of traditional stuff where each anniversary should supposedly be celebrated by a different material. I could just about imagine celebrating the big ones, but Thomas and I lived together for a number of years before marrying so the anniversaries always feel a bit off any way and having married so late in life (I was 41, he was 37) the chances of reaching the significant ones seems less likely. 

That was when I learnt two new things. Not only are several of the traditional anniversaries different in the two countries: Danes have some odd things like a Pomegranate anniversary (19 years) and a Tulip anniversary (23 years) and though the UK says year 7 is copper, Denmark reserves copper for 12.5 years! You see Danes don't start the big ones at 25, they go down to 12.5, so last Saturday was in fact our Danish copper anniversary! 

Danes always have very set ways to celebrate things. Obviously we've no friends or family in the vicinity who know when we got married. But with Thomas's folks in the country anyway because of our niece's confirmation, another very Danish tradition, we were awoken by Léon playing his violin, followed by Brita, Peter, and the three kids singing us Danish songs. We came out to find our dining room door decorated and then got a huge breakfast from the bakery in Vissenbjerg. We even got a Happy 12.5 years wedding anniversary card and were made to pose in our nightwear for a photo in front of the decorated door!

It is always interesting to take part in a celebration of something alien to your own culture because you get to see the world through another's eyes.


Friday, 21 May 2021

Supermarket talk


Danish checkout operators, for the most part, are teenagers. Unlike at home where you often get bored middle-aged women who slowly check your stuff through while telling you their life story, here all supermarket checkout operators, no matter the supermarket, have a set script that is almost never deviated from, and customers also have a script they are meant to stick to, it's all very odd and quite tedious...

Translated into English it goes:

Checkout operator: Hi

Customer: Hi

They scan everything in silence.

Checkout operator: Anything else?

Customer: no, thanks.

Checkout operator: That'll be 250 Kroner (or whatever). Would you like your receipt?

Customer: No, thanks

Checkout operator: Thanks, have a good day/afternoon/weekend! 

Customer: Thanks, same to you!

So, it's neither riveting nor particularly good for my Danish skills, but I guess it means every foreigner knows at least three phrases in Danish. Sometimes, I'm tempted, when they are scanning to ask if they are going anywhere nice at the weekend, just to see if they actually die of shock. 

Anyway, today I nipped into Aldi to buy some chips and after scanning my stuff the boy on the checkout, to my shock, came out with 'Have a nice Whitsun!' You could have knocked me over. Who knew my afternoon could be this interesting! I don't even know what Whitsun is in English, let alone in Danish, nor do I know how to have a good one. I'm now on Facebook quizzing my Danish friends as to whether there are any special cakes connected to Whitsun, given most of these religious holidays in Denmark seem to be cake excuses, as far as I can see! 

I'll keep you posted!


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

No sex please, we're Scandinavian!





I had never set foot in Denmark until Xmas of 2006. At that point I'd seen a lot of central and southern Europe and been over to New York, but Scandinavia had just never happened. I had always opted for warmer climes and Aarhus, my first point of touch-down, was on the same latitude as Glasgow, so why would I go there in December? Then I fell in love with a Dane... 

One of the most surprising things to me, on arrival, was their sleeping arrangements. The several houses I visited and stayed in all had this, fairly standard set-up, with a double box mattress, almost always with no headboard, so you invariably lose your pillow down the back of the bed several times a night, and two single duvets. 

I know jokes about your partner stealing or hogging the duvet are age-old, but still, there's something very alien to me about sleeping in a double bed with two single duvets, especially with someone you might happen to find yourself in the grips of passion with! I could almost conceive of it if I was sharing a double in, say, a hotel with my daughter or a female friend but not sleeping under the same sheet as the person you are intimate with, is just a wee bit odd to me! You can't really hug them without great gusts of cold air wafting in. And if you fancy trying to get cosier, you almost have to unwrap your other half to find them. 

Aesthetically, it looks kind of weird too, like an unspoken warning that you had better not try any hanky panky in their bed! I, for one, never had the Scandies down as frigid prudes, somehow! 

I guess if you were looking for a positive spin, you could argue that you can theoretically both opt for a different tog value, if you have different core temperatures - could be handy during menopause! And single duvets are definitely easier to put on, wash and dry... 

But this set-up really isn't my cup of tea. If I'm going to share my bed with my man, I don't just want to get to share the snoring, I want to make use of his warm body to heat me up and make me feel all cosy and warm too! Maybe Danes just don't like to cuddle? Fortunately for me, my very own Dane is very much on my wavelength in this regard. We've gone one step further in so much as we decided early on that we wanted a double bed, not a king-sized like most people we know, so we could stay close and cuddly but with the sneaky addition of a king-sized duvet so there's no hogging and no stealing, just total hygge, Scandy-style, or not so Scandy-style, maybe!


Sunday, 9 May 2021

Weird tree circles



I've noticed in two of the Danish towns close to where I live there are trees planted in a circle with large rocks placed under them, also in a circle. Both are fairly close to the local church or manse. I'm quite intrigued as to their purpose. Is it just a nice shady place to sit if you're out on a walk and suddenly feel tired? Maybe kids gather around to hear stories, maybe they grill sausages in the middle (hoping the trees won't catch fire)? Or maybe they are some kind of Stonehenge equivalent? Perhaps witches meet up there at night and place their cauldrons in the middle and dance in a circle with their cats. I've no idea, and I'm not sure I want to know what they are for, I think I'd rather concoct more and more outrageous stories in my head instead!


 

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Drain covers


I've just started noticing how fancy the drain covers are over here. I think I'll start adding them here to see just how many different ones I come across.









Conflict-ready


Here's another weird thing about Denmark. On the first Wednesday in May every year they test the national air raid sirens! Who knew they had air raid sirens still in working order?! And this isn't a capital thing, we even have them over here in our nearest villages. So I guess if I hear this weird sound any other day of the year I should run for cover, as it probably means Boris Johnson has possibly declared war on the EU over some silly matter like fishing or bacon exports!

Monday, 3 May 2021

Ice cream vans


We're all familiar with ice cream vans back home... the tinny bells play a jingle and half the kids swarm out to buy a wafer, an oyster or a 99 and mull over whether or not to add raspberry sauce, while the other half stay home as their parents try explaining to them how much dearer it is than buying a six pack of own-brand Magnums round the local Aldi! My family, needless to say, with all those kids fell into the latter category.

Last week our ice cream van came round, same tinny bells, same jingle, so we thought we'd give it a go, mainly out of curiosity. What an odd experience! There's no price list or pictures of ice creams and lollies on the side, because they don't sell any! No oysters, no 99s and no sauce either! It turns out that what they sell is large tubs of ice cream for your freezer and bulk boxes of cones or lollies not for individual purchase! I'm not 100% sure why this needs to come round the houses? Maybe because most people cycle to the supermarket, it's too bulky to get home, or too likely to thaw? No idea. We've also now found out they have a website so you can pre-order your bulk ice cream flavours with free delivery to the house. 

It is strange how something that looks like it is going to be so similar to home turns out to be the exact opposite. This is a weird country sometimes!

 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Toddler hats

I don't find the climate here in Denmark significantly different to home, not in the winter anyway, the summer might be a bit more predictable and warm and all in all there are greater numbers of sunlight hours here but winter is definitely no wetter or colder. One thing that is different, however, is how Danish parents dress their kids for the outdoors. I've mentioned the flyverdragter before, but another thing Danish kids seem to live in is this type of balaclava. It seems to me that all Danish kids own one of these, without exception. They are so omnipresent here that I would probably assume a toddler walking by in a normal, beanie-style winter hat to be a foreigner!

Here's a random selection I just happened to capture as part of a larger picture when photographing my way around town the other day, hence the anonymisation.

 
 

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Handy!

In a country where everyone cycles, aren't these useful things to see along the roadside?
 

Personalised number plates

In the UK, personalised number plates are popular - there is probably at least one on most leafy residential streets. Some people go with their initials and a number or two, others try to be witty, spelling out words using the obligatory mix of numbers and letters. Marcel has a number of friends named Ross (it was a very common name in the late nineties, thanks to a certain sit-com). Those Rosses often end up with cars with a number plate starting RO55... as that appears to read ROSS from a distance. Likewise I have seen KI5S ME, 5EXY etc. In Denmark, however, no ingenuity is required. First, they are so uncommon that I have only seen a handful over the last couple of years and secondly, they simply use letters and write whatever they damn please!😂

Here's one I saw yesterday when I was in town. Drink-driving anyone?



 

Store bededag

To my mind, Denmark is a crazy weird country when it comes to religion. Although on the surface it is as secular as Scotland, it seems to cling overly to lots of religious hand-me-downs, perhaps for want of something better to do. 

Thomas has a theory that it stems from Denmark being a fairly insipid place when it comes to unique national culture. There is little in Danish culture that is exclusive to Denmark, not shared by its Nordic neighbours or their German cousins to the south. Their high school leaving traditions with their sailor hats and trucks full of drunken kids, that you might be familiar with from having seen the Oscar winning film 'Druk' (Another Round) are something quite unique but many of their traditions harp back to a time when people were much more religious. Their extremely alien approach to Protestant confirmation - something that a huge number of teenagers take part in every year despite never setting foot in a church before or after year 7 stands out as one of the most bizarre - Anna is currently the only child in her class not being confirmed this summer, but that is a blogpost on its own. 

This theory could also explain a rather surprising attachment to the monarchy from a land where equality is so prized that gay marriage and similar was legalised long before we saw it back home. 

As a Scottish person, we have obvious ways to celebrate our Scottishness and to differentiate ourselves from England or elsewhere. We have Scots and Gaelic, we have tartan and clans, we have ceilidhs and Scottish country dancing, and haggis (and veggie haggis just to make it culturally inclusive) and much more. 

Anyway, whatever the reason, Denmark clings somewhat to its religious traditions and yesterday, according to my calendar, was the amusingly named 'store bededag' - 'great prayer day'. Great prayer day is so big, it is on a par with Christmas from a shopping perspective, almost nowhere is open! Thomas and the kids all had a day off, so there were no complaints there. The idea, historically, seems to be that people were taking too much time off work for religious holidays so those religious holidays got combined into one great day, where quality was meant to count over quantity. You were to spend the whole day praying to make up for taking fewer religious holidays, but that went for everyone, including the bakers, so banned from opening, they came up with wheat rolls that could be bought the night before and kept till great prayer day was over. In typical Danish style, great prayer day now, as far as I can see is no longer a religious holiday but an excuse to stay home from work all day and gorge yourself on some rather delightful warm, toasted rolls known as hveder with a hint of cardamom dripping in luxurious Danish butter. Even this atheist could get into that kind of religious celebration!



Paddington


Léon has taken to eating quite a lot of marmalade since we moved here. He just loves Danish marmalade, which has even more peel in it than the UK equivalent!

Over lunch the other week, he joked we should start calling him Paddington. Thomas, then happened to mention, that when he was a child, he had read many Paddington books, translated into Danish of course, because he couldn't speak English back then. They'd been badly translated though, as many books are, and had translated marmalade simply by 'marmelade', which is just any kind of jam in Danish. I was less aware of this as the standard word for jam that I know in Danish is 'syltetøj'. He sheepishly admitted that until he'd seen the English originals, when he had had kids of his own, he'd always pictured Paddington eating strawberry jam! 

So Denmark appears to be a land where Paddington Bear dines out on strawberry jam sandwiches... Unimaginable!

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Toasters

I grew up without a toaster. In Scotland in the 70s, you just used the grill in your cooker. Often this was at eye-level so why would you ever want a toaster? Of course, I secretly wanted a toaster because I thought they were ever so classy and exciting! But then someone invented extractor fans and the grills moved into the oven. After a few years of backache, most people gave in and bought a toaster, and it turned out they weren't half as exciting as I'd imagined. We still used the grill for toasted cheese or toasting a baguette, but the toaster became the norm for toasting bread.

When we moved to Denmark, we brought our Scottish toaster, but Thomas complained time and again that he missed having a toaster - something he'd never mentioned in 15 years together. I didn't get what the issue was till he finally bought what he, as a Dane, considers to be a real toaster! It is this weird two-bar heater thing that operates basically as an upside-down grill and that Danes use to toast their morning rolls. Now we have one, he uses it all the time, and I guess it is slowly becoming a kind of toaster in my head too. Who knew?




 

Friday, 9 April 2021

Greenland

Now here's a weird one... When you are brought up in Scotland, you are taught nothing about Greenland. You know it's a snowy place with the odd igloo, and possibly some seals, full stop. You have no idea what goes on there and you have almost certainly never met a Greelander or even someone who has been there. My old office mate, a keen climber and mountaineer, once went on a hiking tour of eastern Greenland. She came back with some of the most spectacular photos I have ever seen in my life, so I really felt I knew much more about it than your average middle-aged Scottish woman!


Greenland is currently an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, so here the topic of Greenland crops up all the time. For example, if you go on the local job page here, there are currently no fewer than 135 jobs on offer in Greenland! And the last week's evening news has been dominated by the general election and shift in power there, bet you didn't know about that!

You also meet a number of Greenlanders in your travels here. My new dentist is from Greenland - a lovely woman, married to an Irishman from Cork who runs the local Irish pub! Léon has Greenlandic classmates and a couple of years ago when we were looking to buy a house, we viewed at least one where the decor was entirely Greenlandic and all the photos dotted around the house included people in reindeer skins against snowy backdrops. It's quite fascinating!



Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Liquorice revisited

After my experience with the ice lollies, I started to look out for liquorice. It is everywhere! Whereas in a UK shop maybe 3-5% of confectionery may be liquorice flavoured, here it is often more than 50% and sometimes as high as 75%. As a liquorice loather, I often wonder why they need so many types? Surely one sweet, one salty should cover all bases? These same supermarkets only stock one type of fresh chilli, when I want a choice of ten, but they have space for 47 different sweets that are all the same in my book! Supermarkets all stock tubs of liquorice ice cream, though you might struggle to find something like raspberry ripple or peach melba! And Haribo has a whole liquorice range! Who knew?! Small children are given liquorice from birth just so that they get used to that flavour from early on. Danes actively seem to try building up a liquorice tolerance in their kids in much the same way as I did with my kids with scotch bonnets! Just last week, my 7 year old (Danish) niece was munching on liquorice sweets and looked aghast when both my Danish daughters refused one. She had clearly never met a child who didn't like liquorice before, let alone two!

But the most spectacular encounter I have had so far was on a trip at the end of 2019 to the wonderful restaurant Fiskehuset in Bogense. My mother was visiting and we went for a fish buffet. Never in my life had I tasted such wonderful lobster soup and I was happily tasting my way through the fishy delicacies, when I noticed the next table were slightly further on in their meal. The kids were ordering some ice creams but the dad opted for a cheeseboard. I looked on in interest, given that cheese is probably my favourite thing in the whole world to eat... They brought out delicious-looking rustic crackers and a large selection of hard and soft cheeses, some blue, some creamy coloured. Suddenly in the centre of the board I noticed a jet black lump, cheddary in consistency but with a dark, matt sheen. As my brain questioned what it could possibly be, I heard the man's wife exclaim in glee - Oh look darling, they've got that yummy liquorice cheese, you love! Liquorice cheese? LIQUORICE CHEESE??? Seriously? What is wrong with these people?! 

If I had been less in shock, I would have wandered over and asked to photograph it, but that'll need to wait till Covid is over with, I guess.

And just to prove they do make the stuff, though this isn't the same colour as the one I saw, here's a picture!



Thursday, 1 April 2021

Easter eggs

In Scotland, when I was a child there were very few supermarkets and the ones we did have were small, Aldi-sized. You could buy mainly white eggs and on a really exotic day brown were also available.

Over the years that changed. Supermarkets mushroomed to the size of Silverburn Tesco (the Danish equivalent is probably Bilka Odense). Strangely though, the egg selection shrank till all you could get from battery, to barn, to free range were brown eggs. Occasionally Newton Mearns Waitrose had some pale duck-egg blue coloured ones if you had recently won the lotto, but otherwise all eggs were brown. 

This made no difference all year round, except at Easter. If you want to colour brown eggs, you end up with shitty-coloured Easter eggs. For about five years we got round this by buying white eggs in our local Polish corner shop but that solution left with its owners when Brexit forced it into liquidation and its lovely staff onto the first plane home.

In Denmark, however, we have no such problem. Here all standard supermarket eggs are white and if we were to need a brown one for anything, our neighbour's brood often leave us little brown ones around the garden!😁

Monday, 29 March 2021

Happy 30th!

There's something weird going on in this country when it comes to people's 30th birthdays. It seems common to celebrate 30th birthdays with odd, large, metal, for want of a better word, sculptures or similar. I'm not sure who gifts these to the birthday boy or girl, or whether they come as a surprise or are actually built on request. They seem to be deposited at the end of people's driveways and left for weeks or even months. Examples of these, that I have come across so far are a 2m tall man holding a beer made of old metal drums, that was on the main road to Søndersø so I couldn't stop, and a wreckage of a car (with no wheels or engine) in various colours painted with rude slogans, this time on the main road to Odense. And then there were these two delightful specimens which I actually managed to snap from my car window in passing. The first was in our nearest village Veflinge and the second was in a tiny rural idyll of a village named Sønder Esterbølle... I mean wtaf?! The latter sat outside someone's house on the on the main road for the whole summer! 

I think I will make a conscious effort to snap these sculptures going forward and add them here, while investigating further what they are all about... But I have to say, I'm kinda glad I was over 30 when I moved here!




Going forward I will add any new birthday sculptures I find on my travels, below with the date and location:

Veflinge 12/04/21








 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Danish bikes

I had a bike back home, the same one I'd bought in my late 20s and on the few occasions I used it, it suited my purpose. Before I left, given it was a worthless dinosaur, I figured selling it rather than paying to ship it to Denmark was probably a better bet. I advertised it on Facebook at £30 and a rather wacky treehugger granny dressed in tie-dyed cheesecloth turned up on my doorstep all the way from the Ayrshire coast telling me she wanted to get back in touch with nature and cycle everywhere going forward. A very chatty type, she admitted eventually she had lost her job through illness as some kind of general do-gooder and didn't even have enough for her dinner, let alone petrol going forward, so by the end of the afternoon, I'd made her a cup of tea, given her biscuits, bagged up some rhubarb and berries from my garden, waived the £30 and helped her squeeze my old bike into the back of the smallest, oldest car you've ever seen handlebars out the window. As she hugged me in tears, telling me there were still good people in the world, I knew my bike would be loved, even if I suspected she was going to spend the rest of the week dancing round a bonfire in the forest chanting my name to some pagan gods of hers!

It made me feel good, but now I am beginning to regret it! You see, since I arrived in Denmark I have realised their bikes are quite different. For starters, they have that really odd cycle-backwards-braking system you find all over the Germanic world, except in the UK! So when I am on my new Danish bike, unless I concentrate, I accidentally brake and throw myself over my handlebars. But that isn't even the biggest difference!

The problem is the sizing of bikes. For some reason when you buy or hire a bike in the UK or France (the two places I am used to cycling), they give you a bike that when you sit on the saddle, you can touch the ground on both sides with the ball of your foot. The saddle comes up to the top of your leg plus maybe 5cm. In Denmark however, when they measure you up for a bike in a proper bike shop, they offer you something that when you stand beside it, the saddle is somewhere between waist height and your boobs! You can barely reach the pedals, let alone the ground and this isn't just because I am only 1m61, it is completely standard. After buying a bike here I have been observing Danish cyclists and they are all sitting waaaaaay up in the air, by UK standards. Every day I see wee grannies perched up on bikes that look like they'd fit a 1m90 man. When on my new bike, I feel like I should be asking for permission to land rather than just pulling in to the kerb, I'm so high up. And it isn't like I could just have bought the size down. Given my height, the size down is aimed at primary kids and comes with my little Pony stickers, purple ribbons and no gears, not to mention it probably doesn't cater for my non-ten-year-old weight! Thomas claims it is less tiring to be so much further from the ground and the pedals - that's as maybe, but it is bloody scary when you are just a wee woman like me! I almost feel like I need to learn to cycle from scratch because it feels so different way up there where the air is thin! If I survive, and overcome my newly-developed fear of heights, maybe I'll adapt to it eventually.

Oh, and finally, another thing that stands out here on the roads is helmet use, or rather the lack of it. I don't think I've seen anyone cycling on the road in the UK helmet-free since the 1990s, but here the only people in helmets are primary school kids, foreigners and people in sports gear. 90% of adult Danes, in Odense centre, and there are thousands of them, are helmetless... waaaaay up there! 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

An anecdote about Danish schools versus Scottish ones

Funnily enough, I expect the Danes who read this to be as appalled about Scotland as the Scots who read it are about Denmark, so here goes:

Back in Scotland my kids went to Kirkhill primary. Kirkhill is (funnily enough) on a hill! Two thirds of the plot of land the school was on was taken up with concrete playgrounds, and the school itself, but one third was known as 'the banking', a grassy area on an incline, hence banking. Here are a couple of photos and a satellite picture:




How nice, you might think... but no, the banking was out of bounds! No child was allowed to set foot on the banking unless it was school sports day and they were out with a teacher, or if they were taking part in an outdoor activity under the supervision of a teacher, or afterschool care worker. Children got in big trouble if they attempted to play on the grass, because it was deemed way too risky as there was no fence at the playground end. Children who dared to walk along the wall Thomas and the kids are sitting on in the photo above were also chastised for taking part in way too dangerous an activity! At several parent council meetings, using the banking was mooted but dropped as they could afford neither to have it flattened or fenced off, nor to insure kids to play on it in its current state, so year after year the more than 600 pupils played on the concrete playgrounds you can see on the satellite image, while the banking went unused. 

This is definitely a 21st century phenomenon. My own primary school had a similar grassy incline and we lived on it in the 70s, so this paranoia is new. Whether they are most worried about the kids hurting themselves, or whether they are scared of being sued by parents is not a question I can answer, though the suing culture that has crept in from the US over the past generation is very tangible. I didn't grow up with kettles being labelled 'Warning: hot water', but that is sadly the norm now.

So let's move on to the kids' Danish schools now. Amaia's is equivalent in age covering nursery up to year 6 (who are aged 12). They don't have any banking, but firstly they have a playground without a fence around it which is next to a road and secondly they have a forest to the back of the school with homemade treehouses and ropes and ladders for any kid who wants to climb the trees! And I don't mean expensive climbing frames, I mean a literal forest with homemade platforms up trees. Funnily enough you can't see the platforms on the satellite for the actual trees.


No one bats an eyelid when kids as young as six disappear off into the forest.

But the anecdote I started out on was this...

Léon and Anna go to a Danish Folkeskole - it's neither a primary, nor a high school in the Scottish sense. It has one wing that contains a nursery and kids up to year 6 like Amaia's and over and above that, it has a wing at the back that contains years 7, 8, & 9 - a sort of middle school or junior high if you like, before they go off to gymnasium at 16. So the front part of the building is the younger kids' wing. One day before we moved here to our house, when I was still driving the kids every day from our rented summer house up at the coast, a boy of maybe nine kicked his football up onto the flat roof at the front of the school. I watched from the carpark with interest... The boy climbed the nearby drainpipe, retrieved his ball and threw it down. At that point I saw a teacher had clocked him and started to walk over. My still-Scottish mind thought 'you're in trouble mate!' ... I knew for sure that if this had been Scotland, the child would have been made to sit down and wait while the fire brigade or a rescue helicopter or similar had been called - although it would never have happened back at our Scottish school because not only were all flat roofs surrounded by spikes and barbed wire, the kids would have been told that climbing up would have led to death or at the very least paralysis, so they would never have dared!! I watched with interest, car windows open so I could hear the exchange. It went something like 'Hey you!' The boy turned to the teacher. 'Are you up there getting a ball?' 'Yes' he replied though I could detect no fear or sheepishness... 'See while you are up there, gonna throw down any other balls, shuttlecocks and anything else you see, save the janitor going up later, thanks son!' He then turned to his two mates and said 'Why don't you two shove that picnic bench over to the wall so it is easier for your mate to jump back down!' which they hurriedly did while the boy slowly climbed back down. 

There was no drama, no hysteria, no fear, no one died, no one got sued. I sat in my car and thought to myself - I think my parenting style is going to fit in better here than it did at home...

Trust versus terror

Since my piece the other day about risk aversion, I've been thinking about the differences between the Danish and Scottish (or British) parents I know, and although life in the two countries should be similar, the biggest difference I can see is not risk itself but their respective perception of it. I expect I will return to this topic time and again as it is a huge benchmark of the two societies, but today let's look specifically at sleeping babies. Often there is a difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK but in this specific case, as Scottish parents are influenced by the media, I presume the observation goes not only for the whole of the UK, but for much of the English-speaking world.

One of the first things that shocks you as a Scot in Denmark are the prams. Outside houses and flats all over Denmark you see prams abandoned, no matter the outside temperature and no matter how rural or urban the setting. Inside babies are asleep in the fresh air. Whether it is mid-summer or sub-zero makes no difference. I'm not sure what Danes believe will happen to their offspring if they don't have their afternoon nap outside, but I am yet to meet a Dane who would feel that sleeping outside is something their baby should be protected against.

And this is by no means a village thing, I first noticed the phenomenon in central Copenhagen and where my sister-in-law lives in Valby - an area with tenement-type flats by the thousand - this is completely the norm. Danes have a high level of trust in each other, surveys find trust levels up at around 80%, unlike the woeful 30% you'd score on a UK trust test. I suspect many people back home would be afraid to leave their pram outside, even minus the infant, in case the pram was stolen, but here even the precious bundle inside is assumed to be safe without a close watchful eye. As mothers and fathers sit in their 4th storey flat, junior sleeps outside, downstairs with the babies of friends, neighbours and strangers. We've all heard the story of the Dane in New York who was arrested basically for being Danish, in the States. And I certainly feel Brits have developed a heightened sense of fear over my lifetime. As a child in the 70s, I can clearly remember babies being left outside supermarkets in my home town while their mums popped in for some groceries. And if they were taken in from the gardens and tenement back closes for their afternoon naps, I suspect it was more out of fear of the Scottish climate than fear of a baby-snatching bogeyman.

I imagine now, as in the States, a baby left to sleep outside a café in Scotland would cause surprise, fear or hysteria, in a way that over here I can see is wholly unnecessary. I'm now into my second year here and am yet to hear about a single case of anything happening to a sleeping tot on the evening news! As with the many other areas of risk aversion back home, I suspect the fear is much stronger than the actual risk, and it is a shame that attitudes are so hard to change.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Risk aversion

I happened to upload a photo last month of Amaia taking her sledge to school. Maybe I'm just getting too Danish to notice but of course, I was immediately reminded by a friend in Scotland of the fact that back home there would be no point because we cage kids in the classrooms in case they fall whenever the weather is bad.
I'd say, having experienced both, the biggest difference between the two school systems is the level of risk aversion. Here the kids are told to bring their ski suit and then sent out to play no matter the weather - in snow boots and a ski suit you can slide down a hill happily without the weather affecting you. Amaia's school has a forest behind it where the kids have tree houses with rope ladders. She get 'tech' at school and has so far brought home things like a baseball bat, a set of coat hooks etc that she's been allowed to make using tools - eg a saw, a file, a drill - they teach them to use them then supervise them using them. She's in the 5th year of the Danish primary system (called class 4 because they start school later here and there's a p0 (weirdly)). In home economics they use real knives to cut stuff - I remember my older children ranting they were only allowed butter knives for cutting up to S2 in high school. They also expect them to cycle to school alone and from there to the local sports hall for various activities and they are also meant to navigate the bus system alone from the age of 7. Amaia takes the bus to school alone with her own bus card. And I mean the local bus, not a designated school bus. If I wanted to go up to the village, I could get on it too and pay my fare. And when they go on school trips to a new city, they allow 13 year olds in groups of 3 or 4 to go for an hour long walk alone (without following them on a google map using an Ipad) the way our high school do even in S4. Léon went on a trip to the Danish parliament last year, aged 14, and at lunch time was sent out with two friends to explore the capital city, alone and trusted. 

I know so many parents who would have apoplexy back home but from what I can see, it simply leads to sensible capable young adults here. But I never really fitted into the Scottish helicopter mould anyway, so for me it is a big plus! And of course, given they don't do uniforms, kids can dress appropriately for all activities at all times.

And I would also say, I have not seen any more kids with casts on broken limbs here than at home, so maybe snow and ice are just natural phenomena!!

Thursday, 18 March 2021

A different attitude to sex

I was listening to the radio programme Sara og Monopolet the other weekend. When I was on my Danish course last year, the teachers advised us to listen to it (or rather its predecessor Mads og Monopolet) to help with our everyday Danish. Basically it's a chat show where Danes write in with dilemmas they need help with and a panel of three well-known guests (who are different every week) debates possible solutions.

I often find the programme is as much a cultural eye-opener as a linguistic one. This will probably not be the first time I share a story from this programme where the reaction is incredibly different to the one I know the situation would have got at home...

So this particular listener had written in (I'm paraphrasing the Danish): Hi this is my dilemma. I have a child in year 7 at the local school (this is age 13-14, Anna is in year 7). As you know the children are receiving online schooling at the moment and I don't think their Maths teacher is very clued-up digitally. The issue is that when he shares his screen with the class to explain a problem, he doesn't realise that his tab bar at the top of the screen is also visible to the kids and the problem is he has a tab open entitled 'Pornhub'... Now as a Scottish person, I would expect the dilemma to continue 'Should I report him to the police, have him fired, have his right to teach revoked, have him put on the sex offenders' register, send all the kids to a trauma psychologist for PTSD, have him chemically castrated and apply for compensation as my poor innocent little cherub will never get over this for as long as he lives?' Despite the fact that all, or at least most parents of 14 year olds know fine well they are quite clued up about the existence of sex, porn and all sorts of other things. But as it was, the dilemma actually finished with the question: 'Does the panel think it would be ok if I rang him and warned him that the kids were all having a laugh at his expense, and suggest he removes that tab while he has the class because I feel sorry for the poor teacher?'

The openness about sex and similar topics coupled with the lack of cottonwool-wrapping of children, especially adolescent children, really stands out to me here. It is definitely an interesting cultural marker. I suspect even if someone wanted to give this point of view back home, the radio stations would think the question way too risqué to tackle!   

Who needs dignity?

Last time I owned a snowsuit I was probably a year old... In fact, it was the 60s, so I am betting I probably never owed one, other than some woolly number conjured up by my mum or my granny... Yip.
In the UK, you buy all-in-one outdoor things if you're into skiing. And if you're into skiing, you're probably fairly well-off, so they are designed by Moncler or some other luxury brand and cost a four figure sum (UK money). In Denmark however everyone can buy a snowsuit - they have them in their equivalent of Asda in all sizes from baby to adult and people buy them just for walking their dog or going for a winter stroll on the beach. Amaia's teacher even wears one to work so she can take the kids out on walks (and of course all the kids have them too). 

Last winter I looked at them but thought they were a bit silly at my age. This year when they reduced them to the equivalent of about £24, I gave in and bought one. I even bought it a size too big so I could fit my big winter jacket underneath. I might now look like a cuddly green blob, but having tried it both for gardening and for walking at the coast, I am wondering how I got through the last 51 winters without one and quite frankly I don't care how silly I look in it!😂 I am a convert to the Scandy way!

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 11/12/20

Decaff in Denmark

I used to drink my coffee black - when I was a kid that was. It was probably because my mum drank it black so didn't think to put any milk in mine when she first introduced me to instant coffee in the 80s. All through uni my entire friend group were all '237's on the vending machine - well except for one weirdo who didn't (and still doesn't) drink coffee of any colour (we love you all the same Gillian 😁). 

By our mid-thirties, we'd all moved on to white - maybe our old intestines just couldn't keep up with the straight paint-stripper caffeine. 

This year on my birthday, I woke up and wondered if my aging insides might not feel better with no caffeine at all. I was only ever a two cups a day girl, but still, I thought it couldn't hurt to try decaff for a week. I had an old jar lying around that I used to use for my decaff friends back home so I tried that. For two days I had a blinder of a headache. I thought the reaction was completely over the top given I really didn't drink much coffee, but it worried me all the same, so once I'd come through the other side of the cold turkey, I decided to stick with it. 

And what a pain that is turning out to be. Decaff is everywhere in the UK, has been for decades, Italy was the same when we were down there in the summer. Like me it is the taste they are after, not the drugs, but Denmark is a complete pain in the backside. Danish supermarkets are notoriously poorly stocked. It might be different in central Copenhagen, but where I live there are only two supermarkets that stock it (out of more than ten within 15 minutes drive) and each of those has a choice of one (over-priced) brand, when it is (occasionally) in stock. Worse still, cafés think you're insane if you even suggest it. I tried three different ones in Copenhagen airport on Wednesday and they just looked at me as if I'd asked if they happened to stock green and purple stripy hairless cats for human consumption.

I'm not missing that lull in the afternoon when I need a coffee, I'm no longer in need of a caffeine fix but I hope at some point Denmark will catch up with the notion that coffee without caffeine can be a nice addition to the menu too, and not some weird health food item you need to buy off the Internet for home consumption only.

Originally published on Phylsblog on 18/10/20

Against all odds - a selection of squashes

I moaned about it last year after my stay in Alkmaar, so there's no point in my ranting again... I just feel that it always hits me worse when I have just come back from somewhere else, and of course I am just back from Italy, so it's been pissing me off again. Why is it that Danes put up with their supermarkets having a selection that is equivalent to about 30% of what you would find in any of their neighbouring countries? Being in Italy was so refreshing - you could choose from many different types of tomato, lettuce, mushrooms or whatever fruit and veg tickled your fancy. The selection in your average supermarket there was much closer to what you would find in the local immigrant markets here than the shitty little mini-supermarkets, of which there are sooooo many. They had whole aisles dedicated to something that would take up 50cm on a Danish supermarket shelf. Every single supermarket had at least two aisles dedicated to breakfast items - croissants - at least five different flavours, petits pains aux chocolat, a dozen different types of cereal-based biscuits for dipping in your morning coffee, normal cereals, cakes, rolls - endless choice. 

Shopping here bores me to tears. I often go out with an idea of what I want to cook, but unless I can be bothered dragging myself to the immigrant markets on the other side of the city, I soon end up throwing in the towel. Though on my way home tonight, ranting my head off to Thomas as usual, my spirits were lifted by this roadside stall, erected by a local farmer. Now that's what I call a reasonable selection! So reasonable in fact, I'm now home with four different types and I'm off to trawl my cookbooks for inspiration 😊



Originally published on Phylsblog on 27/08/20


School trips

I've been puzzling over this for a year now...

How can it be that this trip (350km/217 miles each way using a train, a coach and a ferry) and a week's stay in an outdoor centre can cost 400DKK (£48.30) for a 12 year old.


When this trip (57 miles/92km each way using a coach) and a week's stay in an outdoor centre last year cost me £240 (1988DKK) for the same 11 year old.


I suspect the answer is that Scottish parents are being done...
Originally published on Phylsblog on 15/06/20

Yeast

Denmark mostly doesn't feel like a very foreign place but just sometimes you some across a situation you would never encounter at home... I just walked into my kitchen to find Léon and his friend baking bread - the friend was discussing how much fresh yeast they needed. Fourteen year old boys in Scotland, for the most part, would struggle to pick yeast out of a police line-up, let alone know how to use it without a recipe and instructions!🤣 

I really think the kids here are generally more self sufficient and capable.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Corona hamstering - city versus countryside

We live 15km north of Denmark's third largest city. After last night's lockdown advice from the PM, I meandered over to Søndersø this morning as it has a Netto, a Rema, an Aldi and a Superbrugsen. I figured with so many shops, I might be able to pick up the last things I might need to see us through Armageddon. I mainly wanted fresh yeast as Thomas likes to bake loaves, so I wasn't going to turn my nose up at that! Aldi was stocked to the rafters with fresh produce, tins, loo rolls etc but the only thing they'd run out of was yeast!
How civilised! There were no loo roll fights, most people were lifting a pack of nine, but no more than one, and things were completely calm. I walked over to Brugsen, got my yeast and then returned home. Again there was nothing I couldn't get, no spaces, so I even picked up some nice fresh bread, warm baked pâté and some cheese for lunch. The checkout operators even were still happily telling us to have a nice day!

I am hearing however from people who live in the cities that the people there are losing the plot this morning. A few shots from the big 24 hour type supermarket in the city are telling a rather different story to up here! Are these people even aware that just 15km up the road there are freshly baked loaves?

People up here have loads of space and aren't hamstering, but down there, their little flats must be bursting at the seams! It'll be interesting to see how this develops.

Originally published on Phylsblog on 12/03/20

Winter lighting

Aha! I was right. My theory from back in November turns out to have been spot-on. There are two separate things here in Danish culture - there's the Xmas tree which goes up in the ten days before Xmas and comes down the first week in January as we Scottish people might expect and then, completely separately, there are garden lights that first started appearing just after the clocks changed on to winter time and are still about now after all the Xmas trees have been abandoned. Here's my neighbour's flagpole tonight.


I'm now only waiting to see if they simply hang about till the days get longer around my birthday, or if they stay up fully till the clocks change back to summer time!

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 16/01/20

December 20 2019

For fun on the last day of school, given there are no uniforms, so you can't have a dress as you please day, Léon's class decided to have a 'come dressed as a...' day. The 20 odd kids in the class came up with things the others should dress as, and stuck them in a hat. His (male) friend got the 'come dressed as a girl' card, etc. Léon, of course, got the 'come dressed as a tourist to the Caribbean' card! Six degrees wasn't enough to discourage him wandering the streets all day like this, and he definitely got a funny look from the school bus driver. You can't say he's a party-pooper... I'm just hoping he doesn't come down with triple pneumonia before the holidays!

Originally published on Phylsblog on 21/12/19

Petrol pricing


At home, I found petrol prices would hover around a figure, shifting very little until there was some spurt or other, then they'd jump a couple of pence and stick again. Almost all garages in the one area are within a penny of each other, rural places are more expensive and motorway service stations are best avoided price-wise. That is how things have been since I first got behind a wheel in '85.

I'm starting to notice Denmark just isn't like that. At first, before I had a real handle on the currency, I didn't notice much so I decided to try to work out the cheapest garage between Bogense, where I was living at first, and Morud, where the school was (a 21km stretch). The first thing I noticed was that as I got closer to the big city - Odense - it often got dearer, not cheaper - odd. The next thing I noticed was that it was not overly predictable which would be cheapest on any given day and finally the price would fluctuate more than I was expecting.

So, over the last month I decided to observe it much more closely. There are three main garages near me - two supermarkets and one Shell. Not only does the price fluctuate wildly between around 10.19 and 11.39 a litre (approx £1.15 & £1.29), it can go from one to the other and back within the space of 24 hours. I'd go as far as to say the price changes every single day, sometimes twice a day. I have concluded that whenever the price goes above 11 Kroner, I simply should wait till the following day when it'll be back down nearer 10. It's really odd to watch. (I've also now worked out that the Netto supermarket is definitely always the cheapest near me, if anyone happens to be in my neighbourhood.)

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 11/12/19

Flyverdragter

How cute is Amaia in this shot from November 2010... with her wee cute lilac snowsuit and her rosy cheeks!? Babies and toddlers always look so happy and cosy in winter.

Back in Scotland, a big thing in primary schools is the 'wet weather activity book', mine often shortened it: 'Mum, did you put my wet weather in my bag?' - the mind boggles - what is that? A bag full of slush and rain water? Anyway, at my school when I was a child and at my children's primary school, you were meant to provide your child with something to do when they were kept in on rainy or snowy breaks and lunch times. We tried colouring books when they were wee, moving on to packs of cards and novels as they advanced through the years.

But here's an idea. In Denmark, there are no 'wet weathers'. There are just snowsuits for big kids! These aren't your expensive Val d'Isère numbers, these are standard issue, available in all supermarkets and expected to be owned by all primary-aged kids suits, that they wear/take to school so they can play outside all the time. And they are for real use - they aren't meant to look pristine, they often come home caked in mud or whatever. It isn't that the weather is different here. The summer was a wee bit better but so far the autumn and winter have been bog-standard Scottish, both in temperature and in volume of rain.

It's sweet, because Amaia associates these suits with babies, she's taken to calling it her 'cute suit' rather than 'flying suit' as the Danes refer to it, but I have to say since she bought it there's been no turning back - she's content to be out in all weather and I've even found her happy to walk the 3km home from school on occasion, if I've been busy!



Originally posted on Phylsblog on 11/12/19

Made in Søndersø

It is interesting to compare places of a similar size. Near where I live is a town called Søndersø. It has a large crisp producer (as you can see from the image) selling through all the local shops and the Aldis, Coops etc. It has a primary school, the main high school for the whole area and the council's specialist music school. It has 4 Aldi sized supermarkets, a bank, a large chemist etc so I was surprised when I checked at home and found it is only the same size as Eaglesham, population-wise.

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 10/12/19

TV Advent calendars


I think I have mentioned the concept of TV advent calendars more than once over the years. In Denmark the national TV channels put on a wee 'advent calendar' in the form of a kiddie Xmas soap opera for the 24 days of December. Twenty (approx) minute episodes of a Xmas-themed kiddie story, knee-deep in magical elf people all dressed in red pointy hats, kings, queens, snow, horses, thatched cottages etc etc. They aren't overly taxing on the brain (we're two episodes in and I can already tell how the whole story is going to play out, but Amaia is 9 and she can't so I guess that's the whole point).

They release old ones on DVD so our kids have always followed at least one every December as it was traditional and good for their Danish. But this is the first time we've spent December in Denmark so we're following the current year's one in real time. Now I can see how big it actually is - apparently it was the only topic of conversation today in Amaia's class, after last night's opening episode. Everyone has watched it - male, female, immigrant, ethnic Dane - doesn't matter - there's no get-out clause if you're in that age bracket and understand Danish.

And they're not missing out on the commercial opportunities either. Amaia saw the cardboard Tinka calendar in Coop over the weekend, so is opening windows to see what the current evening's episode is going to be about. She discovered today's was a picture of lanterns this morning but had to wait till 8pm to find out their significance. She also picked up the panini-style Tinka album over the weekend and now they are all taking in cards of the main characters to swap doubles with classmates. It's all very exciting apparently. I'm quite surprised the English-speaking world hasn't jumped on this money-spinning bandwagon. I guess that's what happens when you only have one language on your radar.

Originally published on Phylsblog on 02/12/19

Undertakers and national driving differences

I've always driven abroad - already in 1987-88 I shared a car with my German flatmate and again in Germany the following year, so I have never really paid much attention to national differences when it came to driving habits (other than which side of the road I was meant to be driving on or which side of the car I was meant to be sitting in!)... Obviously driving in Germany was always a wee bit different, given they have speed-limitless roads, so I quickly learned to pay much more attention in my mirrors to the speed something was coming up the outside lane for overtaking purposes, but other than that I never really analysed it...

Now I'm mainly driving in Denmark, but have nipped back to Scotland two or three times for a week. I have now noticed one colossal difference between the two sets of drivers and that is undertaking on motorways. Unless traffic is more or less at a standstill, usually because of roadworks, because the roads are definitely less busy here, no one ever undertakes you here. Although I would obviously not recommend it, you could, to all intents and purposes, move from the middle lane of a motorway into the slow lane without looking. So, back in Glasgow last weekend I tested my theory that Scots were much more a breed of undertakers than Danes - my god - even between Crookfur and Glasgow centre (a less than 10km stretch) I lost count of the number of cars that shot up my left hand side (no I wasn't going under the speed limit like an annoying snail) - they were simply being chancers who could not be bothered popping out two lanes and back two. So, all in all driving in Scotland is harder and more stressful than here - you certainly need to be more alert.

It's actually interesting to look at national differences. I have many years of experience of driving in France, Italy, Germany and a bit in Spain, Switzerland and Luxembourg, but had very little experience of Scandinavia till this year. I've always found France and Italy similar to home so they have never fazed me. Nothing much stood out in Spain, Switzerland or Luxembourg either. The main German difference is that outer motorway lane when the speed limit goes altogether and the Audis and BMWs shoot past at 150kmph+ - you just stay out of that unless you've hired something much more powerful than I tend to be able to afford to own!

Over the October week, I took my car to the Netherlands for the first time. I've only ever used public transport there before. It is altogether different. It is such a small country but with a huge amount of traffic on the motorways, and once you get into the cities, bikes and trams are thrown into the mix. The roundabouts really should be taught to foreigners before they attempt them. I think more Dutch would be run over by the annual tourists if it wasn't for the sheer number of bikes that pass you like an impenetrable wall. I think I'd call it a high-concentration drive. The distances between cars is less than half what we're used to in Scotland, they drive at 130kmph (81mph) even when it is highly congested, jumping in and out smoothly in a hair-raising fashion. It almost looks like they are knitting some elaborate pattern with their cars in a fast and well-choreographed manner. It definitely isn't somewhere I would like to drive if I was overly tired or had less driving experience.

Finally, as I've mentioned before, living somewhere where there are very few potholes is nice. I feel like I can pay attention to driving rather than scanning the road surface, but the thing I miss most from home is cat's eyes. Living beyond where the Glasgow lampposts light the motorway, these wonderful little reflectors made driving clear and easy. Here, I often drive to Copenhagen, Billund or the German border at night in the dark and their absence is painful. In driving rain and mist it is significantly harder to see the boundary between lanes. They really don't know what they are missing. It is as different as driving a country lane in the dark and driving down an airport runway. Come on, Europe, order in some cat's eyes, please!

Originally published on Phylsblog on 28/11/19

Winter lights





















At first, just after the clocks changed, I thought Danes were all a wee bit over-eager with Xmas. Almost immediately people started filling their gardens with strings of fairy lights wrapped around bushes and up their flag poles. Brightly-lit shapes appeared too - stars, triangles and similar, but there were no Santas, reindeer or snowmen. Their houses on the inside, however, were the same as ever. My next door neighbour, who owns a Xmas tree plantation at the end of our field, had only just started cutting and bagging the bigger ones, and they are still lying awaiting collection or distribution.


There was no obvious Xmas decorating going on on that front. Curious! Danes, on the whole, use real Xmas trees and their houses are warmer and better insulated than Scottish ones, so the real tree doesn't go up till a week to ten days before Xmas (which is Dec 24 here), otherwise it would dry out. Then I realised, it was some sort of informal Scandinavian 'festival of lights' they use from the onset of winter to alleviate the darkness of the short Nordic days. I guess that might be why we have three sockets on the outer walls of our house - so it would be rude to not join in, wouldn't it? So, Thomas has been tasked with hunting down a fairy-light covering for the flag pole while I'm away this weekend 😁

Originally published on Phylsblog on 21/11/19

Weird Danish traditions

What are you doing for your copper anniversary, we were asked recently. This struck me as an odd question. Firstly we were married in Februa...