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


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


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


I've been here for many many months now and a strange thing happened to me yesterday...

I had to use money! (Amaia had to take a 100Kr note to school for something). It is odd to be somewhere more than six months and not actually even know what the currency looks like. Apparently it looks like this - very fancy and pretty! Cash is so hard to come by, I actually had to google where the nearest ATM was (fully 5km away!)

One of the things I liked about the UK in comparison with many places I've lived is how little we use cash (I hate handbags and purses with a passion so it suits me well to live somewhere where having only a fiver on me at any given time usually sufficed) but Denmark takes it to a whole new level - even small kids use plastic here - Amaia (9) already has a Visa Debit card, they needed to be 11 in Scotland for those. In shops everything is contactless, like at home but for everything else, everyone uses mobile pay here. You owe money to a friend or want to donate to the school class kitty for something or other, you simply dial in the number - even if it's only 50p. It's great for splitting the cost of a meal out with some mates (or will be at least once I've met some!). That's what everyone uses at car boot sales and roadside stalls too - in rural areas most people have a wee stall at the end of their driveway to sell their surplus potatoes, eggs or apples and it's simply a table with a phone number on it. Some of the more rustic or smaller shops, like the local antique shop here, don't even have a till, they just take mobile pay.

I had to laugh a couple of months ago when Léon and Amaia's string orchestra was performing in a church and they passed round the church's collection plate for donations to the music school afterwards - it was simply a silver tray with a phone number stuck on it!😂 I know I'm not a church-goer but I always imagined a collection plate might actually have some coins or notes on it!

I guess it has its downsides - I expect it would be harder (or at least weirder) to pay someone cash in hand for some gardening or similar and if the country is ever invaded, running some kind of underground resistance might not be all that simple! But, for the handbag haters amongst us, it certainly hits the spot.

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 08/11/19

Children's party bags

Since nursery, birthdays have followed a specific pattern: your child goes off to a softplay, a party hall or their friend's house, they dance or play for a couple of hours and return with a party bag - a few sweets, a balloon, some bubbles, a little gift or similar. Here in Denmark, health and safety hasn't gone in to overdrive yet so on the kids' birthdays they actually (shock, horror) take a cake in to the class and share it with their friends at school and then give the party bags out in class, rather than at the party.

Back in Scotland, the kids used to bring their bag home and take it off to their room. Léon would devour his in seconds, Anna would squirrel hers away and you'd find numerous sweetie bags around her room for months. Amaia was somewhere in the middle. At the side of our new kitchen is a little table - big enough for a family of three or four to have breakfast, but we rarely use it as the dining room is close by and there are more of us. Often I find piles of party bags abandoned on it after school. They lie unopened and untouched for weeks before making their way across to the bin. As far as I can see, they look the same as party bags in Scotland, but there is one difference, I am told... the dreaded Danish obsession with liquorice. All the kids know that the chances are high that at least a couple of the sweets are made of that strong, salty liquorice that Scandies love, but they will be in the bag, lurking, disguised as normal sweets and the risk of accidentally biting into one, is so great that they have all given up even attempting to bite into any sweets at all this side of the north sea - it's been amazing for their teeth.😂

On a similar note, I was in Aldi last weekend and came across this - I can't wait to show them it, just to see the look of horror on their faces!

Originally published on Phylsblog on 29/10/19

Friday, 12 March 2021

Nowhere decent to shop

I know I am generally a little ray of sunshine in a grey world, trying always to see the positives whenever possible😂. I almost managed to believe that myself there for a minute. Ok, so I used to blog-rant a lot, but since moving abroad, because moving and starting afresh at my age is extremely hard, I have been trying to keep my spirits up by looking out for all things positive and ways of doing things we in Scotland could potentially learn from. But nothing is of course ever completely rosy and one thing I keep coming back to in my head is shopping. So it is time to get it off my chest...

I should probably have ranted this one last night when I came home from my shopping trip to give you the full force but it took all my effort to scrape my depressed self off the floor after shopping for my evening meal, so I had to wait till I calmed down or cheered up or whatever you want to call it... 😏

So, what's the problem? In a nutshell, Danish supermarkets are shit, no in fact, they are utter shit. I had almost managed to convince myself they were just bad but after a week in the Netherlands, I'm sorry to say they are diabolical, or even Diabolical with a capital D. And, this isn't just me saying so - even the Danish press agrees.

I am 15km from Denmark's 3rd biggest city, so this isn't a rural issue. In Newton Mearns I was also about this distance from the city centre. Between me and Odense there is actually no shortage of supermarkets. So, let's concentrate on a ten minute radius to contain my venom to a manageable size.

Within ten minutes drive of my house, off the top of my head I can think of three Dagli'Brugsen (that's your typical wee Coop like the one opposite my old house, to you and me - only with about 30% of the Scottish product range and overpriced). There is one SuperBrugsen (a triple-sized overpriced version of the usual Coops). There are two Aldis - we have Aldi Nord in Denmark not Aldi Süd as in the UK, Sourthern Germany or Italy (as I'm used to) - it is small, stale, hit and miss on the product front but at least has a better bakery than the Aldi Süd ones (see, I really am still trying positivity!) - again it is half the size of the Newton Mearns one. We have two Nettos - they are basically just about the same as the Aldis in Scotland for size, price and product type, but again the range is only about 50% of our Aldi in Newton Mearns. Then there is Rema 1000, which is more or less the same as Netto and Aldi - again there are two of those within a ten minute range. There is one Fakta. Fakta reminds me a bit of Shoppers' Paradise in the 80s - looks like it is about to go out of business and the sooner someone puts it out its misery the better. If I never set foot inside another Fakta as long as I live, I will be far from devastated. 😁Finally, we have two Menys - they are like wonderful high-class Norwegian delis... the closest thing from home would be Waitrose both for quality and pricing, but yes, they are lovely.

So let's count that up... I have 13 supermarkets within a 6km radius of my house. But, other than Meny, they are all the bloody same - they are all small Coop meets Home Bargains food aisle. There is no medium-sized ASDA/Sainsburys/Tesco equivalent. When my kid comes in from school and says they need wellies tomorrow for a trip, I can't begin to guess which, if any of the 13 will have them. You can't get basic non-food items that I'm used to picking up at ASDA and take for granted like a pack of pants or a woolly hat on a cold morning or a pair of kiddie trainers because someone has lost one at school. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether their current special is or isn't stationery, so if a kid needs a pencil or rubber for the next day, you have no idea where you might pick it up. Last night Léon was on cooking - he asked me to pick up burgers and mushrooms - even that was hard - I had to try three shops before I even found the simplest mushrooms. Aaaarg - seriously?

We do have one wonderful Bilka in Odense which has all these things (it's like a bigger version of Silverburn Tesco, so not for the faint-hearted or anyone over 80!), but it is in South East Odense (35 minutes from here) and I'm in North West Odense, of course! It is the only decent supermarket on the whole of Funen, where you know that whatever you want you can get on the spot - that's really is pretty poor for a population of 500 000 people.

Last week I was in Lidl in Alkmaar (there are three in Alkmaar alone). Even that felt like luxury after a few months here. The product range was so much better - loads of different types of mushrooms, chillis, you name it. And I could barely see one end from the other.

The bottom line is, I hate shopping. I've always hated shopping - whether that is for food, gifts, clothing, stationery, you name it - I want to rush in, pick it up and leave. I want to get it over with. I don't want, like last night, to have to visit three shops that were more or less the same because I need something as exotic as plain, ordinary mushrooms or some black pepper. It's the 21st century! I feel like I am back in the late 70s, grrrrr. 

This isn't some sort of Scotland is better rant, I'm quite an international shopper - Scotland is better than Denmark on the everyday shop front, but so is the Netherlands, and Germany and France and Italy, to name but a few places where I often find myself in a supermarket. I'm beginning to think Danes are actually all so well off because they can't find anything to spend their decent salaries on - they've all crawled into a depressed hole for want of a choice of a chestnut mushroom or a scotch bonnet!

Come on Danes - you earn enough to buy nice things, so could someone stock them? Please! And you really don't need 13 indistinguishable shops all stocking the same crap within a stone's throw of each other!

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 22/10/19

Tow bars

My daddy taught me to drive when I was 17. He gave me pieces of advice I've tended to stick by, like if you see brake lights go on ahead, brake gently then check why. He gave me other pieces of advice that I ignored from the outset, like never use a car wash, it could damage your car - sorry I'm too wee to reach the roof of a people carrier and too lazy to wash a big car in the freezing winters in Scotland! Another piece of advice I remember from the 80s was never buy a used car with a tow bar. That one, he explained was because a used car with a tow bar had more than likely belonged to a caravan enthusiast so the engine/clutch/gearbox could have had more than its fair share of wear and tear. It wasn't a hard piece of advice to follow as used cars with tow bars are about as common as used cars with automatic gear boxes in Scotland. When we arrived in Denmark, however, we noticed more than 50% of used cars seemed to have tow bars, even Smart cars and wee biscuit tins like the Citroën C1 have tiny tow bars. Curious... We found a good deal on a (as the kids refer to it) bogey-coloured Cactus, but it had one of those offensive appendages... What should we do? Almost all cars this size have them.

Then I started to notice why! Here's the window of our equivalent of B&Q. From Ikea, to the equivalent of B&Q and even the 24hour Tesco, to every larger petrol station, you can rent a trailer free of charge to take your stuff home! You give them a deposit, you take home your goods and then you bring your trailer back for the deposit! No delivery charges, no hassle, as long as you have a tow bar! Isn't that a smart idea?

Originally posted on Phylsblog on 27/09/19

Cheap trips


So, Three and Five are off today to Norway taking the ferry, returning on Sunday night via Sweden and Saga's famous bridge to play a viola/violin concert tour with their new band (though Léon was more intent on packing his football stuff as he'd heard rumours of them being allowed to play football in their free time against some Norwegian kids). This is the £98 foreign school trip I mentioned a month or so ago. I am a little alarmed at how unfazed my nine year old seemed to be to skip off into the bus without looking back! I know she had her big brother along and is still wee enough she felt it necessary to pack her stuffed llama to sleep with, but still - couldn't she at least look vaguely upset to leave me?

And, last night I was at school for a meeting about the end of Veflinge primary school trip. Anna had just completed her primary schooling in Scotland and had thoroughly enjoyed her week in Lochgoilhead last May. The opportunity to experience it again, only this time on Bornholm island was one of the ways we managed to sweeten the pill of the different school system, which meant she wasn't moving up to Léon's school till next summer. 

And talking of pill-sweetening... we paid £240 for the Scottish end of primary trip and we were informed last night that the Danish one costs 400DKK (£47). The actual programme is almost identical, other than the fact that the Danish one involves a longer bus trip and a ferry, as it is on Bornholm, a Danish island situated between Sweden and Poland. As if that in itself wasn't good enough, they also added that the PTA would be covering the 400DKK. I thought at first, given I am still new to living fully in Danish, that they were saying they were keeping the cost down to 400DKK by having the PTA subsidise the rest but, nope - the only cost to parents is the pocket money you choose to send them with! That in a country with average salaries of £35K, rather than Scotland's £25.5K.... Hmmm.

The more I live here the more frustrated I get by the Scottish model. It is so much easier to look at countries who speak the same language to gain a model for how things could be done, when in fact, there are so many small countries within a couple of hours flight, where we could learn a lot, if we just took time to breach the language barrier.

(Originally posted on Phylsblog 11/09/19)

Impromptu fun day

Awwwh - this is sweet. It turned up on my phone on Monday. The school had checked the weather forecast for the week and decided that because we're still basking in some decent summer weather, instead of a normal Weds, they have booked out the local outdoor swimming pool and told all the kids both from Anna and Amaia's school and from Léon's school just to come with their swimming stuff, a picnic and sun tan lotion and have a pool day today - all day! Nice way to ease yourself into the new term. Happy kids.

Impromptu just isn't a word you connect with Scottish schools. You would never ever have anything like this happen. Academia would always be prioritised for starters, and you certainly would never get a pool trip without all sorts of consent forms, rules etc.

(Adapted from a post on Phylsblog on 28/08/19)

Paper versus tablets in classes

Here's an interesting observation from my eldest (schoolchild)... Most of what I have blogged so far about Danish school seems very positive. Here's one that has positives and negatives. From the beginning of Danish school around the age of six, the kids (where we are anyway - I obviously can't vouch for any other parts of the country) are issued with tablets (with keyboards) to do all their school work on. At twelve, this is swapped for a laptop. 90% of their written work is done on screen, much as it is in the adult world. Léon is finding the knock-on effect interesting. Yesterday, they were brainstorming something in groups and one child was in charge of writing it up on a flipchart. Léon said watching the speed at which the kids write by hand was excruciating. A kid named Frederik had been nominated for a task and as the chart operator slowly printed the name F-r-e-d-e-r-i-k on the paper, Léon wondered if he was actually going to reach the 'k' before the weekend! Léon had been taking some notes in his standard (cursive) handwriting and the kids were both in awe at the speed he writes and completely incapable of reading any of the words he had written down! Both Anna and Amaia have also said the writing in their classes looks like it belongs to much younger children and Amaia says her classmates are completely gobsmacked by her (also cursive) writing skills. Now, of course, as adults they will only ever write for themselves so this is fine but maybe (if the UK actually sorts out its Brexit mess) UK unis should write somewhere in large letters that kids will struggle to sit the exams if they can't write by hand at a decent speed, because I suspect it wouldn't even occur to Danes that they would be expected to hand-write uni exams in the 21st century!

Originally published on Phylsblog on 23/08/19

School trips

Well, here's a difference between the school back home and here! Léon has been invited to a music school trip - residential, a whole week (so similar to the one he did in 2017 to Lendrick Muir at just under £300). The only difference is this one is abroad - near Oslo, Norway... and the cost is..... are you ready for this? Cos I just about fainted when I saw it, in fact I was so gobsmacked I ran it through a currency converter to make sure I was right - it costs!!!!! Fanfare: £98.52p You cannot be serious! (Oh and Amaia has the option to go along if she fancies!)

Originally published on Phylsblog on 15/08/19

English as a foreign language

The kids have both English and German as 'foreign' languages here, as well as Danish as the native language, of course. Anna brought home her English text book yesterday. A little red-haired girl in tartan trousers standing on a sheep, Eilean Donan castle? I'm intrigued... So I opened it up... We are going to have fun with this!😂

When I mentioned this on Facebook earlier, I was asked why this mattered... It struck me, as a Scottish person, as a really nice change to the usual way of learning English abroad.

As a Scottish person you get so fed up being called English all the time when you're abroad. That might have been difficult to understand in the past but surely now it is quite obvious that being equated with the insular Brexit mob when you were living (as I was till three weeks ago) in an area that voted 74%+ in favour of continued EU membership, it isn't hard to see you want to be seen as separate? As a student I was often asked things like which A levels I had - I was Scottish so hadn't any, I was no more likely to have an A level than a German Abitur!  I remember meeting friends in Konstanz when I studied there and coming home to letters addressed to Phyllis Buchanan, Glasgow, Scotland, England. Let's face it, even most English people don't know Scotland is different - as an example Charlotte is working as an au pair in Madrid at the moment. She met a uni student last week from Manchester (fully 2 hours from Scotland) who didn't know Scotland had a different education system, different exams, different uni entrance application process and longer degrees).

So to see that Scotland is going to be the focus of what Anna's class is learning makes a lovely change. And it is going to be fun to see how we are seen. Who knows - if their English is up to it, I can maybe even go in and give them a wee talk about the real 'Fionas' out there!

I can tell the 'fun facts' are going to be good!

Originally published on Phylsblog on 15/08/19

Back to school supplies

I thought I'd take a photo of the local supermarket's 'back to school' aisle tonight to give you all a laugh. That is it in its entirety! No commercial hype here then...

On further inspection, however, I found something that would go down a treat at home and I have never seen there.

Reusable stretch covers for jotters. I know so many teachers and parents who'd love these back home!

Originally published on Phylsblog on 14/08/19

Music lessons - a little less formal, a little more inspiring

My kids did music back home. Léon is starting his 7th year old violin and was a member of East Ren youth orchestra and East Ren folk band. Anna was about to go into her 3rd year of guitar and Amaia had just finished year one of viola. They had group lessons that lasted half an hour a week. Léon had taken it for granted he would continue here as he has a real ear for music and loves everything about it. Both girls, despite having asked to play, seemed fairly indifferent to their lessons at home. They would have continued out of habit, but given the choice of starting somewhere new, they might just have likely opted out here. Thomas decided to let them try for a term before deciding so signed them up here on arrival. Here the lessons are individual, so it wouldn't be so much a chat to your music mates thing as a serious music thing.

Music lessons started back yesterday. Both girls looked fairly aghast when they were told they were to meet alone with a Danish music teacher and started tentatively trying to wriggle out - I'm not sure music is really for me. I can't go, I don't know the names of the notes in Danish etc etc

We dragged Anna in like a dog at the vets and went back after half an hour to a very changed opinion! She came out leaping and squealing with joy: Kristian is the coolest guy I ever met, Mum, he is a music teacher but he turned up in a string vest and shorts and a cap and has tattoos and piercings and this cool electric guitar and he says he'll teach me Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber and everything! I never want to give up music ever. I want to be a singer when I grow up!

Half an hour later Amaia, who had entered 'Agata's' room staring at her feet like a little mouse, bounced back to the car too: Agata is from Poland and she can speak Danish and English and German and she's going to teach me real songs unlike the boring stuff Rachel did at home. And she's so funny and sweet and helpful and she wants me to go with her on a music trip to Norway. When can I go mum, when? She's the best teacher I have ever had in anything!!!

Well that was a success! When it came Léon's turn to have Agata too, he had been signed up by the end of the hour to her lessons, her classical orchestra, her folk group, for a starring role in her musical, to a trip to Norway and to her talented musicians programme. And he spent the whole trip home wondering if he should become a music teacher when he grows up!

Well, I wasn't expecting that.

Originally published on Phylsblog on 14/08/19

Back to school - where is all the stuff?

I'm sitting here listening to Virgin radio's breakfast show as I do every day after the school run... apparently according to this morning's 8am news the 'back to school' market in the UK represents the third biggest peak in shopping in the UK after Xmas and Black Friday with parents spending an estimated £1.2 billion on all the things kids need for going back to school.

That is very interesting from my position here in my mainland Europe 'brexile'! I was saying to Thomas last night that when I was getting the kids ready for going back to school today, I was amazed (and relieved) at how little it cost me compared to back home (I bought two bags at a tenner each). There is the obvious no uniform or PE kit so nothing to buy there but it struck me yesterday, I haven't actually seen anything much in the shops encouraging parents to bankrupt themselves... there are no more school bags, pencil cases, lunchboxes in the shops than there have been any other day since I first visited back in April. There is no more stationery than ever there is. I have seen a total of one 'Back to School' sign hanging in a shop (in Deichmann's in Odense Rosengårdcentret - basically the equivalent of Braehead - above the trainers(!), just like home, not!)

The hype and hysteria I associate with Back to School is just missing altogether. There isn't any great pressure to throw out last year's bag or pencil case and replace it with a new one, unless it is worn or broken. There are no queues round the block outside the hairdresser's! It all feels much less stressful as if sense rather than commercial pressure is driving the back to school period.

(Originally published on Phylsblog 19/08/19)

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Back to school Scotland v Denmark

It's been the weirdest back-to-school period in all my 17 years of parenting... I keep wakening up in a cold sweat wondering when it'll come to me what I've forgotten, because, surely I must have forgotten something? Especially as it has cost me next to nothing! Seriously😲

Back in June I ordered two new school bags as Anna's and Amaia's were a bit past their best, Léon had recently got a sporty one so didn't need one. Unlike in previous years, no lunch boxes were ordered because they don't use those here. So, I have ordered no shirts, no trousers, no pinafores, no skirts, no ties, no jumpers or cardies, no long grey socks, and no long white ones. I have not had to drag them to Giffnock to the specialised uniform shop to buy hoodies with logos, sports tops, or PE kits. Blazers have neither been ordered in a larger size, nor dry-cleaned. No overpriced braiding to denote their school year or achievements has been added either. I have not walked the full length of Silverburn and Braehead with a sulking daughter in tow refusing every pair of black court school shoes on sale. I have not been compelled to force my daughters into these shoes that are so hopeless against the Scottish climate. I have not cried in frustration when the only two styles of skirt acceptable at the high school are too loose or too long when tried on in shop after shop all over Glasgow and beyond. Nor have I had to fill my basket with drab Scottish-climate-grey clothing that adds to the further depressing monotones of a November morning. The tiny p1s here (who are 6 to 7, not 4 or 5) won't have to fight tiny shirt buttons over and over all term long. I've not had to order primary rain coats and winter coats that they'll refuse to wear on weekends, so are surplus to necessity. I won't even need to dread waiting for Léon to come out with his usual twice or three times a year favourite phrase 'I was playing football at lunch time and the sole came off my (black, Italian dress) shoes so, can we go buy another pair (10 miles away at a minimum cost or £35) preferably before tomorrow as I'm not allowed to wear anything else'... I'm sure didn't need that extra £100 a year for anything anyway. 😐

The Real Madrid strip Amaia has worn all summer will be her PE kit. Anna is more grown up so has chosen to wear her leggings and a t-shirt of her choice. They will wear their cheap jeans on the colder days with any t-shirt or hoodie they choose. When it is hot, they'll wear shorts, crop tops, vest tops. When it rains they'll put on a waterproof anorak, when it snows they can wear a hoodie, a woolly jumper or a snowsuit should it please them. I've even seen the smaller kids here turn up on wet days (of which there have been very few 😀) in outdoor onesies made of waterproof material. How sensible!

I remember teachers at home always saying they hated 'dress as you please' days because the kids couldn't concentrate in their own clothes... of course, that was because their own clothes were a novelty, which made the day exciting and different. There was also the stress and pressure of what to wear to be accepted, conform, not stand out or stand out the way you wanted to... but again these stresses just don't exist when it's an everyday event and all you know. It is every day and mundane and in the same way Charlotte doesn't stress every day about what to wear to uni, she simply sticks on her jeans and a top from New Look or similar, the kids have already started finding it normal to dress as they would on a weekend. After three weeks at school last term, they had already ascertained there was no peer pressure to wear specific brands or styles here, they all dressed completely boringly in shorts, jeans or leggings with a t-shirt or jumper.

Amaia is obsessed with llamas at the moment so wants to express her personality through t-shirts with llamas on, or Inca patterns. Anna likes short pretty-coloured t-shirts so that will be her theme this year. Léon will probably use his t-shirts sporting various geographical locations - he has a Honolulu, an Oslo, a California, a Vancouver etc. That says something about who he is. He has his bright purple Fiorentina football top too that he might wear when the fancy takes him and has asked for a Scotland football strip for his birthday so no one will ever be in any doubt as to where he's from. They are becoming individuals in the own way and that pleases me.

To be able to wear sandals on a hot day and not feel uncomfortable all day made them practically purr every morning in June. To wear waterproof jackets with hoods in the rain was a welcome change for Léon after two years in a very heavy when wet woolly blazer. I know technically their high school allowed winter jackets as long as they were removed at the front door and stored in lockers but because removing and storing was a hassle, almost no one could be bothered. I'd say less than 5% of the kids wore anything other than the blazer. So on the worst and wettest winter days, kids were seen climbing the hill in a hoody and blazer, soaked through and miserable looking, and presumably took a long time to dry off.

At school the girls will each be given a tablet to do their work on and Léon will receive a laptop as standard issue from his, so there will be no status wars there either - they are all on an equal footing here, no matter their background, which is lovely.

I know uniform is divisive - many love it, especially those who grew up with it. I don't think I ever questioned it till I taught in France. And I'm sure many will complain they just don't look smart like they did (pictured here last year) at home and yes, being in strict schools in East Ren, mine did look very smart, but although I adored their schools, both academically and for their warmth and nurturing atmosphere, I was never a great fan of the uniform, especially after the primary scrapped the poloshirts and sweatshirts in favour of old-fashioned shirts and ties seven years ago.

I always felt:

  • They didn't look comfortable and even complained they felt the shirts were choking them.
  • They weren't waterproof or adapted to the Scottish climate and often turned up home with shoes so full of rain they needed to be emptied out!
  • Blazers - wool or otherwise - in Scotland, need I say more?
  • They didn't look like children, more like little grey or black cloned business men.
  • Their shoes weren't conducive to running about like kids should.
  • Ties? Seriously? For either gender.
  • None of their personality could shine through... I could tell nothing about them and their friends, their likes or dislikes.
So today, for the first time since Marcel left nursery in 2002, my kids will start school fully as themselves. Let's see where this adventure takes them.

 (Originally published on Phylsblog 13/08/19)

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