Monday, 29 March 2021
Sunday, 28 March 2021
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
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:
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
Thursday, 18 March 2021
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
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
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.
Originally published on Phylsblog on 15/06/20
Sunday, 14 March 2021
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
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.)
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!
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.
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!
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 😁
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
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!
Friday, 12 March 2021
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
Thursday, 11 March 2021
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.
(Originally published on Phylsblog 13/08/19)
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