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Copenhagen: Everyday Differences

December 24, 2009

I thought that the best way to describe how Copenhagen feels is to point out all the little parts of my day that catch my attention because they are different than my normal routine. It’s all these little things combined that give me a feel for the city.

Read on for the full list.

Shower with no barrier The shower at my host’s place is just a shower head attached to the wall in what is otherwise a normal (showerless) bathroom. There is no barrier between the shower and the floor of the bathroom (and really no particular space to stand. To turn on the shower, you get the water running in the sink then pull up on the knob. When you’re done with the shower, you have to use a squeegee to get all the water into the drain.

Chalky water The water is really chalky. Using shampoo doesn’t really result in any lather. And your skin usually feels pretty dry.

Half-flush Almost all of the toilets have full flush and half flush options. It’s one of the many extremely easy ways to conserve resources.

Bicycles They take cycling really seriously here. Between the high gas tax ad the great public transportation system, there is a strong incentive to ride a bike. There are bike lanes on almost every road (including side roads). They are always double-wide so they can pass slower people, which makes the whole concept much more feasible. They are quite aggressive on their bikes and don’t regard pedestrians very often. I always love seeing them bunch up at stop lights and then move out as a pack.

Cross walks The Danes really don’t like it when you jay walk or cross against the signal. They really respect the rights of cars and cyclists. If you do cross when the signal is red, they will honk or yell at you. One person even yelled “AMERICANO!” at one of my friends when she was crossing even though there was no traffic around.

Public Drinking There are no laws against drinking in public here. I must say, it’s pretty cool.

Night Life They just don’t ever sleep here! The clubs and bars are open until 3 or 4 am, and some open at 3 or 4 so you can just go all night. I stayed at a club until 7am one day. The streets are just as busy at 9pm as they are at 4am.

Scandalous Advertisements There seem to be almost no restrictions on how sexual you can make public advertisements. There was a perfume ad that we saw EVERYWHERE which had six fit, models with their arms and legs strategically keeping the ad from being totally over the top.

Small businesses There are very few large stores and not that many chain stores at all.

Re-using beer and soda bottles All of the beer and soda bottles in the town were collected, cleaned and re-used. On a lot of the bottles, you can see where the old label used to be. It’s pretty cool that they take this approach because it’s a lot less energy intensive than recycling the bottles.

Mixed-use buildings Everywhere you go in the downtown area, the bottom floor is for a shop, store, restaurant or cafe. The next 2-5 floors are for apartments. This is honestly the best way to organize a city because you’re always within walking distance of something that you need to buy. Also, they count the ground floor as 0 and the next floor up as 1.

Weather. AKA: Freaking Cold I almost forgot to mention this because it was such a part of my daily routine. The temperature fluctuated around freezing the whole time I was there. I wore long underwear, gloves and hat every day. I usually had 4-5 layers of shirts/jackets on. The wind always makes everything feel quite a bit colder than it actually is.

Daylight/Sunset This was a big one that set the tone of the city. Denmark is so far north that during the winter, there are only like 8 hours of daylight. The sun has set by 4:30pm every day. The Danes have something called hygg for when they days get like this. It roughly translates to “cozy” and it is when they invite friends over for the evening, cuddle up with candles and blankets and spend a lot of time inside. I didn’t get to experience it directly because of everything going on with the conference, but it sounds amazing.

Candles There are candles EVERYWHERE. It makes the city feel really romantic. There are countless small restaurants and they always have a ton of candles everywhere (one per table and a bunch just sitting around). Every house or apartment that I visited had a few candles burning any time there was someone in the living room and especially when there were guests over.

Indoor plants These were as common as the candles. I think I’ve heard that keeping a few plants indoors makes you happier and healthier. It’s honestly nice to see something living and green around you on a regular basis.

Santa Hats They really like Christmas here. There are a lot of holiday markets. Most notably, quite a few people wear santa hats around all day. As far as I can tell, they wear them to celebrate the holiday and not just to be silly or over the top.

Muted colors My first thought when I got off the plane was that the whole city was grey. All of the buildings are brick and most of the roads are at least partially cobblestone. I realized that I’m used to every building being painted it’s own bright color/pattern. I definitely grew to appreciate the subtlety of the place.

Wearing black Every single person here wears black all the time. They all seem to own black/grey pea coats or trench coats. And their daily outfits are nicer than what I wear on special occasions. I felt really under-dressed everywhere I went.

Shawarma They have shawarma everywhere. It’s a staple food here. If you’re not familiar, it’s a pita/tortilla with meat (lamb or beef) that is roasted on a thing that rotates. Stuffed with lettuce, tomatoe, onions and some kind of white sauce. Thankfully for me (as a vegetarian), all of the shawarma places also had falafels.

Expensive! Everything in Copenhagen costs 2-3 times what it would cost in the US. A bag of trail mix costs 6 bucks. A beer at a bar was 8-10. A cheap lunch was 10. A slightly fancy dinner was 40. It definitely took some getting used to. Eventually, I just had to come to terms with it and fork it up. Their minimum wage is about $20/hr so the higher costs don’t actually seem that high to them. They have 45% income taxes, but they don’t pay for health care or education.

Annoyances

Here are a few things that weren’t specific to the city but that were constant stressors for me based on where I was staying.

Spilling Body Wash Despite sealing my body wash in a zip lock back, I discovered that it had leaked everywhere when I landed in Copenhagen. This lead to a lot of my clothes smelling way too soapy the whole trip. I

Smoky Bars Halfway through the trip, I spent a couple nights in a row at different bars. They smoke a lot in bars and when I woke up the next morning, I realized that all my clothes (including my warm jacket) smelled very pungently of smoke. Mixing this with the smell of soap made for a pretty gross combo.

Not Being Able to Unpack Since I was staying in the living room of my hosts place and I was sharing it with another guest (Michael), I wasn’t able to unpack my stuff. So I had to dig through my suitcase every time I wanted something and I had to pile all my dirty (smoky/soapy smelling) clothes back in with all the clean ones.

Not Being Able to Do Laundry My hosts didn’t have a laundry machine and I didn’t have time to sit at a laundry mat and clean everything. This just made the smelly-clothes situation worse.

Michael snoring The other guest I was with was a friendly 50-something-year-old from London. He snored so loud that he woke him self up every few minutes. Thankfully I had brought some earplugs.

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