DAILY BRIEFING
On Dining

Feb. 15 - Valentine's Day is taking off here in Denmark. (Or, as the DMG put it, "Hallmark is taking off in Denmark.") It's taken off to the extent that we couldn't get a table at any of the romantic little Italian restaurants we tried last night. We ended up at a Chinese joint that wasn't especially romantic, but did have Mongolian barbecue and an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I've only had Chinese food one other time since we moved here. It's not that it can't be found, it's just that once you're used to the kind of Chinese food you get in American cities, the stuff you get here isn't very appealling—and if I'm going to spend $25-30 on an entree, it had better be appealing.

I don't know why it's so expensive to eat out in Denmark. Probably there's some kind of punitive luxury tax. ("You're too good to eat at home like the rest of us?") When we first moved here I was sure I was saving money when we went out because there's no tipping in Denmark. That's 20% savings right off the bat! But the average restaurant meal here costs about double what it does in the states, maybe more. Once I realized what I was spending on the meal, the savings on the tip didn't seem like such a bargain.

One of my favorite restaurants in New York was Piccola Venezia in Astoria. Web design obviously isn't their strength, but they're regularly ranked as one of the top Italian restaurants in all of New York City. They deserve to be. Now, have a look at their menu. The DMG and I often split the Château-Briand (for two), which is $62. The rack of lamb, at $34, was also fantastic.

$34 is about 200 Danish kroner these days. A lot of the little Italian bistros we couldn't get a table at last night offer pasta dishes for about 180 kroner. Pasta! Here's one of the joints where we couldn't get a table. We've never eaten there, but we're excited about it because it looks like great food at a reasonable price. That's right, a place where a bowl of tomato soup runs 75 crowns (about $12.70) is reasonable.

And service in Danish restaurants—let's just say that waiting tables is one of Denmark's lost arts. You will often encounter competence and friendliness, but you will very, very seldom encounter much more than that—and you'll often encounter less.

I think there are two reasons for this: the first is that eliminating tips also eliminates incentive. The second is that the strong egalitarian streak in Danish culture probably leaves most Danes feeling they don't deserve any special service from a fellow citizen who is merely doing their job. If you're a waiter and you get paid the same regardless what kind of service you provide, and you know the customers don't expect much of you anyway—why on earth would you give a damn?

So you have really expensive food and really marginal service.

I should mention that it isn't just sit-down restaurants where this is true. There's a Subway ripoff here—or maybe it's an homage—called "Funway," where a foot-long sub identical to the same sandwich you'd get in the states costs about $12. That doesn't even include chips and soda. (And don't get me started on soda.)

I suppose I sound a little grumpy. I'm not. In fact, it's my first day as a non-smoker and I haven't killed anyone yet, so cut me some slack.

Or I'll kill you.

* * *

Here's a reprehensible statement: "most of the guys who wear visors in the National Hockey League are Europeans or French guys."

Here's some utterly vile racist filth (which also happens to be vile, vicious hatemongering): "you're French, you're obnoxious, and you no speekay English—I can smell your crotch from here."

The Canadian government has instituted a 7-second delay on NHL broadcasts in order to prevent future outbursts such as those in the first paragraph. And on the basis of the outburst in the second paragraph—by a sock puppet, no less—Canada's New Democrats are demanding that the Conan O'Brien show, broadcasting for a week from Toronto to help bring tourist revenue back into that city after its SARS crisis, repay the government the million-Canadian-dollar subsidy it had awarded them.

You know what's "utterly vile racist filth?" A country that calls itself the Great White North—accurately.

* * *

Please read Charles Krauthammer's speech to the American Enterprise Institute ("America is the land mine between barbarism and civilization.") It's the best analysis of America's post-9/11 foreign policy I've seen anywhere. Really.

* * *

The Russian presidential elections don't look like much of a race—last I heard, I think Putin was predicted to get about 80% of the vote—but the disappearance and reappearance of one candidate makes it a hell of a lot more interesting. From Slate:

Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin now explains his unexpected disappearance last weekend by claiming that he was kidnapped, possibly by political opponents. When he resurfaced in Kiev on Tuesday, Rybkin claimed to have taken an unscheduled vacation. In Moscow on Wednesday, he hinted at something sinister. In London yesterday, he said he'd been lured to Kiev to meet with a Chechen separatist leader. He was ushered into a room and knocked unconscious for four days with some drugged tea; afterward, his unidentified captors showed him a "compromising" video of himself. He promises to continue his campaign from abroad.

What's a little sex scandal or scream beside the likes of that? Maybe American politics is beanbag, after all.

The Moron's Index
Bean Counter: 13 weeks + 2 days
Inches of Hair Shaved Off Saturday: About 2
Days as a Non-Smoker: 1
Gummi Bears Consumed: 34
Fingers Chewed Off: 0
Cats Kicked: 0
People Strangled: 0

Dagens Ord (The Word of the Day)
Holde op med at ryge. To quit smoking.

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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