DAILY BRIEFINGMissed Moment & Retail Jenteloven
Apr. 29 - Tuesday night I met a guy for drinks at a pub in the heart of downtown Copenhagen. We were supposed to meet at 9pm, but I arrived a little late owing to problems with den fucking metro, as the new subway is now popularly known.
I've never been sorrier to be late to anything in my life.
Not because the five or ten minutes I lost with my drinking companion were especially valuable—I mean, he's a cool dude and all, but five or ten minutes one way or the other wouldn't have made that big a difference. No, I rue the loss of that time because my tardiness robbed me of an experience I probably would have cherished the rest of my life.
I missed what my drinking companion later confided to have been a supremely surreal moment.
Making his way down Stroget, the pedestrian street, he observed a thick throng of Scotsmen between himself and the entrance to the pub. They were young men, mostly, all of them in kilts. They filled the street and were careening off one another with drunken abandon.
He tried to remember the day's sports scores. Had there been a match with Scotland? Who had won? Were these happy drunks or angry drunks?
Suddenly the group drew in their breath as one—a single, finely-tuned organism—and began to sing.
"Oh hell," thought my companion, "crazy drunken Anglo-Saxons in skirts breaking into song. . . surely they're on the warpath."
But after a note or two, he felt a glimmer of relaxation. Didn't he know that tune? It seemed awfully familiar... maybe it wasn't a martial Scottish Hooligan chant after all—didn't it sound kind of like... but no, it couldn't be!... could it?
Do, a deer, a female deer,
Re, a drop of golden sun...
It was, indeed, "Do, A Deer" from "The Sound of Music." A throng of thirty drunken Scotsmen, in kilts, wandering en masse through central Copenhagen, singing from the "Sound of Music" songbook.
And thanks to den fucking Metro, I had to miss it.
There is no justice.
* * *
Friends of ours from New York arrived in Copenhagen last night. They're a married couple of mixed nationality like ourselves, except in their case the man is Danish and the woman American. We met them for dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown—a place with the imaginative name "Ristorante Italiano." (They actually have their own website.)
I had a ham-and-cheese calzone the size of a schnauzer. If you happen to be in Copenhagen and you happen to enjoy a good calzone, get your butt over there.
If you happen to enjoy good service, however, get out of Copenhagen. The service at this place was bad by American standards—awful, really—but as Copenhagen restaurants go it was about par for the course.
I still can't get over how inattentive and indifferent Danish waitstaff can be. This is not the petulant puffing of an American snob: I'm no gourmand, my demands are few, and I've worked enough lousy restaurant jobs to sympathize with a harried waiter. But when waiters stroll by my table time after time without even glancing down, without allowing for even the possibility of eye contact, I get a little frustrated. I often feel in Denmark as though I'm a burden to my waiters—as though their nights had been going along just fine until I'd showed up and been presumptuous enough to want a meal, of all goddam things. And something to drink! The nerve!
The usual explanation—for this comes up frequently as a subject of discussion between Americans and Danes—is that American service is better because American waiters are always angling for their tip. Danes seem to understand the concept of incentive at play, here, but I get the feeling they consider it somehow demeaning to subject someone to the whims of his or her customers. I say that because you don't have to go out to eat to encounter lousy service in Denmark. You can be ignored at virtually any retail establishment.
I think the Danish impulse toward egalitarianism is entirely to blame. Just because I'm the one with the money and you're the one with the product doesn't mean you owe me anything. I'm not better than you. Sure, it'd be nice to make the sale, but it's not as if you need to debase yourself by smiling or offering any assistance. It's retail Jenteloven—the series of laws that govern so much of Danish existence. I talked about Jenteloven last year, but those laws are worth revisiting:
1. Don't think that you are anyone.
2. Don't think you're our equal.
3. Don't think you're wiser than us.
4. Don't even imagine you're better than us.
5. Don't think you know more than we do.
6. Don't think you're more than us.
7. Don't think you can ever do anything good.
8. Don't laugh at us.
9. Don't think anyone gives a damn about you.
10. Don't think you're going to teach us anything.
Take a good look at rule number nine and reflect upon how that sort of philosophy might be interpreted at the retail level—or in the food service industry.
Anyway, like I said—don't go for the service. Go for the schnauzer-sized calzone.
The word of the day is regning, or restaurant bill. As in America, the twirling in the air of an imaginary pen will serve as a long-distance request for the bill, but remember you have to establish eye contact with your waiter or waitress in order for them to receive the signal. This will take some time, during which you may wish to have a little more wine. You'll need their eye contact to order more wine, however, so it's probably best if you just remain silent and patient. They'll get to you when they're good and goddam ready to. Who do you think you are?
The Sanctity of Marriage
It was on this date in 1945 that Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun. The very next day she killed herself. So did he. This demonstrates the importance of not rushing into marriage. You've got to take your time, get to know the other person, and really think it through. Especially if the other person happens to be an Evil Bastard at the head of a hellish genocidal war machine on the brink of defeat.
But it's not enough just making sure your intended isn't a war-criminal-in-training. The sad truth is that if you plan to marry a human being you're in for a pretty bumpy road no matter what—which isn't to say it would be all roses if you married something other than a human.
My own first marriage, for example, failed for many reasons, youth and stupidity among them. Youth and stupidity are leading contributors to many of the world's woes; it's almost as perilous a combination as age and experience.
So maybe Adolf and Eva were doomed anyway. Who knows? I'm only saying they should have given it a little more thought. Bunker marriages have a notorious failure rate.
Actually, in the United States today, all marriages have a notorious failure rate. So maybe the best advice comes from Homer Simpson: "Never try anything."
Say what you will about the man—he's still married.
Jerry Seinfeld turns 50 today. Fifty. He shares his birthday with Andre Agassi (1970), Uma Thurman (1970), Michelle Pfeiffer (1957), Daniel Day-Lewis (1957), Dale Earnhardt (1951), Duke Ellington (1899), and William Randolph Hearst (1863).
It's Greenery Day in Japan and Remembrance Day in Israel.
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac