PREVIEW BRIEFINGDenmark for Americans: the Preview
Jan. 20 - Today I'm posting a preview of the "Denmark for Americans" resource that I've been talking about. I'm putting it out to solicit feedback from anyone at all—whether you're a Dane, an American expat in Denmark, or a seasoned American visitor to Denmark, I'd welcome hearing from you in regards to any inaccuracies, misrepresentations, or omissions.
It's not very elegantly laid out and it's haphazardly organized, but I intend to address those cosmetic issues before I publish the official version of the page. (On a nice white background with plenty of images to break up the texts.)
That much said, here's the content of the page as it exists now.
* * *
This page is intended for the use of Americans coming to Denmark. When I say Americans, I mean adult, English-speaking citizens of the United States of America. The page may be useful to others, but that's incidental to my intentions.
There are two primary resources for anyone in Denmark, including Danes themselves.
The first is AOK.dk (English version). This is basically an entertainment and recreation guide to Denmark. As a tourist, it's a valuable resource for finding restaurants, accommodations, museum exhibits, and valuable tools like a currency converter, maps, airport and train timetables, and the like. As a resident, it's like the entertainment section of your local newspaper.
The second major resource is probably of limited value to visitors, but is absolutely vital for residents. That's Danmark.dk. It's the portal to the Danish government, and if you think access to government information isn't important then you obviously haven't yet lived in a Social Democracy.
The site does offer a useful tourism section in English, which includes links to a lot of good sites for visitors. (Such as VisitDenmark.com and Wonderful Copenhagen.
But its real value, from where I'm sitting (in a chair at my desk in my Frederiksberg apartment), is as a starting point for all serious questions about life in Denmark. This page, for example, has a clickable graphic interface that can guide you through the government services available to and required of you "fra vugge til grav"—from the cradle to the grave. Neither this page nor the resources it links to are available in English, but by the time you're in need of these services you probably will have learned enough Danish to muddle through.
But, Moron, I haven't learned enough Danish yet, and I already need these services! Well, yeah. I figured that might happen, since it happened to me.
As an American, you can always find help from the U.S. Embassy. The Living in Denmark page is particularly useful, covering everything from visa and employment laws to contact information for instruction in Danish.
(And speaking of learning Danish, from personal experience I strongly recommend Studieskolen. The other big language school is K.I.S.S., with which I have no direct experience. Danish instruction has been mandatory and free for immigrants and resident aliens, but the laws, they are a-changin'...)
The frenzied tourist on a rush-visit to Copenhagen probably wants, at minimum, to see the Little Mermaid and Tivoli, take a Canal Tour, have at least one meal (or a couple of drinks) around Nyhavn, walk along Stroget, sneak a peek at (or sample the wares of) the hash peddlers of Christiania's Pusher Street, ascend Rundetårn, and see the changing of the guard at the royal residence of Amelienborg. If that's your cup of tea, I refer to you any one of a thousand guides to Copenhagen that cover all such activities in eye-glazing detail.
"Alternative" Copenhagen is also outside my jurisdiction. I'm not gay, I'm not a stoner, and most artsy-fartsy stuff leaves me totally cold despite my impressive cultural resume.
Those caveats aside, here are a few helpful tips I think I can offer my fellow Americans who are thinking about coming to Denmark, whether as weekend tourists or long-term residents.
Know your geography. You don't have to know where Odense is, or the names of the straits between Denmark's major land masses, but it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of Danish geography no matter how short your visit. Most importantly, contrary to what many Americans seem to think, Amsterdam is not in Denmark. Amsterdam is in the Netherlands (and sometimes Holland). Try to keep that in mind. As far as the geography of Copenhagen goes, there are maps all over the city. If you can't read a map, I can't help you. But in terms of its situation within Denmark, Copenhagen is on the central east coast of the easternmost landmass (Sjælland, or Zealand) of the nation. There's a bridge to the southernmost city of Sweden, which is visible across the sound. From Copenhagen it's about an hour's drive north to Elsinore, an hour's drive south to the ferries for Germany, or an hour's drive west to the bridge for Fyn.
The Danish name for Copenhagen is København, and means "Merchants' Harbor." (You can find a history of the city here.)
Leave home without it. Outside of the major department stores and upscale (over-priced) tourist restaurants and boutiques, not many restaurants or retailers accept American Visa, MasterCard, or AmericanExpress cards. They look like they do, but those signs and symbols and machines are all about Dankort and EuroVisa, neither of which you are likely to possess. So bring your American ATM card (accepted by all Danish ATMs) and prepare to do most of your transactions in cash until you open a Danish bank account and get your own Dankort. The exchange rate you'll get from Danish ATMs is usually better than the exchange rates you'll get at local "Currency Exchange" shops, so unless your bank levies heavy charges on you for foreign withdrawls, this is really the best way to go.
Ride the Metro. I haven't been to every American city, so there may be public transportation like this somewhere in the United States, or elsewhere in Europe, but I haven't seen it. It's a clean, smooth ride, and the stations have the airy lightness that's such a staple of Scandinavian design. If you're here for a short visit, most of your touring will be done between the stations of Nørreport, Kongens Nytorv, and Vestamager. (The airport is not yet online, but you can connect to the airport S-Train at Nørreport.) Train operator DSB has a useful guide to the S-Trains, which are more far-reaching than the Metro.
Cabs are very expensive in Copenhagen, but at least you're paying for a quality ride in a Mercedes. Most will accept American debit or credit cards, but ask first just to be safe.
The primary means of transportation in Copenhagen, if not all of Denmark, is the bicycle. I can't overstate the ubiquity of the bike. The very infrastructure of the city has been tailored to accommodate bicycles: almost every street of consequence has separate bike lanes between the sidewalks and car lanes, and many intersections even have a separate set of lights for bikes. You can take your bike on the train, if you must (there are special cars for this, and you might also need to pay a little surcharge; see the DSB page, above, for specifics).
At several points in the city you can pick up a "city bike" by depositing a 20 kroner coin that's refunded when you return the bicycle to any other such point.
If you're going to ride a bike around Copenhagen, though, you had damn well better know a thing or two about bike etiquette, which Danes take very seriously. In fact, they've legislated it. First, and most importantly, do not ride at night without lights, because you could end up getting an expensive fine. Also, use handsignals whenever you turn or stop, obey all traffic lights, and note that you cannot take a direct left turn. If you're riding happily along at a leisurely pace and hear a sudden, persistent dinging behind you, there's someone behind you signalling their intent to pass on your left. Try to hug the curb and let them pass. (Similarly, if you're stuck behind someone going too slowly, ding your bell and marvel at the instinctive way they move to the right to make room for you to pass.)
But bikes don't just affect bikers. Their vast presence also requires some adjustments from pedestrians, so...
Look before you cross. The first behavior you need to change when you arrive in Copenhagen is that you must learn to take the bike lanes into account when crossing the street as a pedestrian or taking a right turn while driving. There's even been a citywide campaign to get people to think about bikers when they open the passenger doors of their parked cars: "Catch bikers with your eyes," the slogan runs, "not your door."
Whenever I'm visited by someone from the states, I inevitably end up having to grab their arms and jerk them back to stop them from stepping directly in front of an oncoming bicycle. The experience is usually instructive enough not to have to be repeated. You really, really need to be aware of those bike lanes.
Bring bags. Grocery stores don't give you grocery bags: you have to buy them. They have them in the checkout line, usually in shelves under the checkout counter itself. It's usually about 2 kroner per bag. Also, you'll need a 10 or 20 kroner piece if you intend to use a shopping cart, because they require a deposit for use.
Smaller grocery stores—little neighborhood greengrocers and the like—won't give you a bag if you're just buying a couple of products, either, but will usually offer one if you've purchased more than can reasonably be expected to be carried or pocketed or stuck in a purse. If a merchant looks up at you and says, "Pose?" they're asking if you want a bag. (But if you just stare blankly back at them they'll probably follow up by saying, "Do you want a bag?")
Don't be an idiot in Christiania. Yeah, it's real cool, man: you can walk right up to a stall and inspect the hash and buy yourself a chunk and light right up. Two or three years ago I wouldn't have warned against it, but the police are cracking down. If you think a couple of tokes of hash are worth the risk of prison (or a large fine) then don't let me discourage you. But Christiana's got plenty of bars and cafes, too, and it'll be a cold day in hell before Danish cops interest themselves in how much liquor you've consumed. By all means visit Christiania, but remember that, unlike in the great Danish city of Amsterdam, all the drugs being offered are just as illegal as they are in, say, Salt Lake City—and you could find yourself in trouble.
If it's summer, go the beach. If you're an American woman, you've probably longed for the day when you could pop off your bikini top and sun your upper body in the open air, without any tanlines or feelings of shame or exhibitionism. If you're an American man, you've probably longed for the day when you could go to the beach and see hundreds of women doing just that. Visit any major beach in Denmark during the summer (i.e., the first week of August) and that's what you'll find.
Drink beer at Nyhavn. Sooner or later every tourist goes to Nyhavn (literally "New Harbor"), just off Kongens Nytorv (literally "The King's New Square"). This is possibly the most picturesque spot in Copenhagen—and even if it isn't, it's damn sure the most photographed. Formerly the site of rancid pubs and whorehouses for sailors, it's now home to overpriced restaurants and bars.
It's not illegal to walk around drinking beer in Denmark, so instead of taking a cafe table and paying 30-50 kroner (5-9 bucks) per pint of Carlsberg or Tuborg, grab a couple of beers at a kiosk and plant your ass on the "pedestrian" side of Nyhavn. (Note: this is very bad advice in winter. In winter it's probably worthwhile to go into one of those joints and order some glogg and æbleskiver, dough-ball pastries that you lather with preserves and powedered sugar.)
Big-ticket shopping. Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in the world. On top of that, there's a 25% sales tax. Some or all of that may be refundable when you leave the country, but that's hardly enough to compensate for the one-two punch of Copenhagen's already high prices and the woefully valued dollar. Besides, you can shop all you want back home. You're in Copenhagen. Eat, drink, and enjoy the city.
Weights and Measures
There's no way around it, alas. If you're coming here for any substantial period of time, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the GMS ("Goddam Metric System"). I recommend downloading the calcumalator from the homepage of my site, which converts most American measurements into Metric measurements, and vice versa, with the click of a button. But daily life in Denmark requires that you keep a couple of basic conversions in mind: a kilo is about 2.2 pounds, a liter is about a fifth of a gallon, temperatures below about 10 Celsius are cold, 11-15 are cool, 16-20 are warm, 21-25 are summer, and temperatures of 26 and above mean you're not in Denmark anymore.
A kilometer is about 2/3 of a mile.
You need to educate yourself about electricity if you're going to move here. You can do that here. My advice is to leave as many appliances as you can back in the states, lest your home become, as ours once was, a horrifying fire hazard of extension cords, converters, adapters, and so on. Plus you run the risk of destroying your components if you use the wrong converter. Most computers have their own power converters in the power supply, and can therefore accept European as well as American electricity: you'll just need to buy a new power cable and be sure to flick the little red switch on the back of your computer before you plug your American computer into a European outlet, or it's goodbye computer! I speak from experience. The sound of an exploding power supply is not something you want to hear coming out of your CPU.
But you're bound to ignore me, so... Brinck Electronik sells all the adapters and converters you'll need (including the aforementioned cables). They also sell, for about a $120-150, if I remember correctly, a great transformer that you can plug into a Danish wall and treat just like an American outlet—you could, for example, plop it down in your kitchen and (with the help of an American extension cord) plug in your American toaster, coffeemaker, blender, and so on. But if you're willing to spend that kind of money on a transformer, wouldn't it be easier to spend the same money on a new toaster, new coffeemaker, new blender, and so on? Plus you'd save yourself the hassle of shipping all that crap over here.
Whether you're moving here and are just offline until you get broadband installed, or whether you're visiting without a computer and just want to check email once in a while, Copenhagen is full of internet cafes where you can surf the net for 10 or 20 kroner an hour (about $2-4). But you can also use the computers at any public library for free. There can be waits at the library, but you can avoid them by reserving your computer time beforehand. You may need a library card to do so, but you can get a library card as soon as you've got a local address.
Bring cold and flu medicines with you, because they just don't have that many here. Danish doctors like to tell cold and flu patients to drink chamomile tea, which isn't what most Americans want to hear.
(If you're looking for Tylenol, you won't find it. The leading aspirin-free analgesic here is Panodil. I'm allergic to aspirin and have no problems with Panodil.)
Although you can get most over-the-counter medicines at supermarkets and 7-Elevens, they're kept in glass cases behind the counters and you're only allowed to buy one type of medication at a time. I'm serious. If you want more than that you need to go to the pharmacy, or apotek. They don't keep very long hours, though, so you need to be aware of the 24-hour apotek downtown, across from the train station.
It costs 7 kroner to send a letter to the states—that's about a buck and a quarter right now. Domestic mail costs about seventy-five or eighty cents (4.50 kroner). It's ungodly expensive to ship packages out of the country. But you can read all about that at the Post website.
Gas, or petrol, is expensive here—several times what you're used to paying in the states. If you're going to rent a car and do a lot of driving while you're here, you may well end up spending more on the gas than you do renting the car. If you're moving here, try to get by without a car as long as you can. Public transportation is cheap, clean, and easy to use.
If you want to buy a car, remember there's 180% luxury tax on new cars. That's not a typo. It's one-hundred and eighty percent.
You'll want a bike.
The unit of currency in Denmark is the krone, or crown, with a value that ranges between five and eight to the dollar. Check here for the current rate. There are 100 øre, or ears, to the krone. (Kroner is just plural for krone.)
There are 25- and 50-øre coins, which have about all the value of lint. They're caramel-colored, thin, and light. Then there are 1-, 2-, and 5-kroner pieces. These are the silvery color of our dimes, have holes in them, and get bigger with value. There are also 10- and 20-kroner pieces, penny colored, unpierced, and with a little weight to them. There are 50-, 100-, 200-, 500-, and 1000-kroner notes, each in its own size and color (but all of them in rectangular shape).
Stores often offer prices like "19.95." That's a lie. You cannot possibly pay someone 19.95 in Danish currency (although you can on your Dankort). They will therefore always round off your cash purchase to the nearest amount payable in Danish currency, which is obviously the quarter-crown. 19.65 therefore becomes 19.75, whereas 19.60 becomes 19.50. Some registers will even show you two totals: the amount of the actual purchase price, and the amount you're going to pay. It's a weird, weird system, but you get used to it.
Think of it the way you think of those tenth-of-a-cent prices on American gas, and you'll find it doesn't seem as confusing.
The smallest deposit you'll pay on a bottle here is 1.50 kroner, or about $0.25, for a half-liter bottle of soda or a third-liter bottle of beer. For the 1.5 liter bottles, the depost it twice that. (If you're bad at math, that'd be 3 kroner, or about $0.50.) That's actually real money, and you'll learn to recycle real fast.
Cans are garbage. Glass wine and juice bottles are recycled in big recycling dumpsters located on just about every city block. Plastic bottles can be returned to automated receptacles at most grocery stores. The automats will accept all your bottles, calculate the return, and print out a receipt that any of the store's cashiers can convert into cash for you.
Hard liquor is unbearably expensive here. I can't stress that enough. An 0.70-liter bottle of Jim Beam usually costs at least thirty bucks. Order a hard liquor at a bar, and they'll measure out 2 cl. of the booze (that's exactly one tablespoon plus one teaspoon)... for seven to ten bucks. If you want a mixer, they'll charge extra for that. Danes are definitely drinkers by nature, but they're beer and wine and snaps drinkers. Learn to be one.
If you're eating Danish food among Danes, don't try to put your own smørrebrød together unsupervised. You'll end up putting herring on white bread, or smoked salmon on rye, or putting the wrong toppings on things. Then the Danes will laugh at you and tell you what you ought to have done, even as they inform you that, of course, you're free to put whatever you want on your bread. Snicker, snicker. It's much easier to give them the pleasure they get by telling you what goes with what. (For example: salmon, cheese, and preserves always go on white bread; herring, mackerel, and stegtflæske always go on rye; mackerel demands mayonnaise, fried fish get lemon twists and remoulade, and—wait, I said remoulade. You may not like remoulade. Be sure to taste a little bit before you put it on anything.)
* * *
I'll update this page periodically to improve its accuracy and cover things I may have missed. I welcome any suggestions, corrections, improvements, or comments.
* * *
That concludes the preview of the "Denmark for Americans" page. Please do let me hear your feedback, either through email (my first name + at sign + this domain), a comment on MoronAbroad, or a post on the Moronic Underground. I have very high rankings on Google for most queries involving some variation of "America" and "Denmark," and therefore get a lot of traffic from Americans planning to visit or move to Denmark. I also get a lot of email inquiries from such Americans. It'd be nice to know I'm not completely misleading people. Have at me.
Today is the inaugural of George W. Bush's second term. Many bloggers are protesting the inaugural. Many others are protesting the protests. I'm not doing either, but I did come up with a fun graphic mocking some of the more childish protests in play. Here it is.
Martin Luther King, Jr, was born on the third Monday in January. That will have ample coverage in the American media today. I have therefore chosen to extend the worldliness of this almanac by focusing instead on the enormous contribution to humanity made by a Canadian.
Jimmy Naismith was born in Ramsay township in Ontario, Canada in 1861. He grew up and eventually went to McGill University in Montreal. He became their Athletic Director and in 1891 he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, to take a post at the YMCA Training School. It was there that he was confronted with the problem of developing a game that could be played indoors and in relatively little space. On January 20, 1892, with only two peach baskets, a soccer ball, and a hand-written list of 13 rules, Dr. Naismith oversaw the world's first full game of a brand new sport, a sport that took its name from the peach baskets and soccer ball used to play it.
He had finally invented peach soccer.
David Lynch turns 57 today. He shares his birthday with Arte Johnson (1934), "Buzz" Aldrin (1930), Patricia Neal (1926), Federico Fellini (1920), DeForest Kelley (1920), and George Burns (1896).
It's Army Day in both Laos and Lesotho, and National Heroes Day in Cape Verde.
© 2005, The Moron's Almanac