Black Friday in Denmark

Danes don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons). However, the Black Friday experience seems to be catching on here, sorta. The online scene consists of many Danish companies having online sales starting at different times on Thursday and Friday. And what were these great offers? Answer: 20% off.* You know you’ve lived in Denmark too long when 20% off actually sounds like a pretty good deal. Yes, I bought a vase. To be fair, it is a really awesome vase. But it still sounds lame. I’ll make it less lame by giving said vase it’s own blog post. It’s very special. Ok, enough about the vase. I’m obsessed (with the vase).

In real life, for at least the past two years, and probably longer, Santa brings Christmas to Aarhus on the last Friday of November. In Denmark, Santa is called Julemanden. Julemanden arrives in the harbor from Greenland (not literally, at least I hope not) and then gets in his white Cadillac to lead a parade around Aarhus. Santa then lights the 23 meter tall Christmas tree in front of Aarhus City Hall and everyone sings a few carols.

"Black Friday" in Danish

“Black Friday” in Danish

Since Santa always brings Christmas to Aarhus on Black Friday, many shops in the city, including the mall, are open for “night shopping.” This means that they open on Black Friday at a regular time (9 or 10am), but stay open until 11 or midnight, which is special because normally retail stores here close around 6 or 7pm. In typical Danish fashion, the weather was windy and cold with intermittent spits of rain. Perfect for a night out. After watching Santa light the tree, I decided to go on a cultural field trip and see what Denmark’s Black Friday had to offer. I hit the mall first because it was closest and I’m lazy. There was a huge crowd and the predominant “deal” was 20% off any item at all stores.

The most popular discount.

The most popular discount.

A few of the stores had DJs and from 11pm-midnight there was free champagne (which I didn’t stick around for, dumb I know). The other main attraction at the mall was a Justin Bieber-esque Dane playing the piano and singing top 40 tunes. People seemed entertained. I then decided that drinking a large latte at 8pm was good idea. (Rookie mistake).

Next, I decided to take a walk down the pedestrian street . Although there were a lot of people out, it was a rather relaxed atmosphere. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry and lots of families were strolling down the pedestrian street eating candied almonds and sharing hot drinks they had bought at the various Christmas themed specialty stands that pop up this time of year. So overall, my Black Friday experience in Denmark was more relaxing than the US version of the tradition. For a little taste of the festivities, here is a short and lovely video featuring the aforementioned Aarhus Christmas activities: Click here!

Thanks to the latte, I was up that night until probably midnight. So really, I should have stuck around for the free champagne at the mall. Next year?

*Disclaimer: Obviously I’m not aware of every single sale occurring on the interwebs, there may have been deeper discounts available. If you are looking for an amazing sale in Denmark, they all happen after Christmas.

Exploring Zealand

Thomas and I decided to take a quick trip to that other part of Denmark to do some exploring before we became a two income household. (Yes, I got a job! More about that later.) Our main destinations were the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Kronborg Castle, both of which are less than an hour north of Copenhagen by train. Thomas took Friday off from work and we rode the train from Aarhus to Copenhagen. After spending Friday night there, we took the train north to the town of Humlebæk (yeah, I can’t pronounce it either), where the Louisiana Museum is located on the shores of the Øresund (in English, The Sound). I don’t claim to understand or like modern art, so if you would like a review of the art at the museum, ask Thomas. I did really enjoy the sculpture garden and architecture of the museum.

HTLaMus LaMus1 LaMus2 LaMus3

Here is the wishing tree from the Yoko Ono exhibit:

LaMusWishTree

LaMus4

The museum also had a great cafe where we ate the most traditional Danish lunch I’ve ever had. It featured the typical things, like various cold salads involving cabbage, some new potatoes, a small amount of beef, and a cream soup. After refueling, we took the train a little further north to Helsingør.

helsign

We spent Saturday night at a cute little hotel in Helsingør. We had a very nice dinner in the cozy restaurant downstairs and then listened to people scream outside our hotel window until 4am. Yay. Helsingør is in a pretty strategic location. Super close to Sweden, which is just across the sound. So, back in the day, the Danish kings charged anyone entering or leaving the Baltic Sea through the sound and started raking in the cash. Today the city is strategic for another reason. I hear alcohol is very expensive in Sweden and since Helsingør is just a 20 minute ferry ride away from Sweden, you can guess where the Swedes might go when they get thirsty.

On Sunday morning, we toured the castle/fortress built to enforce the “sound dues,” as they were called. The abridged history of Kronborg:

-Built in 1420’s as crappy fortress to collect cash from ships

TCastle

-Late 1500’s, Frederick II upgraded the fortress, largest ballroom in Northern Europe was added. Great for a giant fredagsbar.

ballroom

-1629, some guys accidentally burned down the castle, except for the chapel, hate when that happens.

The Chapel.

The Chapel.

-1631, King Christian IV (or C4 as he liked to be called) dumped a whole lotta money into the property to restore it to its former glory, but this time Baroque style.

-In 1658, during one of the Danish-Swedish conflicts, the Swedes invaded and stole a whole bunch of stuff from the castle. Bye-bye cool fountain.

No fountain.

No fountain.

-Improved defense of the fortress. Thanks, Swedes!

My phone thought we were in Sweden for awhile.

My phone thought we were in Sweden for awhile.

-1740’s until 1900ish = prison. Not so exciting.

There are two other pretty cool things about Kronborg. The castle is the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which he calls Elsinore. Additionally, there is a pretty cool cat sleeping in the basement.

This is Holger.

This is Holger.

Holger will sleep in the basement of the castle until the realm is in trouble. At which point he will wake up and…….something. I liked Holger. Thomas wants to name our first dog Holger.

After this adventure, we took the train back to Copenhagen and had just enough time to rest up before a trip to Manfred and Vin, one of the restaurants we really like in CPH and that is actually open on Sundays.  A great way to end a wonderful weekend!

The Danes have no word for please

Tonight, Heather and I skipped our first post-holiday Danish course (oops!), to attend a lecture organized at the university hosted by our friends at International Community. The speaker was a Danish anthropologist, Dennis Nørmark, who spoke to an audience of about 200 people on the scintillating topic of “How to Get Closer to the Weird Danes.”

The lecture covered some unusual Danish customs that Heather and I are already pretty familiar with, like:

  • Never sit next to anyone on a bus, ever. Then, if you do have to sit next to someone, absolutely say nothing and don’t look at them, even if you have to get past them to get off at the next stop.
  • If someone bumps into you, observe that they will pretend like it didn’t happen and hope you didn’t notice.
  • Don’t hold doors for people.
  • Don’t speak to cashiers at stores.
  • Don’t smile at people. They’ll think your drunk, crazy, or American…or all of the above.
  • etc. etc.

All of that can make Danes sound pretty unfriendly, which really isn’t our experience. Denmark is just a very different place from the United States. People are not very friendly to strangers and, unlike in Minnesota, random people on the street don’t say hi to you. Indeed, the other day during a walk a man gave us a smile and a “Hej”. I’ve been here long enough that it made me think he must be crazy, so Nørmark’s anecdote above resonated.

The talk also touched on some larger points about Danish history and customs. Notably, he argued that Danes don’t realize they have lots of customs, which can make situations sometimes very awkward. For example, telling someone “Good morning” after about 9:30 can be construed as an insult (i.e., “your morning is starting kind of late, isn’t it?”) because the time of day is actually midday. Nørmark also noted that Danes’ desire to avoid conflict can create problems interculturally because they simultaneously want to come to agreement on points of debate while also avoiding situations that might be unresolvable. Religion, for example, is generally off the table.

Nørmark’s major argument was that these Danish customs, which can be so striking to foreigners like us, are part of a larger (and somewhat uniquely Danish) culture that emphasizes trust and individuality. Individuals trust each other to do what is right, to work for their own benefit and solve their own problems, and to generally follow the broad set of cultural norms (and smaller behaviors noted above). Interacting with strangers and lending a helping hand aren’t common because it would be insulting to that person’s individuality. For example, I as an American would typically be inclined to help someone who was struggling with their luggage on a train or looking lost on the street. Here, however, giving that help without first being asked could be insulting. Despite initial hesitations about offering help, Nørmark made clear that the high levels of trust also mean that Danes are ready to help out once asked. This strange mix of individuality and trust is what defines Danish culture. As another example, Nørmark said it would be quite uncommon here to offer someone free food (e.g., some apples from your trees or vegetables from your garden) but it is quite common for people to leave such items out for others to take for free.

Overall it was an interesting lecture and came with free coffee and cookies, like any good Danish event. We also signed up for a copy of Nørmark’s book, which will be delivered to us by mail with the unwritten expectation that we eventually pay for it. Ah social trust!

The most interesting part of the talk perhaps came at the very beginning when Nørmark pointed out that Danes love being casual and informal but have perhaps taken this to an extreme. They’ve removed all the formalities that typically appear in English. Because Danes have no word for please and rarely ask one another for help with things, the Danish language has evolved to have people frequently speaking in statements rather than requests. For example, sitting at the lunch table where an American might ask “could you pass me a napkin?”, the Dane will simply reach across the table and say “I’m taking a napkin.” This is absolutely true in my experience and comes in all contexts, like when shopping individuals will reach around you to take an item off the shelf in front of your rather than inconvenience you by asking you to move or hand it to them. To imagine how this works, consider the feeling you have every time you drive on the freeway and someone turns on their turn signal after merging in front of you. That is Denmark.

Return to the Inferno

Thomas and I went back to the art museum in Aarhus to finish the exhibits we had missed when we were there last time. In case I didn’t mention it before, the art museum has a spiral stair case, which is supposed to allude to Dante’s decent.

ARoS 3

At the end of the decent are nine rooms with different “in progress” art installations. The number alludes to the 9 circles of hell and the entire exhibit is painted black with minimal lighting. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, we found this. No words.

Thomasandboy

Then we moved on to Klien/Byars/Kapoor exhibition, which I enjoyed because it was an impressive use of color and light.

Byars

Byars

Klein

Klein

Part of the Kapoor installation was a cannon that fired a ball of wax every 30 minutes. If you were somewhere else in the museum and didn’t know about the cannon, it was a heart attack waiting to happen.

cannon

After our short, but sweet, trip to the museum, we decided to check out Sct. Oluf’s restaurant, which serves French fare. The menu is essentially fixed, but you get your choice of entree (meat or fish) and dessert. The three course menu was solid, classic French cooking, and reasonably priced (as reasonably priced as a meal in Denmark can be, given the high taxes).

Yesterday we visited R&T, Thomas’s colleague and his partner, for coffee and cake. We had a great time, learned a bit more about Denmark and Danish culture and impressed them with our singing rendition of “50 Nifty United States.” All in all, not a bad four day weekend!

Danish Field Trip

A few weekends ago, Thomas and I returned to Skanderborg to visit our Danish friends, Martin and Lisbeth, and see Martin’s bookbinding exhibition at the local museum. He does amazing work (click here to see the gallery of his work, a few samples below).

M1 M2

After that, we went back to their house for coffee and a snack. When we were planning our trip, they asked us if we had additional time to go to a place called Klostermølle, and even though we had no idea what this place was, we of course agreed to go! So after coffee, we hopped in the car again. It had been pretty windy and foggy all day, with intermittent threats of rain. After a beautiful drive around one of the largest lakes in Jutland, Mossø, we arrived at Klostermølle, which turned out to be a nature area with a twist. In the Middle Ages, monks had built a monastery in the area, and diverted the small river in the area so they could build a mill. After the monastery was destroyed during the Reformation, the mill was still used, but converted to use as a paper mill. The mill still exists on the site and you can climb to the top where there is a great view of the area.

papermill    S3

S4

There are also some purportedly nice hiking trails in the area, but we decided that would wait until another visit, since it was rainy and too foggy from the hill to see much of anything. Next they drove us to the site of another demolished monastery, which we could only peek at over the fence because it doesn’t open for tours until May. Speaking of the Reformation, our next stop was Sct. Sørens Church, which was where the first Lutheran Danish king was elected. This ticked off a few people and resulted in a two year civil war. You can guess who won. Subsequently, many monasteries were destroyed and the bricks used to build Skanderborg castle.  Unfortunately the church was locked (on a Sunday) and we couldn’t go in, but the church was unique in that the church building was separate from the tower.

rykierke

So, we got back in the car for one more stop. In the area there were several archaeological excavations because the sites of several battles from the Iron Age had been found. I guess at one point there were tours and M&L wanted to take us there to see if you could still see the excavations. It turns out they are not doing any excavations currently, so we got to see a really nice bog, but reading about the site later, it sounds very interesting. Hopefully they will do another excavation soon and we can go on a tour! Here is some more information to those who are archaeologically inclined (in English!): Alken Enge. That was our latest Skanderborg adventure and I’m sure we will be going back sometime soon for another.

In other news, we’ve both been keeping busy going to Danish class, preparing for our module one test in May. Our class has gone from about 30 people down to just about 10, on a good day. The last time there were only five of us. While Thomas is at work, I have been going to events put on by the International Community specifically for spouses. The last event was at Bora Bora dance theater. We got a nice little tour and one of the choreographers explained the process for making a performance (and free coffee!). I’ve also been knitting with my new friend from New Zealand, so that’s been fun! I’ve started doing some online volunteer work doing grant research and writing and am going to be volunteering for Denmark’s Cancer Society in the near future. Lastly, we can’t complain about the weather here, its been pretty mild compared to what our fellow Minnesotans are enduring. Here is a Danish phrase I hope all Minnesotans can be saying soon: Solen skinner (the sun shines)!

Copenhagen, the final 1.5

The last part of our Copenhagen trip ended up being unintentionally food themed. Midmorning we wandered to Torvhallerne, an indoor food market. There was an amazing amount of really tasty looking traditional and modern Danish food, which made it hard to pick a place to start the food adventure. We decided on Palæo, whose theme was “primal gastronomy.” (Probably affiliated with the new trendy Paleo diet fad?) I had the most amazing hot dog ever and Thomas had duck wrapped in an omelette.

    

After strolling around a little more, we came upon what looked like cupcakes and I became overjoyed at the prospect of cake and frosting.

Sadly though, it appears that Denmark doesn’t do cupcakes like the US. These were basically muffins with some kind of frosting that was not buttercream. (Insert rant about wanting real cupcakes here) They weren’t bad, just didn’t satisfy the cupcake craving I’ve had since we moved here. As a consolation prize, The Coffee Collective, recommended by our guidebook, had a stall at the market and I had one very good latte!

After walking some distance back toward our hotel, we were again hungry. So, duh, we ate more hot dogs!

These hot dogs were from Andersen’s Bakery, conveniently located right across from the central train station, and were recommended by our guidebook.  Summary: nom!

After a glorious post-hot dog nap, it was time to head to the other side of town to visit Assistens Kierkegaard, take a stroll, and visit H.C. Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard. (See Thomas’s previous post for details about Assistens)

Dinner was in the same neighborhood as Assistens at a lovely place called Manfred’s and Vin, which I would go back to in the future, repeatedly. Their concept was small plates with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. We let them choose our wine and ‘chef’s choice,’ which meant they brought us 7 small plates to share. I love surprises! They were all fantastic and I got to try pork tongue for the first time. These guys even made beets taste good! The other great part about the restaurant was our “table.” We got to sit at a bar overlooking the kitchen so we could watch some of the food being prepared. So many great smells. This was by far the best meal we’ve had since arriving in Denmark. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t eat like that everyday, but it’s what I imagined grown-up dining would feel like.

Sunday was “free day” at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, so we thought we’d catch a few old statues and some unique architecture before we headed home.

 

 

We didn’t get to see everything we would have liked in Copenhagen, but we had a great introduction to a lovely city that I’m sure we will be visiting again in the near future.

København, Part I

Thomas had Thursday, Friday, and Monday off of work for the Easter holidays here in Denmark. To take advantage of this time, we decided to explore Denmark’s capital city, since previously we had only visited the Copenhagen airport (which was very nice). Travelling from Aarhus to Copenhagen by train takes about three hours, depending on how many stops it makes. It was comfortable ride and a great way to see the Danish countryside. The train travels south from Aarhus to Odense and then crosses the Great Belt Bridge to Zealand.

Great Belt Bridge

After we arrived, we navigated to our hotel, which was literally on the other side of the train tracks. Before traveling to Copenhagen, I did some research to narrow down the list of things to see while we were there. Our Danish coffee date hosts advised us to buy a postcard of the Little Mermaid instead of seeing it in person because it was the Danish equivalent of lame. So with some vague plans, we were ready to conquer Copenhagen Our spacious hotel room.

Our first vague goal was to find dinner and go to the Mikkeller bar, which Thomas had come across magically, and is rumored to be the best brewery in Denmark. After wandering around, rejecting the Hard Rock Cafe twice, we found a nice Indian place that was super tasty. We made our way to Mikkeller and tried several of their beers. Mikkeller

The beers were all very good, pretty comparable to what you might find on the American craft beer scene. Then, like the party people we are, we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

In Denmark, the weather never cooperates with anyone. On day two we woke up to snow, wind, and overcast skies. We had heard about a tour of the Danish parliament, conducted in English, so we went early to get tickets. After taking our tickets out of a stack at the Parliament’s public entrance, we decided that since we were so close to many other obligatory tourist sites in the center of Copenhagen, we would explore until the tour, which was at one. The parliament is in Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three branches of the Danish government. From what I’ve read, it has burnt down multiple times since 1167 and the current palace is the third iteration.

After walking along the canal, we ran into Nyhavn, one of the major tourist attractions in Copenhagen. I’d seen many pictures of Nyhavn, but seeing the real thing was more impressive than I thought it was going to be. Lunch was multicultural; I had the worst craving for a burger and fries and Thomas kept it more traditional Danish style.

Nyhavn

In Copenhagen, you are never more than a stones throw away from a palace/castle/church. Our next stop was Amalienborg, where (some of) the Danish royals reside. Obviously, the royals have other residences, including one that is used in the summer in Aarhus.

We didn’t stay long because we didn’t want to be late for our tour, which, wait for it…..was cancelled. Without explanation. Boo. After our disappointment, we decided to make our way to the Royal Museum for Fine Arts via the pedestrian only shopping/eating street called the Strøget. On the way we ran into the Rundetaarn (aka The Round Tower). For a small price, this was a very cool place to visit. It has been around since 1642 and was used as an observatory by University astronomers after the king kicked Tycho Brahe out of the country for some reason. Attached to the tower is a building that once held the University’s  library, which has been converted into a gallery and concert venue.

No stairs!

No stairs!

Royal Museum for Fine Arts was fine and looked like this:

Look, another castle! This one is called Rosenborg. It was originally built as a “summerhouse” and now serves as a giant closet where the Royal collections (of various things) are stored, which, for a price, you can tour.

Feeling snacky, we stopped at Lagkagehuset, which was a recommendation from our Danish instructor back in Minneapolis who had studied in Copenhagen. I had a glorified pop tart called a hindbærsnitter (okay, it was much better than a pop tart) and Thomas had some cake thing.

Poptart

We were pretty tired after walking around all day and headed back to our hotel. Given that it was a holiday, there were not many places still open, so we ate street food for dinner. Little did we know the next night we would have the best dinner since we’ve moved to Denmark. To be continued……