Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Days I Just Dream of Moving In

For anyone else as unfamiliar with IKEA as I was before I moved to Copenhagen, here are a few more pictures from the 55 square meter concept house (that's just under 600 square feet for all you metric-challenged folks).

Honestly, some days I just dream of moving in... but wait, didn't some guy already do that?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Useful Signage

Just in case you didn't get enough the first time around...
A helpful reminder that cars don't float.

Friday, January 21, 2011

#7 Club Sandwiches

I am beginning to realize that all I post about is food... Is it my own mental preoccupation with all things edible? Or is it because I have only met four real Danes to date - husband's boss and wife, son's to-be daycare provider and supervisor? More on daycare later...

That said, I get a fresh wave of homesickness every time I see my new Danish compatriats take something so quintessentially American and make it their own. Take, for example, the club sandwich. In America, it's been buried deep within strip-mall Friendly's obscurity, moving over to make way for newer fads like low-carb Ceasar wraps and designer salads.

Not so in Denmark! Here, the club sandwich has been elevated to an art form, although, as with all art, one might not recognize it in its artistic state.

For anyone who hasn't seen a real club sandwhich since the early '90's, here's some background reading. A quick consult to Wikipedia confirms my assumption that the defining characteristic of an American club sandwich is its double decker stance, setting it apart from the sandwich pack by its use of three slices of bread. While typically made with turkey as the primary lunch meat, variations have been known to occur such as the "chicken club" or "roast beef club".  The rest of the sandwich reads like a B.L.T. - toasted bread, bacon, lettuce and tomato with mayo as the primary condiment.

In their zest to adopt the club sandwich as their own, Danes seem to have taken quite a bit of artistic liberty. Gone are the double-decker layers hiding a cocktail toothpick waiting to ambush your gums. Banished are soggy, mayo-soaked slices of tasteless white bread. Ditto for underripe tomatoes and wilted iceberg lettuce.
Got caried away before I could take a shot...
Instead, eating a Danish version, one can almost imagine being part of some exclusive club where bread is freshly baked and hand-toasted, where arugula and baby spinach stand at perky attention waiting to lend a crisp hand, where silky smoked salmon sometimes pinch hits for over-processed lunchmeat, where bacon crackles before melting and greasing each bite.

Some examples:
 - Close, but curry?? Marinated chicken breast on toasted bread with crispy bacon, mixed greens and curry dressing

- "New York" style?? - toasted sandwich with chicken, bacon, small crisp lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, sprouts, mayonnaise, homemade guacamole and homemade coleslaw

- An Australian traveler on TripAdvisor noted of his Danish meal, "very good - club sandwich was closer to an open steak sandwich with salad & chips - very filling"

So, like a Picasso or Miró, I may sometimes stand back and scratch my head in wonder at how a sandwich of turkey, arugula and pesto on grilled multi-grain bread can be labeled a "club" but I'm learning to trust my gut and, besides, who am I to judge a master?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Waxing Philosophical About a Big Box Store

I couldn't really give this post devoted to IKEA a number on the list. That's not to say I won't come back to it later but first of all, technically, IKEA is Swedish. Secondly, in the absence of polling average Danes on the street, my Google search "Do Danes like IKEA?" popped up a number of articles from a couple years ago about how Danes felt insulted that IKEA named all their lesser household furnishings after their towns while other Nordic coutries got to grace their more upscale furniture. They literally felt like Danish doormats. You can read all about it here.

As an American who never had the privilege of living near an IKEA, I never really got IKEA. Now living in Denmark, I'm not even sure I would have totally gotten IKEA even if I had. Growing up and well into my adulthood, I only knew of IKEA as a place that had cheap stuff. I think a lot of Americans have that idea about the store and they're not wrong per se but they're really missing out on so much more.

A fateful trip to Scandinavia's second largest IKEA
Americans have a real addiction to cheap stuff. It's a defining quality that we look for in our shopping experience, always hunting for bargains, sometimes to the point of insanity as evidenced by Black Friday stampedes and such. IKEA is an interesting social commentary on how Scandinavians do view cost as a decision-making factor but refuse to sacrifice quality, aesthetics, efficiency and functionality in the process.

I didn't fully appreciate the devotion to form and function that IKEA takes until I visited for the first time. Walking through our now local store, I came across "concept apartments" - fully decked out, functionally operational, liveable spaces. But here's the IKEA catch. These demo dwellings are roughly 270 sq ft for a single person, 375 sq ft for a couple and a  palatial 590 sq ft that's set up for a family with a young child. And yes, this is including a bathroom and kitchen! To most Americans, this would be viewed as either a funny joke or some granola-crunchy grad student's master's thesis.

Could you live like this?

And why not laugh away? America lives large. We're not used to thinking about form and functionality in our daily lives. We have so much excess square footage to fill that we don't care if it saves space as long as it saves money. When we do have the luxury of thinking thoughtfully about design and sustainability, it's often in these odd American paradoxes like the Boulder, Colorado, question of how to get a 9,400 square foot mansion to have as small an ecological footprint as possible.

But here in Copenhagen, these are not just hypothetical questions or philisophical debates. It's reality. Whole families live in apartments and houses the size of the average American garage. Owning less stuff isn't a campaign or New Year's resolution, it's a practical solution when having to face sleeping on your balcony because you have too much stuff in your two-room apartment.

Prepared for overwhelmed Americans with a room to lay down
So I think I finally get IKEA. Unlike Wal-mart where everything is just plain cheap, IKEA is cheap with a purpose, with a world-view, with style. Maybe in America we won't learn to restrain ourselves until we are truly constrained in the economic and physical ways that Europe is. That won't stop me from hoping or trying to adopt this new way of living. Besides, when's the last time you heard yourself say, "I just went to Wal-Mart and, man, it was mind-blowing!"

Friday, January 14, 2011

#6 SUV's

That's right. I said SUV's.

Now wipe that smug American smirk off your face because I'm talking about Strollers of Unusual Volume.

Living life for the first time without a car, I've developed a keen interest - okay covetous jealousy - of my Danish neighbors' automobiles. Every day brings new wonders to these American eyes. I've seen four adults get out of a Peugot the size of a small loveseat and been amazed that having no trunk doesn't seem to be a deterrent to European auto owners.

With all this novelty to distract me, it took a while to notice that something was missing from Copenhagen's landscape. The all-American sport utility vehicle!

Look Ma, no Suburbans!
I can literally count on one hand the number of sport utility vehicles I've seen - three Range Rovers and a Porche Cayenne that almost ran me over the other day. Oh well, at least if I'm going to be squashed like a pedestrian bug I'll go out with a luxurious bang.

But I digress.

Back to the real Danish SUV's. If sport utility vehicles are what America runs on then these mega-strollers are the Danish urban answer to the age old question of how to schelp your family and their stuff around town. Now put away all your silly notions of cheap plastic pieces of crap 'cause these ain't yo' mama's Gracos.

In these behemoths of the sidewalk, Danish children are protected from the elements, bundled into nests of blankets and waterproof coverings, and tethered to the stroller lest they try to escape. Underneath these mobile bedrooms is enough room to stow three mega boxes of diapers and a case of beer. Or eight bottles of Coke, two pillows and an orchid plant. All perfectly reasonable (and totally true) combinations.

Just like their American counterparts, you can plunk down some serious dough on these Danish SUV's. A quick check online and I discover a top of the line Odder (one of the brands used by Crown Princess Mary no less) runs roughly $1,700! Same goes for another popular brand, Emmaljunga. Don't even think about it unless you've got at least $1,000 burning a hole in your piggy bank. At least I can sleep at night knowing Danish parents aren't raiding their childrens' college savings accounts to buy these things since higher education is free here.

And despite such high-profile (royal!) usage, I also want to be clear that these are not just high-end strollers you have to go to some gentrified, hip neighborhood to find. They are used nearly universally by young and old alike - apparently they last forever and I occasionally see elderly women using them more like shopping carts. Did I mention they can hold anything?

So here I thought we splurged when we spent $300 on our son's Baby Jogger. I guess we'll have to reach a bit higher if we want to keep up with the Jensens here in Denmark...

Sizing up the competition

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

#5 Healthcare

Okay, so I haven't actually talked to a Dane yet about their opinion of their healthcare system. This topic is just an excuse for me to write about a recent trip to my new Danish doctor. That's not to say there isn't a country full of people outside my window wating to wax poetic about their most recent colonoscopy.

In the absence of finding any real Danes to speak with (note to self, make more friends) I found these nifty things today called "Eurobarometers" on the European Commission's website. They are public opinion surveys on every kind of topic imaginable. In 2008, Danes were asked to judge their country's current healthcare situation - 65% rated it Very good or Rather good. A more recent poll taken in the Spring of 2010 found that 83% of Danes had seen no change in the affordability of general healthcare in the past six months. Whether you like your healthcare or not, the fact that it's not getting any more expensive, even in the midst of a global financial crisis, should be something to rejoice over.

But back to my real story. So my doctor's visit. I'll give you the basic run down. I needed to refill a prescription. Within five days (including a major holiday weekend) I managed to set up an appointment with my new doctor, get a personal confirmation of said appointment, see my doctor with no waiting or paperwork, chat amiably with him while my son ran around his office, and later that day picked up the prescription he emailed over to the pharmacy.

Just so you don't go accusing me of making that all up, my doctor's name is Anders. (That whole "chatting amiably" thing includes addressing him by his first name.) He has a lovely, bright office with a waiting room full of nice toys for my son to play with and informative books that I'm sure would be useful if I understood Danish. You "check in" by swiping your healthcard through the card reader on the wall. At your assigned appointment time, he calls you in to his huge office/exam room and you talk while he taps out notes on his sleek iMac. Ten minutes later you leave with all your questions answered and directions to the pharmacy where you can pick up your medication. That's it. Really.

No waiting months for the first available appointment. No stacks of paperwork to fill out. No copays or deductibles to calculate. No sitting in a backless paper gown in a claustrophobic cell under harsh flourescent lights that would make even the healthiest person look sick. No disgruntled, overworked, still-in-debt-from-med-school doctor hustling through the appointment, hastily scratching out a prescription for the latest drug whose company recently bought his lunch. If Danes don't actually "like" their healthcare, at least I've found nothing to be horrified by so far.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

#4 Pickled Cabbage

Time for another vegetable diatribe!

I have to admit, I am starting to develop quite a soft spot for Danish pickled red cabbage or rødkål. It's a condiment staple but especially popular around this time of year when it makes numerous apperances in Danish families' holiday meals. I've also since learned that it's a) one of the hardest Danish words to pronounce and b) also the word for raw red cabbage.

These two things combined could lead to some horrible disappointment as I searched in vain up and down the grocery aisles for my newfound friend except that there's absolutely no mistaking it. The slightly sweet, pickled stuff takes over fully half an aisle!

There are so many un-American things about this I don't even know where to begin. That people are even buying and eating a pickled vegetable. It's kind of like the six-month old carrots rotting in their bag. Most Americans have a jar of pickles sitting in the back of the fridge with an expiration date somewhere around 1997 figuring, "It's pickled so it can't go bad, right?" We keep them on hand so as not to embarass ourselves in that dire 4th of July emergency where somebody actually asks, "Hey, who forgot the pickles?".

And sure, American supermarkets stock large aisles of pickles but have you ever seen people making a run on that section? Have you ever thought, "Holy cow, I better buy a bucket of gherkins before there's none left for me!" Folks, I can tell you first hand, around Christmas time, this stuff was a hot commodity and those were my exact thoughts. It was flying off the shelves. People were carrying buckets of it out of the store by the armload. So I elbowed my way into the fray, scooped up my jars and smiled like I'd just scored a sweet Black Friday deal.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

#3 Lingerie

This post is just an indication that it's time for me to get out of the malls and back into the real world. I will try to keep things PG since I know I'm at the age where more and more of my friends have kids. And yikes so do I!

Since before Christmas I'd been seeing lingerie pop up everywhere. It was featured prominently in the Frederiksberg Shopping Center's revolving door display. It was on billboards at the Metro station. It was being bought by the bagload at H&M's pre-Christmas sales.

And then we moved out to our new apartment across from Northern Europe's largest shopping mall, Field's. There are at least three stores devoted exclusively to lingerie as well as bigger department stores like H&M and Magasin which have lingerie departments. And boy is the selection extensive! You can find everything from granny panties to risque ensembles all in your average, run of the mill shops.

And then there's this...

As if I needed any more confirmation that I now live in a country with a more permissive, open attitude toward sexuality. We Americans tend to like these kind of shops relegated to lonely industrial roads and major highway truck stops. Or we make them stand alone so it's clearly obvious to everyone where you are headed and there's no possibility that you got lost on the way to Barnes & Noble.

This particular store is located directly across the way from the entrance to Magasin in the mall. I will attempt to translate this into American-speak. Imagine, if you will, the nicest, most upscale shopping center in your tri-state area. Now imagine right across the entrance to Nordstrom's there is a Frederick's of Hollywood. I challenge anyone to show me a mall in the U.S. that devotes this kind of prime retail space to this pursuit.

Lesson of the day: Don't run. Don't hide. Get used to it. Naked old couples in bed can sell you cell phones, the weather report can occassionally be delivered without a top, and stores at the mall can lead to fruitful discussions with your children on anatomy and human behaivor.

Spotted: Americans Embarassing Themselves

Do you ever wonder how American celebrities and pseudo-celebrities who don't seem to do much or maybe haven't worked in years can still lead Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? How even stars who make mega-millions through movies or television shows can still afford to live like bazillionaires? I've discovered the answer here in Denmark.

By hawking products they'd be way too embarassed to sell in the States! It's true. Here's George Clooney's European ad for Nespresso Nescafe.

Are you kidding me?!!?! The man who can deliver a line just by raising an eyebrow has been reduced to this cheesy awefulness!

Here's a picture I took myself after realizing Cindy Crawford was hawking her line of shoes for the Danish equivalent of Payless. Once a supermodel, always a supermodel.

Now you know the truth. So don't go feeling bad for that favorite actor of yours who hasn't been in a movie since 2001. He's probably doing just fine living off his contract selling dandruff shampoo in Romania.