Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spotted: Words That Make You Go Hmmmm...

Context is so important when living in a foreign country. It's the difference between thinking it quaint that Danes love to write "Satan" in graffiti to realizing it's actually a Danish curse... Unfortunately, in the absence of comprehending jokes in Danish, my daily doses of humor in Denmark have been reduced to a practically childish, grade-school level. Here are a few of my favorite recent giggle-inducing discoveries.

Sluts abound in Copenhagen. Having nothing to do with questionable morals or loose women, it's just the word for final when used alone. It can also be used in sentences like the one below, which translates more like an ending or "No more gray days!" It's also only funny in print as it's pronounced more like "sloot".

Even funnier are slutspurts which happen fairly frequently as they are final or end of season sales. I got a good belly laugh over thinking about what happens when my favorite kitchen supply store "Kok" -pronounced like a certain male body part - has a slutspurt.

As you are now discovering too, most of these juvenile encounters can be put into one of two categories - bad words or bodily functions. Below is a good example of the latter.

Fart in Danish means speed - words involving fart generally relate to travel or speed of movement, like farthinder which is a speed bump or turistfart which is not a rude noise made by a foreigner but, as when written in large letters on the side of a bus, simply means touring.

You could combine all these into one big English bathroom-humorous mess by saying, "Farten til "Kok" fordi de har en enorm slutspurt." [If you really want to try it: Fahrt-n tee cock for-dee day hah en enorm sloot-spurt.] Don't worry about offending anyone over here - you'd only be saying, "Go to 'Kitchen' because they're having a big final sale."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Highlights from the Glyptotek

It is a general rule that people do not tend to behave like tourists in the places in which they live. I often wonder why that is - a grass is greener thing? An actual indifference to our familiar surroundings? Are the museums of other cities and countries inherently more interesting than the ones available to us on a daily basis? Or do we just assume that once we live somewhere we'll eventually get around to seeing the sights only to get swept up and carried away by life?

I figure my time as a Copenhagen "newbie" is due to expire somewhere around this summer so I have decided to try to apply myself to seeing "the sights" before the jaded enui sets in and I forget how to be wide-eyed and awestruck. In this vein, I set out to see the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Below is some interesting information about this museum along with some of the highlights from my tour.

The Glyptotek owes its existance to Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of Carlsberg Breweries. A prolific of antique art and sculpture, he donated his sizable collection to the Danish State and City of Copenhagen in 1888. Currently, the museum's collection includes over 10,000 works of art, including the most significant collection of Rodin's sculptures outside of France, an extensive number of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist as well as Danish Golden Age paintings, and a wide array of antique sculptures from around the Mediterranean.

The day of my visit, the museum featured a temporary exhibit of 70 studies in bronze by the French artist Edgar Degas. While most famous for his paintings, he often used wax sculpture to study movement as it related to some of his favorite motifs such as dancers, horses in motion and women in their morning routines. Below, I believe he may have been the first artist to capture a woman trying to get into her "skinny jeans".

The museum is also home to an astounding number of busts covering a wide period of time. Eerily realistic faces peer at you from across time, so lifelike that you imagine they might start up a conversation at any time. In a room of Roman statues I swear heard, "So a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum..." Below, a bust of the Roman emperor Caligula - who knew a sociopathic tyrant could be such a hottie?

While Caligula managed to save his face - at least in the Glyptotek - many of the other statues did not. This has resulted in a small "nasotek" or collection of lost noses.

My husband has been threatening to grow a handlebar mustache. I suppose it could always be worse. He could have seen this guy and gotten inspired...

I came across this bust among the Egyptian antiquities. I have heard conspiracy theories that the pyramids were built by Martians and never gave them much credence... until now?

Stay tuned for my next tourist excursion - a walk to the top of the Round Tower, once one of Copenhagen's tallest building and a working observatory.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#13 Nature, Contained

It is relatively uncommon to see a Dane gone wild or riotous. There are of course some small exceptions to this rule, such as office Christmas parties, although in most cases any abberation can be traced directly to the consumption of large amounts of alcohol. As a general rule, though, Danes are an incredibly orderly bunch. And with the arrival of spring in Copenhagen and the general thawing out of the city, I'm starting to get the feeling that Danes like their Nature the way they like their fellow country-people - contained, restrained, and orderly.

Alien trees
Take, for example, Danish trees. There is a certain type of tree in Denmark and when I first saw it, I thought it was either some kind of Danish cousin to the baobob tree or diseased with a rare European fungus. It turns out neither was correct. The trees are actually plain old poplars that have been pruned to within an inch of their life. The trees are cut back repeatedly at specific points until they form large nodes from which new shoots grow each year and are in turn cut. It is interesting to note that, once pruned in this manner, a tree can never recover its natural crown shape.

 A node up close

In Medieval times, this had a practical application as the cut shoots were used to weave fences and fed to cattle. In modern times I cannot conceive of a purpose to this practice and I wonder if it's really just a Danish way of getting out pent up frustration and anger that is so infrequently expressed in this reserved society. I imagine this is what a tree might come out looking like if Winnebago Man had been given a pair of pruning shears instead of a hundred takes.

Even when not wielding shears like Edward Scissorhands to stunt their trees, Danes still seem to love to beat their flora into submission. The trees pictured below in Kongens Have (or The King's Garden) bear more resemblance to military cadets or Rockettes than anything remotely horticultural. Even the non-royal hedgerows in your garden-variety row house complex or apartment building received the memo and behave accordingly.

If Danish trees seem to express the constrained, orderly side of Danes, then Danish flowers express the reserved, polite side. Unlike a showy, tropical display full of neon-bright colors and come-hither scents, early Spring in Copenhagen blooms quietly and discreetly in soft carpets. Instead of screaming, "Take me home with you!" these flowers seem to ask, "Would you be so kind as to not tread on me?"

Danish flower shops are another sight to behold. When they can't be out in nature, Danes bring a little bit of it indoors. Danes have a wonderful knack for the art of floral arrangements and walking by the numerous flower shops all over the city brings a smile to my face every time. [They're almost as numerous as hair salons but not quite.] It's all very Martha-Stewart-ish minus the irritation of knowing that each individual flower in each of her arrangemetns probably has its own personal assistant.

I find that after living at the foot of the Rocky Mountains for the last seven years, with their awe-inspiring grandeur and massive vistas, I am enjoying this bit of Danish nature on a more human scale. Even when those humans hands have gotten carried away with the shears. If nature in Colorado made me feel small and relatively insignificant in the world, then nature in Denmark is bringing me back to seeing the beauty in that which is small and relatively insignificant.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Leaving Las Vegas

"I'm leaving Las Vegas
And I won't be back
No I won't be back
Not this time."
-Sheryl Crow*

For a long time I thought America had its claws in me. Lured in by brights lights and kept there with free drinks and the promise of a comped hotel room, I thought I would never get it together and actually leave. I thought for sure that I would live and die and never experience my dream of being a true expat living abroad.

Now that I am, it's amazing how quickly my brain seems to be wiping away traces of my American self and cozying up to a new Euro-version of me. I noticed this the other day in Danish class, the way my brain would revert to other European languages when faced with difficult translations or inability to come up with a word. Sometimes when I can't think of the correct phrase in Danish, the French-I-learned-in-grade-school version pops into my head.

France, je t'aime!

Then there was the day where the phrase, "La escuela es rojo," got stuck on mental repeat, even though I don't speak any Spanish, nor have I ever studied it. I think it got lodged in there back in the seventh grade when all my friends were taking the "useful language", while I studied French so I could go eat crepes and croissants on a future school exchange to La Rochelle.

Despite kicking myself years later when I moved to Colorado with no knowledge of Spanish, it was an amazing trip of a lifetime. (And that French came in super-handy when my host family ran over my foot with their voiture on my first day there!) Now, in response to my recent life change, the linguistic region of my brain has switched to "foreign" mode, and I'm waiting to see which other languages I don't know make an appearance.

Another example: last week, we learned that the Danish word "lækker" can be used to describe food that is delicious, but also someone who is good-looking. Of course this led to a discussion of who was "lækker" in the world of entertainment and pop culture and my mind began wandering. Clive Owen... British! Vincent Cassel... French! David Beckham... argh, British again! Hard to blame my brain, given George and McDreamy's laughable recent cameos in my life. And lest you think the US was lacking in representation in this conversation, I did deliver a stern lecture to a German classmate on why the words "lækker" and "David Hasselhoff" should never appear together in a sentence.

With more and more American references and influences disappearing each day, my brain cannot seem to keep itself anchored in an American mindset. I've stopped jaywalking all the time and now religiously obey pedestrian signals. I'm no longer quite so disturbed by Jude Law's (unexpected!) hairy-ness - I think it's actually a European thing. I am the proud owner of three scarves, a closet full of skinny jeans and a set of wool long undies I wouldn't trade for all the creamy peanut butter in the world.

Someone who ate one too
many freedom fries on his
last trip to the States?
Am I "integrating" as the Danes would say? Maybe not as much as controversial Minister for Refugees, Immigrants and Integration Søren Pind would like. Though I don't think someone who believes multiculturalism is "deceitful" would ever fully approve of this blogger's American or Euro-versions of self.

And while I know that someday in the not so distant future, my American self will come knocking, wanting to be let back in, I will be glad that I left Las Vegas, even for a little while.

[* Apologies to my husband for lifting these lyrics from his least favorite recording artist. He still can't forgive her for covering Sweet Child of Mine, which, in his book, is about as un-American as you can get.]

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Random Nature Shot of the Week

"It's spring fever.  That is what the name of it is. 
And when you've got it, you want -
oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want,
but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
- Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Animal Farm

Sandra Boyton is a well-know children's author who, depending on how many times your child has demanded you read her books in a row, is either a genius, or should be shot. Or possibly both. All her books rhyme in such cutesy, catchy ways that you can literally recite them in your sleep, which I admit is sometimes helpful when you are falling alseep on the thirtieth reading in one night.

One of her books, Moo, Baa, La La La! opens with the following lines:

"A cow says Moo!
A sheep says Baa!
Three singing pigs say La La La!  
'No, no!' you say, 'that isn't right.
The pigs say OINK all day and night.'"

That kind of sums up how I've been feeling since I came across a Danish children's book at my son's daycare about animals and the noises they make. A fellow American expat-mom and friend of mine recently blogged about her bewildering experience concerning frogs so I know I'm not the only one out there having an animalistic linguistic crisis.

She and I both discovered that in Denmark frogs say, "kvæk-kvæk" which, to an American ear, sounds an awful lot like "quack-quack". Of course, this leads right into the next question which is, "If frogs say, 'quack' then what do ducks say?" To which the Danish response is, "rap". Huuuuhhhhh... My three weeks of Danish classes have taught me that most Danish r's are somewhat similar to French r's - throaty and harsh. The only ducks I know that would be saying "rap" in this way would be the ones dying of pneumonia or trying to cough up a feather-ball.

Solving the burning question - why?

Here's another interesting one with wider implications. Danish pigs say "øf" which comes out sounding like "uhf" or the French word for "egg" - oeuf. This got me thinking that maybe the creators of my husband's latest addiction, Angry Birds, are actually French? I've been speculating about this game since its appearance on our cell phone a few weeks ago beause it doesn't seem to have a logical point. Testy birds bombarding green pigs? But since my run-in with Old McJensen's farm, I'm suddenly finding all new depth and meaning. I can finally begin to understand how a movie might be made out of the world's most plot-less game.
Here's the movie's tagline: (Danish) Pigs, watch out! The Angry (French) Birds called - they want their "oeufs" back!

Monday, March 7, 2011


I'm feeling like quite the Martha Stewart of Denmark after just finishing sewing my son's Fastelavn costume for his weekly daycare playgroup. In a rash moment of craftiness, I decided to scrap spending $35 at Toys 'R Us on a maniacal bunny costume and instead bought $15 worth of fabric, needles and thread and cobbled together what can only be described as a maniacal jungle cat costume.

What have you done to me?
For all you un-initiated Americans, Fastelavn is Danish Carnival, a holiday that falls the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday and is kind of a Nordic style Halloween. Children dress up in costumes and load up on sugary Fastelavnsboller (sweet cream filled pastry rolls) and candy. Traditionally, a game is played where kids whack a wooden barrel with a picture of a black cat on it to break open a stash of treats. Historically, there were real black cats in the barrel and the event was supposed to ward off evil as only the superstitious, ritualistic killing of innocent animals can do.

Now back to my sewing job. I haven't sewn anything for real since sixth-grade Home Ec when I managed to piece together a stuffed pig on a sewing machine. The major accomplishment wasn't the animal so much as my pride in only managing to sew my own fingers three or four times. But I am getting a sense that my new compatriots are a rather crafty bunch. While it may be difficult to find a large variety of food items, I have found no such shortage in the craft department which in turn caused a five-second mental query on whether wool is actually edible. [Technically, yes, but not gastronomically or medically advisable.]

Certainly my Fastelavn project won't be winning the Danish Design Prize any time soon (or in any universe really) but I feel justified in giving myself a big 'ol American pat on the back. Coming from a world where Target is a multi-purpose family problem solving behemoth, I feel I have in some small way pushed my American butt toward something a little more European, a little less mass-consumer - or at least a $2,000 bill some years down the road for my son's future therapist as he strugles to come to terms with his mothers' horrifyingly abstract interpretation of an "animal" theme...

#12 Fur

In a rare show of solidarity and support for my mental health, the fickle Copenhagen sun finally made a full appearance today and it is a beautiful day, as windy, late winter days go. I know I should't be complaining given that it might be another three weeks before I see the sun again, but the only down side to this otherwise lovely event is that it has ruined any good photo ops for today's post. So I apologize in advance at this topic's lack of photojournalistic merit.

For the past few weeks, it's been unseasonably, bone-chillingly cold. It was during this time that I noticed another Danish phenomenon - the appearance of fur. On one particlar day, as I stood waiting for a friend inside the entrance to an upscale, downtown department store, I counted no fewer than twelve fur coats, four fur hats and some unidentifiable dead-animal-as-scarf draped around a woman's neck over about a ten minute period.

Please don't stop reading here. I promise this isn't going to be some diatribe about fur-wearing. If you're inclined to feel guilty about continuing to read or having a laugh about the subject, I suggest you make a donation to PETA before reading on. I will give some personal background though so you know where I'm coming from and can make any judgements and comments accurately.

I would describe myself as an animal lover. That said, a weak spot for bacon means vegetarianism and I will never truly see eye to eye. I generally tend to avoid eating "cute" animals (bunnies, lambs, etc) but have no problem eating tons of chicken - chickens being enormously un-cute animals in their adult state. On my own personal revulsion scale, fur-wearing ranks somewhere above operating a Michael Vick-style dog fighting ring but below not braking hard enough to avoid hitting squirrels in the middle of the road.

Danish fur-wearing doesn't actually suprise me all that much given how Danes can justify a lot of questionable clothing choices as long as they are practical. What does suprise me is that it seems to fly in the face of Danes' otherwise broad and encompassing humanistic tendencies. Here are some examples:
    Are those pigs smiling?
  • It is illegal to dock the ears and/or tails of cats and dogs.
  • It is illegal to hit small animals, oops I mean children - even your own - in Denmark.
  • Danes take a lot of pride in their high animal welfare standards in the agriculture industry, as evidenced by this brochure on pig farming.
So the fur thing came as a bit more of a suprise than I guess I expected. Sure, there are plenty of Danes who are plenty against the wearing of fur and the practice of raising animals for fur production. But here is an interesting intersection of Danish ideals found on the corporate website for Kopenhagen Fur, a cooperative of breeders and also the world's largest auction house for luxury hides and skins headquartered in nearby Glostrup.

Kopenhagen Fur acknowledges and respects ethical vegans' rights to abstain from animal products and by-products but then turns it around on its Danish head by saying, "animal rights groups are actually depriving people of their right to choose if they want to use products deriving from animals or not." I wonder though if this whole "protecting peoples' choice to choose" as a Danish value isn't a little hypocritical - I mean, I would like maintain my American choice to choose between more than two brands of pretzels or ketchup in the grocery stores yet that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon. I would also like to exercise my choice to choose a kooky, American-style name like Romeo or Apple for my next child but the Danish government doesn't seem to trust my instincts.

I think as a side project, and because my most recent graphic "statistical analysis" went over so well, I will devote some time in the near future to diagramming the various intersections and heirarchies of the Danish morals and values I am encountering. I joked today to some of my Danish language school classmates that I think I need to get a life. I think I've just confirmed that...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Stuff I Wish I'd Come Up With Myself

While my own blogging takes a little bit of a backseat to practicing my Danish (I'm starting to sound like a cross between the Swedish Chef and a kid who's lost all her front teeth), check out these other funny expat blogs and perspectives:

Perfect for this adoptee's limited knowledge of her own ethnic culture.
For my own purposes, could rename "How to Appear Korean Without Actually Being".

a food writer living in Paris...