Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Miscellaneous Post

There are some things I have been meaning to blog about. Here goes.

1. I love that there are swans here. I get to walk by swans nearly every day. I am not sure why this thrills me so much, but I suspect it has to do with reading Make Way For Ducklings when I was a little girl and being enthralled by the idea of the swan boats in Boston, which led to being enthralled by the idea of real swans. I have never lived somewhere with swans before and I an enjoying it now. Sometimes it really is the little things that brighten a day or can make you feel happy where you live.

2. Christiania - This probably warrants its own blog post, but I'm clumping it in to the things I have been meaning to blog about post. Within Copenhagen, and very near to our apartment, there is a massive hippie commune called Christiania. It is truly one of the most bizarre places I have ever heard of. Let me try to explain. In 1971 a bunch of hippies squatted in an old military barracks and claimed a big chunk of prime real estate along Copenhagen's coast. At some point Danish law began to recognize the area as a self-governing town. Recently, laws have been passed to try to take some of the power away from the Christiania residents.

It's the place to go to purchase pot and it used to also have a strong hard drug trade, but that's frowned upon now.

Neil, Riley and I have gone for a couple of walks in Christiania. We went early in the morning on a weekend when nothing was open, just to see what the place is about. It's basically a shanty town made up of a bunch of odd hand-made structures that are not built to any building codes and seem to be mostly made of found materials. There are playgrounds and schools and many homes as well as some cafes, shops and a concert venue. It's really a fascinating place, but it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Read the Wikipedia article I linked to above and you'll see what I mean. It's totally bizarre. The Christiania residents range from normal looking to hippie-from-the-woods-in-Madrid,-New-Mexico-looking. I am not entirely sure what they stand for. But here's their original mission statement:

The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted.


Currently, there is a battle for power going on between the Denmark government and the Christiania residents. The Christianians have posted campaign signs around town that give a good picture of what the residents look like.

It baffles me that the government ever let the plot of land be taken over, but it's also fascinating that the little society within a society formed.

In an "I'm so American" side note, whenever I see someone who looks like they are straight off the Santa Fe Plaza of my youth I am always so surprised to hear them speaking languages other than English. Apparently slacker stoner style is universal.

3. News - I saw this window display recently and wanted to share:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Aaah Austria

I have never had any desire to visit Austria. I'm not sure why, but it just wasn't on my list of vacation destinations. Perhaps the recent history of World War II had me a bit soured on the country? Who knows. But Neil was traveling there for work and Riley and I tagged along and I am so glad I did. Vienna is a beautiful city with a rich history and cultural scene. Riley and I spent two days just walking around and enjoying the fantastic weather and when Neil was done working for the weekend we had a great day at the zoo.

The weather was amazing, the people were friendly and it was incredibly refreshing to be on vacation for a couple days, especially after being holed up in our home and sick for more than a week.

I expected people to be a bit cold and unfriendly in Vienna, but to my surprise, I met many friendly locals. Several people struck up conversations with me - usually about Riley - and when I told them that I only spoke English, they switched right over. One taxi driver I had was particularly friendly and pointed out sights along our drive, told me about the soccer game he was attending that night, and about several funny cab customers he'd had. He even laughed when Riley giggled. The man working at the desk at our hotel was also quite friendly and when we asked for directions one day he said, "Would you like to go the quick way or the wonderful way?" Who wouldn't want to go the wonderful way right?

A highlight of our time in Vienna was on our second day at the Albertina museum in the Mel Ramos exhibit. The paintings in this exhibit are essentially large oil paintings of playboy centerfolds - lots of naked women. As I walked through the gallery, I felt a little guilty for taking my child to such an inappropriate exhibit when all of a sudden, Riley started waving to the naked women in the paintings. I couldn't stop myself from laughing out loud. I'm sure it was quite a sight for the other museum goers. But, I didn't understand anything they may have said because it was all in German.

I was relieved when Riley also waved at the animals at the zoo the following day.

While in Austria, I had a few realizations about being American and about Europe.

1. I realized that there are a bunch of countries that all speak their own languages and then when people from those countries get together, they communicate in English. But nearly everyone is bilingual.

2. I became even more embarrassed that I only speak one language fluently and sad for our country that we can't get our act together to better educate our children.

3. I realized that playgrounds in Denmark and Austria (and probably other places, too) are MUCH more fun and much less safe because people here clearly don't file law suits at the drop of a hat. A playground I saw in Austria had a zip line! My American- ness saw it and initially thought, "That's just a lawsuit waiting to happen." Later I began thinking, "Cool!"

I hope to return to Vienna, but for now, Riley says, "Bye Vienna."

Friday, March 18, 2011

The One Where We Got a Grown Man to Cluck Like a Chicken in The Freezer Aisle

For the past two weeks, we have been wanting chicken soup. I was too sick to actually figure out how to make it from scratch and Neil had no luck locating it at the grocery store the first couple of times he went searching for it. On Thursday, however, we went to the store in an attempt to get Riley to take a nap and get some much-needed sleep and we stumbled upon a bunch of frozen soup. Neil had looked for canned soup, but hadn't checked the freezer aisle.

We found two soups that looked like they might be chicken and Neil flagged over the nearest Dane to ask what kinds of soup they were. The man he found was a little older, probably in his 70s and we've found that older Danes tend to be less proficient in English.

This man was no exception. He knew we wanted to know what the food item was and first told us that it was soup. "Ah yes," we explained, "We know it's soup but what kind?" So the man pointed to one and put his index fingers up to his head like horns and based on the word on the packaging and his pantomimes we determined it was ox soup. "It's good," he said. Maybe, but not exactly what we were looking for.

I then  asked him about the other soup I was holding and he said, "You know, bock, bock, bock?" Eureka! We thanked him and threw the chicken soup in our cart. Later we reflected on the hilariousness of the fact that we had an older Danish man clucking like a chicken in the freezer aisle. He was very nice to humor us and go out on a limb to try to explain even though we lacked common language. Plus, he gave us something to giggle about.

It turns out that it was to be a day of bountiful chicken soup because our new friend Norah came to visit and brought us a magical box of Manischewitz Matzoball soup mix - something I could not believe I neglected to pack before our move. I am sure it's no coincidence that Thursday marked a major health turnaround for us all. Thank you Norah! Thank you random man in the freezer section. Sipping once, sipping twice, sipping chicken soup (no rice).

"Some Americans, they look nice, they dress up in grown up clothes, but they act like they are five years old."

In the past week we met two Danish doctors as we paraded Riley around the Danish medical system because we are first-time parents and had no clue what to do when our baby got a fever and moaned for four days nonstop.

On Sunday, we got to visit our local hospital and the on-call doctor for the urgent-care type service. The waiting room was sparse with uncomfortable wooden chairs and no paintings on the walls, but it was very clean. After a short wait, we were called into a room that was half doctor's office with desk and half exam table. The doctor was nice, but stern. He made sure to charge us 300 kroner first (about $60) before talking to us about our infant. Hospitals and doctors are not used to billing anyone because the government covers health expenses, but since we have diplomatic status, we have to pay cash for our doctor visits. They aren't equipped to process any other form of payment.

In the US, the first thing they would have done at the doctor's office is take Riley's temperature. Not here. The man took my word for it that Riley had a fever. He looked in his ears, nose and throat, said he thought it was viral and sent us home after examining our infant Tylenol and saying they don't use that here in Denmark, but he had heard of it. At some point during our exchange, he said something about us being first time parents. And there was some Googling of the conversion of Fahrenheit to Celsius.

So off we went with our sick infant. On Wednesday, when the fever came back with a vengeance, I decided it was time to go back to the doctor. This time, we went to the practice in our neighborhood that we'd located the week before. We called in the morning and they gave us a 2:15 appointment - a little late for my liking since I was convinced we had a major medical situation on our hands.

The waiting room at our doctor's office is a little nicer than the one at the hospital. The chairs are still not especially comfortable or welcoming, but there are magazines, toys and even a Lego table. We waited with little Riley, who was burning up and whimpering until it was finally our turn. We saw the male doctor as he seemed to be the only one in that day. The first thing he did after instructing us on where to sit was ask us how the socialism was working for us and whether we were afraid of becoming communists yet. Hmm. It was said in a joking way, but seemed a little odd, perhaps a bit anti-American? We told him we were enjoying his country. He then somehow made reference to Sarah Palin.

This was the second time someone I have met here who is not American has brought up she-who-must-not-be-named in conversation with me. It was the second time American politics came up and our friend from Alaska got top billing both times. To me, this is very alarming because it means that her message is somehow being conveyed to the rest of the world more loudly than other American political messages (granted, my sample size is small). The first person to mention her to me (an Icelandic mother in one of our playgroups) thought our first lady was still Hillary Clinton, but could fairly accurately quote Sarah Palin's recent breastfeeding flub. Now our doctor was bringing her up. I was quick to say that I find her to be non-representative of the US and rather embarrassing, to which the good doctor responded: "Some Americans, they look nice, they dress up in grown up clothes, but they act like they are five years old."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The doctor was very good with Riley, very kind to us as patients, still didn't check his temperature, but said he could tell he had a fever from his rosy cheeks and that the illness should go away in, "some days". He looked over the infant Tylenol and said, "Oh have you been giving him some icky American medicine? We don't have this here." But then told us to keep giving it to him as indicated. Overall, in spite of the clear mocking of our homeland, we like this doctor. He assured us that in another couple of kids, we wouldn't be bringing them in for fevers, but he was also compassionate about our concern and didn't make me feel like an idiot for bringing him in. Nope, not an idiot as a parent, but because I am American, I could tell that for him, the jury is still out.

Postscript: Riley is improving, the fever has been gone for a couple of days and he even laughed and played today. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Being sick in any country is unpleasant. Having a sick baby is even more unpleasant than being sick myself. Due to illness, there have been fewer posts on this blog than I would like. We're on the mend and I will be leaving the house and experiencing Denmark more soon.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The One You've All Been Waiting For

What question did I get more often than any other once it was announced that we were moving to Denmark?

"Are you going to eat a lot of danishes?" (or some variation of this question)

Honestly, I wasn't even sure if the Danish people were the originators of the danish pastry. When I think of a danish, I think of a round sweet thing with some kind of sugary goo in the center that I don't like.

But according to one definition, a danish pastry is: A sweet buttery pastry made with raised dough.

That leaves things a little more wide open.

Wikipedia tells me that the danish pastry really originated in Austria... This is getting more confusing by the minute.

But who cares about all this history and origins business, the fact is, they have bakeries here. So many bakeries. And the bakeries are important.  So important that there is a symbol for bakeries. The bakery and the post office have symbols in this country. Any business that gets its own symbol is clearly highly valued.

I have come to love the bakery symbol - a little too much.

The bakery symbol

For a brief moment, I entertained the idea of trying a chocolate croissant at every bakery I came across in all of Copenhagen. I made it through two bakeries and realized this was a very foolish thing to do for a couple of reasons. 1) Because each croissant is akin to consuming a pound of butter and 2) because I found the best chocolate croissant ever at Lagkagehuset.  I need not look any further.

Once I established that I lived only a few blocks from the bakery with the best chocolate croissant in the world, I spent one (shameful) week going to said bakery every morning while Riley napped in his stroller and purchasing a latte and a chocolate croissant. This was a lovely routine. I would enjoy my delicious treat while sipping warm milky coffee and looking out the window at one of Copenhagen's frozen canals. Riley would sleep peacefully in his stroller beside me. My arteries would slowly close and my jeans would become a bit tighter. All the while my bank account was shrinking because while pastries are one of the more affordable things here in Copenhagen, the accompanying coffee made my whole "breakfast" a little extravagent.

I knew my Lagkagehuset visits had to stop, or at least taper off. I went cold turkey for an entire week and since then have only been allowing myself a weekly visit.

So the answer is yes. Apparently moving to Denmark means I am eating lots of danishes. I believe Neil is on the quest for the best Kanel Snail (cinnamon roll pastry) in all of Denmark. But you'd have to ask him about that.

Laundry Solved

Thank you Adrienne and Adrienne's Swedish friend Anna for the laundry assistance. I now know how to operate the washer and dryer. I had been putting the detergent in the wrong slot for the last 6 weeks and our clothes weren't quite as clean as normal, but otherwise, no damage was done.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Laundry

Below find the controls on our washer and dryer. If anyone knows how to go about using these, please tell me.

The dryer

The washer

Where you put the detergent - apparently there are different kinds?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hello Doctor

We don't have a doctor yet. I have been trying to get recommendations for a good doctor since arriving and just keep meeting dead ends. Finally, an international parents meet up group member responded to my bulletin board posting (who knew that Meet Up was still alive and kicking? I sort of associated it with the Howard Dean campaign and haven't looked back since). The kind respondent gave me the words "good doctor in Amager" or something close to that in Danish and suggested I put them into Google.

I did it. I Googled. And Google led me to an online forum where people were discussing doctors and  several Danes recommended a doctor a couple blocks from our home. (Thank goodness for Google Translate). This was a major breakthrough. Why I hadn't thought of this particular strategy sooner, I am not sure. I had done plenty of searches in English for "good doctors in Copenhagen" and other things, but not much came up. (Obviously.)

In Denmark, there aren't really pediatricians or other specialists, there are family doctors and the whole family goes to one doctor. There are also very specific hours that doctors' offices can be called and visited, etc. We tried calling our potential new doctor all morning with no luck, so this afternoon, I swung by. The woman at the front desk answered all my questions, told me that the practice was accepting new patients, how to call to book an appointment (and when) and as I was leaving informed me that she was the doctor! Wow, an actual doctor at the front desk of the clinic? Apparently secretaries only work a few hours a day and after that the doctors are left to run the clinics themselves.

It's a huge relief to have found a doctor, and met her. She was very nice and the office was clean and new and it's literally a five minute walk from home. We really miss our pediatrician in Washington, DC. She is amazing. If Dr. Kit Christiansen is even half as amazing, we're in good hands.

Handball: The European Kind

Before arriving in Denmark, we did a little bit of reading about our new home and learned that one of most popular sports here is handball. Not the kind of handball with two people on a racket ball court with a little tiny ball. Team handball. I am not going to go into a major description here because Wikipedia does it better. But, basically it's a team sport played inside on a basketball court (with different lines painted on the floor). There are goalies with nets behind them and a ball that looks like a smaller soccer ball which is passed between players, dribbled and thrown into the back of the net. It's a fast sport, high-scoring, slightly violent and very entertaining. Really, it has all the elements of a sport American fans would love. We aren't sure why it's not more popular in the US.

Apparently the US does have a national men's and women's team and we play in the Olympics. But, who has ever heard of them? Not us. In fact, according to some sketchy Internet research, the US has four summer Olympic events in which it has never medaled and one is handball.

But in Copenhagen, handball is anything but obscure. During our first or second week here, we made our way to a local Team Ajax game (named after the cleaning product but pronounced Ah-yahx). It was past Riley's bedtime, but we all still had a great time.

Neil selected a favorite player and began cheering loudly for him in English, I got a little embarrassed because I didn't want to stand out, but ultimately couldn't help but to laugh along with Neil. Riley watched the action intently, following the ball as it zipped around the court.

The Ajax players had a come-from-behind victory that included lots of goals and lots of rough fouls and physical contact. It was very entertaining - and they even had a snack bar in the little arena. If I don't get to spend 40-some nights a season in Verizon Center cheering for the Washington Capitals anymore, at least I have a little handball to entertain me. Our next goal is to see the more professional team AG Kobenhavn in action.

The Beach

This past Sunday, we walked to the beach. It was sunny and less cold (Not warm, but less cold), than it had been and we decided to make the most of it and explore our neighborhood beach. We live in Amager (pronounced Ama'r) and we happen to have a beach about a 15 minute walk from our apartment.

It. Is. Awesome.

If you look closely on the horizon you can see Sweden in the distance.
The Amagerstrand Promenaden consists of a 4 kilometer loop encircling a lagoon and bordering the sea with two sections of beach. There is a natural section with less pavement and more native plants growing and a city beach section (pictured above) that includes lots of nice beach, mini-golf and a gelato stand.

I am so excited to spend time here when it gets a little bit warmer.

In spite of the relatively cold weather, people were out all over the beach yesterday enjoying the sunshine and walking along the pathway that lines the area.  Including this cute little duo with their HUGE stroller.

On the lagoon side of Amagerstrand.

So, all you potential visitors, book your tickets now!

The Popularity of the Denmark Flag

Below are some visuals to support the themes I have been blogging about - just in case anyone doubted me.

The "Denmark is awesome so I am going to have my birthday party with a Denmark flag theme" section that is in every grocery store.

These mushrooms were grown in Denmark - hence the flag on the label.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

IKEA for Everyone

We have been to IKEA two times since moving to Denmark. We also went to IKEA when we moved to DC and I went frequently in college once the IKEA in Chicago opened including a memorable post-graduation trip when I purchased many many things Neil and I still have (down comforter, accent pillows, cutting board, etc.) In fact, nearly every move we've made has been punctuated by the assembly of IKEA furniture.

The other night, while assembling Riley's spiffy new toy storage thing-a-majig and looking at the wordless illustrations that told me how to assemble it I thought the following, "Assembling IKEA furniture is really a uniting experience. I could meet people from many many different countries and maybe the one thing we'd have in common would be having assembled something from IKEA."

Yes, it was the middle of the night and I was on day three of four as a single parent because Neil was out of town, but maybe I was onto something. A lot of people have assembled IKEA furniture.

Today, we took two buses and one train to get to IKEA where we bought a rug and a bunch of other stuff. But we went with the intention of buying a rug. Our rug came with a little booklet on how to care for your rug translated into 31 languages.  31!

What Neil likes about shopping at IKEA in Denmark is that all the crazy names for the products that sound totally foreign in the US seem to fit right in here - ORGEL, KOMPLEMENT, etc.

For me, going to IKEA here is a bit like the time I went to Wal Mart in the middle of Nebraska. When feeling completely disoriented and out of your element, it's sometimes comforting to go into a familiar retail establishment that looks basically the same wherever you are. Funny that I feel at home while in a Swedish megastore in the middle of Denmark.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Frogs go what???

Riley and I returned to the magical music session this morning and it was just as good as last week. Same delicious bread. Same adorable songs. Except for one new one we had not heard about a stork and a frog. I know it was about a stork and a frog because the song leader held up paper cutouts of a stork and a frog. It was a lovely little song, except for one thing - at some point in the song, the frog very clearly went, "Quack, quack, quack."

The church where the music happens
Now everybody knows that frogs say "Ribbit" and ducks say "Quack" so I was wondering to myself if they just didn't have a cutout of a duck, or if the frog in the song was a confused frog who thought he was a duck, and what did the stork have to do with anything? 

When the singing was over, one of the song leaders came and spoke to me in English. She wanted to know if this was my first week and what I understood of the songs. I explained that we'd been last week, we really enjoy coming and don't understand much unless it's a song like "Wheels on the bus" that we know in English. She nodded and explained one of the songs they sing each week - I had no clue what it was about -  but it turns out it's about a bakery. As she was about to leave I called her back, "Wait," I said, "what do frogs say?"

"Quack, quack, quack."

I explained that in the US ducks say quack. She looked slightly shocked and assured me that frogs say quack. I told her they say ribbit and wondered aloud what I would tell Riley.

"Well," she said, "Tell him it's a European frog."

Good idea!

Flags For Everyone

On one of our first days here, we went to the grocery store. It was the kind of grocery trip someone would make if a new grocery chain came to their town for the first time. Like a Trader Joe's for instance. We wandered around, didn't recognize much of anything and threw a bunch of intriguing-looking food items in the cart. We also managed to find some staples like olive oil, mustard, basalmic vinegar, salad dressing, etc. In the end, we spent way too much and came home with some really random things including the worst dried bannana bars, a rice pudding that I thought was greek yogurt, and extremely expensive (more than $10) organic, completely delicious ice cream.

In addition to the bounty we returned home with, we left the grocery store with a mystery. Why on earth was there a whole section of paper goods (napkins, plates, toothpicks with flags attached, cups, banners, etc.) featuring the Danish flag? Was a holiday akin to the 4th of July coming up?

At another store a few days later we noticed birthday cards for every age with Danish flags on them. Hmm.

Shortly after that I was talking to one of my new friends and I learned that all Danes decorate their homes with Danish flags on their birthdays. Fascinating. This is not something that Americans would do. We'd go with a much more sensible Pokemon or Spongebob Squarepants. My grandma was born on the 4th of July and she embraces red white and blue for her birthday, but nobody else I know does the same. That's some serious patriotism.

Now that we know about the birthday tradition we are noticing more flags. When stores have sales, they tend to become extra patriotic.

Big sale at a bike shop

Additionally, many many products have the Danish flag on them or at least brag of being Danske (from Denmark). Our jar of pickles has the Danish flag on the lid. The flour and sugar I bought last week are from here and the packaging makes sure I am aware of that fact.

The patriotism is a bit inspired and a bit alarming. I will wait to make a final judgment until I have been here longer. For now, only observations.

We'll see if we decorate with Danish flags for Riley's birthday this June.