Friday, September 30, 2011

The Zoo, Visitors and Swimming

We have had a slew of visitors over the past few months. Most recently, Neil's mom and our friends Michael and Lisa were in town. Riley was thrilled to spend time with his grandma and then the following week with our friends.

When Grandma Terri was here, we took a trip to the zoo - one of many this summer. We found the Chimpanzee house for the first time and saw a very interesting sign that seems to be putting some misinformation about Americans out there. (note the English text on the bottom.)

Chimpanzees as child substitutes? Really? Please, Americans, comment if you know someone with a chimp instead of a child. Also, I think saying that many Americans keep chimpanzees under miserable conditions is a bit unfair. I am not an expert on the subject, but I am pretty sure this sign could use a rewrite.

The zoo is really fantastic and similar to a good zoo in the US - like the Albuquerque Zoo, for example. There is, however, one distinct difference and that is the way they feed the animals. In the US, as a general rule, unless the animal is eating fish or plants, the food they eat in public is unrecognizable. In Denmark, we saw cute little meerkats eating whole bunnies. For Neil and I, former bunny owners, this was more than a little upsetting. In fact, I still see the poor white and black bunny splayed out in the meerkat enclosure very vividly when I think of it.  Meh.

It is funny how at home I can feel here and how sometimes I even forget that I am not in my home country. We're all civilized Westerners after all. But then a big cultural difference jumps out at me... like feeding whole animals to other animals at the zoo. Of course, I realize that it's just a fact of life and by not showing this to zoo-goers in the US, we're perhaps not teaching all that we can about zoo animals and nature and the food chain, but I would like to stay in my little bubble and pretend that all the cute zoo animals get along.

The above photo shows Riley's excitement at having more visitors arrive in Copenhagen. We picked Michael and Lisa up at the airport and got a seat with a view on the Metro on the way home. 

After all our visitors went home, Riley and I decided to try swimming in Denmark for the first time. There are some differences here as well. Water is much less chlorinated in Denmark than it is in the US. Because of the lower level of chlorine, you must shower and wash thoroughly before swimming here. And, because Danes do not seem to have the hangups about their bodies that we Americans do, the showering takes place in one big room without curtains or stall doors. 

It's actually a bit like my all-girl's summer camp in Minnesota and I remember threatening not to shower for the entire month I was there if it meant I didn't have to show the other girls what I looked like naked. And so, here we are, I am 32 years old and apparently I haven't changed much from that girl at summer camp. When I learned about the system at Danish pools my first week in the country, I panicked and managed to put off swimming for 8 months. I am not proud of this. It's absurd. 
Today, with the help of a Danish friend, Riley and I went to the pool, figured out the pre-bathing system, walked around naked in the locker room and did not die of embarrassment, had a baby swimming lesson and actually enjoyed ourselves. Add one more indoor activity to the list for this coming winter. Who knows, maybe I will return home to the US with less body image hang ups? That would be a great souvenir to take home from Denmark.


  1. The nudity hang-up in the US appears very large. It gladdens me that you had a positive experience being nude among others here in Denmark!

    I would say a lot more on the subject but as a frequent poster on American blogs, I feel it is best to not do so.

    Congrats on your wonderful posts here and especially on your none-assuming attitude. I look forward to more!

  2. Regarding the particular Zoo sign you wondered about, I, as a Dane, am equally phlabergasted. Being a Dane I would as my first instinct trust the Zoo people and their signs. As a science-minded person and as a skeptic generally, however, I would want to question the veracity of that sign. As a humanist I would question its relevance. I'll be getting back to you.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. That sign seems a bit weird.
    Anyway, glad you enjoyed your baby swim.

  5. Hi there,

    I expressed my concern regarding the Zoo sign you mentioned and got the following reply:

    "Kære Jens,

    Jeg beklager, at du har haft en ubehagelig oplevelse og at du føler, at vi nedværdiger vores amerikanske gæster. Det har selvfølgelig på ingen måde været vores hensigt og vi vil hurtigst muligt rette ordlyden på vores skilt, så denne misforståelse ikke er en risiko fremover.

    Meningen med skiltet og informationen, var at gøre opmærksom på, at der mange steder i verden, inklusiv visse stater i USA, er en lovgivning, der tillader privatpersoner at holde bl.a. menneskeaber som kæledyr. Og da menneskeaber, specielt chimpanser, ligner os mennesker så meget, er der mange der er blevet fristet til at adoptere aberne som børn i familien. Det er selvfølgelig vanskeligt at sige noget om, hvor udbredt dette er, da det oftest ikke bliver registreret. Og det er jo ikke alle barnløse amerikanere, der praktiserer dette, hvilket - med den nuværende ordlyd på skilte - godt kan fremstå sådan.

    Der er dog organisationer, specielt i USA, der arbejder for at informere om, og dermed forhindre, de store konsekvenser det har for aberne, at blive udsat for disse uoptimale forhold. Hvilket trods alt siger noget om omfanget af dette.
    Se et par eksempler her:

    Og et par artikler om emnet:
    ” Since 1995 China (31%) and Mauritius (18%) supply almost half of all primates traded internationally; the single largest importer of live primates is the USA (26%) followed by Japan (14%) and China (13%).”

    Jeg håber, at du med denne information, har fået en indsigt i vores intentioner og at du ved et eventuelt fremtidigt besøg i Zoo, dermed får en bedre oplevelse.

    Med venlig hilsen

    Mikkel Stelvig

    Zoologisk Have
    Roskildevej 38, Postboks 7, 2000 Frederiksberg"

    I replied to Mikkel that I would be checking out any changes to the sign this November.

    Just wanted to let you know that!

    Best regards,