Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trashy Americans

The former tenant of our apartment (who happens to be the owner) used a teeny tiny trash can with itty bitty matching trash bags for his main trash can. The whole trash system, shall we call it, was basically what most Americans would have in their home office or spare bathroom.

Shortly after we moved here, we went to IKEA, bought the largest trash can we could find - it's approaching the size of the normal American kitchen trash can, but not quite - and brought it home. Then, it was my task to find large trash bags to fit it. We only brought a few of our normal Glad drawstring trash bags with us. The first few trips to the grocery store, I was unable to locate any trash bags. They do not sell them in boxes here, for starters. They are not branded, there are not a billion choices - vanilla scented, extra strong, extra flexible, etc. etc. When I did finally locate the trash bags, they were in rolls with a slip of paper covering them that indicated how many trash bags there were in the roll and how big they were.

It was probably the third trip to the store when I finally found them. Then I was presented with a new problem. Nearly every trash bag was small or smaller, except for some really big (100ml) bags that happened to be see-through. I bought them. I have looked at other grocery stores and so far, the big bags seem to only come in really big and really see-through. The result of this is that we show everyone our trash when we take it out.

In case they weren't already staring at us thinking, "Foreigner! Foreigner! That huge trash bag is a dead giveaway!" They can now think, "Look at all that wilted lettuce those Americans wasted and threw out! Eeew is that next to a dirty diaper?"

When we take our ginormous trash bags to the dumpsters in the trash area of our building's courtyard, I always look in before throwing our bag in and I have not ever seen a big trash bag. Everyone else uses the tiny ones. I don't know how this is possible. How do Danish people not have trash? We recycle. We try very hard not to waste food and other household items. After giving this issue way too much thought, I have decided that the Danes must take their trash out ALL THE TIME. They clearly have no concern about wasting trash bags and take the trash out almost daily. There is just no other explanation.

Or, maybe...just maybe... we are SO American.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Groceries and Underwear

Two things of completely no relation that I have been thinking about lately.

1.) The first day we were in Denmark, we went to the grocery store so as not to starve in our apartment. The entire shopping trip was pleasant until we checked out. The check out looks the same as it does in the US, but somehow there is something very different about it. The clerks are fast, the conveyor belts move fast, everyone has their own bags out and ready to bag and everyone puts a divider up after they finish placing their groceries on the belt. Neil and I didn't know about the divider, we were slow to get out bags out, took our time packing them, and found other peoples groceries flying down the conveyor belt toward us. We quickly threw our things in bags and got out of the way, but I remember looking at each other and remarking how scary it was. Neil said he thought it was because most people don't buy as much as we just had. But I have since realized that Danes are a bit militant about their grocery checkout process.

It reminds me of DC residents and metro escalators. If you are standing on the left of an escalator in the district, then look out for angry locals.

In Copenhagen, if you forget top put up the divider after your groceries, prepare to have people glare at you.

2. Danes are much more comfortable with lingere than Americans are. There are lingerie stores everywhere and the big department store chooses to greet visitors this month with the image below. This display is right inside the main doors to the store:

I think that in the US, most stores keep the lingerie department upstairs behind women's clothes, athletic clothes and pjs. Not here. Lingerie is front and center. I am not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with European sexual liberation. I am in Denmark, the country of topless beaches, after all.

Kinder Eggs

One of the great things about living in Europe is that I can buy Kinder Eggs whenever I want.  Yes, it's silly, but I love them. If you haven't heard of kinder eggs, they are chocolate eggs with little plastic capsules inside. In the capsule is a toy. Many times the toys are in little parts and you get to assemble them, but sometimes they are just in one piece. We don't sell these things in the US because someone would choke on the toy and they would then sue - at least, I am pretty sure that is why.

I actually don't really eat the chocolate eggs. I just buy them for the little toys. I have been collecting Kinder Egg toys since college. It is a slow thing to collect because I only get them when in a foreign country. 

Today, I bought myself a three pack in honor of Easter and I opened them at the kitchen table while Riley was eating dinner. Part of me realized that I shouldn't open them in front of him in case he wanted the toys which would be too small for him to play with, but the other part of me was excited to see what the eggs contained. 

I first opened one with a rabbit in it. It came in a few pieces, I assembled it, made it hop by pressing on it's back as the illustration indicated and moved on to the next egg. Riley looke once or twice, but was not interested. The next egg contained a hippie musician dog. Not much assembly required. Riley couldn't care less. The final egg had a strange blue three-eyed monster in it. When it came out of the egg Riley's face lit up and he started yelling. "ooh ooh. oh. ooh. aaah"  which basically means, "Give that to me or I will keep yelling." So, since there were no little parts to this guy, I let him play with it for a while. He happily threw it around and laughed when I made it walk toward him on the table.

But, really? He went for the weird little monster over a dog and a rabbit? Does this reveal something about his personality? 

The three kinder egg toys. Riley's favorite is in the middle.

Passover Brisket

Hello blog readers! I have been a bit silent this month as Neil has been using my computer to edit his movie, but many blog-worthy things have taken place. Let us begin with preparing for Passover, shall we?

Preparing for a Jewish holiday in Copenhagen is not entirely simple. The grocery stores do not all carry matzah. There is no kosher for passover section. There is, however, a kosher store. A two-bus journey from my home, as far as I can tell it is the only kosher store in all of Denmark. I have to remind myself that before living in DC, I hadn't lived in a place with a kosher store, but DC spoiled me. Not only is Kosher Mart a store, it's the size of a regular super market and is filled with kosher food galore. Shopping for Passover there is so simple it's fun. Copenhagen Kosher on the other hand is more like the kosher closet.  It's great that it is here at all, but it's super tiny and has a small and very very expensive inventory.

I ended up with Matzoh from France, matzoh meal from Holland, Gefilte fish from the US, horseradish from Israel, wine from Israel, and the worst Kosher for Passover cookies known to man for about $150. Oy.

Because I went to the Kosher store well before the holiday, I hadn't really planned out my meal yet and wasn't read to buy meat. Also, since we eat non-kosher meat, I thought I would save a little money by purchasing our main dish from the regular grocery store. Oops.

When it came time to cook the Passover meal, I decided that brisket was what we had to cook. After visiting three grocery stores and realizing that I could not recognize any of the cuts of beef in the coolers, I ended up at the neighborhood butcher. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time I'd ever visited a butcher shop and as I set foot in the tiny store, I realized that it's a bit different than the meat counter at the grocery store.

A young butcher shop employee asked if he could help me and I began to try to explain brisket. I was armed with a Danish word that I think meant brisket and a web page showing the cut of meat on a cow diagram. The man looked like he understood what I was asking, turned, walked into a big room full of meat and returned with what looked like half a cow.

"This?" he said, looking like he'd never ever sold anyone that part of the cow before.

"Um, I guess so." I said. How could I tell him that I had only cooked brisket twice before and I didn't really take a close look at the meat because I had gone to the store, asked for brisket and brought it home wrapped up in butcher paper. Nobody had ever presented half a cow to me before.

"How much?" he asked.

"Um, enough to feed five or six people?" I said nervously, while thinking, "What on earth am I going to do with a hunk of that animal?" But my helpful butcher shop employee was already sawing through the half cow on the counter right in front of me. Oh. My. God.

The next thing I knew, he was wrapping my hunk of scary looking meat in white paper and putting it in a bag for me. While doing this, he looked at his coworker with a "should we really sell this to her?" look on his face which did nothing to inspire confidence in me.

As I walked out onto the sidewalk, blinking in the sunlight and toting a heavy bag of cow, I felt a panic wash over me. I placed the chunk of cow in the stroller basket and thought about how I was supposed to be feeding people passover seder that night. How to get from terrifying cow part to brisket?

Thank goodness for my friend Norah who likes cooking and enjoys chopping and slicing. I don't enjoy touching raw chicken, raw meat, etc. so the thought of cutting up the "brisket" (if that is what it really was) was very unappealing to me. Norah on the other hand, was up for the challenge and trimmed the brisket like a pro.

Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of the whole chunk of meat, but we did photograph the stuff Norah trimmed off and the part we cooked. See below:

Norah is holding the large chunk of bone she trimmed (no wonder butcher shop employee needed a saw!) and below it is all the fat she trimmed off

This is what we cooked. Does that look anything like brisket to those of you who know your cuts of meat?

I am happy to say that the dinner  came out edible. The brisket didn't get to cook for a long slow time and wasn't nearly as tender as I had hoped, but I also wonder if we got the best part or if that was even brisket that we ate. It's really hard to say.

The less-than-awesome brisket was worth my butcher shop story, though. And my homemade matzoh balls were pretty delicious.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


In the past week I have come across some extraordinarily bizarre signage here in Copenhagen. I used my trusty iPhone to take some photos for all of my blog-reading public.

The first sign to strike me as incredibly odd is in the window of my favorite store, Magasin. The flagship Magasin is right downtown Copenhagen in Kongens Nytorv (Kings Square) and they are advertising what looks to be a new fitness club but is actually a clothing brand. Check this out:

Note the arrow that always points right at the "Fitness Girl's" crotch

If you go to the brand's website, you will see some very European advertising. The model has an American accent and the clothes are American style, but the Jack and Jones Fitness Club campaign is definitely not American. It's WAY too sexually liberated and explicit to be. Beware, this link is probably not safe for work. 

Since I am an American, I find it very odd that an add campaign like this is featured in the windows of the equivalent of Macy's or Nordstrom right in the heart of downtown. It also says on the sign at Magasin something like "Jack and Jones Fitness, for all the action you're  going to get." Ha. Ha. 

Moving from porn to poop, please note the billboard below that is all over town:

A friend pointed this out to me and we both stood agape for a couple minutes asking ourselves, "Is that really poop? Right there on that big sign?"

Um, yes. Yes it is. Apparently the sign is about alternative fuel sources, which I support fully, but what I do not support is humongous pictures of poop hanging around. There must be a better way to get this message across. 

Finally, a less extreme sign was spotted in a bus this week. See below:

It's not the best photo, but please note that on this bus, you cannot drink wine, eat hot dogs or consume popsicles. I suppopse all other food and beverage is acceptable? 

Monday, April 4, 2011


Before we left for Austria, Neil and I received a mailing from Denmark's National IT and Telecom Agency. We couldn't understand a word of it. I thought it might be advertising. Neil wasn't sure and we put it in a stack of papers to be taken into Neil's office and translated by his Danish coworkers.

Flash forward a couple of weeks.

This morning while I was in the shower, the doorbell rang. This set off a series of events which involved dogs barking and then Riley crying and I was seriously annoyed. Twice in the last week, the elevator has been stuck on my floor (once my fault, once not) and a neighbor has mercilessly rung my bell until I answered the phone hooked up to the door bell and agreed to go out and close the elevator door. This morning, I assumed this was happening again and got very frustrated. I was drafting a note to hang in the elevator in my head for the rest of my shower.

About 30 minutes later when Riley and I left the apartment, a business card fluttered to the ground when I opened the door. It said "RING VENLIGST" in bright red and all caps. Turns out this just means ring please, but it certainly looked like an angry "RING PLEASE".

As soon as we were out on the street I called Rene. He answered and said something in Danish and I began to speak in English. I explained that I was in the shower when he rang the bell and asked what I could do for him.

Rene: "Ah, I went to your home because we're receiving some interference and it's coming from your apartment. I sent a letter a few weeks ago."

Me: "Oh, yes, we got your letter but we couldn't read it. My husband planned to take it to work for translation when he returned from his business trip. But, interference?"

Rene: "Yes, something is putting out a signal in your home."

Me: after quickly thinking about all of our electronics "Could it be the baby monitor?"

Rene: "You have a baby alarm? Yes, that's it. Is it from the United States?"

Me: "Yes"

Rene: "Then it's broadcasting on American frequencies and that's causing the interference."

Me: "Oh, I am very sorry. We had no idea."

Rene: "Well of course not, you couldn't have known."

Me: "So what do I need to do, buy a new monitor?"

Rene: "Yes, and please stop using the other one as soon as possible."

I happened to hang up the phone while standing in front of a baby store, so I walked in, found the exact monitor I purchased in the US (only the European version), paid a good $60 more for it than I did in the US and went on with my day.

When I got home, I learned the dissapointing (and rather obvious) news that the European version of the monitor reports the temperature in the baby's room in Celcius. I also revisited the original letter we got from Rene. It came with a lovely brochure, which clearly indicates that we were transmitting a very upsetting signal. Funny that I didn't pick up on that in the first place.

I mean, look at the way he's grasping his head.

I actually have several questions about all this: What was our monitor interfering with? How did they track it right to our apartment? Why didn't they notice sooner? Have you ever heard of a baby monitor drawing the attention of a government agency? No? Well, now you have.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's Spring! A Photo Essay of My Saturday.

See above for proof that it is spring. Today was an absolutely beautiful day in Copenhagen. Probably the nicest day here so far and I spent it enjoying the morning with my friend Norah and her son BG and then enjoying the afternoon at the park with Riley. If Neil is going to be out of town, this is the way to spend a Saturday. I had just shed my down jacket and put it in the stroller basket when I came upon this patch of crocuses below a tree. Yay Spring!

On the way to the park I passed a new Halal slaughter house with an unfortunate name. (Yes, I am sometimes a 10 year old in a 32 year old's body.)

 My friend Norah had told me about this hilariousness but it was exciting to see it for myself. Apparently Butt is someone's name in this instance. Thanks Mr. or Ms. Butt for giving me a good laugh.

During today's visit to the library we came across this book which is entitled, "Small Dead Animals" which brings up an interesting thing about Danish culture. The Danes seem to have slightly different ideas about what is appropriate for children. Their children's television programs deal with more weighty topics than most American media for kids. For example, a show aimed at 10-year-olds here in Denmark is about a ten year old girl who kills six adults, one of them by removing a leg. Nope, not kidding.

And so, the above book is about some kids who wander around the forest collecting small dead animals and burying them in an animal cemetery. A tad too morbid for my American sensibilities... but a bit funny. I can't really picture myself reading this one to Riley.

Speaking of children's literature, I have been reading Riley Goodnight Moon every night before bed as sort of a nighttime ritual. The hope is that hearing the book and seeing the illustrations will trigger him to relax and then he'll nod off to sleep once put in his crib. It's been working for the most part. But, now that I am reading the book every single day at least once, I could recite it in my sleep. Of course, I've known it since I was little, but I never really noticed how existential the book is... I mean, "Goodnight nobody" with a blank page. That's kind of awesome - ok, really awesome.

Back to my Saturday - here's a contest. Does anyone know what this is and what you do with it? It was spotted at a local produce stand.

The produce here is looking better and better as are the flowers at the flower shops. I am guessing that there's a big market for fresh cut flowers here based on the number of amazing flower shops you come across in this city. Flowers are also one of the more affordable things to purchase. I think I am talking myself into purchasing some.

I learned something else today that is really surprising about Denmark. You can't just go name your child any old name here in Denmark. It must be on a government approved list of names. If you're like me, you first instinct is to say how terrible this - what a big lack of freedom. But, maybe it makes sense? It would prevent people from naming their kids really unfortunate names. Apparently in Denmark, if you would like to use a name not on the list, you can petition the government. If they approve it, you're allowed to give that name. If a new name is approved 25 times, it's added to the official list. Not such a bad system. I am still up in the air on this. Is it a good idea, or a serious deprivation of freedom? I am guessing the approved list is fairly expansive. But still, what if you want to be a little creative, but not cruel?

Speaking of kids, the sunny Saturday concluded with Riley taking his first swing ride at the park. They have baby swings, but I had to pad Riley's with my coat to make him fit properly. He seemed to enjoy himself. I'm looking forward to many more swinging sessions at the park this spring and summer.