Monthly Archives: August 2008

Strong Man Competition

342, 342, 342.  I keep repeating these numbers to myself.  I just pulled a little red slip of paper from a hat with this number on it.  I’ve already managed to misplace the slip.  It would seem that my purse has stopped performing its normal duties as assigned.  So I repeat this number over and over in my head so I know where to sit for dinner.  That’s the system for this evening’s activities.  Assigning each student with a number is really the only way to effectively seat 800 exchange students for a meal.  

At the time we are instructed to find our seats I wander away from the friends I know (and would like to dine with) and weave through the sea of tables.  Each table is adorned with candle lighting and place settings for 6 new strangers I am about to meet.  I find my table and take my place with two guys from Italy, a guy from Germany, a girl from Norway, a girl from Taiwan, and a guy from Denmark.  We do the normal introductions consisting of name, home country, and where we live now.  A few bits of small talk are sprinkled in like “Yes, my place is in a great location, but we share one bathroom among ten people.  But I look at it this way, if the next place I live I only share a bathroom with eight people I’ve moved up in the world.”  (That’s my standard response to my living situation.  I’ve grown tired of saying it over the past two weeks.)  After we cover the standard information the conversation turns to my political views as an American.  Hmm, and I was just starting to enjoy my election free existence in Denmark.  

I try to form a few politically correct, non offensive sentences and then I attempt to change the subject.  I say, “So earlier today I went to the European Strong Man Competition with some friends.  And let me tell you, you’ve never truly lived until you see a bunch of burly dudes lift barbells as heavy as a horse and pull a tractor trailer.”  Now I know this sentence could incur one of two responses.  A: “Hey that’s hilarious and fascinating, please tell me more about European body builders.”  or B: “Umm ok, that’s a bit strange and when did your body builder fetish begin?”  I garner the table’s response as someplace in between.  But seriously, this topic is pure gold, much more fascinating than politics, and absolutely truthful as to my whereabouts for the day.

A guy that lives upstairs from me had found out about the Strong Man Competition a few days ago.  When he mentioned that he and a few other people were going, I jumped at the chance.  (Actually I’m not even really sure I was invited – I may have invited myself.)  We took the train out to Klampenborg.  The competition was scheduled to take place in the amusement park.  We exit the train and follow the crowd into the park.  Apparently others thought this seemed like a nice way to spend the day as well.  We arrive just in time for the tire roll.  Two beefy guys move a tire that is taler and wider than me into a roped off arena.  And the games begin!  The announcer is yelling something in Danish.  His voice is the equivalent of an announcer for the Monster Truck Rally.  The only thing I can make out is that the next contestant is Richard Dennis.  I decide I will become Richard Dennis’ biggest fan!  He steps up to the tire and begins to flip it from one side of the arena to the other.  A series of beefy men follow Richard Dennis’ lead.  From what I can tell there is a gentlemen named Boris and another character named Mr. Pederson, but that’s all I can make out from the announcer’s yelling.

My support and devotion to Richard Dennis prove to be helpful, he wins the tire portion of the events.  The competition moves onto the stage.  Everyone gathers to watch these men lift a barbell with an insane amount of weight.  The first round seems effortless for these men.  It is as if the announcer casually yells “hey can you get that out of the way for me? I’m expecting company.”  The next round proves to be more difficult as more weight is added.  Now, I don’t know exact weights since I haven’t really caught onto the whole kg thing and I haven’t been practicing my numbers in Danish.  (On a side note, I’d like to write someone in the US a letter about Celsius vs. Fahrenheit, liters vs. gallons, miles vs. kilometers, pounds vs. kg.  We are the only backwards country in the world not on the same metric system!)  I think I heard 180 kg at one point.  So that’s roughly 400 pounds.  Crazy!  I need to befriend these European behemoths so I have a good person to call next time I need to move a piano or an elephant or a small beach house.  In the days when my dad, uncles, and grandfather had to relocate out double seater outhouse in Maine, these men would have been handy to know.

As the weight piles on the contestants dwindle.  My hero from the tire race, Richard Dennis, goes down in a blaze of glory.  He dislocates his arm from his shoulder.  Richard Dennis’ arm dangles from his body and I turn to the guys next to me to say “That happened to my mom once, but somehow it didn’t seem quite as impressive.  I’ll tell her to work on theatrics for the next time.”  Large men come to his rescue to return his arm to proper order.  I guess this is an occupational hazard that Richard is used to because he considers competing in the next event.  He reconsiders and drops out of the strong man competition.  My hero has fallen.  He had good timing though, because we have to leave to catch the train back for dinner.  I wish I could have stayed longer.  I wanted to hold out to see the horse toss or something like that.  But alas, my time at the Strong Man competition has come to a close.  

We walk out of the park talking about all the cool things we just witnessed.  We are like little kids who just rode their first roller coaster.  We talk about the day’s events all the way home.  I can’t believe the people sitting at this table with me aren’t impressed with my choice of conversation topic.  I guess you had to be there. . .

In case you’d like to brush up on your foreign body building. . . actual footage.

Dinner in the Sky – Thanks Chevrolet

Yesterday began like any other day.  I rolled out of bed, made myself some coffee, got dressed, and went to “cultural day” with the rest of the exchange students.  We spent the day walking around the city center.  I saw where the queen lives, the changing of the guard, the king’s castle, and climbed a tower to see (what I thought at the time) the perfect view of the city.  Little did I know that I would be lifted by a crane 50 meters into the air and served dinner.  (Trust me, even I can’t make this stuff up.) 

After 4 hours of wandering about the city I walked home with some friends that live in the same residence.  We were debating how we would spend the remainder of the day.  The weather was gorgeous so a few people talked about going to a park to hang out.  Others (um me) dreamed of napping.  A few people wanted a sandwich.  So we ended up dividing into a few groups and going our separate ways.  Instead of napping I decided I wanted to walk along the canal for a bit.  My friends Andrew (from Canada) and Jelle (from Holland) decide to abandon plans to go to the park or nap and come with me.  We make it two blocks from our house and notice a crane raising some sort of platform into the sky.  The platform is covered with Chevrolet signs – this must be some sort of promotion.  Of course I am compelled to find out more information so we go in for a closer look.  

I’ve always thought promotional stunts in the United States were outlandish and crazy, but this one takes the cake.  Upon closer inspection and asking around for someone who speaks english (remember I am illiterate in this country) we find out that Chevrolet is having a drawing where the winners will be raised in the air 50 meters and served dinner.  I’ve never filled out an entry form so quickly.  I don’t care that Chevrolet will stalk me by phone and email for the rest of my life; this opportunity is too good to pass up.  The three of us hand over our entry cards to the Chevy promotions girl.  Andrew’s card has a corner folded and he jokingly states “um this card is definitely a winner”.  Five minutes later we find out that the three of us “won”.  Twenty five minutes later the three of us are harnessed into some leather chairs that are attached to a table on a platform.  Once everyone is strapped in waiters bring around plates adorned with an appetizer, main dish, and dessert.  Finally the moment we’ve patiently waited for. . . the crane begins to life the platform. 

I find myself sitting around a table suspended 50 meters in the air next to some new friends and a group of strangers.  In the center of the table are waiters.  It is a strange sight to see waiters in all black tuxedos with yellow harnesses peaking out.  It is even more strange to be eating a meal with my feet dangling 50 meters above the ground.  Below me water.  To my left is Nyhavn, crawling with tourists.  If they only had strolled two blocks off the beaten path they too would be thinking “sightseeing from the ground is soooo pedestrian”.  To my right is Sweden.  Seriously, I can see the bridge and the country.  The view is exquisite.  What a way to see the city!

As we are lowered back to the ground. . . and reality . . . I am so glad I didn’t decide to go home to nap.  I also applaud Chevrolet for their ingenuity.  I don’t think I’ll ever buy a Chevy, but I will speak fondly of them from now on.  I also am wondering how I will top this.  Tomorrow I guess I will have to parachute out of a plane or be shot out of a cannon. . . which ever I can find first.

Freetown – Christiana

A history lesson:  Christiana (also known as Freetown) was founded in 1971 as a partially self-governing community within the borough of Christianhavn.  There are roughly 850 residents that live on the former military grounds which cover 34 acres.  Some people consider the residents of Freetown to be hippies, anarchists, and squatters.  Regardless of how you define the residents they abide by their own set of rules, independent from the Danish government.  These rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests (although why would you need one other than to make a fashion statement) and hard drugs (apparently cannabis and alcohol falls under the “soft drug” classification).  

If you ask me, it makes life quite simple.  I don’t believe they have any lawyers here, but imagine how easy that job would be.  I can picture a court room scene: “Listen judge, my client didn’t have a gun, a knife, or a bulletproof vest.  Yes, he may have had a shit load of marijuana in his possession, but as we all know in this court of law that is not a “hard drug”.  So I rest my case.”

I describe Freetown to you all because my university took all of the exchange students to this hippy loving area last night for a concert.  That’s right, you heard it here, a school sponsored activity on “Pusher Street” in the anarchist community.  This completely and totally tops when I got to buy 2 kegs with the Part-time MBA association’s money.  I also mention Christiana because I live alarmingly close to this community.  A hop, skip, and a joint, I mean jump over the canal and you find yourself in Freetown.  

Now I have to take a moment to address my mother personally.  Mom, I know you are probably starting to worry.  Or maybe you are beginning to have some sort of anxiety attack.  I assure you that this area is completely safe and people are extremely friendly and your daughter would never try “soft drugs” and . . . hey look over there, it’s Elvis!  (kidding)  But, seriously I am including this in my blog because this crazy little village across the canal is part of my experience here in Denmark.  Rest assured, I was a good listener in the DARE program.  

As I was saying. . . CBS planned a night activity in Christiana for the exchange students.  I met up with some people who live in my building.  We strolled over the bridge to Christianhavn together.  Christianhavn is a beautiful part of Copenhagen.  There are many people who live on house boats in these canals.  The buildings are beautiful and everything here is spotless and clean.  We walk through this borrough and approach a walking path.  This is the entrance to Chritiana.  No cars are allowed.  You may only enter on foot or bicycle.  We pass under a sign that from the outside looking in is unmarked.   However, on the flip side you would see “Welcome to the EU” as you exit Freetown.  I think this is clever.  It may be better than the sign on route 50 in Ocean City saying you have 3,000 some odd miles to California.  

We walk down this small footpath and find the “cafe” where the concert will be.  Since we are there early we decide to walk around and explore.  We come across a sign stating that cameras are not allowed in Freetown.  So tourists pay attention, there will be no kodak moments to document this portion of your trip.  There are many tiny little cafes with outdoor seating.  We buy a few cheap beers and have a seat at a picnic table.  About half of the tables around us are just people sitting, talking, having a drink.  The other half of the folks around us are rolling joints and passing pipes around the table.  The scene is bizarre and strange to me.  It reminds me of the game in the back of the Highlights magazine where you had to circle all of the things that are out of place.  If only I had a red marker on me.  (Note to self – Must carry grocery bags and marker at all times.)

We finish our beers and head the concert.  It’s a local reggae band (shocker).  The band is pretty good.  Good enough to get people dancing.  This lasts till about 12:30.  At this time, the school’s exchange crew who have kindly planned our activities start to herd people out of Freetown and onto a bus.  The next activity for the evening is at a club in Vesterbro.  Doors open at 1:00 am.  I’m beginning to think “Introduction Week” strongly resembles a Lifetime movie about hazing.  Nevertheless, in an effort to avoid “acting my age” I pile onto the bus with my fellow exchange students and patiently await the next destination.  As we begin to drive away from this strange town all I can think is “thank god I didn’t wear my bullet proof vest”.

Old Lady on the Block

Last week in class we learned to count in Danish.  In order to cement the concept of counting we went around the room one at a time asking the age of each person and awaited the response in Danish.  Now, I am not ashamed of my age.  I do not think I am “too old for this shit”.  I think 27 is the perfect age uproot myself and move to a strange foreign land.  It would seem that other people have decided the perfect age to cross this hurdle is about 7 years earlier.  Since CBS offers graduate and undergraduate courses there are a large number of 20 and 21 year olds in the exchange program.  

On the same day we practiced our numbers in class there was an organized bbq at a beach over looking a canal.  Everyone breaks into groups of four and the university provided each group with a small grill, a bag full of raw meat, and marshmallows (a perfectly balanced meal).  My group starts to talk about the earlier topic in today’s Danish course.  One girl comments “I was so embarrassed to say my age.  I’m so old.”  I immediately think “sweet another old lady like myself”.  I ask her how old she is.  She responds with the ripe and wise old age of 21.  I now think to myself “you’ve got to be kidding me”.  She asks me my age.  I tell her I am 27 in Danish hoping that she didn’t really master her numbers earlier today.  But apparently the younger you are the easier it is to learn new languages.  Her response is priceless.  “Don’t worry.  You don’t act that old.”  I decide to take this as a compliment and not a jab that I am immature.

A few days later I find myself attending an event at a nightclub, dancing, partaking of tequila, and getting home around 4:30 am.  I guess the 21 year old was wise beyond her years as her statement regarding how old I act is right on target.

The Bag Shortage in Denmark

In a Danish grocery store no one will ever ask you “will that be paper or plastic?” since they do not provide either.  At first I thought this seemed like a wonderful and environmentally friendly idea.  They are years ahead of Whole Foods by making their customers come prepared with their own reusable bags.  But the flip side on this bag-less revolution is that you must remember to come prepared.  I am beginning to think I have not been blessed with the ability to plan ahead.  I know this because today was the second time I’ve walked home from the grocery store with my purse teeming with fruit, pasta, and meat.  My arms are full, holding toilet paper and bananas.  I receive some strange looks on the street. . . but I guess I would also stare if I saw someone with salami hanging from their purse.   

Note to self, remember to carry extra bags with me at all times.

Monday Funday

I have survived the first week in Denmark.  After an intense week of Danish lessons, getting settled, and learning my way around, I’m feeling a bit more confident about my new home.  Monday evening kicks off introduction week where the remaining 450 exchange students arrive.  I am now no longer the newest addition to denmark – and thank god because it’s tough being the new guy.  Finally, there is a large group of people here looking more lost than me.  These people don’t yet know that sometimes yogurt comes in what looks like a milk container.  These people don’t yet know that the bathrooms are unisex.  These people don’t know that the coins with holes in them, regardless of the size of the coin, are worth less than the coins without holes.  And most certainly, these people have yet to figure out what lies in the open faced sandwiches they are about to embark on.  (Trust me, even though there is no second piece of bread shielding the contents of the sandwich – it’s still tricky to tell what exactly you are eating – but I’m getting better at judging.)

All this aside, by no means do I consider myself a Danish resident yet.  There are still many many (MANY) things I must figure out.  For one thing I am confused by the use of the word “cafe” in this country.  Monday night’s activity is supposed to take place at Park Cafe in Osterbro, just north of the city center.  In the United States I would have assumed that a place called Park Cafe would be a coffee bar, maybe a diner, at most a little restaurant. . . but here the possibilities are endless.  In Copenhagen people use the word “cafe” to describe a coffee house, a restaurant, a bar, a night club, or who knows maybe even a strip club – I just don’t know.  The word cafe seems to cover a vast array of establishments.  

The question remains, how does a person know what to wear to a cafe?  I’d feel a bit over dressed in a pair of tight jeans, heels, and a nice shirt if by “cafe” they meant let’s get some coffee and chat.  This is true especially if the jeans are truly so tight sitting is not an option, maybe even bending of the knees is a challenge.  So lounging, getting to know my fellow classmates with a scone  in the straight-legged “I’m overdressed” position seems undesirable.  However, if this particular cafe is on the other extreme I would feel a bit underdressed in my normal jeans and t-shirt.  (Especially since the women here are extravagantly beautiful – in what they wear and well, just in general.)  So I try to shoot for someplace in the middle.  

We arrive at Park Cafe and it’s a club.  A rather nice club.  A “fancy pants” club as a friend of mine would put it.  So I am glad that I did not go with my normal sloven “I’m too cool to care” look.  The night consists of loud music, dancing, drinks, and talking to more people I don’t know.  Although this week I’m glad that I have a few solid faces that I can pick out of the crowd and seek safety with.  These people are mostly  my roommates and a few other good souls I’ve met who I know that conversation comes easy and no longer consists of:

  “Hi my name is Amanda.  I am from the United States.  Yes Washington DC.  No not the state.  That’s the wrong coast.  Where are you from?  Hmm I don’t think I could locate that on a map.  So don’t feel bad for not knowing DC.  What’s your major?”

  I do meet some nice new people this evening, oddly enough, mostly from Canada.  But the evening ends with a group of people who live in my residence.  We decide to cab home together to save costs and rely on each other’s pronunciation of our street name.  Before piling into a cab we hit up the 7-11 by Park Cafe.  Seriously I have never seen so many 7-11’s in one place.  7-11 here is like Starbucks in the United States.  The people of Denmark must really love their late night nachos.  So we buy a few snacks necessary to make the ride home enjoyable.  There is no talking in the cab, just each of us enjoying our salty selections.  At home we hang out on the 3rd floor for a bit and I finally decide to call it a night.  I climb into bed and check the clock – it’s 5:00 a.m.  I guess “cafe” really just means you will be tired tomorrow. . .

Dreams Do Come True

Today I went to Ikea with a few of my roommates.  It was open!  Woo Hoo!  Ikea is like an adult version of Disney World for me.  Out of the five of us it took me the longest to get through the maze of faux kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms.  I find myself unable to resist the urge to try each room on for size.  It’s easy to imagine myself cooking a meal, watching tv, or getting ready to take a nap in each life size diorama.  (Well I guess I should say it’s easy to imagine – until I notice other shoppers staring while I lounge on a couch or curl up on a bed – with no pants on – how else are you to know if you will like it at home?)

The journey through the upstairs takes up half of my time in Ikea.  The other half of my time is spent getting to know each and every kitchen utensil, kitschy lamp, bathroom gadget, towel, bedspread, and pillow in the endless basement of “stuff”.  I could easily spend all the money I have acquiring all of the knick-knacks and belongings I just gave away or left in my parent’s basement.  But I resist the urge.  I purchase two new towels, some sheets, a little rug, and a pot for my plant (named: Birgette).  The grand total comes to 200 kroner – ($40).  Not bad if I do say so myself.  

We find the bus home after a successful trip.  I carefully put out my new bedding and rug.  I step back to admire my new purchases and am glad my room is starting to look less like a stark women’s correctional facility and more like a place to live.  Thanks Ikea. . . you give so much and ask so little in return.

Important Words to Learn. . .

Over the past week, some employees from Ikea have been handing out catalogs at our metro stop.  I picked one up, because who am I to turn down free reading material with pictures!  At home I flip through the catalog at the kitchen table.  I ogle the home furnishing goods and dream of plush towels, clean carpets, and real sheets.  I dream of these things because what school has provided is the bare minimum.  The carpet in my room is worn and a bit stained.  The towels, while new, seem to disintegrate as I dry myself off.  And apparently in Europe people do not use a full set of bed-sheets.  So I sleep on the equivalent of a terry-cloth beach towel as the bottom sheet and under a blanket with duvet.  Basically I covet everything in the catalog.  

One of my roommates notices the catalog and says he wants to go to Ikea soon.  I agree that would be a wonderful idea!  We check the catalog and see that the Ikea in Denmark is open Mandag – Fredag (Mon – Fri), Lordag (Sat), and udvalgt Sondag (“something” Sun).  We decide to ignore the word that proceeds Sunday and go then.  We encourage four other people who live with us to go on Sunday as well.  We meet.  We navigate the metro to bus.  We ride 25 minutes out of the city.  We cross under a highway after getting off the bus.  We walk towards the promise land – Ikea.  It’s Closed.  Apparently “udvalgt” means “select” Sundays.  So this Sunday was apparently not “select”.  I feel like National Lampoon’s Vacation when they finally get to Walley World and it’s closed.  All that for nothing.  Clark Griswold, I’m with ya man. . . I totally feel your pain.

We spot a McDonald’s that is open. . . it’s the only thing open on Sunday. . . and go.  This trip will not be in vain!  So we walk over and get some good old fashioned American food.  Only there is no dollar menu and nothing is super-sized.  I order a “lille Pomme Frites” – or small fry – and enjoy them.  The salty greasy goodness coats my heart and reminds me of home.  Tomorrow I will go to Ikea.  Tomorrow I will also make an effort to look up unknown words in Danish on Google.

The Happy Pig

Wednesday night in Copenhagen finished out with a visit to a pub called the Happy Pig – or “Den Gride Gris”.  It would have been extremely helpful to know Danish for “The Happy Pig” as I forgot to write down the address or anything that resembled directions.  If I had only had some sort of premonition that I would need to know how to say this in Danish, I would have sheepishly asked my Danish teacher that day in class.  But as it always goes, I never remember to ask the important questions in life – like “Excuse me, how do you say “The Happy Pig” in Danish?”.  

So this particular Wednesday evening I find myself walking through Copenhagen’s city center with my friend Ingrid.  Neither of us speak Danish and neither of us know where we are going.  It’s the Danish illiterate leading the Danish illiterate.  So we determine that we need to ask directions from someone.  We approach a waiter at one of the outdoor restaurants on “the walking street”.  We conduct the proper “rock, papers, scissors” to determine who will ask for directions.  I lose.  Now I have never really considered myself an “ignorant American” before, but when you find yourself saying “Excuse me, yes, hi, um, would you happen to know where I could find The Happy Pig? It would seem I’ve misplaced the directions to this fine establishment.” the very thought occurs to me.  

The waiter does not know where the bar is exactly, but has a friend who works there. . . who he calls.  So Ingrid and I stand there and listen to his end of the conversation.  With only three days of our Crash Course under our belts I can only pick up a few words like “hvor” (where) and “du” (you) and “hej hej” (bye).  I imagine that the conversation sprinkled in between those words went something like this:

   “Hi there buddy.  You working tonight?  Where is your bar exactly?  Yeah I ask because I have these two lost and kind of retarded English speaking girls looking for your bar.  Ok so it’s that street.  Alright, yeah of course I’ll send them with a note to give you so you know which out of all the tourists that go to The Happy Pig are the least smart.  Great.  Bye.”  

Once he was off the phone he told us a street name that I could not recreate the pronunciation if my life depended on it.  Should someone ask me where I was last night I’ll have to say “I don’t know” not due to heavy alcohol consumption but because I don’t think my vocal cords could ever replicate that word.  He also asks us if he can send us with a note to give his friend who is working there.  We feel obliged and agree.  I can’t imagine what is written in this note that couldn’t be covered over the phone.  But I know one thing for sure, I won’t be able to read the note even if I were curious so it will remain a mystery.

Eventually we find The Happy Pig and locate friends from school.  We sheepishly hand off the note and disappear into the crowd quickly so not to be known by the bartender as “those girls”.  All in all I think this place is sort of a tourist trap.  Lots of young people, dancing, expensive drinks, and tons of American music.  Aside from the super fashionable women and murmur of Danish language just below the music, it almost seems like I’m in some new bar in Washington D.C.  My night comes to an end dancing to a Justin Timberlake song with a Carlsberg in hand.  So I guess life over here won’t be all that different – I’ll just be sure to write down directions from now on.

It’s Pat

I’m thinking the bathrooms in Denmark would be a great setting for that old Saturday Night Live skit about Pat.  You know, the one where the other people in the skit can’t tell if Pat is male or female. . .

The bathrooms at the university are for men and women.  That’s right folks – one door.  We all go through it, regardless of squatting or standing.  I walk in for the first time and see two men washing their hands.  I immediately do a double take and check the door again.  It is at this moment that I wonder if I’ve lost the ability to not only comprehend written signs, but also signs with pictures on them.  Seriously, if so, my idea of flash cards with pictures is shot.  But no, I check the door again and there lies a little stick figured man and a complimentary stick figured woman.  I reenter the bathroom.  One of the men is now drying his hands.  He says to me that it took him a full month before he stopped covering his eyes and apologizing profusely when he entered the bathroom and found a woman at the sink.  I am relieved someone else found this strange.  

I guess I need to be more cultured, more european.  But until then I will think about Pat walking into the unisex bathroom behind me and the audience thinking “well shoot, guess we’ll never know if she’s a boy or a girl.”