Tuesday, 18 November 2014


To be bluntly honest with everyone, I didn't have a strong reason for going to Denmark, or any reason for that matter. I just knew I wanted to visit another European country (besides the UK) where English was widely spoken and I could get a round trip ticket on the cheap. Denmark met all of the criteria. Feeling the heavy, anxiety inducing end-of-the-semester pressure to get out there and be some sort of champion adventurer of global citizenry, I had booked a hostel room, train ticket, and an easyJet flight before I actually grasped what I was doing. I'm not a spontaneous man, and for once I think I was too surprised with myself to second-guess my decision or feel anxious about this solo undertaking.

So in a couple weeks, I was off. Due to my overcautious planning and the superiority of  British public transportation I arrived at London Gatwick around 9PM…….for my 7AM flight. I don't think you need to be much of a traveller to appreciate how long of a layover ten hours is. I think I'm actually entitled to some sort of squatter's rights for the bench outside the Costa in the South Terminal, but I digress. By the time I boarded my flight I would have flown to Kabul if it meant seeing something other than the inside of Gatwick airport. 

My flight was comfortable and the time passed quickly, but that's probably because I fell asleep immediately after take off and woke up ten minutes before touch down. Right away, passport control made me realize just how different of a cultural and political setting I was in. I don't think the officer so much as gave me a second look before stamping my passport and sending me on my way. I was on the metro into the city when I met my first crisis.

I was still getting used to the way British public transport worked, and it was no easier in Denmark despite all the instructions being in English as well as Danish. I'm sure you've heard of someone riding a train in circles, but I may be the first person you've heard of getting stuck on a train going in a straight line. The frustrating, sinking feeling when the train started heading in reverse back towards the airport pushed me to do something I was hoping to avoid, asking a local for help, as a foreigner. Now I had done my research, I knew that a lot of Danes could speak English well, but I would be doing the same thing I found annoying about foreigners, just go somewhere and speak your native tongue and hope they understand you? It seemed so rude. But I had no other option and asked a metro attendant, and they responded, politely enough, in perfect English. It was a strange feeling and I know why, it was the first time in my life when I had truly been a foreigner. Can't say I cared for it very much.

There wasn't too much of the day left by the time I checked into my hostel, I walked around some downtown and wondered if I got lost how would I ask for directions. Attempting to either spell or pronounce Danish street names seemed equally impossible. So I limited myself to a set square area around my hostel where it would just be a matter of a right turn to get myself back. Not the most adventurous day, I'll admit.

By the time it was dark, or as it is known in Denmark during winter, "most of the time", I was inside the hostel lobby. As far as I could tell, staying outside after dark in November was not something the Danes enjoyed, and I can tell you it is certainly not something a Bahamian does. So there I was, inside and warm drinking coffee and a few pints of Carlsberg while reading a book I had bought at the airport. It was a good feeling; cozy, content, secure. The Danes have a word for this sort of thing, "hygge". While I'm sure there are more conservative elements who would argue that my simple reading and beer drinking was not real Danish hygge, I couldn't help but feel I was participating in my own way in something from an entirely different culture I had just been exposed to for the first time. Anyone can be cozy, but this was my hygge, it had to be.

My next day came and went very quickly, mostly because I accidentally slept in until 4 PM. I didn't have time to wallow in self-pity about wasted daylight, and threw myself back onto the streets to experience something. Honestly my only real plan had been a free walking tour that morning and it should go without saying that I wasn't able to participate. So I just sort of wandered. The bright neon of Friday night soon took over the grey November day and spilt bright blue and red artificial light onto Stroget, the main shopping street of Copenhagen. I think just about anything a man could want was on that street, but to a college student with less than 1000 kroner (about 100 pounds) in his pocket it was a brightly lit, dazzling tease beckoning you to leave just a bit of your money inside one of its stores. I tried not to spend too much time there. From there, I could see Tivoli, rides flying and zipping around the park like colorful airplanes way too low to the ground. I walked over and peered through the iron gates. A far cry from the grey, metal behemoths like Universal Studios or Disney World, Tivoli seemed to be made up of rides inside an actual park, the greenery of ideal picnic grass sitting at the feet of illuminated roller coasters. Walking more in my self-established "safe zone" I stood outside monuments and massive museums. A shame I hadn't been up in time to actually go inside them, but at least they were nice on the outside too.

Eventually I came upon Southern Cross Pub, an Australian style establishment. An Australian style pub in downtown Copenhagen? I could not resist the exquisite cultural clash, and my sore feet and need for warmth pushed me through the door. Everything felt very familiar, low ceiling, dim light, copies of The Sun and The Daily Mail at the bar, Liverpool Football Club paraphernalia, I guess it made sense considering I had been essentially living in England for over three months. As I sat down and ordered a pint of Carlsberg, I felt like I was being observed by a familiar face. Which made sense as I immediately afterward noticed the face side of a Bahamian one dollar bill smack right in front me. I needed a picture. The bartender noticed me taking pictures of his money wall and I explained I was Bahamian, and never expected to see a dollar here of all places. He was Australian, not much older than myself, and accompanied by a Danish man of similar age. I explained to the Dane about what and where the Bahamas was. It was so refreshing to explain my nationality to someone so far removed that they accepted everything at face value. Usually explaining my Bahamian citizenry to an American or a British person meant a song and dance about my ethnicity and how I was not actually a missionaries' child or some sort of criminal evading paying taxes to the IRS. I actually managed to strike up friendly conversations, something that I found hard to do in English pubs. I feel like I learned more about Danish culture in the two hours I was in that pub than I had in all previous thirty-six hours or so of my visit. I got ear fulls about how I should come back for pickled herring for Danish Christmas Lunch (I will happily pass on that one), about rivalries with Swedish brothers-in-law (a common rivalry, apparently), how everyone had to learn English in school (watching Friends was a homework assignment!), and most entertaining, learning to play a Scandinavian version of Liar's Dice with some of the bartenders (it so happens I’m not very good at it).

The first minutes of the next day arrived, and I politely said farewell to my new mates and headed back to grab a few hours rest before my flight in the morning. As I boarded the plane I couldn't help but think that explaining my time in Copenhagen may sound incredibly boring if I listed what I actually did. But even though I may have slept too much and not done what most would consider the must see's and must do's of Copenhagen, I couldn't help but feel some pride and fulfillment in what I had managed to do. One of the Danes I talked to said "it's brave what you're doing, anytime you go anywhere, you are an ambassador for your country whether you want to be or not". Something about that stuck with me, and I hope maybe in the back of a few Danes' minds whenever they hear Bahamas, they'll think of that Bahamian from nowhere at the end of the pub.

-James Albury

P.S. Ms. Olk asked me if I would include a few pictures and I apologize. My photography is as much representational art in the same way a five year old's fingerpaints are Van Gogh masterpieces. Google images will serve you far better if you want to find out what Copenhagen really looks like.  

No comments:

Post a Comment