Coping with life in Copenhagen

After living in Copenhagen, Denmark, for a little under a week now, it seems as if the city has received enough rain to be considered a rainforest.

Half of my umbrellas have already collapsed, and I’m afraid that the waterproofing on my raincoat is going to wash off soon. Most of the city – or the part that I’ve seen – is gorgeous, rain or (more rarely) shine.

Using “gorgeous” as my segue, I move on to my first impression of the Danes. At first it seems like the people of Denmark are immensely reserved and rule-bound. In an extremely noticeable departure from D.C. pedestrians, Copenhageners do not, under any circumstances, cross the street except for where there is a crosswalk and only when the light tells them to. I don’t know whether it’s a law or just a strange adoration for the rules, but it seems like something out of “The Twilight Zone”: a small crowd of people, silent, with their eyes fixed on the signal, not a single car for miles. Constant vigilance is a must when walking around the city, as the scourge that is the European biker is around every corner, ready to mow you down and curse you for dirtying the tread of their bike tires.

Nobody speaks on the metro or train and I’ve been told that Danes hate talking about the weather or other such small talk, as they consider it insincere. I am, however, anything but insincere when discussing how upsetting the weather is to me. The metro and trains are also notable in that they remind me of navigating a men’s bathroom. I know that’s a strange comparison, but stay with me. There are unspoken rules that simply must be followed; just as all efforts must be made to find a urinal as far away from one that is occupied, so too must you find an entirely empty set of seats, even if that means walking the length of the train. If there are no vacancies, you are expected to stand. As a lazy American, I usually elect to sit. In one such instance, the Danish woman I sat next to immediately crossed her arms and legs, turned away from me and after a minute of what she clearly considered an unbearable level of intimacy, got up and walked into another train car. The Dane whose apartment I am living in told me that those people on the train probably thought I was “socially stupid.”

And now classes, the topic about which I’m supposed to be writing. The professors at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad all seem extremely friendly, excited about their subjects and insist on being called by their first names. It would make one of my professors “very uncomfortable” to be addressed otherwise. A quick once-over of my syllabi indicates that field studies are common in Copenhagen. But unlike the museum trips and government building visits of GW, my first Danish field study involves going to a café one night with a professor. I really can’t tell this early in the semester how involving my classes will be; for now, I’m just relying on what the DIS brochure told me.

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