Monday, August 31, 2009

Feeding Oneself: Harder Than You Think

True confession: tonight was the first evening I made myself a real meal.  Granted, I boiled pasta last week and poured store-bought Italian sauce over it, cold, and over the weekend I attempted guacamole with limited Scandinavian vittles.  But tonight, I calculated how much I'd been spending on food, how many more lattes I could afford if I stopped, and did round two of food shopping.

Things turned out much better than expected.  Let it be said that I lived without a meal plan or my mother's awesome cooking for a few weeks back in January '09, but Ohio is cheap when it comes to take out, and I'm not sure I turned on the stove more than once.  (I seem to remember a lot of toast, from-powder scones, and rickets.)

Three ingredients never to underestimate: olive oil, garlic, and salt.  So that my pasta wasn't entirely devoid of nutrients (but hey, high on flavor!), I added some fresh yellow peppers to the garlic-and-oil saute.

It was SO good.  I made way too much, especially because I wasn't that hungry to begin with (had splurged on my first sandwich in Denmark earlier today, and had had two buttery, sugary baked goods on my walk to and from class), but maybe I can eat the rest later tonight or for lunch tomorrow.  SUCCESS.

I even took pictures.  The glass bottle in the back is Gronne Gaarden Granataeble juice, also known as Green Garden Pomegranate concentrate.  You add four parts water to one part juice, and it's epically delicious.  (So far, this is my favorite way to drink the tap water, which I find kind of gross.  It's full of "minerals."  So they say.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I didn't know how much I didn't know...

...until I left my country.  There is SO MUCH I don't know!  Denmark is the western world, right?  And it's a first world country (with an advanced welfare state, so maybe a first-and-a-half world) with a high standard of living.  And yet it is extremely different in almost every way and completely unfamiliar.  From doing my laundry to lighting the oven (yep), I have to learn how to take care of myself all over again-- and having just left home again, I'm not particularly practiced at taking care of myself to begin with.

I tried to make guacamole with EXTREMELY tiny avocados, tiny tomatoes, and salt.  Since I couldn't find cilantro or garlic powder, or corn chips, I substituted (rather brilliantly, I thought) all three with Lays Sour Cream and Onion Crisps (anything in English is in British English).  Not the same at all, but I tried.  That was dinner Saturday and Sunday night.

Also on Sunday, I went to my first-ever professional soccer game.  But everyone in our enclave of American students who knew soccer back home thought European soccer was totally different.  I wouldn't really know, because with the exception of a few games I sat through as a kid (miserably, and with a book), I don't think I've ever watched a full soccer match.  And I don't think this time even counts, as 20 minutes before it ended I'd lost all patience, pulled out my "Learn Danish in Three Months" paperback, and given up on pretending to care about sports once again.

The team here is called FCK, which has something to do with "football," Copenhagen, and Denmark.  It's the city team.  They were playing a suburb called Brondby (I think, but I definitely butchered the spelling).  At one point, there was an ad on the stadium screen for "FCKBalls.DK."  No lie.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Some sights on the walk between my apartment and school. These were mostly taken on the street Norrebrogade, and a little bit in the Orstedpaerken (park) that I occasionally cut through because it shortens the trip.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Gets Lost In Translation

For starters, "please" and "excuse me."  The Danish don't have words for them.  I think it's pretty revealing, but Danes use a word, "undskyld," AFTER they've pushed or shoved you or what have you.  That's the norm.  I've been using unskyld a lot more than the average Dane, but I'm also a lot more clumsy than the average Dane.  I also have no idea if anyone's heard it yet, since I'm a bit freaked to use Danish so it comes out both soft and, quite probably, completely wrong.

It's pronounced something like "ooun-skuhld."  Yeah, try that one on for size.

I keep wanting to say "please" and "thank you," and that makes you stand out as a foreigner.  They do have a word for "thank you" -- tak.  The Danes sort of just toss it off, as a really short syllable, "tahk" or "tek."  My prolonged "ahh" sound is a dead giveaway, as is my tendency to try for "thank you very much," which most Danes wouldn't bother with.  I said "tusind tak" (thousand thanks) to a Danish barista today at a cafe near my flat and she looked at me suspiciously and said, "Already very clever."  This was likely an example of the local pastime, dry mocking.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let's Talk Space

The Danish are renowned for their inventive architecture, modern aesthetic, and staggeringly imaginative integration of form and function.  It seems like their standards are at once centuries ahead of ours but also draw heavily-- at least here in Copenhagen-- on their medieval past.

I'm pretty exhausted (still jetlagged), but here are a few pictures of the neighborhood around my flat (Norrebro) for you to mull over if you're curious about this aspect of being American in Scandinavia.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The first grocery store trip. And the second.

My first night here, my roommate Mira made me a delicious dinner of salat (salad) and laks (salmon-- and since I'm Jewish, I've gotta mention the "lox" similarity).  But after a breakfastless morning and a meagre lunch of cookies on Day Two, I was ravenous.  I asked Mira where the nearest, cheapest food store was, and it's a place called Faksa a block north of our flat.

I thought I was passing.  I tried not to show my complete confusion as I entered the store and browsed familiar and not-so-familiar foods with labels like "leverpostej," "danskvand," and the most frightening-looking "agurk."  I didn't have time to wait for my first Danish class.  I was hungry, and I needed something resembling a meal.

I stumbled to the line with a basket full of muesli, sour peach yoghurt (I think), tomatoes ("tomater" is recognizable), grapes, avocados, brie (the same in all languages?), two baguettes, pasta, shredded mozzarella, and vegetarian tomato sauce.  It occurred to me that 1), my basket was fuller than all the Danes' around me, and 2), none of the food I bought, with the possible exception of muesli, was a local staple.  I had a little French cheese and some Italian supplies, and avocados are definitely not Nordic.  (In fact, my roommate seems to eat them hard and unripe, and maybe I should get used to them that way, as they don't seem to soften here like they do in the States.)

The guy at the cash register didn't look at me as he calculated the tab, and I'd watched the people ahead of me to gauge what to do.  I thought I was blending in.  "132 kroner," he told me in Danish.  I handed him 400.  The game was up.  The girls behind me looked confused and annoyed as the man handed me my 200 DK bill back and repeated himself.  He thrust the receipt into my hands as I finished bagging my own groceries (yes, you do that for yourself here), and I tried to run out, flushed with embarrassment.  But of course, I'd tried to stuff my American-sized grocery run into two thin, Danish plastic bags, and they tore almost immediately on the walk home.  Lesson heartily learned.

DIS doesn't exactly leave us high and dry.  Today and tomorrow, we get two sessions of "Survival Danish," the first of which was this morning.  We had the lesson on going food shopping, complete with field trip to a shop called Netto.  (Netto is a little more recognizably a food store than Faksa, it must be said.)  I know now that I don't want to buy liver pate or sparkling mineral water, but that terrifying "agurk" is really just a cucumber.  Albeit a more natural cucumber than my American palate is used to, given the apparent Danish distaste of all genetically-engineered food.  The fruits are smaller, the vegetables thinner, but everything, it turns out, tastes pretty much the same, or better.

Someone conveniently mentioned today that the European habit is to go food shopping once a day, instead of once or twice a week, and to just buy the food that you'll eat for the next one or two days.  This resolves a lot of my fear that Mira doesn't eat, given our spare kitchen, and explains the weird looks natives gave me on line yesterday as I tried to stuff a week's worth of groceries into a handheld basket.   But the payment mistake wasn't culture shock.  Even or especially in Denmark, my math skills are pretty questionable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I almost don't want to share my source, but I've discovered an amazing blog post, courtesy my friend Niki, that gives one very knowledgeable local's insider perspective on the cafes, clubs, shops, theaters, and parks of Copenhagen.  IT IS AMAZING.  In spite of my desperate and problematic lack of funds (funds that I earned myself, at least), I will try to visit each cafe listed at least once, and the two movie theaters as well.

More on this coming soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why did I choose a stylish city?

I've been packing today.  Cleaning up my room (months overdue!) and stuffing my late grandfather's giant suitcase with way too many clothes.  I guess it's pretty transparent-- and probably not unusual-- but obviously, the best way to "pack light" is to only take the clothes you think look good on you.  At least, it's working for me.  Down to five dresses, two pairs of pants, eight shirts, and 14 pairs of socks.  Because I love socks more than I love real clothes.  In general, this is a good metaphor for my life.

Things that other people like (looking cute, spending time on looking cute), I weirdly don't have the patience for.  Somewhere along the way, I decided that so much of how I look is out of my control, I might as well surrender the rest of it.

The good thing is that this leaves my suitcase nice and roomy enough for the things I do like: bizarre, florid socks that match literally nothing I own and which I am destined to wear under long pants and snow boots during my semester in Copenhagen.

I do think this supports my theory that the best things in life take some looking for.  And fit well into a suitcase.