Thursday, June 30, 2011

Denmark, Sweden - Vacation!

A few days before I left for my European vacation, my neighbor excitedly asked me which part I’d be visiting.  Upon telling her, her first response wasn’t “ooh, cool!” or “OMG SO AWSUM HAVE SOOOO MUCH FUN.”  It was a simple crinkle of the brow accompanied by a judgmental “why?” 
Why indeed.  Especially when I was only there 2 years ago.
If your idea of a perfect European vacation is visiting multiple cities, for a couple of days each, only to hit all their tourist attractions, then Denmark and Sweden might bore you, as their capital cities are probably low on tourist destinations (in fact, locals may echo this, and have to me on more than one occasion).  There’s no Eiffel Tower, there’s no Big Ben, no Louvre.  Neither country is generally high on the list of places where a college graduate would visit during that epic Euro backpacking trip where they hope to find themselves in a Venetian café, or at the old site of the Berlin Wall. 
But I will say this about Denmark and Sweden.  They are fucking awesome.  And that’s why I went back.
In my humble opinion, the beauty of these two countries exists, not only in their cities and countryside, but mostly within their people (not their appearances, though they are a good looking group, for sure).  As an American, I’ve grown used to jaded communities that somehow co-exist despite people’s complete lack of trust for each other.  Seriously, we leave nothing to chance when it involves trusting strangers with our possessions, as we just assume the other is up to no good, not to mention our general political attitude has slid sharply towards policy that supports a “what’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine” attitude.  And while I’m sure some of this exists in Denmark and Sweden, there is plenty of proof that they have a greater understanding of community than we do. (No, this post won’t deal with Scandinavian socialist democratic tax rates, healthcare, attitudes towards environmental issues, childcare, etc etc).  This is just about what you see on the ground. 
In Copenhagen, everyone rides a friggin’ bike.  If you haven’t seen this for yourself, even my simple comment doesn’t do it justice.  It’s actually flat bizarre to see so many people biking around the city, but even more shocking to see parking lots full of bicycles without locks on them.  And I don’t know the theft rate of these unlocked bikes, but I assume it’s fairly low considering the lack of locks used.  Also, I probably used the subway 6 or 7 times, and was not asked for my ticket once.  I took a 30-40 minute commuter train ride from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden, and also was not asked to produce a ticket, let alone provide any sort of passport identification even though I crossed into another country.   My hotel featured a huge breakfast buffet that they charged around 20 USD for.  But did they charge me on the spot or even take my room number for reference?  Nope.  They just told me to let them know how many times I ate at the end of my stay.  A breakfast buffet on the honor system!  Can you imagine this ever happening in America?  All of the above does echo the general laid back nature of Copenhagen, which feels quite dressed down compared to the cleaner, stuffier (yet prettier IMO) Stockholm, yet Stockholm featured a custom that floored me:
In America, it’s not all that uncommon to see a dog tied up to a post outside of a shop or restaurant.  But how about a baby?  Now, I’m not sure how widespread this practice is in Stockholm, but I saw it enough times where it seems to be somewhat commonplace.  Yes, you read that right, a mother will leave a sleeping baby outside of a store while she goes in to shop, have coffee, whatever.  Unattended.  I’m not sure what the laws are in America regarding such a practice, but I can only imagine it would lead to an arrest.  Regardless of whether or not this is smart, it’s obviously ingrained in their psyche that no one will take their baby because of the trust they have for the community.   It’s fucking weird, but it’s also a beautiful thing if it can exist at all. 
(Again, the above is just my general observation, so I could be way off since my sample size is small.  But judging from their politics and general behavior, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth.)
The relationship between Danes and Swedes kind of reminded me of the one between New Yorkers and people from Jersey (New Jerseyites? What the hell do you call someone from Jersey?  Well, for now, Jerseyites).   I even saw a series of humor books that explained how different Scandinavian countries view each other.   If you’re a New Yorker spending time on the Jersey Shore, you’re generally viewed as some sort of intruder.  If you ask a New Yorker about Jersey, it’s generally answered with a short laugh, an eye roll, and some snide comment about turnpikes and malls.  But if a New Yorker ran into a New Jerseyite in, say, Buenos Aires, there would be a kinship based on commonality.  I assume the same could be said for Danes and Swedes, who have a big brother/little brother kind of relationship, though each would probably argue which is which.  That said, the two cultures are fairly different, but there seems to be enough commonality where it makes sense that they are neighbors. 
Some tidbits…with pics!
What’s interesting about this pic?  Nothing really.  Other than it was taken at about 10:30 PM.  That whole 20 hours of daylight thing is no joke and fucks with your sense of time, completely.  It also might explain why people don’t really start their evenings until midnight.  Though I’m not sure if there’s any correlation there.
Excuse the fact that I choked and couldn’t get my video to work properly to capture this annoying custom, but apparently Danish high school grads don’t have prom, and instead wear funny hats, hop in the back of army trucks that blare music, drive around town screaming like a bunch of twats, and occasionally stop to run around like imbeciles (featured in my one second video…I’m like Scorsese, I tell ya).  You would think this is annoying (it is), yet it seemed everyone throughout the city was pretty supportive of it.  This happened pretty much all weekend long, regardless of time.  I’d like for Los Angeles to try this JUST once.  How long before the first murder?
I’m very curious as to how this company harnesses their energy. 
OK, well that isn't exactly the sum total of my Swedish/Danish experience, but well ... its a taste. 

1 comment:

  1. Haha, well first of all: you were not asked for ID/passport when crossing to Sweden because you were within the European union, which means free moving within its borders once you're "checked in". Secondly: we did the driving-around-in-trucks-yelling-like-hell thing too when graduating HS. It was fun, I tell ya... though it was February before the final exams and cold as fuck ;)

    PS. Most Scandis/Nordics hate the Swedes... it's amusing "neighbourly" love we share :P Glad you had fun - even though you still need to see Finland... and visit me in Denmark later too :D