Monday, October 23, 2006

Danish Tales

Odd Danish Tradition: Birthdays

I was invited to a Danish 25th birthday last year when I lived in Aarhus, Denmark. The tradition is that if you're unmarried you get blasted with cinnamon powder all night long. So, as my friends and I approached the front door, an aroma of cinnamon stung my nostrils. Looking down I notice cement pathways showered with spice. We knock on the door and there he is, the birthday boy named Chris. It's traditional for the birthday boy to greet you at the door, look you in the eye and shake your hand regardless on how much cinnamon is caked on his skin and clothes, or how drunk he is.

Upstairs is the party, or a bunch of tanked Danes singing songs I can't understand at long tables that are covered with leftover food (we missed the dinner, which is usually really hearty sausage and potatoes). It was a great night because I learned how to open a beer bottle with another beer bottle, and believe me THAT'S impressive! Chris, the bday boy, was at war with cinnamon packets all night. He would take a shower, walk out of the bathroom and then BAM! his friends whack the poor sap with cinnamon again.

I got handed a packet as well, and my drunken friend Morton slurred, "We're going to get him outside now, again!" So we go outside and are standing around in a cinnamon cloud when I open my package and give it a whiff.

"Um, Morten this isn't cinnamon, it’s curry powder." His face drops, almost in terror, like he had handed me a gun to blast Chris instead of cinnamon.

"NO, you can't use curry! Oh my GOD! Who gave you that?"

"You did."

"Well you CAN'T use it!" and he snatches it from me. (it's extreme bad luck and I would have probably gotten kicked out of the party.) I sit there baffled and Morton hands me another packet, this time cinnamon, and Chris stumbles outside with a "Please dear God make it stop" look on his face.

Unable to resist, I rip open the package and give him a high-class cinnamon dump on his head and down his back. Happy Birthday, BAM!


GREAT Danish Tradition: Food

When drinking beer it's all about peanuts and pretzels, but the meals here are heavy and everyone knows how to cook. Every month in my dorm (I live with 14 other Danes) there is someone who cooks for us all. This month it was Potter. I don't know his real name, we call him Potter because he looks like Harry Potter (see picture below). Potter puts on the white board: Pork Patties with a Bacon and Pork Sauce, and Potatoes.

Now I'm not the biggest meat fan, but I decide to give him a chance. All day he's in our kitchen making the sauce, cooking bacon, cooking pork patties, and it looks like a meat factory in there. Curious because I keep hearing the occasional "Shit!" being shouted, I cracked open the kitchen door: it's a sauna, the Beatles are playing and Potter is looking very serious with the pans. He’s cooking pork patties and very frustrated with the fact that his glasses keep fogging each time he checks the potatoes in the oven.

"Uh, Potter, do you need help in here?"

"No, it's fine. Everything is just fine. It's fucking hot."

"Yeah, do you want me to keep the door open?"

"No! I need my privacy. I'm almost done."

And with that I close the door as Potter yells "Shit!" again and then something in Danish. A few hours later we eat, and the food, as grotesque as it may sound, was great. It was one of the best tasting meals I've had since I got here. That's the meal picture I have attached.

Besides Potter’s pork patties in bacon sauce, Danes love to make big breakfasts. I awoke one afternoon to two other roommates of mine, Jakob and Torsten making the most elaborate breakfast I'd ever seen (Jakob is a short stubby guy with a long blonde pony tail who wears a lot of black, plays a lot of video games and is really into medieval swords (he's got a collection in his room) and Star Wars. Torsten is a HUGE Hulk Hogan/Santa Claus of a dude with a long brown beard and long brown hair who plays a lot of video games and is really into zombies and Star Wars (his cell phone rings the Dark Side theme)). Crepes with butter, sugar or jam, bacon, sausage, toast, eggs with onion and tomatoes, potatoes, milk, apple juice and oj, three different cheeses. It was incredible. I followed the smell downstairs and saw the buffet. I asked Jakob and Torsten if this all was just for them and they said yet. Out of guilt and same for feasting in front of me, I think, they told me I could help myself. YES!

Danish food rocks.

With a weekend off and time to kill I decided to go to Copenhagen with a
group of students from my class. After lecture we headed to the train
station and arrived in Copenhagen that night. For those of you who don't
know, Copenhagen is Denmark's capital, the largest city in the country on an
island called Zealand. Yep.
We searched for the Sleep In Green Hostel, a place known to be
eviro-friendly... but really offered nothing more than an expensive organic
breakfast consisting of bread and coffee. Still, we hadn't found the hostel
yet and the group of us stood there in an intersection, wondering what to do
"Are you looking for the hostel?" asked a guy from behind. He, his friend
and a dog had crept behind us and stood inches away from my face. Somewhat
startled but relieved I said yes and they offered to lead the way. Putting
all my trust in a few strange Danes was probably a bad idea, but I did itanyway.
"So, I'm Audrey, and..."
"I'm Pick!" shouts one of the Danes, even though we were walking right
beside each other. "Or Dick, Cock, however you say penis in English," says
Pick. Pick dressed in black layers with holes in everything he wore. He had
is eyebrows pierced, his nose, septum, lip, ears, tongue; and a buzzed head
with long green bangs. He was my height, short that is, and never stopped
"I'm Michael, and this is Fleek," said the other Dane, pointing to his jack
russell terrier that ran in circles around him. Michael was taller, a softer
voice and wore a tie-dye vest that said in Danish "Take me, use me and abuse
me". Fleek, who is going on 9 in people years, never left Michael's side the
entire time we walked. the dog would always stay within a certain diameter
of Michael, walk in-between us, in front of us, behind us, but never too far
or on roads.
They're both from Cristiana, a place in Copenhagen famous for many reasons.
It was once set up in the late 1960s as a place without rule, an actual free
market that developed into a village in the heart of Copenhagen that has
seen itself a separate state ever since. Thirty years ago the main street
was filled with hippies selling marijuana, hash and hemp clothes among the
fruit and vegetable stands; now it's not so utopian-like though drugs are
readily available and taken anywhere in the village.
Legal drug use and Amsterdam-style coffee shops aren't the only reason why
Cristiana is popular, there is much more to it. The people that live there
try to preserve the hippie lifestyle to the best of their abilities: murals
on every building, music in every corner, organic and all natural products--
people visit for the atmosphere more than the weed, or at least it's about
Pick and Michael are part of the Cristiana circus, Pick a flame thrower and
Michael the world's strongest man's assistant. On our way to check out their
circus that night, Michael tells me that many people live in the circus tent
at night and the perform during the day. Most of the kids are our age and
don't have much talent, so they all become clowns, which Michael admits,
they have too many of.
"They even are going to have a clown party tomorrow night. It will be lots
of fun, a lot of people, but they will all dress up as clowns and there will
probably be more of them than normal-dressed people."
Michael doesn't really live in a circus tent in Cristiana, he just pretends
to. He actually has a nice bed at his parents place, a cell phone in his
hand and an ATM card in his pocket.
Pick, on the other hand, does live in a circus tent in Cristiana, along with
six others we hung out with that night. When I asked him how much longer
will he be living in a circus tent, he replied, "It took me a long time to
throw fire down my chest without burning myself. Now I can put it in my
mouth, down my pants, anywhere I want without burning myself. Well, mostly."
The shows are always free and open to whoever wants to come, but I told them
I never saw any fliers. "That's because we don't use any. Whenever we want
to tell people about the circus, we just go downtown to the main walking
area and yell 'Hey everyone! There is a circus going on tonight in
Cristiana! Free! Please come and watch it!" says Michael, hand cupped over
his lips.
"Does it work?"
"Yeah, actually, we have a full house every time."
Upon our arrival in Cristiana we passed St Cristiana's church, the place
where Hans Christian Anderson is buried, as well as Michael's mother. Pick
ran ahead of us, and a few meters later he had opened the circus gate and
was holding it back, pressing his fingertips together like Mr. Burns.
"Welcome to the Cristiana circus, Enter if you DARE!" he shouts, again, this
time louder and with an evil laugh. What a weird guy.
But there it was, a vintage-style circus tent, even with a little flag on
top, stars and red ball patters painted on, old ropes and canvas that
flapped to the Pink Floyd beat was playing from inside. Fleek ran in,
followed by Michael, then the rest of us. Oh, and then Pick and his evil
Instead of elephants, cotton candy, trapeze performers and tigers sat a
group of kids huddled around a heater on a small stage. Bare mattresses
covered the stage, dirty plates, empty beer cans and ashtrays full of
smokes, dead joints and broken pipes. It didn't fit right at all, although
things just aren't supposed to fit right in Cristiana.
We hung around, talked to the locals about their fight to keep Cristiana
free from outside influence, about the circus, about how to roll the perfect
joint, about how someone promised Flick a beer and he hasn't gotten it yet,
about how Fleek is real good at fetching and how Danes are the best at
smoking anything put in front of them.

The next afternoon we went to Cristiana again to look around. The
unfortunate thing about the place is that it can be dangerous taking
pictures there, people will literally grab your camera and destroy it if you
get a shot with a drug dealer in there. So I don't have any pictures of the
place, Michael, Pick or Fleek. But there is a website if you're curious
about the place.
We stayed there that afternoon until the sun began to set and Michael had to
get to his clown party. And as the church bells in Cristiana rang Love Me
Tender by Elvis Presley I watched the sun sink into Copenhagen skyline, wine
in one hand and Fleek in the other.

Danish Beer-Drinking Skills:

In my Xenophobes Guide to Denmark, the chapter about beer starts off with "Danes are Olympic beer drinkers..." ...that's putting it lightly. Danes don't go out to buy six packs, they buy crates of 30 bottled beers -- Touborg, Carlsberg, Royal and Ceres are the popular ones. And yes, all have more alcohol content than U.S. 3.2. Usually it takes three guys to buy the beer, one to load it up on the dolly and wheel it back home, and two to keep him company and get an early start on things.

The beer shop might only be a hundred meters away, still two breaks are ABSOLUTELY necessary on beer runs. One right after the purchase to celebrate getting there before close or something I don't understand, and another midway between the shop and home. This midway stop can be treacherous -- sometimes the three beer amigos easily entertain each other for hours, from just standing on the sidewalk, and forget about the people back home waiting for them and their dolly.

Meeting a Dane that doesn't drink beer is NOT a respectable thing, it's an insult to their culture and he or she will probably never have any friends. Go to a bar and order Jack and Coke? Not unless you want to sit alone and be singled out as the jerk with the liquor drink. Wine? Screw you, what are you trying to be, classy? Beer beer beer, and sometimes suds flow down the streets. Literally.

The first Friday of November is Jule Day, or J Day, Denmark's official holiday for beer. It's the yearly celebration for breweries nationwide (the size of Illinois) to release the Danish Christmas Beer. Bottled in dark glass with holiday decoration, the Christmas Beer is available to all in pubs and on the streets at exactly 8:59p.m. I don't know why. Exactly 150 free Christmas beers are given out -- the rest of the night every town in Denmark, every sensible Dane, goes apeshit.

Beer trucks decked out in Christmas flare fill the streets, spewing clouds of foam in every direction. The song Here Comes Santa Clause sings from the truck speakers. Hottie boom-bottie blondies prance around in Santa Helper skirts and tops, graciously giving holiday beer to all those present and following. It's an actual beer parade.

And you know what? You don't even have to worry about beer bottles littering the streets -- the homeless follow close behind collecting every container because it's worth 3Dkk, or fifty cents.

Now this holiday used to be the first Wednesday of every November. But due to the DRASTIC lack of student and job attendance nationwide the following day, it was decided just to move the holiday to a weekend day. That way Danes of all ages (this includes grade school) can get wasted and not have to worry about school or work, and everyone is happily hungover.

Exactly, this would never happen in the states.

A friend of mine told me that the only way Danes maintain a steady birthrate is from drunken hookups. I thought he was liar until last week when I went to a stoplight party.

It's a stoplight party because, sadly enough, the color you wear indicates your availability. Red means you're taken, green you're single, and yellow is you're in between (whatever the hell that means, cheaters I guess). I wore brown and blue. But the color can be a big deal, some people who wore the wrong color by accident (so they say) and got into fights with their significant other at the party.

But my friend is right. By midnight the place was covered with wasted Danes sucking face with anyone who looked their way. It was impossible to go to the bathroom because too many couples were waiting in line to use it...together. It was impossible to sit or stand, it was impossible to look. Danes would literally make their rounds, and I found the true definition of meat market.

"Hi how's it going"

"Hi, no thanks"

The guy turns to my friend,

"Hi, how's it going"

Another sneaks up from the side, "Hi, how are you"

"Ah! Where the hell did you come from?"

"Oh, you're American, that's hot."

You get the point...I got the hell out of there.

And then there are the Friday bars. Think your university was special because there was ONE bar on campus? HAH! At Denmark universities, there are bars for each department. Yep, not each college, each department. Every Friday beginning around 2p.m. the eating areas turn into cheap beer bars. Fresh off the tap in your hands for 2 bucks a cup, the college streets lead stumbling wasted students to their bus stops by six. The best one I think is the Chemistry bar because it's really great to see Danish nerds get hosed, as well as Danish professors.


R. said...

Yes, the beer-drinking skills are the less romantic part of the Danish fairy tale story. But what the h*** - it's fun and you know how I miss Friday bars :-)

... and BTW: In the correct spelling the name of the guy from Christiania is without a "c" - that is why the electric toothbrush brand "Waterpik" was a scandal in Denmark :-)

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