It was one of those random thoughts that occur suddenly – usually, just before falling asleep – I had ‘moved’ from Sweden to Denmark, and I had done so unceremoniously! This transition was so abrupt and it happened amidst so much haste, that I have not had the time to stop and reflect on this possibly crucial transition in my life.
People in Europe might discount this transition as being a minor one, as the two sibling countries from Scandinavia have more in common, than being different. Nonetheless, if I were the person I was in India, and you would talk to me about Denmark and Sweden, I would expect them to be a world apart. It could be because I wouldn’t have had any idea about either of these countries. In any case, I am interested in the nuances that differentiate these neighbours.
My first impression of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, coming fresh from Sweden was that it was ancient. Ancient, not in the sense it is obsolete, but in ways elder siblings are when compared to their younger ones. Especially when the younger ones are in their teens, and the elder siblings already feel a generation gap of sorts. The elders find themselves out of trend, trying hard to catch up and being clumsy on technology, yet with a mature charm and grace of their own. This is my visualisation of Copenhagen, which was founded around 12th century, when compared to a young city like Gothenburg, founded in 1621.
And the Danes are amicable. This could seem like an overstatement, but then we are not comparing them to the legendary Southern Europeans, but to their brethren from Sweden, Finland and Norway. What do I base it on? As yet, my personal experiences, and some additional readings on Scandinavia. It could also be the impact of placebo effect in my expectations for social interactions, making it easier for me to talk to Danes. And it is not just about striking conversations, but to keep them going on! This is in stark difference with Sweden, where it takes enormous effort to sustain conversations. With some Danes, I have, on the contrary found it hard to halt the juggernaut of conversations!
On the notorious front, Denmark, has a reputation for being less immigration-friendly. But, after my 6 weeks here, it comes out as a truly cosmopolitan country. Of course, this remark is mainly based on Copenhagen and the reality outside the city might be different. I was also rectified by many that Copenhagen is not as multi-cultural as London or Berlin, but my rebuttal is that in Scandinavia, which is a world of its own, it appears to be the most vibrant and lively city in terms of ethnicity. It is refreshing not to be living in a homogeneous population, which ended up being my take-away image of Sweden. Also, it has dawned upon me that, the reputation of Denmark being anti-immigration has more to do with the open debates they have about immigration. Sweden, on the other hand, maybe is brushing the issue under the carpet, leading to increasing tensions, of late. Or this hypothesis about Denmark’s cosmopolitanism could simply be my self-consolation than it is in reality; Denmark is my new home, and there is always a soft corner for places we see as home.
Another notorious aspect of Denmark is alcohol. And yes, the myth of beer being cheaper than (bottled) water pretty much holds in Denmark. Carlsberg has a true monopoly on all beer sales. It is a matter of routine pride for Danes to brag about the stock of vodka and schnaps they would certainly have at home.
Copenhagen is dubbed the bicycle capital of the world, and some statistics say that there are more bicycles in the city than there are people! And this is no vain vanity, Copenhagen really runs on bikes. Commuting on motored vehicles (cars and buses alike) takes easily twice the time than when biking in the city. Ants like bikes criss-crossing during rush hours have prompted me to get hold of a helmet.
Finally, yes, the jokes about Danish, the language, are all true: it is close to being full fledged mumbling, and yet is a language spoken by five million people and counting.
Wish me luck in my brave attempts at decrypting this Norse code.
While moving to new places can be difficult and weird, I am all “hygge”, approximately meaning cosy, in Copenhagen.