Monday, October 19, 2015

How to be a Danish girl without actually being Danish

During my time in Denmark I was often mistaken as a Danish girl (due to my blonde hair and blue eyes) and was asked for directions and translations. Flattered by the mix-up (psh there’s no way I’m Danish; they’re too tall and sophisticated) I would smile and just watch the surprised look I got when I explained that I’m actually American. However, after spending more and more time amongst the Danes, I began to wonder if I could have more in common, other than my hair and eye color, with a Danish girl? Could I figure out how to be Danish without, of course, actually being Danish at all!? Hmm… that’s going to be tough. 

We could totally be sisters right!?

Before I begin, a quick disclaimer – I’m not trying to make generalizations of ALL Danish people because, obviously, every area and family is different. These are just my personal impressions as an 18-year-old American girl living in the Copenhagen suburb of Hellerup for three weeks. What I think may be completely different to someone else’s experience, that’s why I encourage you all to travel and see things for yourself because who knows I could just be making all of this stuff up! Mwhaha just kidding, I’m not. Or am I!? Go to Copenhagen and find out for yourself ya fool!

My friend Kaylin (the American who goes to college in Rome) came to visit for a weekend!

Alright, so back to what I was actually talking about, how to be a Danish person. First things first, let’s start with how to look like a Dane. If you’re not naturally tall, gorgeous, blonde and blue-eyed, you can fit in by wearing black. Yup, it’s really that easy. Just wear black. Every. Single. Day. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, black is the color of class and sophistication in Denmark. But don’t be fooled, just because Danes love wearing black doesn’t mean they’re depressed and dark-natured, they know how to have a good time. I’ll get to that later.

Personally, when it comes to style, I think less is more so I easily adapted to the black trend by purchasing some black sneakers (that’s another thing, fashionable sneakers are very popular in Denmark, which I LOVE because they’re so comfortable and cool). After buying some black items for your closet, get your running shoes on (not your fashionable sneakers) and get ready to get your lazy bum in shape! Just like many other big western-cultured cities, Copenhagen is on a health craze. Healthy is trendy. At almost any moment of the day, you can find someone jogging down the street. Grocery stores sell organic products. People are obsessed with “Joe and the Juice” (basically the Starbucks of juicing). Even 7-11 has nutritious options such as “protein packs”. However, although being healthy is trendy, by no means are Danish bakeries losing any business. I think Danes will always indulge in their delicious pastries. Oh and everyone owns a bike and cycles everywhere, I swear, even in the middle of a tornado, the Danes would still ride their bikes to school or work. The city even clears the bike paths of snow in the winter so everyone can cycle. A bike is a must-buy if you’re trying to be Danish.

Fish market! mmm

Love the national pride in Danish supermarkets

Myself, I’m relatively healthy and fit so this aspect of Danish life wasn’t too hard to pick up either. I happily ran with Victoria, her mom and sister in the mornings to the Baltic Sea (mainly because I had to burn off the calories from all the pastries). I loved cooking up delicious, nutritious dinners with Victoria and her family. Except one thing posed a challenge to me – a complete juice diet. For her birthday, Victoria had received a juice machine and was determined to use it as much as possible, hence the juice diet. I was reluctant to join because, what the heck no, I’m in a different country; I want to enjoy the food!! In the end, though, I didn’t want to be a buzz kill and decided to follow my “Yes Man” policy and join all the females in the family on a 2-day juice diet. The first day I thought I was going to die, living off only tea and water for breakfast, apple juice for lunch and raw vegetable juice soup for dinner. Surprisingly though, the second day it got easier and I didn’t feel the need to chew my own arm off, plus my skin became really clear! Victoria, her mom, sister and I were so proud of ourselves! We did it! We flushed our systems clear of toxins! Yay! Yeah, so if living off only liquids for two days doesn’t make me a healthy Danish girl, I don't know what does.

Runnin on the Baltic sea in the morning :)

The sunrise was definitely worth waking up at 6 am!

No this isn't a 5 star restaurant, it's dinner in a Danish household 

Best breakfast

The bike necessity was another challenge in becoming Danish that I never did accomplish. I was supposed to ride a bike to school with Victoria but we realized that my legs couldn’t reach the pedals on any of the bikes (shocker) so we decided Victoria would ride her bike to get to class on time and I’d just take the train and get there later. I took the train, got off at the right stop, punched Victoria’s school address into my iPhone GPS and walked. Except, I had unknowingly put the wrong school (typical dumb blonde mistake) and walked 30 minutes in the opposite direction. Oops. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just turn around and walk back. I got to the correct school an hour late only to find out that I walked almost the entire way back to Victoria’s home and could’ve just taken the train again instead. Yeah, okay, so I failed the bike thing for sure. A true Dane would’ve effortlessly cycled the 20 minutes to school without getting lost.

Whatever, the bike thing is irrelevant because I hit the next Danish quality right out of the park. The majority of Danes that I met were extremely cultured and had traveled quite a bit. Not taking a gap year after high school and before college is considered unusual. Dicte, Victoria’s older sister, told me that 99% of students take one gap year and some even take two! Dicte took a gap year with her best friend to backpack through Asia, Australia and the United States (check out her blog here; it’s in Danish though so good luck). Susanne, Victoria’s mom, took a gap year to au pair in California. However, Danish gap years don’t always mean you’re traveling. Many Danes take gap years to work as well. Christoffer, Victoria’s older brother, took a gap year to serve as a guard at the queen’s palace. The reason gap years are so prevalent is because in addition to grades, Danish universities value life experience. For each type of major, there’s a minimum required grade point average, however, if you don’t meet these requirements, you can also submit a personal letter of experience and still get accepted. Dicte even said that a student who got pregnant and had kids during her gap year could use this as a life experience if she learned something from it. While I’m talking about education in Demark, in case you already didn’t know, college in Scandinavia is completely FREE. Not only is higher education free but students are also given monthly stipends from the government for books, rent, transportation, etc. Even in high school, Victoria receives a couple hundred euros per month for study needs. I met a Danish guy who joked that he can buy exactly 24 Pilsner beers per day with the government money (I think that’s what they really meant by “study needs”). Well, it goes without saying that I fulfill the gap year/travel aspect of being Danish but I’m still lacking the free college and monthly stipends… :/ Ugh. If only I could be Danish for real and be able to buy 24 beers everyday!!

Last but not least, Danes know how to have fun. As I wrote about in an earlier blog post, a Danish night out begins at 6 pm with a “warm up” and ends at around 3 in the morning. And Danes don’t just casually sip on a beer or glass of wine for a couple of hours, the way Italians do. Danes chug, play drinking games and bong beers (just like Americans, except Danes can handle their alcohol). At all of the Danish parties/clubs I went to, everyone was tipsy if not totally drunk. Beware though, if you’re handed a shot of something black, don’t drink it. Seriously, don’t do it. Danish people love this black licorice flavored liquor. It’s disgusting. No matter how much I want to be Danish, I’ll never drink that toxic liquid again.

Most Danes are laid back but Danish nightclubs are not. My friends and I went to this club that was supposed to be offering free entrance until 11pm. We got there at 9, waited in line for 2 hours only to be let in right after 11 just so that we’d have to pay entrance. My friend told me that there are people who work at the clubs called “pickers” that choose the most attractive people and let them in first (so apparently, I’m ugly but whateva). Or if you’re willing to buy a bottle of liquor for 60 euros, they’ll also let you in. So stupid. And drinks cost around 10-15 euros, which is just plain ridiculous. Eh I guess I can’t really bash Danes for these types of snobby nightclubs, though, because they exist everywhere. “The most exclusive night club” my butt. I discovered I’m more of a bar person than nightclub person.

Some quick random, irrelevant facts about Denmark. Gender-neutral public bathrooms exist, which I think is really cool. Also, when you buy a bottle of something to drink, you have to pay an extra 20 cents or so but you get that money back when you recycle the bottle. But most people just leave their bottles on the street so gypsies can collect them and make some cha-ching. It’s a good idea, keeping the streets clean, helping the environment and the homeless.

Danish senior classes get to take one crazy picture for their yearbook and each class chooses a theme, Victoria's class chose yogurt so they poured yogurt all over each other in the picture!!

I had an advantage that helped me become Danish; I lived with a Danish family so I got to spend time, up close and personal, with a bunch of Danes. By the last week, life almost began to feel normal, like I really was a part of their family. Personally, I love this type of traveling much more than staying in a hotel for a couple nights with a fellow American, seeing the best sights, eating the best food and leaving. Staying with a family allows you to really immerse yourself beyond the surface of a country. Not only do you get to do all the tourist stuff but you also get to experience daily life and understand the culture. However, I know chances are that most of you aren't as awesome as me and don't have friends living around the world welcoming you into their homes ;) But don't worry; even if you don't have international friends, you can still easily live with a Danish family! No, I’m not going to invite you to my friend, Victoria’s home (although I’m sure she’d love having a bunch of strangers show up on her doorstep). Instead, you can look into being a workawayer (I’m actually doing a workaway right now in Germany and it’s awesome!!) or an au pair (I’ve never done this before but really want to one day and know a lot of people who’ve done it). I’ve mentioned both of these options in earlier blog posts but I’ll refresh your memory real quick, Workaway is a craiglist-style website where budget travelers can find hosts (families, farms, hostels, etc.) and work for them in exchange for room and board. Au pairing is when you work as a live-in nanny in exchange for room, board and spending money (depending on the family).

Victoria's cat gave birth on my second day in Denmark!


Okay, so after all these attempts to be Danish, you’re probably wondering, did I achieve it? Was I accepted in Copenhagen society as a Danish girl!? Well, the answer is yes. Let me tell you how! I went to school with Victoria a couple times and once was picture day. I stood near the photographer during the class photo (no way was I going to photo bomb their yearbook, that’s weird) but the photographer wouldn’t have any of it. He asked me why I wasn’t joining the class, I explained I was American and just visiting. He replied, “well you’re visiting this class, right?! So you have to be in this picture!”. He placed me right smack dab in the middle, see the picture below, I stick out like a sore thumb because I’m about a foot shorter than Victoria and Josephine next to me. I was a little nervous that Victoria’s classmates would be angry that I was in their picture but most thought it was hilarious but there were also a few girls that were like, “In 30 years, I’m going to look back in my yearbook and wonder who this random girl is”. Hahahaha oops. I’m happy though because now I can always look back at that picture and feel like a true Danish school girl ;)

P.S. I took a little day loner sightseeing trip to Roskilde, one of the oldest cities in Denmark and once the hub of viking activity. I went to the viking museum as well, here's some pictures! :)

The Roskilde cathedral; a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The remnants of an actual viking ship from the 11th century!

The museum attempts to recreate viking ships using the same, original techniques

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How not to feel like a loner while sightseeing alone

Traveling alone means sightseeing alone. Hmm sounds a little lonely right? But plenty of people do it, like backpackers and travel bloggers. I mean I guess I am traveling alone too but it almost never feels like it since I’m always staying with friends. Nevertheless, I got a taste for what it’d be like if I did the whole backpacking/hostel/alone thing because I went sightseeing in Copenhagen by myself while Victoria was at school. I was a little timid venturing solo into a foreign city but it turned out being really fun! So how do all the backpackers do it? How do you sightsee alone without feeling like a loner?

Amalienborg Palace, the winter home of the Danish royal family who are apparently very down to earth. The royal children attend elementary school only 5 minutes from Victoria's house!

Frederik's church, the royal church right across from the palace

The Opera House which was built across the water from the palace and church so that the three are in a perfectly straight line

First things first, have a set plan for the day this way you’re not aimlessly wandering around the city like a moron. I normally pick a museum, castle or area of the city to focus on. Museums are the best because everyone is kind of a quiet loner reading/observing so you’ll fit in great!! Try to pick a museum that actually interests you so you’re not bored and wasting your money. Hint, always bring a student ID (even if it’s an old one from high school) because you’ll get student discounts. It’s usually only a few Euros cheaper but hey, when you’re living on a budget like me, every cent counts! Also, check online because some museums have one day a week that’s free admission for all.

The Glyptoteket art museum, which has really nice sculptures 

Recognize this place?? It's Capri! Remember that island near Naples that I went to back in August!?

What about this place? It's Mount Vesuvius! I love seeing paintings of all these places I've already been because I feel so cool

Make sure to know what public transportation you have to take ahead of time so that way, once again, you’re not cluelessly taking the wrong bus, train or subway in the complete opposite direction, like a moron. Also, obviously know where you have to walk so bring a map or use the GPS on your phone if you have internet connection (There’s even step-by-step walking directions on iPhones if you’re extremely navigationally challenged, like me). If you don’t have a map or phone, you’re screwed. Just kidding! If you’re seriously lost you can always ask someone for directions (assuming that you find someone who speaks English) but in Denmark that’s not a problem because everyone’s fluent in English and so friendly and helpful. I almost feel bad asking Danes for directions because they become so preoccupied with making sure you find your way. Danish people actually want to help you, which is really cool because I feel like in most places the locals get irritated with the oblivious tourists. Hint, most countries have public transportation apps, which are LIFESAVERS (If you’re in Denmark, use Rejseplanen)!! You can download them in English, then all you have to do is put in your current location and where you want to go and the app gives you all the times and instructions on which buses/trains/subways you have to take to get there. Basically, public transportation for dummies!

Nyhavn street

Since you’re going to be alone all day, it’s essential to have some good tunes to jam out to so pack your iPod, iPhone, MP3 player, CD player or whatever the heck you use to listen to music. Hearing your favorite songs will cheer you up about the fact that you have no friends!

Okay so hopefully you took my earlier advice and chose a museum that you actually care about. If you really just hate museums and don’t care about anything, ask a local which museum they recommend! Try not to think of museums as boring (even though I know they can be), instead think about the fact that you’re in a different country, learning cool stuff that will make you a very cultured an interesting person! But remember, this isn’t a school field trip, it’s supposed to be fun so don’t feel obligated to read every single information thingy.

The 400 year old Rosenborg castle

So mad this dude ruined my picture...

I'd say the Rosenborg was my favorite historical site in Copenhagen, just look at this room!

Of course, you don’t always have to go to museums; they’re just convenient for loners. I also like walking around the main tourist sites with my Nikon camera and pretending to be a professional photographer (even though in reality, I have no clue). I really encourage you to take lots of pictures because it’ll keep you busy, it’s fun and gives you memories to look back on! Plus, who knows maybe you’ll take a super awesome picture (like the ones I took below!) that’ll get you a million likes on Instagram ;)

Christiansborg Palace holds the Danish parliament, Supreme Court and Ministry of State

Some random street in Copenhagen

If you really start running out of things to do just look at your map (or iPhone) and see what’s nearby. Chances are, there’s at least a corner of the city that you haven’t explored yet so just go there! I like finding parks, churches, lakes, gardens, libraries, parliament houses, castles or anything else that sounds remotely nice. Whatever you find may not be a main tourist attraction or a UNESCO world heritage site but it’s still foreign to you and probably pretty cool!

University of Copenhagen's Botanical Garden

I personally hate shopping, partially become I’m poor and partially because I don’t have any room left in my suitcase, but if you do like shopping, that’s another good loner activity. Only problem is that you don’t have friends to consult so you don’t know if the clothes you’re about to buy make you look like crap or not… Hmm. Maybe just window-shopping is a better option? Haha

National Gallery of Denmark has free entrance but only decent art

The view outside the gallery however is really nice

By this point in your day, you’re probably starving so time for a lunch break! I almost always pack food from home. Eating out is fun and all but not when you’re alone, it’s just kind of depressing, not to mention expensive! I mean if you’re rolling in the dough and want to treat yourself to a meal in solitude, go ahead, but I always secretly feel bad for those people eating alone at restaurants (loners!). Of course, you can also always just grab a quick sandwich or something but it’s even cheaper to pack a lunch! Or if you’re seriously dirt poor, you can always try to find markets/grocery stores that give out free samples (I’m guilty of doing this on many occasions). Once, my friends and I found hit the jackpot and found this fish market that was about to close so they were handing out huuuge samples just to get rid of them (think tiny plates of oysters and fish cakes)! In Copenhagen, check out Torvehallerne, they normally have some decent free samples.

Military barracks and offices

The Citadel (fortress) of Copenhagen

Next step is to find a nice park to chill, listen to music, munch and maybe even take a little snooze under the sun. If you like reading, bring a book. Or if you like writing, bring a journal. Or if you like drawing, bring a sketchbook. You get the idea; bring crap that’ll keep you entertained in a park. If you’re busy doing something that you enjoy, you’ll feel like less of a loner than if you were to just sit there staring at the grass, like a moron.

The Rosenborg castle gardens

Perfect for midday napping :)

The Rosenborg again from a different view

For those of you who are extra daring, strike up a conversation with a fellow loner! You could ask for directions, a lighter (assuming you smoke) or a translation of something to seem less creepy than just saying “Hi!”. Once I was sitting on a bench, eating my lunch, across from some dude smoking a cigarette alone. I accidentally dropped my fork (moron), the guy said something to me in Danish (Aw, that sucks), and I responded with a puzzled look and asked if he spoke English. He translated and asked me where I was from. We actually ended up talking for a while because was also a lone traveler from Chile! Ta da! Two loners became two socializers!

The famous little mermaid sculpture inspired by Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale

Lastly, always remember to appreciate the fact that you’re in a different country or new place. If you’re feeling really lonely and sad, remind yourself how lucky you are. Yeah, you might be alone, but not many people get the opportunity to travel the world and explore foreign cities. So suck it up and make the best of it! ;)