159. End of Semester 1 in Denmark

Well, I finally made it! Semester over. From start to finish, it worked out a whole lot longer than a semester back in NZ. While the teaching period was shorter (some classes only 8 weeks) the exam period was the clincher. It seems every department is operating on their own terms, and my exams were spread out over 5 weeks, starting 2 weeks after my last class. On the one hand it was the most stress free exam period I have ever had, being over such a long period (I see why Danes all look so young). On the other hand it was mind numblingly boring and I would have much preferred get them all out of the way in 2 weeks (as I am used to) and having a longer summer. Oh well, its all done now!

The Danish style, as I wrote about at the beginning of semester, is really different to what I’m used to in NZ, which is very much based on a traditional British model of academia. This was definitely the first semester (excluding law papers in NZ) where I have actually read every textbook cover to cover, as for the most part, rather than lecturers just summing up the material in the textbook and telling you what you need to know, in Denmark anything in your textbook is examinable, and classes (mostly) are more discussion of the content and solving cases using the theories you have just learned, rather than simply reciting the key points to you. So there is a definite need to keep up with readings throughout the semester if you are going to get anywhere. The other thing I really like is that problems in class and the exams themselves were case based, using realistic examples. So much was the focus on how the real world works, that some of my lecturers were external businessmen, and two of my exams were presentations rather than a written test.

The part I didn’t like, however, was that solving the cases tended to be more about doing what the lecturer wanted/citing the right theories for the course than the best answer to the problem. But if you knew what they were looking for it wasn’t too hard to get a good grade. The trouble came when the lecturer wasn’t at all clear on what they were looking for.

All in all I really enjoyed my semester, and found my courses a lot more interesting than other business papers I have taken. I’m unsure if that is because of the more realistic/practical way of teaching or because papers always get more interesting as you progress through your degree, though.

Finally, the absolute best part of it was meeting all of the wonderful people I did this semseter. It was like being in first year again, with loads of others in a similar situation and being completely surrounded by new faces and I loved it. I made so many great friends from all over europe, and luckily most of the Danish ones and a few two-semester exchange students will still be there next semester. For the rest who have now left, it is really sad to see so many great friends go, but I hope to see them all again, and luckily, for those in Europe I’ll be able to visit them this summer!

I learned about so many great cultures, and met loads of likeminded people having the time of their lives on exchange, some of which I travelled with too. I am so glad I’m doing a second semester in Aarhus because it was just the most amazing time, and I definifely am not ready to say goodbye yet, so I imagine it must have been really hard for those who have had to go. It is also really strange that a bunch of my friends are disappearing, to be replaced with a new group of exchange students. I am definitely looking forward to meeting the new ones (there will be another kiwi from Otago Uni which is exciting, I can finally use my full vocabulary of slang to someone who will understand it), though there is definitely no replacing the friends I made this semester!

152. Discover Danish Music

Northside Festival was a great chance to discover some Danish bands I hadn’t really heard of before. One of my favourite acts of the entire festival was The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, who are gathering a bit of fame after one of their songs was on an iPod commercial. Their music is great – really fun and upbeat, and they put on a great show, too. The main singer is a tiny little girl with gigantic blonde hair and a voice to match, and I definitely recommend checking them out!

Oh Land is another really popular Danish singer. Her father was a famous composer, and her song White Nights is on every other commercial on TV (Gotye/Kimbra’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ features on the rest). She had a particularly fabulous brightly coloured spandex jumpsuit on. Anyone that can pull that look off definitely deserves a high 5 in my books!

Lukas Graham was another favourite, with some very catchy tunes. Although I can’t stand Bruno Mars, he definitely reminded me of him. Freja Loeb and Emelie Sande were pretty good Scandinavian singers with great voices, though I didn’t get to pay much attention as I was working through their sets.

Finally, worth a mention even though I really was not a fan, was Maijke De Koln a pair of Danish rappers. Not only is rap really not my thing, but I find it quite absurd that they would be singing like they were in the ghetto in one of the most wealthy countries in the world with the strongest social welfare system. It’s just ridiculous, and totally unoriginal. They should maybe go find some real problems in the world and sing about them if they want to gain some respect.

148. Bartending in Danish

In return for my free ticket to Northside Festival I volunteered for a few hours on one of the bars. A few less than normal, as I had helped design/set up one of them. I had worked at the bar at Studenterhus Aarhus (the student bar) a number of times and didn’t think anything of it. What I didn’t realise was that at Studenterhus it is a lot easier as the clientele knows most of the bartenders are exchange students. No-one expects the bartenders to be speaking English at a festival though! It was a real test of my Danish knowledge, particularly when people started asking specific questions like how many litres the jugs of beer are, but by the end of the weekend I felt my Danish had improved significantly! There were only a few hiccups, like right at the beginning when someone asked for what I heard as ‘a can of beer’. As it turned out ‘can’ is how to pronounce ‘kane’ which is actually a jug. Only minor confusion!

The bar was right in front of the main stage too, so I still saw all the acts that were on whilst I was working. Finally, the highlight was surprisingly enough late on Sunday night when the weekend was nearly over and I really wanted to go to bed. There were a whole bunch of opened boxes of shots (they come pre-packaged in test tubes) that needed to be sold, so eventually we were selling 15 for 100Kr (around $20). No host responsibility rules on how many can be sold in one go in Denmark it seems. Some lovely young gentlemen who were in a relatively sober state when they approached the bar found this deal so exciting that by the time they left (after multiple rounds of 15 shots) they thought I was the best bartender in the world for giving them so many and were serenading me with “Call Me Maybe.” Great entertainment.

127. Ride an Elephant

I didn’t think the opportunity to ride an elephant would come around until a trip to south east asia, but sure enough, at the Danish Circus (Cirkus Arena) there was my chance!

I had to share the elephant with some random family, but it was still very exciting! Also, just a wee tip: skinny jeans aren’t the best elephant riding atire…

For a brief minute I felt a bit sorry for the poor elephant family, not only in captivity but trained up and paraded around 107 cities per year. Then I remembered I was in Denmark, so they probably have an elephant Union and an elephant minimum wage that’s higher than the average wage in most countries, despite the fact they are elephants that can’t actually spend money… and who was I to pass up the opportunity to gallivant around on top of an elephant?

I didn’t really enjoy the parts with animals so much, particularly the horses. While they were trained up to do all kinds of things, I couldn’t help but think about how they might have been trained. Particularly when the horses were directed by a girl in the middle of the ring with a whip, and you could see fear in their faces at mere motions from it, let alone actually being hit.

The rest of the circus was pretty good, although the best acts were acrobats imported from China and Romania, and a surprising amount of acrobatic children. Again I’m not really sure what the child labour laws are around travelling circuses, but the things these kids could do were amazing! There was this whole family that did all kinds of acrobatic tricks on the elephants. The boy did all the best tricks, like having one elephant stamp on one end of a seesaw-like contraption and send him flying, where he did a backflip and landed on the girl’s shoulders. The kid reminded me of my little brother, if he’d grown up in the Circus. Which isn’t too far from reality in my family!

Apparently that family, and the troupe of Romanians, have won special carny awards. The Romanian’s did all sorts of launching each other onto people’s shoulders with the same seesaw. They were awfully nimble (and apparently pants were optional), apart from this one guy. I was watching this great big Romanian hulk bumbling around, thinking ‘buddy, no-one’s catching you’, until finally the stage-hands bought out a giant pole and his role was revealed – bottom of the giant stack of humans.

I really enjoyed how every last detail was in traditional circus style (as told by the movies). From the stage hands, who rather than being dressed in black were in Victorian Military inspired jackets, except in bright carny colours, to the trucks, which looked like Dumbo-esque train carriages. The style was very much like the trailer for the film ‘Water For Elephants,’ though I haven’t actually seen the movie owing to the fact it has that Godawful twilight boy in it. But I assume the rest of the film is like the trailer!

112. Learn the Danish National Anthem

Well I didn’t actually learn it, I only heard it the one time! A quick wee clip from Kapsejlads.

An interesting observation about Danish people, is many of them don’t seem to think they are particularly patriotic, or nationalists at all. And yet there are Danish flags everywhere, they whip the anthem out at drinking events and they love their Queen. Compare that to New Zealand, where most kiwis will tell you that without a doubt NZ is the best country in the world, but we don’t have flags everywhere, nor are we particularly bothered about royals (possibly due to the fact they are all the way over in England).

Every time I meet someone Danish and they ask where I’m from, I’m immediately met with the response “but why would you want to come here?!” and a puzzled look. While I’ve been tempted to say “Oh I just wanted to come to the country with the highest taxes and most expensive goods and services I could find, and I definitely didn’t want reliable good weather” it does make me wonder if the Danish government spends any of the money it rakes in on tourism. I happen to think its a great place to be, but not many others, even the Danes themselves ,seem to know anything about the perks of this place!

97. GrovChicken

McDonald’s is internationally reknowned for the fact that whichever McDonald’s you go to you expect your meal to be the same as any other. And this is exactly why I set myself a no McDonald’s in Europe rule. With so many amazing, novel, delicious and most of the time more healthy options available, the last thing I want is the same BigMac I can get at home.

However, a miscommunication over bus times lead to starving Harriet+friends with nowhere else open. I also justified my rule breaking by ordering the most novel and different item I could find, with the added bonus that it was one of the “healthy” options: A GrovChicken: A McChicken with a rye bun. Only in Denmark. I found it incredibly hilarious at the time, and luckily McDonald’s douses its McChickens with so much mayonnaise it counteracted the dry-ness. I’m also gradually developing a fondness for rye bread. The GrovChicken wasn’t too bad! But I would still only order from McDonalds in hunger emergencies.

96. Move to the Countryside

After a few financial scares kicking me in to action (a certain NZ government department that seems to have cut their monkey-training budget and just employs monkeys with NO idea messing with my student loan and even McDonald’s not considering me for employment) I decided to get a little creative with my job hunt. On the search for a babysitting job, I came across an Au Pair matching website and got talking to a lovely family that lives just outside of Aarhus. Next thing I’m living out in the country!

Some have critiqued such a choice, particularly moving in with a relatively unknown family. Certainly you have to approach these sorts of things with reason and caution, for example the single Dad with a baby advertising for an au pair and ‘personal assistant.’ Who knows, could have been a lovely guy but there were alarm bells there. Or the families who specify they only want someone from the Philippines so they can take advantage of the difficulties getting jobs and visas by overworking some poor girl. Anyway, I think I’ve struck gold with this particular family. So far it has proved to be an amazing way to truly immerse myself in the culture, learn a bunch of things I never would in a dorm, increase my Danish vocabulary, and most importantly they treat me like I am part of the family.
It has also provided a great opportunity to learn about Danish food and customs, try out recipes of things I have discovered on my travels and just generally enjoy having a proper kitchen! So expect a whole lot more cooking posts.

The downside is i am now about an hour out of town, but commuting has been pretty good for getting my readings done before class. And I only seem to have classes a couple of days a week most of the time so it isn’t too much of a tax!
Living out in the country provides for some beautiful views too, some of which are featured below. I feel awfully European when I cycle through the beautiful green fields to get to the bus stop. Any romantic illusions are, however, shattered by the fact that as we approach spring/summer, it is that time of year where farmers cover their fields with animal excrement…

95. Danish Birthday Cake

At a fellow exchange students’ wee birthday celebration not so long ago, we felt it was time to sample yet another delicious Danish Pastry tradition: the birthday ‘cake.’ It seems (or at least, the idea the bakeries are selling us), that tradition is to have a big huge decorated pastry as opposed to a cake. And a mighty fine tradition it was. A thin pastry with layers of almond paste, iced and decorated with a cute message made of marzipan. Delicious. My love for true, European marzipan is ever growing. I just don’t know how they get away with selling that sickly sweet, white, not even almond-y tasting, soya bean substitute in other parts of the world. It’s a total injustice.

94. Learn what ‘India Pale Ale’ really means

One of Aarhus University’s student bars, (aptly named ‘Baren’) also happens to be the bar with the biggest range of specialty beers in town, housing at least 200 of them. I recently participated in a focus group where we were given a free beer voucher as a reward. Not being much of a beer drinker I felt I should take the opportunity to sample something new and different. Which resulted in me interrogating the poor unsuspecting beer drinking to find out what she recommended. She asked if I had ever tried an ‘IPA’ beer. My blank look must have said it all, and she then produced a bottle of ‘Mikkell’s IPA.’ She was obviously keen on the idea of maximising the value of my voucher, as apparently it is one of the more expensive of the 200 beers on the menu. Good bartender.

When I saw the label I realised that what was meant by ‘IPA’ was India Pale Ale and couldn’t help but laugh – a common phrase plastered across one of our more common, cheap, shitty beers which redeems itself only by its great advertising. I’m talking about Tui if any kiwi’s are reading this and are still confused.

One of the other focus group volunteers at the table with us was also a bartender at ‘Baren’ (and one must be well versed in near useless beer facts to work there, apparently) and proceeded to tell me all about what India Pale Ale really means – something I had never even thought about, despite seeing it so many times. As it turned out, when the English first went to India, they couldn’t handle the awful beer there, so imported their own, but had to come up with an entirely new brewing technique, laden with preservatives, in order to ship the beer all the way to India and have it survive the journey. Again, I’m not so big on beer, so I sort-of forgot the next part but I think it was more hops making it pale in colour or something. So there’s some beer trivia for you.

In other news, I didn’t really like this particular beer so much, despite it being so expensive and highly recommended…

66. “Are They Drunk or Are They Swedish?”

On our first night in Sweden we decided to venture out to a bar in town called Sturehof that our friend had recommended we go to. It definitely wasn’t anything you’d find in a lonely planet guide – we had to go through a bar, a restaurant, past another bar and up a mysterious stair case to find it. The look of intrigue on the bouncer’s face when we showed our various international driver’s licences confirmed it wasn’t the usual tourist hotspot.

The bar was pretty cool, good music, and more of a chat and dance-a-little vibe – halfway between a lounge bar and a dance club. This was our first real encounter with Swedes, other than those studying on exchange with us. It was like a David Attenborough documentary, as we observed the behaviours of the herd! We certainly noticed that a huge part of the mating ritual was wearing very expensive designer labels, and blatantly being very carefully put-together, despite trying to appear as if they ‘just woke up and threw this on.’ The view from our perch in the raised seating area was almost like flicking through an editorial photo shoot in a fashion magazine.

Given we had had introductory lectures in Denmark about the social norms, behaviours and cultural value of Danes, we were ever so curious as to whether the behavioural patterns we had learned about were similar with the neighbouring Swedes. For example, we had been told (and obversations of the native’s behaviour confirmed) that Danish people are initially considerably more shy and stand-offish than those of many western cultures. One need only see the look of great discomfort on a Dane’s face as he is greeted with kisses by an Italian to have this confirmed. Put a beer in his hand, however, and everything changes, even before he’s taken a sip!

One thing I have certainly noticed, is the difference when you come across someone in the street. In New Zealand it is common to wave and say hi or smile if you are walking past someone and you catch their eye. If you are going for a run and come across another jogger, even more so. You share that mutual look of “I’m pretending to be fit, but really I’m dying inside too.” In Denmark, however, I still haven’t fully gotten this habit out of my system, and everyone looks at me like I’m a total creep when I smile or say hi.

As for Swedes, my friend from Sweden had had a few complaints about Danish behaviour, describing walking through hallways at University as “the laws of the jungle” – I seem to be the only one at school that routinely holds doors open for people as they walk through, and am constantly met with looks of surprise. Ride a full bus and you’ll see them all race for the door at the same time as though someone just pulled the fire alarm. With her surprised reactions at how Danes interact with eachother, we had quite the impression that Swedish people would be much more like what we’re used to (Canadians, it seems, have much the same behavioural patterns and common courtesies as New Zealanders, Americans more of a mixed bag but on the whole pretty polite).*

However, this particular bar turned out to be a terrible place for scientific observations. We arrived close to midnight and hadn’t had much to drink ourselves so most people in the bar where on a whole other. Buying a drink was like being in a moshpit, and there were plenty of scantily clad girls choosing really inconvenient places to dance. However, our one major interraction with native Swedes was when a very drunk one climbed up on the bench a friend was sitting on, lost his balance and landed completely on top of her, before falling on to our table and smashing all of our glasses in to pieces. We were already feeling a little sensitive about how much we had just paid for the drinks (apparently a slice of lemon in this bar makes your drink a cocktail, so stick to the beer and cider). Drunk people fall over all the time, so it wasn’t the fall that gave us the terrible impression. When we pointed out in no uncertain terms that it was neither funny nor endearing to flatten an unsuspecting californian and throw a round of drinks across the bar, instead of the apology you would generally expect in such a situation, the response was an aggressive “What? What do you want?” like he was going to fight me, or paying us off was the solution. I would have been happier with an apology than the most expensive bottle in the bar, to be quite honest. We all commented about how in almost every culture we have experienced, such a reaction would never have occurred, but profuse apologies would have been made instantly.

The most expensive round we never had

After many more observations in order to answer the question of the night – “Are they drunk or are they Swedish?” everyone else we meet in our time in Sweden proved the hypothesis that yes, they were drunk, and sadly fell into the unfortunately large category of people that are arseholes when they drink.

Unlike the Danes, it was a lot harder to pigeonhole any particular behavioural patterns of Swedes, apart from the fact that they all dress immaculately.

*Comments about first impressions of Danes are not to be taken to mean Danes aren’t lovely people. Once the ice is broken, Danish people have, in my experience, proved to be incredibly kind, helpful, loyal and friendly!