Getting Deported Ain’t So Bad

IMG_0012After almost 5 glorious months of living and working in Copenhagen, sadly I’ve had to pack my bags and skedaddle out of there. Life in Denmark’s big smoke was hectic, but awesome. Just when I thought I had it all sorted – a job I loved, with awesome workmates and a great collection of friends (no small task in a very introverted culture when compared to the likes of NZ), a fabulous apartment (also a marathon effort with central city housing subject to incredible competition). Unfortunately for me, the government seems to have taken a pretty tough stance on immigration in the last few years, and decided (in the words of the immigration office) I wasn’t “special” enough. After a long discussion I managed to translate the reasoning into something a little less literal. In essence, the government has decided that unless you are super highly skilled (Masters degree minimum) and being paid over 384,000kr (around NZ$84,000) per year, work permits were only being handed out to EU citizens as unemployment is so high. Sadly in a graduate job at a startup, and with a mere bachelors degrees, I fit into neither of those categories. It would have been real nice of them to mention that on the visa application form, or any official website, or when I handed in my application and asked “is this likely to be approved?”

Now this is a view I am most definitely going to miss!

Now this is a view I am most definitely going to miss!

Never mind. Communication has never been the forte of any Danish bureaucratic organisation. Or politician for that matter. I’ve decided to pin the blame squarely on NZ’s favourite Danish politician Marie Krarup, given it was (so I’m told) the disproportionately large influence of the Folkeparti (coalition governments and all that) that contributed to the tightening up of the immigration regulations (but seemingly only behind closed doors).

And so on to Plan B. Go off on an adventure, being sure to catch some sun before heading back to NZ. Plan B involved chilling out on a beach somewhere for a few weeks (maybe Greece? Maybe Spain), using the money I (not without great difficulty) got back from the enormous deposit I paid for my apartment. I still had 3 weeks before the official “fuck off out of our country” date (OK, maybe it wasn’t worded quite that bluntly, but it was close) and in those three weeks my imagination spun wildly out of control. Before I knew it, I’d launched into Plan C and embarked on an adventure with no set plans, no exact date of return home and a whole lot of excitement. Luckily for me there are plenty more letters in the alphabet before I have to resort to the plan that involves selling my body.

Whilst on the one hand, finding myself jobless and homeless on the opposite side of the globe is pretty much the definition of stress, on the other hand it is also very exciting! Fortunately my initial life backup plan, should my job in Copenhagen not work out for any reason (be it the visa, or the fact I started as an intern, or that I was working at a startup), was already in action. I’ve been studying by distance through Massey University, slowly making my way towards a Masters in Economics. So plan C involved heading somewhere I could live off my student loan living costs of NZ$172 per week, that didn’t cost to much to get there. Say hola Spain! My first stop and current destination is Granada, to visit a lovely friend of mine studying on exchange who not only offered me somewhere to sleep but has been giving me a crash course in Spanish and been a wonderful tour guide.

Whilst making my extravagant plans, I’ve also been looking for all sorts of ways to reduce my living costs and increase my income. Step one has been eliminating accommodation costs. After a great tip-off from another friend, I signed up to Workaway, which is sort-of like  Wwoofing only instead of (or as well as) working on organic farms, you can find all kinds of short term work-for-accommodation type arrangements. Given I have worked for the past 4 months in a company specialising in online advertising, I’ve managed to lock in some work opportunities that can help me build those skills and do something somewhat career relevant (as much fun as manual labour or childcare would be). First stop is a Spanish language school in Conil De Frontera who wants some help with office admin, social media, and some ideas to relaunch their website and get a bit more traffic. I think the thing I’m most excited about is that I get Spanish lessons for free. Already in just a few short days in Granada I’ve learned so much, and it has really put in to perspective just how difficult Danish was to learn. Ironically enough, I was proud to realise on my very last day in Denmark as I called up to cancel the power and internet bills, I could finally understand and navigate my way through the customer service menus. Slim chance of me finding that language useful ever again, but at least I know what buttons to press now…

In terms of upping the income, in my short time working for Admazely, I quickly discovered my favourite part of the job was writing the company blog. No surprises, given the amount of content on this here blog that I’ve churned out as a hobby. I had been thinking for a while that it would be great to turn writing in to a full time gig, and getting the boot from Copenhagen has certainly thrown me out of the nest fairly quickly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find there are a number of opportunities out there. From friends with connections, to Elance, an online market place for freelancers of all types to Copify, the site that has thus far been the most lucrative. Whilst many sites (like Elance) require you to bid against the masses for a shot at a somewhat vaguely described job, once you’ve been accepted on Copify it is a first-in-best-served situation, which gives a level of certainty I am much more keen on. While a lot of the jobs are small and low paid, there a quite a few of them, and its not a bad deal if you land one writing a press release or something with a larger word count.

So for anyone else wanting to go adventuring on the cheap, I can definitely recommend a make-your-own-exchange with Massey distance learning, working for free accommodation  and seeing if you have some skills to sell online. And for all those viewing from home, unless I end up on plan D, or E, or F, I’m aiming to be back on the mothership in September.

Well I can think of worse places to study...

Well I can think of worse places to study…

322. Learning Spanish

From my previous encounters with language learning, most places I had been to thus far (except Prague, but it was very tourist friendly) provided at worst fairly guessable signs, menus and transportation and at best I could fully communicate. Not so when it came to spanish. On our first go at dining out in Spain (hampered of course by the siesta culture – who knew it was so much more than a cultural stereotype) we thought we were about to have a delightful spanish culinary experience. Instead: steak and chips and a tuna salad. Fail!IMG_4351 (640x480) IMG_4352 (640x480)

304. French language fail

Surprisingly enough, emerging from the catacombs, our appetites were very much intact, and we went in search of a nice cafe (you come out the other end in rather a nice neighbourhood).

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On the recommendation of a fellow traveller, we found a place that served what we found to be a most excellent combination: crepes and cider. And what an array of crepes there were! They were offering something like €8 for a glass of cider and a crepe, which was a pretty good deal for Paris. After settling on a blue cheese and walnut gallette (which was amazing), I guess I must have been sick of snobby waiters scoffing at english language, so ordered in French. I asked for a bottle of cider, probably force of habit from far to much Monteiths deliciousness, and the waiter came out with an enormous 1L bottle! It was fairly strong stuff too, so we ended up feeling quite the buzz in the middle of the day. Oops.

IMG_3468 (480x640)The cafe also had some really cool decor going on, I really wish I could remember what it was called as it was by far one of the best meals I had in Paris!

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180. Best ever Gnocchi

At a restaurant in the centre of Bormio I took a chance and ordered gnocchi, given it was on the special menu. Most of the time I have had gnocchi it is pretty average – just a starchy, relatively tasteless blob, and it is what goes with it that makes the meal OK. I was incredibly surprised, then, to have a very simple dish, with just a bit of mozerella on it, and the most amazing gnocchi I have ever tasted! Instead of teaspoon sized balls, the gnocchi was much smaller – more like really large,swollen pieces of arborio rice. It just melted in my mouth, and was particularly tasty with the addition of some chilli infused extra virgin olive oil that was plonked on the table part way through the meal. I think I have a new mission to find out how they made it so good!

The menu also had some fantastic translation errors, which definitely added to the authentic atmosphere:

[the middle one ends with “chees of nuisance” which gave a giggle or two]

71. Underground Art

As I stepped off the escalator in the Subway, it suddenly felt like I was at a very cool, niche gallery. Stockholm is famous for the modern art all through the subway system, and each station we were at had very cool and different murals all around. Some had quotes from philosophers, others famous writers. Here’s a few snappies of some of the art around the various stations.

65. Swedish Smörgås

One of our café recommendations in Stockholm was ‘Sturekatten’ which I’m fairly sure translates to the fat cat. Based on the Danish word for big/large (Store) and the cats all over the signage. This was yet another scavenger hunt of an adventure, as the café turned out to be quite the hidden gem, off in a side street with minimal signage. After google maps sent us in a totally unnecessary circle, we found the place. We only knew we were in the right spot as a result of our detailed instructions “You will feel like you are walking in to someone’s loungeroom.”

As we walked up an old wooden spiral staircase, the description was perfect. With doilies on tables, potted plants, delicate teacups and mismatched antique chairs, we knew we were in the right place. The waitstaff were all in the cutest Victorian style lace aprons, and there was a range of different rooms you could sit in, with majestic curtains and rustic window frames separating them.

The food at Sturekatten was amazing, and we felt it was the perfect time to try a truly Nordic lunch. While smörgås, or smørrebrød, as it is called in Danish, is very common in Denmark, it wasn’t until I was in Sweden that I thought it would be a good opportunity to give it a go. Smörgås is typically on a slice of rye bread (two slices is far too much to consume in one go) and piled with toppings. A very common version of this Nordic delight is a generous helping of mayonnaise, slices of egg and a ridiculous heap of shrimps. smörgås or smørrebrød is usually well decorated, commonly with cucumber slices and at this particular place also had caviar.

It was a delicious lunch, and the cabinet of food looked amazing – it was really hard to pick just one thing!

Another particularly swedish trend was on display here also. When you pay for a coffee at many cafes, you then help yourself to a coffee at a tea/coffee stand. A bit of an honesty system and refills are encouraged, but the sacrifice is a lack of espresso machine. No flat whites in this part of the world!

Fun fact: the term smorgasbord (buffet) comes from smörgås.

30. Foreign Language Supermarket Shopping

Before I left for Denmark I had a lovely lunch date with one of my friends who had also spent a semester in Aarhus. One of my many burning questions was about supermarket shopping and what the best tactics are. “How will I know whether its shampoo or conditioner?!”

He assured me that they will most likely say shampoo and conditioner on the bottle in English, and the only real issue is guessing what type of meat you are buying. He was right about shampoo and conditioner, but most things are in Danish and being me, I have definitely had a few ‘shopping accidents’ (as I like to call them).

My most inconvenient shopping accident wasn’t the goats cheese sandwich in Sweden (it was actually pretty tasty), but instead was getting paper towels instead of toilet paper. They were all stacked up by the entrance like toilet paper, but the packaging covered up the middle part so I couldn’t tell the difference, I simply reached for the cheapest packet. I was quite proud of myself for only coming away with one incorrect purchase on my first trip! It was hardly the biggest inconvenience either, although a friend that came to stay claimed he couldn’t handle it and  bought me some 3-ply as a thank you gift. Good luck flashpacking around Europe, Princess.

My original plan was to just wander round with google translate on my phone. Unfortunately I couldn’t get data on my phone for two weeks as I had to wait for my residence card to arrive, so for the impromptu shopping trips where I didn’t pre-translate my shopping list, a healthy dose of common sense and a diet of fruit, vegetables and items that come in transparent packets worked just fine for my first few trips.

I don’t even know what that product is – it looked like raw mince topped with whipped cream and the picture showed it being spread on a piece of bread

It seems I am not the only one that has struggled with translating the more ambiguously packaged foods. A number of students have reported trouble distinguishing certain items such as flour and sugar. Given that one packet had bread on it and the other had strawberries, I didn’t have any problems. As for milk, some have reported difficulty working out  full cream vs skim/trim etc. I had already learned in Australia that colour coding systems aren’t international. In this instance I made an assumption that skummetmælk meant skim milk. One of the few times my assumptions have proved correct!

Being on a student budget and attempting to stay healthy, asian food is practically a staple of my diet. Gosh have I realised how spoiled for choice we are in New Zealand! It took 3 different supermarkets before I found coconut milk to go with my red curry paste. I was a tad disappointed there wasn’t a ‘lite’ option, but I was hardly going to be precious about it. Then when I got home I discovered that coconut milk and coconut cream are one in the same according to the single brand of asian ingredients available! My unnecessarily fatty curry was delicious though.

Not sure if it is good or bad that the egg yolks are all different sizes and colours

Another challenge is having to let go of my habit of reading the back of the packets. I like to know what I am eating and what the ingredients are, but in Denmark all I can tell is the amount of kilojoules/calories. Slightly helpful, but it doesn’t tell me what I am actually eating! I have learned very quickly the term ‘okologisk’ which means organic. Organic food is actually subsidised by the government, counterbalancing the tax on saturated fat, so there is a much bigger range of organic products in the supermarkets at more accessible prices than I am used to.

In another assumption failure, I thought I would try some rye bread. I assumed because it is so popular here, that although experience in NZ tells me rye bread tastes like shite, it must taste a whole let better in Scandinavia. Alas, it appears rye bread tastes like dense chewy dirt all over the world. So instead I fried it in butter. So much for the healthy option!

The supermarkets themselves are quite a different concept, too. In New Zealand, if you are in a supermarket (rather than a dairy) you can generally rely on each supermarket, no matter what the brand, stocking what you are after. While some of the product brands may differ, you’ll be able to find whatever you need and the prices are all very competitive. Here in Denmark, I have learned supermarket shopping is more of an art form, that takes a great deal of practise. I am still discovering different supermarket chains and there is a huge amount of variation in prices, not to mention stock.

Aldi – who needs nice product displays when you are dirt cheap?

Aldi, for example, is the cheapest. However, it is like you are walking in to a big empty room out the back of someone’s house. It also appears the floor storage system is well in use and you can only rely on the most essential and popular of items actually being there. Brugssen is like a convenience store/supermarket hybrid but it is really expensive. On the other end of the spectrum, big department stores will have really flash supermarket areas in them with poncy bakeries and chocolatiers.

I love supermarket shopping in other countries and seeing all the different products, experiencing different foods, but it is a far bigger gamble when you can neither recognise the product name or read the ingredients. It definitely keeps life interesting though!

I had previously thought the pickled herring jokes were just jokes…

Finally, the most entertaining part of Danish supermarkets are the shelves full of pickled everything. My father teased me before I left that all I was going to eat would be pickled herrings, but I didn’t expect to see this many pickled items:

“Pickle all the things!”

26. Dance on a table

In the middle of Aarhus there is a German bar called, you guessed it, Heidi’s.

At Heidi’s, it appears that the dance floor is on the tables. After about 10pm or so, all of a sudden almost everyone at the bar jumped up on top of the tables and spent the rest of the night there! It was bizarre, but also hilarious.

Supposedly, that’s what they do in Germany, though I’m not too sure if that’s actually what they do or just what the Danes think they do.

Life can be tough for tall people, unable to dance on tables…

I’m on top of the world! Wait, no just the table…

I also had a bit of a cultural barrier issue. I got really excited when I saw Rekorderlig cider on tap. It is the most amazing Cider I have ever tasted, especially the Winter Cider, which is Apple, vanilla and cinnamon flavoured. I discovered it in Brisbane, but only ever saw it in bottles and at super hipster places like Kerbside. Imported from Sweden, it is pretty expensive in Australia, but worth every cent.

I asked for a pint of cider, and the guy behind the bar made what I thought was a ‘tall glass’ gesture. I took that to be him clarifying what strange foreign girl meant by a pint. Yet another moment where assumptions proved wrong. The lederhosen wearing bartender put the biggest Oktoberfest sized glass of cider I have ever seen on the bar. Bastard had already taken my money too!

It was bigger than my head. And I needed two hands to hold it. As much as I wanted to savor every drop of delicious Rekorderlig strawberry Cider, it was too much for me to finish and had to be shared around!