128. Teaching and Learning National Sports

It all started whilst watching a game of Handball. A huge deal in Denmark, and I made a casual comment that it reminds me of Netball, the sport I play in New Zealand. The conversation then turned to discussing the rules with my host mum, with a view to finding out whether it would be easy to teach one of the kid’s classes at school, i.e. explain the rules to a bunch of Danish ten year olds. The conclusion was no, not really. Netball is all about sticking to the myriad rules. A fast paced game, the ball changes hands between teams very quickly as players are routinely caught out on breaking the rules. Pretty tricky to explain with my lack of Danish and their lack of English we decided!

So next we were onto the possibility of teaching them Back Yard Cricket. Back yard cricket rules are simple, fun and fast paced. Unlike the full game, which bizarrely enough can go on for 5 days. Snore. Whilst looking up videos to demonstrate, I came across “that” cricket game. The most famous game in NZ history. That every kiwi knows about, even if, like me, they still don’t understand the rules because every time a kind gentleman takes it upon himself to explain them, I can’t help but zone out. Sorry Cricket fans. It’s a lost cause. Nonetheless I am still just as offended as any kiwi by this horrible display of bad sportsmanship! And probably because the offence was committed by an Australian.

Whilst sharing this important historical event, and all the drama surrounding other such sport related events in Kiwi history, like the Springbok Tour (1981 was obviously a contentious year in NZ sport), we were interrupted by a certain 10 year old’s crusade to convince the family to get a pet rabbit. (It reminded me of when my younger sister wanted a pet rabbit and my father made her fill out an application form and despite a very valiant effort, he couldn’t keep a straight face while she very seriously filled it out, attempting to prove that mum and dad wouldn’t wind up looking after it. Too funny). This lead to MY education on what is obviously Denmark’s most important sport: Bunny Show Jumping.

Apparently I caused a wee spot of offence by laughing through the entire video.

88. The Tram Museum

On the walk between Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium and Sibelius Park, I saw a strange looking building with huge doors. Just as I was standing there pondering what could be going on inside, a tram came rolling along, and the huge doors slowly swung open. It was the tram depot! A huge grin spread across my face as the Thomas The Tank Engine Theme was all of a sudden in my head. With a musical skip in my step and plenty of nostalgia (I’m beginning to think I’ll never grow up) I carried on towards the park.

A few hundred metres down the road I noticed a sign that had the words ‘free’ and ‘gallery.’ Having had great success in galleries in the Design District I thought I’d check it out. Turns out it was actually a Tram Museum. I couldn’t help but laugh as I recalled a most hilarious (but only retrospectively) moment in Geoghegan family history. My father is probably responsible for my love of museums. He seems to not be able to get enough of them either. Being an engineer, the day we drove past the Train Museum on a family road trip, he couldn’t resist stopping to check it out. I think it was somewhere near the Waiuru Army base, and we were halfway through a ten hour road trip from Coromandel to Wellington on a stinking hot day. The absolute last thing anyone wanted to do was extend the trip for an extra hour, let alone inside a building that not only wasn’t air conditioned, but had a multitude of steam engines going at full boar. It was like being in a sauna with a jet engine.

So we have this hilarious photo of the most disappointed, angry, unimpressed facials, as we sat outside roasting whilst waiting for Dad to stop oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over train engines at the most boring and uncomfortable museum ever. I believe he still gets reminded every time anyone else in the family wants to go somewhere he doesn’t “Remember the train museum? We’re going to that art gallery.” “You’re taking us shoe shopping to make up for that time you took us to the train museum.”

And there I found myself in a tram museum cracking up laughing! Dad would have loved checking out the old trams of Helsinki, learning about the transition from horse-drawn trams to electric ones. In amongst the old carriages there was a big huge description of how people were annoyed at ticket prices, like it was the only place in the world where people complain about public transport pricing or something. It was actually pretty interesting and had a really nice cafe, and a big stage in the middle where they were setting up for some kind of gig later on. Unlike train museums in New Zealand, I would definitely recommend the Tram Museum in Helsinki, and maybe even take my Dad there and lose him for the next four hours.

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!

57. A Classic Kiwi Meal

Those of us exchange students who are staying miles out of town at Skjoldhoj Kollegiet have started the International Food Series, where we each cook a typical meal from home. When my turn rolled around, or more accurately, when I was feeling a little homesick and felt like making some comfort food, I offered to cook for the team. The next dilemma, however, was deciding on what exactly constitutes a classic kiwi meal. The problem, you see, is that New Zealand is a young and very multicultural country and as far as food goes, we just eat everyone else’s food!

I asked for some suggestions on facebook of what would be considered a classic kiwi meal. My sister helpfully suggested a delicious New Zealand Lasagne or a Traditional Kiwi Stir Fry. The irony of these classic kiwi foreign meals was not at all lost on me. After a good chuckle I settled on roast lamb with kumara and potatoes. Whilst the meat-and-two-veg combination is pretty classic as far as New Zealand cuisine goes, I do feel it is more of an English innovation. However, the ingredients are what makes it truly kiwi.

I have been asked many times as I meet foreigners whether it really is true that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand. I like to point out that the ratio of sheep to humans is roughly 4:1 and pause a little to laugh at their faces while they imagine we each own 4 pet sheep, before pre-emptively (and ever so patronisingly) correcting them that they reside on farms and not in our living rooms. There’s actually this slightly sheepish (no pun intended. Actually it was totally intentional. Who ever says no pun intended and actually means it?!) look people give me as they lie through their teeth and say “Oh… I knew that…”

Thus lamb is a very traditional New Zealand meat to oven roast. In fact oven roasting a whole meal, I have been told by a Swede, is in fact a very New Zealand thing to do. As for the two veg, Kumara (or sweet potato if translated) is definitely a truly kiwi vegetable although both in New Zealand and elswhere, it is quite expensive. Perfect to water it down with some potatoes.

As for dessert, there is nothing more traditional and kiwi than a Pavlova. And don’t you dear let those plagiarising Australian’s tell you otherwise. Officially, it is still being disputed, but everyone knows the Pavlova is ours. With a deceitfully Russian sounding name, the Pavolva is a dessert invented in New Zealand in the 1920s, named after Anna Pavolva, a Russian Ballet Dancer who was touring New Zealand at the time. A pavlova is a large, white meringue cake, with the name no doubt influenced by the beautiful white tutu of a ballet dancer in that era.

This particular meal wasn’t my first lamb roast, but by gosh, I must say it was one of my best! The pavolva, on the other hand, was my first ever attempt at the dessert, and I made the fatal error of disobeying the strict cooking instructions of a somewhat difficult dessert. I didn’t make the most common of pavolva mistakes: opening the oven door while it was cooking; but instead I decided that using normal sugar would be fine. There are very clear instructions on every pavlova recipe to use castor sugar, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in Aarhus. I read somewhere that you should grind up normal sugar to create caster sugar rather than substitute a heavier kind, but I didn’t have anything suitable for the task in my ill-equipped student kitchen. I decided to take a chance, and while the dessert wasn’t a failure, it was a little more dense than usual. I also think the oven was a touch too hot, but it did taste pretty good! In true student form, I couldn’t bear to waste the egg yolks, so I also made some lemon curd to go on top, which tasted so much better than the traditional sliced kiwifruit/strawberries. Especially as fruit is like a whole different food group here, compared to the good stuff we have in New Zealand.

The roast lamb was delicious, though it was subject to one of the larger of my shopping miscommunication failures. I went to Bazaar Vest, the middle eastern market, which I had seen had a few large butchers, and had heard one of them has been voted the best one in Aarhus, not to mention one of the cheapest (Fun fact: the Danish word for butcher is ‘Slagter.’ How delightful). Unfortunately, in both Denmark and the Middle East, it seems a Lamb Roast to feed a large family in the way we make them back home is not something repeated here. Furthermore, I have bought meat from a butcher maybe twice in my life and had no idea what to even call the cut I was after, let alone in Danish. Usually, there would be a good size piece of boneless lamb already cut and packaged on the supermarket shelf. At the butcher I went to, my options where a giant leg, a tiny steak or mince. The butcher asked me in Danish if I would like any help. I replied in English that I would like some lamb, but did they have anything smaller than the legs. After some stilted conversation where the poor guy switched to English, his third language at the very least, he said ‘OK I’ll cut it for you.’ Here was I thinking I had been quite clear that the leg was too large and I wanted about half of the size. I was amazed to see the guy very proudly come back with the leg in small chunks. It was pretty reasonably priced, and I strongly doubted the poor guy would be happy with selling the other half of the small chunks of lamb leg. So I politely thanked him and took the whole leg cut in to small pieces. He’d been so nice and helpful after-all, and I could always freeze them and save the rest for other occasions. And on the bright side it would cook faster!

So I used the following method, inspired by Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and most importantly the amazing chef that is my mother.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cut potatoes, onions, kumara in to bit sized chunks. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with fresh rosemary and a teaspoon of salt. Place in a roasting dish (I had to go buy those disposable foil ones) with some whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic, toss around to evenly distribute the oil, salt and rosemary and place on the bottom shelf of the oven. Place lamb, either a large cut or smaller cuts in a roasting dish. Poke a 1cm squared hole in the meat with a small knife and put a sprig of rosemary and a quarter or half of a peeled clove of garlic in the hole. Poke similar holes about an inch apart all over the lamb and repeat. Or if you accidentally have smaller pieces, 1-2 holes in each piece. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the oven, in the tray above the vegetables. Cook the lamb for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on how well cooked you like your meat and how much/what size it is. Usually, if the juices run clear when you poke a hole in the meat and push down on it with your knife it will be well cooked. With red meat, a little bit undercooked will be fine.As for the vegetables, after about 25minutes, turn the vegetables over to ensure they cook evenly.

Take the lamb out (it will continue to cook a little as it slowly cools) and turn the oven up to 250 degrees. After a further 10 minutes turn the vegetables again. Continue to cook (and turn) until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside. Take the vegetables out and allow to cool. They should be ready between 15 minutes and 30 minutes after the meat is done, depending on how fast your oven heats up. This part requires a little bit of attention to ensure they cook well. You may want to add a touch more oil when you check them (even while the meat is cooking) if they look to be drying out.
Rosemary is my absolute favourite herb, and in my opinion, you just can’t get enough of it so feel free to through a hellova lot of it on to both your vegetables and your meat. If you don’t have fresh rosemary, dried is just as good as fresh, or if you prefer a mixed herbs/tuscan herbs/herbs de provence style combination (however your supermarket is selling a mix with a rosemary/oregano/thyme base combination) it will be almost as good.

Normally, in my household anyway, it would be served with some green veges (either steamed or oven roasted) on the side. Delicious and a great way to make it a more balanced meal. However, when catering for the masses on a student budget, the lamb, kumara and potatoes went down a treat.

I also made some mint sauce to go with. Not the traditional wierd jelly you can buy, but a home made version which was amazing. Never buying again! Do be warned though, it may make you want to drink mohitos. To make it, get two large handfuls of fresh mint and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of sugar. Chop it up as small as you can and then place in a small bowl. Juice a lemon or lime over the mint and stir vigorously until it is all mushy and sauce like. If you have a mortor and pestle it would probably achieve the desired effect far more efficiently. Other variations would suggest using white wine vineagar, but if you don’t already have it is a bit more of an investment than a lemon or lime. If it is too tangy add more sugar to taste. Don’t make it too early – it was delicious fresh!

I made some gravy too but it was a bit of a failure. Luckily it was superfluous with the mint sauce. Best I figure out where I went wrong before posting any recipes!

For the Pavlova and lemon curd, I used the following recipes:

Beat 4 egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft white peaks. Gradually add one cup of caster sugar whilst contnuing to beat (alternatively if you can’t find any and have a very clean coffee grinder you can grind it into caster sugar, or if that is too difficult normal sugar will still make a pavlova). Add one teaspoon of lemon juice or vineagar and two teaspoons of sifted cornflour and beat for at least 10 minutes until it is glossy. Pile the meringue on to a baking tray lined with tin foil or baking paper, shaping it in a cake shape as much as possible, and leaving a bit of a dip in the centre. Bake at 130 degrees for about one and a half hours, until the outside is crispy and a sort of off-white/cream colour. Finally, whatever you do, don’t open the door until you are ready to take it out of the oven.

Put one teaspoon of cornflour, a quarter of a cup of sugar and three quarters of a cup of milk in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring it to the boil, then pour a small amount in to a bowl with the two egg yolks and stir. Add this egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly for a further minute. Remove from the head and add two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of lemon rind. Allow to cool.

When the pavlova was ready I poured the lemon curd over it and added whipped cream on top. Delicious!

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!”

29. Go “Klubben”

A few weeks before I left I was emailed a program of ‘Introductory Week’ – the mandatory Orientation Week program at Aarhus School of Business. I received the email at work (it was, er, definitely during my lunchbreak and definitely not on the work server) and like most things I found hilarious, shared it with the other two interns. We worked with contracts, you see, so everything seems funny in comparison.

The bit that we giggled at was the event called ‘Klubben’ as we thought that was the organisers being cute and translating ‘Clubbing.’ It turns out that Klubben is the name of the student bar at the School of Business (owned and run by the Business Students’ Association, Studenterlauget), which hosts riotous parties every Thursday night. Reminiscent of Pint night at Re:Fuel at Otago University, everyone is there on a Thursday and the place really goes off. It is much more like a nightclub though, with DJs rather than miscellaneous bands. It has a very cool setup inside too – the DJ plays out of an old school bus!

Apparently the University is clamping down on the Thursday night parties and this is the last semester they will be allowed. The main reason for it is the recent (and reading between the lines, very political) merger which has seen the Aarhus School of Business become part of Aarhus University. It has also resulted in some restructuring of the faculties and leads to just a little bit of student-association-confusion. I am a member of both the main University students’ association and the School of Business students’ association. Both of them own gyms, bars and provide various other services around campus. Unsurprisingly, the School of Business has the most profitable and commercial association, with a huge annual turnover, loads more corporate sponsors and a much more commercial structure (i.e. a board, rather than a council/executive although the board is still elected). The members of the board that I have come across were masters students, and love to suit up. Neither the Studenterhus (main campus students’ association) or Studenterlauget (School of Business students’ association) are particularly political, as the political arm is completely separate again. The Student Council is the political arm, which lobbies the University and local council on housing conditions (all too familiar coming from Dunedin) and suchlike. The Studenterhus is actually just run by 5 full time employees and 200+ volunteers as a not-for-profit service based organisation, rather than any kind of elected group. The sport groups are also separate bodies. Very confusing. To be quite honest I don’t even know who I am technically playing volleyball for as I think the sports groups are mid-merge.

The Thursday night party night issue is supposedly due to the fact that every other faculty holds what is called a ‘Friday Bar’ on, you guessed it, a Friday. Friday bars are a bit of an institution, and each department holds one that anyone can attend, each with its own theme/drink specials/defining characteristics. Some have live music of various genres, others are known for their cocktails and others are popular for their gender imbalances. I.e. apparently there is a high chance you won’t pay for a drink if you are a female at the Maths department Friday bar. Klubben (meaning club) is the only faculty that only allows members (unless you pay a cover charge, and are with a member) hence being quite contentious.

As far as Universities meddling in the drinking culture, it appears the Danes are a great deal less PC when it comes to drinking than New Zealand, with the issue seemingly centring on competing with other faculties and excluding other students, rather than midweek drinking!

25. Un-learn English

Us kiwis, we love our slang. Already, a perfect example. We don’t even call ourselves ‘New Zealanders.’ Which has actually lead to a few funny looks here in the EU. There was some serious confusion as to why we would name ourselves after a bird/fruit instead of just refer to our country. I don’t even know if Denmark has a national animal – it was really hard to explain to Europeans who share borders with other countries!  Animals don’t respect borders like humans. In fact, as I write I am imagining animal border control in my head. It consists of a polar bear at a little customs desk telling a squirrel he has too many acorns to come to Scandinavia. Giggle.

Most people I have met so far are fluent English speakers of various backgrounds. The Danes speak brilliant English, and most of the exchanges students are European, but our classes are taught in English, so fluency is required. There aren’t, however, many native English speakers. And I am the only kiwi here.

I was asked by a few of the students to slow down because they couldn’t understand me, so I tried to pace myself and speak more clearly. However, after a while I realised that a lot of phrases I used were drawing blank stares. Much of the time, people weren’t correcting me, but assuming that their English wasn’t good enough and it was just a phrase they didn’t recognise. The gravity of the situation really sank in when the Americans couldn’t understand me.

One such example happened yesterday:

Harriet: Up to much tonight?

French student: What?

Harriet: Are you doing much tonight?

French student: I don’t know what you mean!

Harriet: Do you have any plans tonight?

French student:  Ooooh yes we’re going out!

It doesn’t seem so much of an issue with American English, or UK English, because the rest of the world watches American/British TV and movies and therefore understands their pop-culture references. Outside of the pacific, no-one watches NZ TV, so the net result is kiwis sounding like muppets idiots in foreign social situations.

Sharing witticisms and phrases you think are funny is an international cultural trend. It brings a sense of collegiality, like you are part of the group. Understanding what your friends mean is a way to share a common bond.  While a lot of my language is specific to my family, friends or others in New Zealand, I am quite sure the idea is universal. At least in the English language, anyway.  Back in NZ, however, it seems part of some of my friends’ entire social comedy routine to come up with the most ridiculous and outlandish phrases possible and bring them in to common usage.

Within my immediate family, we have a number of Geoghegan specific phrases that have evolved over time. Many of them actually derive from when my parents lived in the UK in their twenties. I think at the time they thought Cockney Rhyming Slang was just the bees knees   the best thing since sliced bread  hilarious – a perfect example of language as a social/cultural trend.

My favourite Geoghegan slang is “he’s got tickets,” used to describe someone who thinks of themselves rather highly/has a big ego. It originated from a conversation where my mother, when describing one such person, said he would “buy tickets to his own show.” I don’t even know if she was the first person to say it, but it has really caught on in the Geoghegan household!

Another classic moment was in my Integrated Marketing Communication class today. We were tasked with analysing ways to market alcopops to males. The first example that popped in to my head was Woodstock Bourbon and Coke – quite successful at targeting males I’d say I think, so I played my classmates the ad. I immediately realised I had to explain why ‘Crack a woody’ was funny. Which lead to a million and one colloquial euphemisms running through my head until I finally remembered the actual word I was looking for: erection.

I then thought I would tone it down a little and show them the L&P ‘Nothing Much ad,’ which really hits the nail on the head describes the situation well.

So now, whenever I am spinning a yarn, rallying the troops, having a mare, when something rips my knickers or grinds my gears, I have to really remind myself to describe my feelings and actions with proper English so those around me can actually understand. Either that or ASB Exchange Students Spring 2012 are going to learn some pretty messed up English.

Calling ourselves ‘Kiwis’ leads to quite a nice metaphor for why we love our slang – someone described it to me as sounding like we were a sports team, rather than a nationality.

6. 25 Hours in one seat

It wasn’t until the day of my flight that I actually worked out the amount of time I would be on the plane (that time zone changing business is deceptive, you know). 11 hours first leg, 14 second. Definitely the longest flight I have ever been on!

Before that I had a pretty long wait in Christchurch Airport (4 hours, plus the flight was delayed a further hour). I managed to get 90 minutes (instead of the usual 30) of free Wifi by logging in with three different devices: iPod, phone and laptop and three different email address. Proud of myself for that stroke of genius! I also started a movement by stealing couch cushions and sitting in the kids play area so I could plug in my phone and computer. Next thing it was packed with adults and their technical devices.

All kudos for airport ingenuity was out the door at the check in desk though. In in epic display of idiocy, the man behind the counter pointed out I had mispelled my own name when booking the flight. I knew I was going to do something stupid when booking everything, but that’s a special brand of idiocy right there.

For a brief few minutes I almost didn’t think I was going to be allowed on the plane (based on when the man behind the counter said “we can’t really allow you on the plane”). Luckily only one of the 3 G’s in Geoghegan was missing and my doe eyes worked a charm on the guy behind the counter. I was ready to whip out some tears but a little white lie: “Yeah, someone else booked it for me” was sufficent. Thank God. I didn’t want to check my Ryanair boarding pass because I had a hunch that the folk at Stansted wouldn’t be nearly as nice as Christchurch…

After that minor stressful moment, I was ready to go! Not as ready as this girl, though…

Pre-departure neck pillow

I had pre-booked my Air Asia comfort pack, an absolute winner. Note to anyone else thinking of flying air asia, bring your own earplugs too. I also pre-booked a meal on each flight. I was astonished that on the NZ-KL leg the meal cost $25 and from KL-London it was only $10. The only reasoning I could drum up was that they pass on the savings from buying ingredients in Malaysia to the passengers. I was pretty worried that I would get hungry on the flight – 2 meals in 25 hours isn’t much. And I get grumpy and forgetful if I don’t eat enough! So all afternoon I was carbo-loading like I was about to run a marathon. Anything with calories, send it my way! Turns out they did two rounds of food per leg, so my backup box of meusli bars wasn’t essential (but definitely handy). Judging by other passengers (and the smells wafting through the plane) the ‘Malaysian Meal’ was a winning choice, with the ‘European’ meal looking rather sad. I figured I ought to stick with what they know best.

First AirAsia Meal

Plus my love of all variations of asian food helps. I definitely would have eaten those meals again, which is lucky because I they were going to be my next two meals. Another bonus of the comfort pack was all the plastic wrapping it comes in. Next tip – don’t rip it all apart, the air hostesses don’t come round to get your meal rubbish and the pockets in front of you are tiny so they make for good resealable rubbish bags.

Second Airasia Meal

A lot of people seemed to screw their noses up at me when I said I was flying air asia, but it really was no different to most other flights apart from the lack of complementary anything. But who needs a few free drinks when the price difference is $400? If you really have problems going without you could buy one of the mini bottles at duty free… The seats went pretty far back too (compared with Jetstar) which was great until I was getting up to go to the bathroom and as I was squeezing past the girl on the end the guy in front put his seat back rather violently, resulting in my sitting awkwardly on her lap. On returning the guy in front wasn’t there so I kindly put his seat up for him.. We were about to land, after-all. Next tip: if you are a frequent toilet goer, book an aisle seat.

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, armed with a fistful of not so legally acquired prescription drugs I planned to knock myself out for the rest of the flight. I woke up very refreshed, just in time for my next meal (unnamed Malaysian rice concoction).

The second leg was much the same, only 3 hours longer. The sleeping pills didn’t do too much the first time, so I took two the second and slept on and off for most of the flight. One thing that was interesting was the difference between the meals on the first leg vs the second, particularly as they were meant to be the same. They were noticeably more stingy, but also a whole lot more spicy! I also learned from Captain Lim, a columnist in the in-flight magazine that being seated by the wings is the best place if you don’t like turbulence (plane’s centre of gravity) and down the back if you don’t like screaming babies (loudest engine noises).

Second round, decidedly more ‘average,’ to be polite

As per usual there were quite a few screaming babies on the plane. Every single time I fly I am astounded by how many parents don’t realise that when their ears are popping as the plane lands, their babies ears are popping too so of course the child is going to cry. On one of the flightsI actually gave a child a lollipop to shut it up – worked a treat! I laughed at Dad when he gave me corporate branded lollipops from work as a joke farewell but they were actually quite useful.

5. Reduce my material possessions to <30kgs

This is a big deal for me. I’m a massive hoarder. Not quite worthy of a 60 minutes episode, but I hate to waste things or even throw things out that may have a potential future use.

The mental process required to just cast my possessions aside, no matter how precious, useful or expensive they were has been made a lot simpler as I really don’t have much of a choice. I haven’t yet booked a return flight, and while I could leave things a bunch of things with mum and dad in Wellington, my bedroom was long ago converted to a guest room. My bright yellow walls painted inoffensive pale blue. My Enrique Iglesias posters removed…*

My objective is to get through every airport (I have to pass through 5, not including landing in Aarhus) with no overweight baggage issues. On every single long trip I can remember I have been well above the weight limit, but I have always managed to talk my out of a fee. In fact on many occasions I have really pulled out all the stops. Everything from befriending businessmen on day trips in the queue and convincing them to check in with me, to flirting, to doe eyes as I explain I am moving back to NZ and it was oh-so-hard to pack my whole life in to this here giant suitcase.

My favourite was a full on spectacle of crocodile tears in Tokyo with a number of classmates and my Japanese teacher in on it (she was actually the orchestrator of this fiasco). As we tore items out of my suitcase and put them in to others, completely blocking the check-in queue, the poor, polite little Japanese check-in counter operators did not know how to deal with this noisy mess of 14-year-old girls, clothes and newly purchased Japanese electronics blocking the counters. Eventually they waived me through just to get us out-of-the-way and I got my extra 10kgs of accumulated souvenirs to New Zealand, free of the $600 charge.

Packing my life in to a 20kg suitcase and 10kg carry-on bag has been an absolute mission. Especially considering I am packing for winter in Denmark, summer backpacking all around Europe and then transitioning back to winter in Prague, all whilst being properly equipped to study. It has almost been like a game show, with round after round of ‘Suitcase Idol’ gradually heading toward the winning collection of items.

The first auditions were held in Dunedin, once I decided to stay in Brisbane to save up for my travels. There were a number of instant no’s from the judges. Just like the obese Texan who describes his occupation as a professional World of War Craft player and is in a cowboy hat yodeling, it was entertaining going through my things but most items didn’t stand a chance. All furniture was donated to my sister for her first flat next year; study notes, posters and things that can only be described as ‘crap’ were chucked out. Judging was more difficult on some things: piano books, winter clothes to take to Denmark, sentimental items. These were boxed up to be stored with the parents. The vast majority was culled, but a great deal either made it to the Brisbane round or skipped to the next round in Wellington.

About 10% of contestants made it to the Brisbane round. For the lucky few, they made it through customs and got a fair bit of use in Brisbane. Largely summer clothes and of course the necessities: laptop, phone, iPod, backpack, straightener, hairdryer, a few special photos to stick on my wall and make me feel at home, and a tonne of cosmetic products. Upon leaving Brisbane, things were stepped up another notch. Half the contestants had to be cut to make room for winter clothes, the backpack had to fit in to the suitcase. There were a few special guests featured on the show. Never in the running but always quick to pop in to my mind were the things i would have to buy when I get to Denmark, despite already owning. Sheets, towels, blankets, shampoo, conditioner etc. Seemed such a shame to throw out the things I already owned in Brisbane when I was going to have to buy them again in 2 months, but I didn’t really have a choice.

Things really heated up in Wellington. This was where the audience got to vote and there were a number of guest judges. First guest judge: family friend who lives in Copenhagen and recommended a number of items to buy in NZ. Woollen tights (mmmm Merino) added to the suitcase. Guest judge number two was a very helpful man named Rick Steve, who writes a blog about travelling in Europe. He strongly advocates for travelling for as long as you can with everything you need in a backpack small enough to qualify for hand luggage on a plane. Loads of useful tips, but ultimately not necessary until I go backpacking in the middle of the year. A number of other blogs from international students and travellers proved very helpful, as well as chats with friends who had been travelling before. Handy hints included a NZ multi plug to go with my travel adapter and some good packing secrets.

The semi finals were held the weekend before I set off. I put everything in my suitcase and weighed it. It was under 20kgs but I would need to have all my shoes in my carry on bag. No contestants were eliminated but the judges had a lot to consider before the finals.

The final is always a long episode and this time the audience weighed in heavily. I put everything in my suitcase, then realised my carry on backpack fitted less than anticipated. Many elimination rounds ensued and items of clothing were individually voted on and eliminated. Everything was tightly rolled, most cosmetic products and jewellery were thrown out or donated to my sister. I tried not to think about how much they were collectively worth. Many suggestions were received from the audience and a few different carry on bags were auditioned. I opted not to take the largest one as small ones are less likely to be weighed. After 3 more quickfire rounds of weigh – cull – weigh, finally I had 20kgs in my suitcase and one small backpack. Just in time to down some dinner and race to the airport.

*I wish I had had Enrique on my wall. My teenage years would surely have been that much more enjoyable…

4. Prove a Mexican wrong

Today I decided to try somewhere new for lunch. Given the amount of wine consumed last night my salad from home really wasn’t going to cut the mustard. I wanted cheese and carbs.

I had heard about a Mexican place in Lambton Square which sounded perfect. I quickly spotted it – it had the biggest queue. Turns out the place is called QBT, meaning Quesadillas, Burritos and Tacos. Funnily enough, the name is also the menu.

They have a pretty smooth operation going on there, with three staff members, all of whom are mexican, making your food right in front of you. The guy at the end of the production line then calls you over to ask what sort of sauces you would like. Or more specifically whether or not you want it spicy. I said yes please, having developed quite the taste for spicy things over the years. In part due to the most amazing chilli sauce at my all time favourite Restaurant – ‘The Asian Restaurant’ in Dunedin. The other key influence was my incredibly talented Indian flatmate who made the best curries (he makes his own curry powder!), but was irritated by his flatmates’ inability to handle the hotness. At first he was sly about it, and lulled us in to a false sense of security by offering to make us delicious mild curries more often than he need to. After a while it all came out that he was slowly but surely increasing the spiciness so that he could make his curries just as he liked them on his cooking night. Quite genius really, as being unable to handle a good level of spice is practically a disability.

I don’t know what it is about me, but whenever I order something spicy I aways get that quizzical ‘Are you sure?’ look. Well this time, little mexican boy was holding my Quesadilla hostage, giving me a skeptical face that screamed out ‘I don’t think you can handle my spice, little Kiwi girl’ and said “You are going to cry.” Defiantly, I let him know I had eaten whole chillies before (actually a kind of stupid move, at Big Thumb restaurant – someone suggested the chilli challenge and Competitive Harriet came out. The stupid part was that we had finished all of our wine and had nothing but water to follow). He laughed at me and once again stated that no, I was definitely going to cry.

Sitting down at the table, I was so determined to prove I could get through my Quesadilla with no tears that I ate it twice as fast. My nose was running and my lips were so tingly even paw-paw lip balm didn’t help, but my eyes were drier than the Sahara. Win. It was a damn spicy sauce he put in there though, I’ll give him that.