May 21, 2013 “Each one, pick-up One”
People often ask me what is it like in Denmark? I take that to mean how is it distinct from life in the USA or where ever that inquirer lives. I can begin to answer by saying it is like most modern cities with busy streets of traffic and many people moving through thronging crowds. It has its street people beggars, and it’s enterprising polse stands, which are hot dogs in fat and skinny varieties,some in buns some not. It has stores and shoppers, and banks and corporate presence, such as 7-11 franchises, McDonald’s, IKEA, and Burger King. Fact is, if no one told me, I was in Denmark but left me standing on a city street in front of a bus stop, I’d be hard pressed to prove I was not in a bustling American city, that is if I did not look down or step off the curb.
I guess, as I have said before, the side walks are distinctly different from those of the cities I’ve lived in, more narrow, divided into left and right by smaller slabs of concrete and often complemented by cobblestone bricks, slightly uneven in height and tricky for the step. Right next to the side walk is a healthy bike lane in which hordes of cyclists roar by in an endless stream of motion. And the bikes are not all structured the same. One typically thinks of the “boys” bike as with a bar, and the female with no bar,making a U. But Denmark bicycle makers have the corner on construction, and they make men’s and women’s bikes with reinforced structures: added features to the handle bars and body, with and without fenders, thick or thin tires and bodies; some look like mountain bikes but aren’t; some are bicycles built for three, but carry mother (or father) and two children–one back, one front. Some have big, wide-mouth tubs on the front like a wheel barrow. Children ride inside. Some have coverings with vinyl window panes. What fun it must be for the kids. What balance these parents must have to trust trolleying their borne in the fearsome bike traffic next to the car lanes.
At no time is there a bike lane without a rider; they travel night and day; peddling into the wind or the rain, peddling in attire that startles me. Dressed for work, in suits and handsome shoes, they ride. Dressed for a party, in dress and stockings, heels and jewelry, they ride. Dressed in bulky reinforced winter wear, they hunker over the handlebars like explorers on a mission to the North Pole. The wear various scarfs at the neck, all wrapped in a kind of standard roll–two times around the neck with the long end flipped under and over to make a kind of ascot. This is worn by men and women. Snow,sleet, drizzle or “blaseveret” (wind). Many never cover their red ears and noses. And, know, when I say “Dane”, I do not code “white” Danes. I am saying the Danish people; all who live here, participate in a kind of common culture and way of being. Those who are ethnically different are not different in participating in the cycle culture; nor are they different in their attitude toward day light and sunshine, and the pleasures of doing or enjoying the same. Muslim, Hindu, French,Russian, Norwegian, African, Spanish, others, and all move around in native garb or not, freely, in groups or alone, all Danes.
Daily life consists of travel to and from work, to and from stores, to and from walking one’s child, to and from walking one’s dog, to and from church if there is an event, to and from a favorite hang-out for “middag” meal. Those not on bicycles or driving the everyman’s compact or mid-sized car, walk. Cars or “bil” here are small, gas saving, and monotonous,every now and then you see a red one, a full-sized one, but mostly Fiat, Citron, Saab, and Peugeot. Once in a while a Ford or a Chevy. A rare SUV, few sport trucks. Vans and shipping rigs rumble the streets blocking exits for the right side . Danes drive on the right side of the road and on the left side of the car as in the USA.
But if one has no car, or is not using a bike, Danes seem to have no trouble walking with two or three bags. They carry their arm loads of groceries (or whatever) home without complaint or apparent struggle. It is a fact of the Danish life, a matter of fact. It is a practiced behavior. And, they pay for the bags to carry those groceries in. Of course, one can bring a plastic bag or two to “bag” one’s own groceries, but if you forget, 5 Danish kroner will get you one. Yes, you pay for your bags and you load them to go. Otherwise, you walk out the store with the goods in your hands. It’s graceless. And yes, for all of their ecological consciousness, Dane’s use plastic bags,but recycling is mandatory in every housing complex.
Lines in the grocery stores, most small by comparison to American super markets, are long at supper time, and the wait for one’s turn is made harder by having no large baskets to wheel up to the counter to wait. The stores are close and supplies seemingly limited. But one can get most meats, staples, and condiments. Anything American, like Sunmaid Raisins are more expensive. Danes like fresh products of quality and they tend to buy only what they need, not large stockable supplies (for national disasters and sudden misfortune. They do not think like that.)
The cashier sits mostly–which is a considerate modification on what I know from back home in the USA. The automatic belt that moves one’s cluster of items forward is shorter and constricted. The cashiers accept something called the Dankort or Danish debit card. They do not accept foreign credits cards, even the major ones. Danmark is rapidly discontinuing the use of paper money. Food is expensive, costing approximately $12.00 for a pound of butter, i.e 26-32 dkk (Danish kroner). Cereal the same. Bread more. Vegetables purchasable but still hard on the purse. Bell peppers cost three times as much as in a “savings” super market.Four of the big name grocery stores or” butiks” are the Netto, Irma store, Fotex, and Bilko. There are other little convenience grocers and open air- veggie markets some times identified as Kobemand. (I have no use of the null for the spelling of certain words like “polse” “Kobenhaven” and “Kobemand”. Please note and allow here.)
Anytime one is walking, one will be passed by the swift and constant biker:women, men, children, sports enthusiasts, senior citizens, parents, and representatives of the biking way of life. (Smile). One may often hear the thudding beat of the running shoe growing closer and closer, more audible behind one, as the running population–old and young,–pound by as an exercise group or as a fitness icon. People run any time, all the time. They dress in sports clothing made of special sweat absorbing, body supporting elastics. Some wear the red and white of the Danish flag;others wear black form-fitting tights with a two color top. It seems to be a national obsession. I am always surprised at the agility and stamina of the white haired people I see running with zest and power.
From the bus or train windows, I often watch the flow of life in Danmark. Now that I am getting my wings, and can travel alone from home to one of the several shopping and living areas which includes Nordport, Vesterport, Oesterport and the central station at Kobehaven H, I am witness to lots of new construction, the way people decorate their apartment windows, and I can read the signs advertising events, selling technology, and advising the public of changes in the transportation travel card. These sights provide me with on-going installments of variety. The S-tog,commuter trains–are expanding the lines and widths of the tracks. Old buildings are being refurbished. New modern office buildings “kontor” are rising. I watch the progress as I pass and pass again another day. Because I go weekly to a Danish language tutorial, I use the time to take “excursions” here and there.
The windows of the apartments and the living spaces above the inset stores below, satisfy my voyeur’s curiosity. Some city dwellers hang thin curtains at their windows –mostly white–to allow the light of day. The Danes have long, dark, winter days with only 5-7 hours of light. The spring and summers have a glut of it, and less than 3-4 hours of dark. So when they are up and about, they want that sunshine or day light like the starving want the littlest taste of food. The windows also have plants, candles, flags, and lamps in them. There is a homogeneous commonality in this.
Today, two beggars got on the S-tog I was riding, the B to Taastroppe. They asked in Danish for a hand-out. Though not together and separate by a station stop or two, they seemed shameless about asking. One man put a few coins in the man’s cup. No one gave the woman who asked anything, including me.
I am usually a soft touch, and a few weeks ago, I did give a sizable kroner to a woman sitting in the rain at the exit from the S-tog. But Vivi cautioned me against this practice as there are social programs to deal with it more efficiently and some of these people are faking their suffering state of impoverishment. But not, all….
What I have really found unacceptable in Denmark is the litter. While they keep most broad public driving boulevards, (called “gade” or “vej” ), clean, people can be unconscious about the trash they throw down. Smokers, sports and exercise freaks, snackers on the run, and casual drinkers, discard beer and soda, protein bottles, empty cigarette packs, and papers of all kinds along the route of the cyclists, and walkers. I became so annoyed with the piles of trash bordering the local overpass at the S-tog station entry on Emdrupvej that I called the city hall and the transportation authority. They said they were unfunded to clean the areas I mentioned and that they hoped to be able to do a once a year clean up in June. It was not what I wanted to hear. I made the case that the refuse was drawing rodents and creating bacteria air borne to cause health concerns, but it did no good. I was left with no recourse except to clean the mess up myself.
Now, I was on the San Jose Clean Up program for many years in the USA, so I have a sort of obsession about keeping the city I live in clean. When I first came to Denmark in 2011, I saw it as a clean and beautiful city, but now I see so much litter on the platforms where the trains run, along the curb-sides of the streets, blowing up and down the “vej” and so many cigarette butts it is unconscionable. So, yes, I got myself a nice pair of gloves, a big plastic bag from the Fitness World staff, who have a building that faces Emdrupvej, and I asked them if it would be all right is I picked up litter and put it in their dumpster. They said yes. I also asked them to call the City and to call the train people at DSB to come clean up the valley of trash along the tracks and at the overpass. They said they would.
It took me less than an hour to do that, and I was pleased to do it, and felt I was showing the Spirit of Denmark my love. After all Denmark has shown it loves me. Since I have been here I have found a hat, a pair of gloves, a pair of golden slippers, two S=tog transportation passes, lots of kroner in coin, and more recently 700 kroner in bills. I have a sense that I am called here,and that I am in vibratory rhythm with the goodness that surrounds the place. After I finished, I spoke aloud to the Presence of All That Is, saying, “I know I can’t clean up all of Denmark alone, and there is always more trash to pick up. So, I promise to pick up one piece of trash each day as I go. That promise I am keeping. I am also telling others about it. Asking “each one to pick up one.” That’s my slogan. I am hoping it catches on.
In the next installment, I will share a painful encounter that Vi and I had on the streets of Vesterport. Thanks for reading my blog.