Vi ses Denmark!

My time in Denmark has come to a close…I’m now back in the States and already missing the home I made Aarhus. How strange to feel homesick for the people and place I have only known for 5 months. It doesn’t really feel as if I studied abroad, but rather just moved somewhere new to give myself a fresh start. Aside from school I had a job, favorite coffee shops and art galleries, and found a beautiful little anarchist/vegan/art community house to live at when things got too damn expensive to stay in my apartment. Never did I expect to so quickly find a niche. It would have been easy to just stay and live there, but I guess it would be just as easy to go back. A tip to all travelers, Denmark is a friendly place for absolutely everyone..and the summertime is filled with art and music festivals (and you get awesome perks if you volunteer for them). 

What I liked most about Denmark, though, is that it is nothing like the States. I thought, before coming, that it may not be so culturally different as I had wanted and maybe Spain or Eastern Europe would have given me a better experience. Yes, it is a highly modern, Western country, but aside from that there are many aspects of American culture that Danes just can’t wrap their heads around. Like not knowing what a healthy diet is. Most Danes are very health-conscious and active. Or having to pay for healthcare and school. Marriage has been a right for EVERYONE since 2012–before that, same-sex couples could get registered partnerships. Most of the country is Atheist, but if you want to practice your religion, hell, go ahead as long as you don’t push it on anyone else or bring it into government. Most people take 1-4 years off and travel before going to University. Family and close friendships are highly valued as well as self-care and ensuring your own personal happiness. When the clock hits 5, you are done with work and no one would expect or demand you work longer. Never once while working at the bar did I hear someone complain about working. Bosses and employees, students and teachers, are all equals. In fact, it is highly looked down upon for anyone to think or act as if they are better than anyone else. There are no box stores or large shopping malls.  And although things are expensive, people don’t buy a lot of things. They spend money once on something nice and useful and take care of it long-term. You can take a bus or train almost anywhere, no matter how rural, but hitch-hiking is safe and relatively easy. And you can drink openly on the streets.

That was kind of a hodgepodge of information, but you get the idea. And it’s not just policies and lifestyles that make it different, the entire mindset is radically different from that in the States. It’s really something you have to experience to understand and even in the end I was finding something new about the Danes most every day.

They definitely fare well in the welfare state. I don’t think it’s the place I would want to spend the rest of my life…but if you are looking for some peace of mind and a place where you can just be, Denmark will give you just that. 

Vi ses to all I left behind, see you someday soon.

Hjort Fest

Bring on the sunshine!

This weekend (and past few days) the sun came out to stay and warm our winter bones. Perfect timing as it was the weekend of Hjort fest–a small outdoor festival held at one of the eco communities I am writing about. The community itself, Andelssamfundet (yea, i know…), is of about 150 people in all age ranges. Houses or apartments are either owned, partially owned, or rented so it’s pretty accessible to all financial capacities. There’s a lot to say about the history of it but I’ll probably bore you geeking out on it….

What’s really special though is its program for mentally handicapped people. One of the housing groups is dedicated for young men with varied abilities who are able to live and work in the community. The goal is to provide social interaction and participation for the men while finding them jobs that they are happy and successful in doing. Though the festival started so the community could raise money to buy a pice of land, Hjort fest is now held yearly to raise money for this housing group (also its super fun and Danes love any reason to party).

It was a bit unfortunate that I was totally exhausted from exams/moving out/Distortion (a festival I went to in Copenhagen that’s called distortion for a very good reason…ay). Most of the weekend I just enjoyed the music and sunshine while trying to give my brain a rest. I volunteered cooking with Folkenkoken—this vegetarian “people’s kitchen” some friends and I go to in Aarhus. A lot of the food was donated and everyone was really creative in making some awesome meals! There was also homemade ice cream made there at the community…damn.

But the best part of course was the music…because when Danes drink, they dance, and all the different ages/types of people made for a beautiful mess of happy, groovin’ people. For as small as the festival was, there were 3 stages with totally unique atmospheres and a bit of something for everyone. I really have to hand it to all the people who planned Hjort fest for creating a small little paradise in their backyard. EVERYTHING was decorated and given life in some way. Colorful crochets wrapped around the trees, fairly lights in the forest, paintings hug on the fence in front of the cows, flowers planted in old shoes, anything funky and fun you could imagine was there.

If anyone is interested in learning about the community itself please ask! In many ways, the Danes do it right and we could take a few notes from them 🙂

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Dane-ish

A little late on the blog posts…but here it goes. Time here in Denmark has gone so quickly! I would say it’s been a whirlwind adventure, but Denmark is too relaxed for that. It’s been more of a cozy–or hygge–time. For those of you who don’t know anything about Denmark, hygge is probably the most important thing to learn. Like most Danish words, it sounds nothing like it is spelled and is pronounced “who-gae”, or “hue-gah”.  There’s no real translation for it in English, but basically its spending a really intimate, cozy time with friends or family that involves a lot of candles. Or really just enjoying the pleasure of doing things not matter how simple they are. Which is probably one of the reasons Denmark is considered the happiest country on Earth.

Soooo…is Denmark the happiest country in the world? That’s what we’re all wondering here, isn’t it? Well yes, and no…I think. It’s hard to say really because my experience has been surprising and rewarding in so many ways that I, of course, have been very happy here. But to say that everyone in Denmark is “happier” would be an oversimplification of how it got that reputation in the first place.

It seems that every Dane is eager to talk about how I perceive them. Every conversation—and I mean EVERY conversation—I have had with a Danish person( which is a lot) we always get around to why Denmark is so different. Honestly, the reasons are quite obvious.

  1. There is a standard level of equality for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  2. Education is free for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  3. Health care is free for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  4. It is, for the most part, completely safe (parents just leave their babies in strollers outside coffee shops…)
  5. There is a strong amount of pride in being Danish

Of course, the country has its issues, but as a whole, it is an extremely livable place. And paying almost half your income in taxes? No biggie. Because taxes go back to the people and the welfare state will take care of you.

So it really depends on how happiness is measured. I would say that Denmark is one of the most content and peaceful places in the world. Prescription drug usage is a semi-big problem here and a lot of people I know are not what most people deem as “happy”. There’s a lot of cultural and societal reasons to this that we could talk hours about–the psychology of Scandinavian culture as a whole is extremely interesting and worth experiencing. But at the end of the day, Denmark is a comfortable, hygge place to live.

Aarhus, the city I live in and the second largest in Denmark, is always alive with art openings and music festivals. Never a shortage of cool things to do here! One of my favorite experiences has been volunteering at a non-profit bar downtown called Fairbar. Lots of local beers to taste and Danish people to meet. The Danes are a unique kind who have a reputation for seeming stand-offish, but are very kind and super awesome once they get comfortable with you! (or drunk…)

There’s so so much more to talk about but then I would be writing forever. It will be sad to leave this cozy little place. Next two posts will be about a sustainable living community I have been visiting and something called Folkekøkken (folke-kooken…?).

it's like a postcard...

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Hope all you GLI-ers are having a happy summer!