Odds & Ends
Useful Danish Phrases: In truth, everyone in Copenhagen speaks English, often better than native speakers. But, if you find the one monolingual Dane left in the city, be prepared to say: Hej (“Hi” and pronounced the same) Hej Hej or Vi ses (“Bye” and “See you later”), Jeg taler ikke Dansk (“I don’t speak Danish”; pronounced almost like “Yai talla egga Dansk”), Taler du Engelsk (“Do you speak English?”), and maybe Jeg vil gerne have en kylling i pita (“I’d like a chicken kebab”). Language schools like IA Sprog and Studieskolen offer free tuition to any registered resident of Denmark. Although the vocabulary and grammar are fairly simple to pick up, the Danish language is notoriously difficult to pronounce, but if you’re already fluent in whale song you should have no trouble.
Danish Culture: As mentioned earlier, you won’t often find “single-serving friends” in Copenhagen. The other side of this is that Danes don’t give away their friendship quite as readily as, for instance, Americans do, and for that reason are often (wrongly) interpreted as shy, reserved, cold, or even standoffish. Beneath superficialities, you will find a complex and endlessly surprising populace, very much like the city itself.
The Danish people have been described as a “tribe” rather than a truly multi-cultural “nation”: there is a strong emphasis on conformity and also a strong impetus to care for the less fortunate members of the tribe. This goes some way to explaining their extraordinary penchant for service, charity, and the welfare state, juxtaposed as it is with persistent failures to integrate Copenhagen’s growing immigrant community into the cultural fabric of the city. This presents a problem as nearly a quarter of the city’s population now has non-Danish ancestry.
Danes do not share the American preoccupation with political correctness, to say the least, and this takes some getting used to. The positive aspect of this is that you will be treated to blunt honesty; there’s much less beating around the bush than in English speaking nations. Characteristically, there is no word for “please” in Danish. Whether you take this as refreshing or as a barbaric remnant left over by Vikings-past is up to you.
Hygge: The untranslateable Danish word hygge (adjective: hyggelig) is often seen as capturing a major aspect of the collective Danish psyche. The word denotes a feeling or situation that is roughly speaking, cozy, combining elements of contentedness, warmth, being among close friends, and relaxation. A typically hyggelig situation might involve a few friends drinking gløgg (mulled wine) by the fire on plush couches in a hobbit hole. Råhygge, literally “raw hygge”, is even weirder…
Danish?: The sweet pastry that Americans call a “Danish” actually originated in Vienna and is called wienerbrød (“Viennese bread”) in Denmark. It was popularized in New York City in the early 20th century by a Danish confectioner, hence the confusion.
J-Dag: “J-Dag” (English: J-Day) is an unofficial holiday celebrating the seasonal release of Christmas beers (“Julebryg” or “Juleøl”) by Copenhagen’s major brewing companies and occurs every year on the first Friday of November. Free beer and gifts are given out in many of the city’s bars and the public squares host foam-drenched dance parties for revelers masquerading as Santa Claus. The following day is jokingly called “D-Dag” in reference to the terrible hangover.
Danish Music: Unfortunately perhaps, Aqua may be Denmark’s most famous band, but rest-assured that their mind-melting brand of bubblegum Eurodance-pop, typified in the song “Barbie Girl,” is entirely anomalous. As a rule of thumb though, Danish musicians, go for “different” and often end up at “weird,” which can be wonderful. Spleen United, for instance, are prominent electro-rockers. More characteristic of Denmark’s popular brand of indie-by-default alt-rock (complete with English vocals) are bands like Mew, No and the Maybes, Moi Caprice, Carpark North, Blue Foundation and Choir of Young Believers. Post-rockers Efterklang, Under Byen, and Alcoholic Faith Mission are good representatives of their genre, as is shoegaze outfit The Raveonettes and the folky Figurines. Also worth checking it out is the ultra far-out Tiger Tunes and the Zeppelin-esque blues band The Blue Van. R&B singer Medina is the undisputed queen of Danish pop, first landing on the international top-40 charts with her single “Kun for Mig.”
Danish Film: Danish film has experienced something of a renaissance over the last twenty or so years with the rise of a number of internationally acclaimed directors and actors, led by the ever-controversial director Lars von Trier. In 1995, Trier became a founding member of the avant-garde film collective Dogme 95, along with Thomas Vinterberg, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, and Kristian Levring, whose obsessive desire to capture the pure art of filmmaking in their work was codified in a provocative manifesto. Festen, Dogme’s first film, was directed by Thomas Vinterberg and helped to usher in this new wave of Danish cinema. It features the kind of black humor, psychological trauma, and mournful soul-searching that is typical of so many Scandinavian films and invites you to wonder what lurks beneath the surface of these, the “happiest” people in the world. Von Trier, the only director ever kicked out of Cannes Film Festival, is as colorful and difficult to interpret as his movies. Some of the more well-known of these (which often have English-speaking actors) include Breaking the Waves, Antichrist, Melancholia, and Nymphomaniac (NB: none of these are for the faint of heart). For less art-housey entertainment, the Pusher trilogy takes you to the seedier places in Copenhagen, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a mid-level drug dealer. Pelle Erobren (Pelle the Conqueror), on the other hand, is the classic Danish film, set in rural Denmark in the early 20th century and revolving around the misfortunes of a newly immigrated Swedish family as they struggle to find their place in Danish society.