The Biggest Small Town in Denmark

The Prettiest Street in Aarhus

Just thought I would pass the word along: Rick Steves – the ultimate travel guru – just did a write up about Aarhus. I first found it on the travel blog for The Courant, but I’ve heard that his article is syndicated and probably goes to all kinds of papers and blogs across the interwebs. We better get ready for an influx of cruise ships! :) Because of course Steves sings Aarhus’ praises. How could he not? He quickly goes through all of the highlights to hit if you’re visiting the city – the same things we took our families to see when they all visited, whew, we didn’t miss anything! – so it’s a really good post to check out if you’re thinking of visiting Aarhus but don’t really know what it has to offer. So if you’re feeling curious about what a professional tourist has to say about the city, go check it out. Or visit the part of his website about Aarhus to do some planning for your own trip!

The Danish Holidays May Throw You For a Loop

Why the flag? Because in Denmark every holiday of every kind is celebrated by decorating with and flying the Danish flag. Go Dannebrog!

Why the flag? Because in Denmark every holiday of every kind is celebrated by decorating with and flying the Danish flag. Go Dannebrog!

So, speaking of Sankhans aka midsummer aka a holiday I’ve never heard of before coming to Denmark…

OK, OK, I’ve heard of midsummer. I’m not an animal. And I do read a lot of fantasy novels. But I’d never heard of the tie in with St. John the Baptist. (Leave it to those Catholics to so blatantly hijack a pagan holiday.) Nor have I heard of the Burn all the Witches! tradition. I thought midsummer was all about picking herbs to get them at their most magically potent and dancing around poles with flowers and jumping over fires for guaranteed fertility in the coming year. Not sending witches back to Germany… (hehe, that still cracks me up, every time.)

Yeah, so speaking of crazy holidays, I wrote another post over at Panorama about adjusting to the Danish holidays. Because they can take some getting used to at first, especially if you’re from the US.

Why? I’ll give you a hint: it’s because they’re all based on religious holidays, which will really blow your mind if you’re used to separation of church and state. (Or, my mind is just easily blown – which Brian tells me is the truth – and no one else but me really cares about this.)

BUT there’s something else about their holidays that really could blow your mind: they’re all in the spring. Literally, all of them except for Christmas. There are no holidays between June and December. What’s up with that?! I miss all my fall holidays!

So go read and enjoy :)

The Land of the Midnight Sun

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Denmark is not the land of the midnight sun. That title belongs only to places above the Arctic Circle where the sun actually does not set at night.

BUT… Denmark is getting pretty close. This coming Saturday, the 21st, is the longest day of the year, Midsummer’s Day aka the summer solstice. And on that day, the sun will rise at 4:30am and set at 10:15pm, giving us a total of almost 18 hours of sunlight.

Which is pretty awesome if you think about it. But also maybe not so awesome? Because it wreaks havoc with my sleep schedule. At first I thought it was because it stays light so late, so it makes turning your brain off and actually falling asleep more difficult.

I mean, just look at what 10pm looks like in Aarhus!

10pm Sky in Aarhus

10pm Sky in Aarhus

 

It’s like it gets to 3pm, and it just never gets any darker than that. And even when the sun does finally set, the twilight lingers until well after 11pm. And it’s bright enough that I don’t need any lights if I have to get up to make my way to the bathroom.

But I’ve recently decided that the really hard part is the early morning sun. I keep waking up at 5:00 in the morning and thinking it’s well past 8:00, then finding it difficult to go back to sleep. It’s crazy bananas.

Luckily, I’ve dug out a sleeping mask we bought for long plane trips and have been wearing that to bed. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to get any sleep at all as I’m a fairly light sleeper.

This is what I'm like to the sun in the morning.

I’m not the best morning person.

We’re trying to decide what we should do to mark the occasion of midsummer night. We may try to stay up all night and see the sun rise, but we’ll see if we actually do it in the end. I never was one for all nighters.

The Danes actually celebrate the occasion on June 23rd, what they call Sankthans (their version of the Catholic holiday St. John’s Day, celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist). And they mark this holiday with huge bonfires over which effigies of witches are burned. I’m not even kidding. Actually, they burn them to send them off to Germany, where, clearly, all the evil witches belong.

We’ll definitely try to track down some of the bonfires and see how the Danes celebrate this holiday. If you’re in Aarhus for the occasion, you can check this calendar to find some bonfires near you.

More Blogging Than You Can Handle

Hi everyone. Sorry about the lack of posts and general MIA-ness recently. We just got back from a trip to Stockholm over this past long weekend, the last public holiday we’ll see in a long time, until Christmas! I’ll have a post on all our adventures as soon as I can get the pictures loaded onto my computer.

But until then I wanted to let you all know that I’ve started blogging for a magazine here in Aarhus called Aarhus Panorama. I’m kind of like the resident foreigner, writing about the outsider’s perspective on Aarhus. The audience is mostly Danes, so it will be a bit different than what I write here.

So if you just can’t get enough of me and want to read even more, head over there to check out my other posts. I’ll let you all know when a new one goes up. I’ve just started writing – and really their website has just launched – so I only have one post so far. It’s about traveling in Europe when you’re already an expat, and you can find it here.

Cheers!

Summer’s Almost Here!

Finally we’re seeing some sun in Denmark. We were in Copenhagen last week and had beautiful weather the whole time, which is a first. Usually it rains nonstop every time we’re there. Though it’s a little cooler and cloudier here in Aarhus, I can finally glimpse summer around the corner. So in honor of the coming summer, I thought I’d make a little list of what this turning of the seasons means for someone like me living in Denmark:

  1. Light! June 21st is the longest day of the year, and every day we get closer to that date we’re seeing longer and longer nights. We get almost 3 minutes more sunlight every day, to be exact. Tonight, the sun isn’t supposed to set until 9:47pm, and the twilight lingers until 10:30 or so. After a dark winter and gloomy spring, this extra light is very much appreciated.

    A picture of Marselisborg Lystbådehavn.

    A picture of Marselisborg Lystbådehavn at sunset. This was taken at about 9:40pm over the weekend.

  2. Parties in the park. The sun is so much appreciated that the minute work is over people flood the parks of Denmark to hang out in the sun. I’m in no way exaggerating. It looks like people waiting for the fireworks to start on the 4th of July. In Copenhagen we stayed near the King’s Garden by Rosenborg, and at 2pm people started trickling in. By 5pm, the park was PACKED. Of course, we were right there along with everyone, enjoying our pizza al fresco.Partying in the Park

    Mmm, pizza.

    Who puts salad on a pizza?! 

  3. Late night walks. Because of the light nights, we’ve started taking more walks after dinner, even as late as 9pm, while the sun is setting. It’s really fantastic.Sunset Walk
  4. Sunglasses. (Is this really the fourth item on the list that has to do with the increased sunlight? Why yes, yes it is. It really is that important.) I don’t know if this is just me, but I swear the sunlight here is stronger or brighter or something. I noticed this when we first arrived last summer, too. As a result, if I go outside for a few hours without my sunglasses, I’m guaranteed to get a headache. So now my sunglasses, which I never used to wear in the US, go on as soon as I leave the house. It has the added benefit of making me look really cool.

    Yep, super cool.

    Yep, super cool.

  5. Flowers. They enjoy the sun, too, and they are everywhere right about now and soooo pretty.IMG_1961
  6. Strawberries. The coming summer means that we’re starting to see more variety in the produce at the grocery store. I actually saw whole pineapples the other day! (And bought one immediately.) And bing cherries. Those are my favorite. I can’t wait until later in the season when they arrive really ripe. But the one most important fruit for a Danish summer is the Danish strawberry. They’re really big on strawberries around here, and I have to say that I don’t blame them. I bought this batch just the other day, and they are without a doubt some of the best strawberries I’ve ever eaten. Yum!The Delicious Berry
  7. Softis. It’s like someone took your everyday soft serve ice cream, stirred in a healthy portion of whipped cream, and served it to you on a cone. It’s the traditional Danish ice cream and a special summer treat. And it’s delicious.  But the Danes love ice cream of any kind, and the minute it is even a little warm and sunny outside you’ll see people lined up out the door to get some. The only kind of ice cream I’ve had trouble finding here is the harder kind that’s more typical in the US. We’ve pretty much had to buy some (veeeery expensive) Ben & Jerry’s cartons at the store if we’re craving that texture. But it’s not really necessary because the soft ice cream (resembling gilato) that is all over in Aarhus is really yummy.
    Nom nom nom. The strawberry swirl is our favorite flavor.

    Nom nom nom. The strawberry swirl is our favorite flavor.

     

So that, so far, is what late spring/early summer in Denmark means for us. Hopefully soon we’ll get to try some other Danish summer traditions like grilling outside and visiting the West coast for a dip in the ocean. But we’re pretty happy with what we’ve got so far.

Huge Oversight, More Baby Names

Sorry guys but I just realized that in my last post I didn't actually link to Denmark's list of approved baby names. What kind of a blogger am I?! But better last than never, right? So without further ado, here is the list:

http://www.familiestyrelsen.dk/samliv/navne/soeginavnelister/godkendtefornavne/

It's the list for first names. It's searchable and browsable like many other baby name websites if anyone wants to just dive in and have fun. It's also in Danish… But if you use Google a Chrome it will auto translate to English for you. It may translate some of the names, but there's not much one can do about that.

And while we're on the subject, I though I'd just share Pokitiken's list of the most popular baby names in Denmark from 2013. We'll do top 10, but the list goes up to 50 if you're curious. The first number following the name is how many newborns were given that name, the second is how many out of 1000.

Girls:

1. Sofia 258 / 19

2. Ida 239 / 18

3. Isabella 228 / 17

4. Emma 220 / 16

5. Freja 214 / 16

6. Anna 210 / 16

7. Caroline 200 / 15

8. Josefine 200 / 15

9. Clara 184 / 14

10. Laura 184 / 14

Boys:

1. William 309 / 22

2. Lucas 299 / 21

3. Victor 279 / 20

4. Noah 254 / 18

5. Frederik 253 / 18

6. Emil 240 / 17

7. Liam 228 / 16

8. Oliver 223 / 16

9. Oscar 213 / 15

10. Magnus 210 / 15

Not too exciting because the top 10 never are, but it's interesting to note the similarities and differences from populate names in the US. Sofia and William would definitely make the lists there, but Freja and Magnus, not so much (though they're both awesome names).

And because I couldn't resist, one more baby gif :)

Omg a DOG!!

 

And You Thought I Was Exaggerating: Baby Names Say Otherwise

Thought my last post about the Jante Law and cultural differences between the US and Denmark was exaggerating just a bit? Well, it wasn’t And to prove to you how essential standing out is to American culture and and fitting in is to Danish culture, I give you the perfect example: baby names.

The US is smack dab in the middle of the weirdest baby name trend in history. People are obsessed with inventing the most individual, the most unique, the most special name they possibly can. It doesn’t matter if they have to come up with a creative new spelling, combine the parents names into one mega name – Renesmee anyone? – choose some random noun or just totally make something up. They will find some way to make that child unique!

Don’t believe me? Well, the Social Security Administration just came out with its 2013 list of baby names, and thanks to this io9 article and Nameberry, we can see that among the Johns and Emmas are these gems:

83 baby girls were named Vanellope. That’s right. After that annoying little girl in Wreck it Ralph. 9 girls were named Pistol, as in gun. 6 girls were named Charlemagne, as in that king. And 6 girls were named Prezlee and 5 girls were named Temprince. (Oh my god, the horror of those last two purposeful misspellings.) And that’s not even counting the more “normal” (and more popular) names like Massyn, Londonn (yes, two n’s), and Khaleesi. (And we’re going to ignore the fact that Khaleesi is a title and not actually someone’s name for the moment.) Now, as for the boys, we have 10 Jceions (what??), 8 Tufs, 7 Psalms, 6 Forevers, 6 Powers, 6 Warriors, 5 Kaptains, 5 Subarus, and 5 Vices.

Hahaha that’s fu… Wait, you’re not joking?!

I was talking about this recently with a friend from the UK, and he was surprised that you could name someone after a company or product, as in Subaru or Mercedes. He thought that would be against copyright law. But let me tell you, you’d have to come up with a pretty crazy name for the government to actually step in and stop you from naming your child what you want. There are actual laws about what you can name your baby, but they vary from state to state and they’re pretty basic. For example, in California you can’t use accents. In Massachusetts, you can’t have a name longer than 40 characters. And it looks like naming your kids Adolf Hitler and Aryan Nation is just going too far. But apart from those small rules, the field is pretty much wide open.

In contrast, we have Denmark, which has fairly strict rules about what you can name your children. Specifically, they have the Law on Personal Names.

The century-old law was initially designed to bring order to surnames. Before the law, surnames changed with every generation: Peter Hansen would name his son Hans Petersen. Then Hans Petersen would name his son Peter Hansen. And on it went, wreaking bureaucratic havoc. The law ended that. It also made it difficult for people to change their last names, a move that was designed to appease the noble class, which feared widespread name-poaching by arrivistes, Nielsen said.

Then in the 1960s, a furor erupted over the first name Tessa, which resembled tisse, which means to urinate in Danish. Distressed over the lack of direction in the law, the Danish government expanded the statute to grapple with first names. Now the law is as long as an average size book. (via the New York Times)

This law now includes an approved list of names. It’s pretty long, but if you want to name your baby something that isn’t on that list you have to get it approved. And apparently, that can take years. According to that same article in the New York Times from 2004:

But those wishing to deviate from the official list must seek permission at their local parish church, where all newborns’ names are registered. A request for an unapproved name triggers a review at Copenhagen University’s Names Investigation Department and at the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, which has the ultimate authority. The law applies only if one of the parents is Danish.

Many parents do not realize how difficult it can be to get a name approved by the government. About 1,100 names are reviewed every year, and 15 percent to 20 percent are rejected, mostly for odd spellings.

I believe that this law has now been relaxed a tiny bit since that article was written because the current names on this list aren’t just your typical Jens and Mette. You do see some crazier ones like: Awesome, Cobra, Dreng (which means “boy” in Danish), Og (meaning “and”), Cirkel, and so on. But importantly, there’s still a pre-approved list and doing anything off of that list, doing anything different, can be really hard.

If someone tried to institute a pre-approved baby name list in the US I’m pretty sure they’d be riots in the streets. If there’s one thing Americans get feisty about it’s other people trying to tell them what they can and can’t do.

I’ll leave you now with one more baby gif because, let’s face it, they’re awesome:

Not Renesmee! Anything but Renesmee!

Standing Out In Denmark: Discovering the Jante Law

One of the biggest differences between Denmark and the US is also the most subtle. You won’t notice it right away, but it will start to sneak up on you as you begin your job, talk to your new Danish friends and coworkers, or send your child to daycare or school. This difference has a name: janteloven, the Law of Jante (or, more succinctly, the Jante Law).

Janteloven was created by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in 1933 in his novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor). {{Side note: I find it so incredibly fascinating that something with this much cultural influence came from a novel. Ah, the power of literature.}} The novel is about a small Danish town called Jante which abides by these 10 – rather harsh – laws:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

These can all be boiled down to one sentiment: you are no better than anyone else here.

It’s claimed that in writing these laws Sandemose was inspired by a belief that existed in ancient Norse culture that to preserve one’s happiness one should be cautious and humble. In the book, these laws ensure harmony and stability in the town. But interestingly, it sounds like Sandemose wrote these 10 laws in a moment of Danish irony and actually meant them as a criticism of the restrictions of narrow-minded, small town life. Which begs the question, how did it go from a criticism of this way of thinking to being a defining cultural norm of Scandinavian society?

Because the general gist of these laws can still be felt in Scandinavia and in Denmark.

I was recently listening to a podcast by Kay Xander Mellish about raising children in Denmark, and in it she raises the issue of the Jante Law. In Denmark, children learn these rules very early in life. The whole podcast is very interesting and you should go listen to it all (it’s fairly short at only 5 minutes), but the most interesting part for our discussion is this:

The Jante Law is part of all Danish education. There’s no elite education here, no advanced, or gifted and talented programs. If your child is better than the others at a certain subject, his job is to help the students who are not as good.

If you come from a very competitive society – the US, the UK, China, India – that can be a bit of a shock. There’s no competition in Danish education. The kids work in groups. There are no competitive schools you have to fight to get into. There’s almost no standardized testing until the kids are 15 or 16. And there are relatively few tests within the daily school lessons.

In Danish school, your child’s social life is considered what’s most important. Does she have friends? Can she get along with the other children in the class? Does he like to go to school? Does he fit in?

The idea is that if a child is socially comfortable in school, if he or she wants to go to school, then academic success will follow.

No advanced or gifted classes?!, I hear you Americans saying. No awards for being the best reader or the most participating or the one with the best attendance?! This is at the heart of what is so difficult for many Americans to understand about Denmark because it’s such a fundamental difference, and it shapes every aspect of life from how we raise our children to how we interact with our coworkers to what we expect out of our governments.

You must understand that above all else, Danes value equality and community. It’s like they took the principle of democracy – which plays as equally important a role in Danish history as it does in American history – but instead of running with the “individual freedom” part they ran with the “equality” part.

How does this affect every day life? Let me give you some examples. Everyone does some kind of sport in Denmark. If you admit that you, in fact, do not like to run and don’t play a sport, your are met with disbelieving blank stares. And then you are nicely but persistently asked to join 1000 different sporting activities. It’s a nice gesture, really. You’re being included in the most Danish way possible. Plus, everyone knows you’re supposed to exercise. But. It feels a bit like peer pressure, which coming from the US immediately raises a huge red JUST SAY NO flag.

Another example. There are a few consumer products in Denmark that it seems like everyone has: Kahler vases, PH lamps. Almost as if, if you’re really Danish you’ll have these items in your house. You will also notice a similarity in how people dress. If you’re a girl, it’s skinny jeans, black leather jacket, fancy athletic sneakers, hair in a messy bun.

None of this is bad. Indeed, you see people buying the same things or wearing the same clothes all the time in the US. It’s human nature. Hell, we own two Kahler vases and an imitation PH lamp. (The real thing is freaking expensive!) And I’m thinking of buying my own leather jacket.

But.

I can count the number of times I’ve seen someone with brightly dyed hair, unusual facial piercings, distinctive clothes – anything that would visually mark them as different – on one hand. It’s such a shock coming from a country where everyone is trying their hardest to be unique and special. One of a kind. Different. I mean, come on, I come from the land of Lady Gaga for crying out loud!

We’re desperate to be different.

It’s kind of comforting to not have to worry about being special or unique, to be OK with being normal. To feel good about being normal. There’s a whole school of thought out there about Generation Y (aka The Millennials aka me) that says that the reason they’re so screwed up is because their parents told them that they were inherently special, that they would go on to do big and special things. Then they turned 25 and found out that really they’re just the same as everyone else, and it hit them hard. And thus the quarter life crisis was born. It’s a lot of pressure, to be special, to be unique. And as we all know if you try to be different you just end up doing it in predictable ways, ways that actually make you the same as everyone else who’s also trying to be different. Thus the punks, goths, and hipsters were born.

Plus, from a fundamental belief in equality comes the social welfare state, the drive to ensure that every citizen is educated equally, the belief that everyone deserves to be healthy and happy. Here, the care you get from every doctor, the education you get from every school is (theoretically) equally good. Denmark doesn’t have a large gap between the wealthy and the poor like there is in the US. (Ah the god ol’ 1%.) We say in the US that every American has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but I don’t know that we really mean it. Or rather, we emphasize the pursuit bit rather than the actual achievement of happiness. You’re free to try and be happy as much as you want, but you’ll do it on your own. Good luck with that.

But.

It’s still hard to adjust to, the idea that you don’t want to call attention to your differences. And sometimes I find myself wondering about some of its other implications. If there’s such pressure to fit in, are bullying and peer pressure problems in Danish schools? How is it handled? Do people in Denmark even think about peer pressure in the same way that I do? Questions like that. Sounds like I need to do some more research and some more investigating.