Monday, January 18, 2010

Trainspotting

Things are coming along quite nicely. This was the first day of real orientation, and while we spent a hefty portion of the day in lecture learning how to not offend or (far more likely) be offended by the Danes, the majority of the learning happened on the rails today. We got up at 6:30 this morning to be sure to catch all the proper buses and trains. The other study-abroaders and I at this hojskole were split up between two large groups for orientation, and while I in the second group didn't have to be anywhere until 11:30 I decided to get up and get going with the early crowd to get my bearings and get an early crack at the city. The transportation in this part of the world is ruthlessly efficient, and while I can't pronounce any of the places I'm going to (or coming from), everything is planned in such a manner that it's still ridiculously easy to get anywhere you're going.

The total trip for us was about an hour after subtracting time spent wondering and wandering upon our arrival in Copenhagen. This number is interesting -- it isn't that bad for twice a day, but any more than that and it can be really cumbersome. In other words, you really have to mean it when you go back to the city to hit the bars, because if you're tired or unenthusiastic when you get there it's a waste of two hours in transit.

On the upside, our distance from the school means we have been provided with unlimited travel passes for any and all public transportation in this part of the country, which is, in a word, "baller." We can either bike to the local train station or take a bus, though since it snowed a couple inches last night and there's still a bit of ice on the ground we opted for the bus. It picks us up right outside a gas station that we hit up for a snack run late last night, which was in and of itself an interesting experience.

Basically, when people say things here are expensive, they aren't kidding. Everything is roughly double what you would want to pay for it, even really crappy stuff. One of our early Danish acquaintances, Oliver, tells us that two medium fries and a 10-piece of McNuggets comes out to 20 USD. Let's just say there's no dollar menu here. Another interesting price comparison that shows some different price dynamics is of particular interest, as some may know, to me -- the price of whiskey. While everything is very expensive here, it isn't always in the same way and due to proximity some things are actually cheaper. Allegorically, the price of Jack Daniels, at this juncture an import, comes out to 50 USD. Meanwhile, the price of a 12 year old Glen Fiddich is 60 USD, which if I recall correctly is about the same as it is stateside. My thinking is that being a part of Europe drops the price on the scotch, only to be brought up again by the blanket price premium on every taxable product in this country. In summary, boggling to my American consumer sensibilities as it may be, scotch is incredibly cheaper than other kinds of whiskey here.

Last night we also had a chance to have our first meal at the hojskole where we'll be staying for th next 4 months. It was comprised of mashed potatoes and goulash with a delicious side of romaine and vinaigrette. I don't recall much about the food, I spent the whole meal trying to figure out exactly what a hojskole was from Oliver across the table. He's quite the character, but in a sort of contradictory way. I mean this in the sense that, as far as I can tell, he's a perfectly ordinary Dane, but even at that his presence and seemingly divine knowledge of the ways of this country make him bemusingly refreshing to me.

Copenhagen is an incredible city, and I've only seen about five square blocks of it so far. The number and breadth of independent shops peddling the strangest and, on occasion, most perverse goods I've seen in a while. The gas stations stock as much digital pornography as they do candy bars, and pretty much every store either sells fashion items, liquor or both. The 7-11s here contain fresh bakeries, yet nobody here has heard of salt and vinegar chips. The city buildings are incredibly old and largely beautiful, with basement shops and boutiques that are the spiritual predecessors to places like Adams Morgan in DC. We had our welcome speech in the hall of ceremonies at Denmark University, a building constructed in 1830 and absolutely filled to the brim with stunning frescoes of the most important moments in Danish history (alongside nearly innumerable naked guys and centaurs, apparently also very important in Danish history). These frescoes depict not only the most striking figures in this country's past, but also some of the most epic beard-tophat combinations seen around the world. Oh, to be old, rich and Danish 300 years ago...

And lastly, my disposition: I am incredibly tired. A full day like today, with still more adventuring to do before tomorrow, warrants more sleep than the six hours I got last night -- especially after 36 hours of unadulterated wakefulness. I'm getting along about as I well (overall) as I thought I would with the people surrounding me, but not in the same ways that I imagined. This hojskole isn't comprised of the people that I assumed would be here, namely cool Danes and lame Americans -- and is instead made up of pretty much everyone but those two categories. The Danes here, all three of them, are either Oliver or incredibly weird, while the other 50 hojskole students are from any one of a whopping 30 countries worldwide. Most of them have incredibly poor English and seem equally uncomfortable, which honestly isn't that surprising considering that nobody here shares a common background nor has anyone been here more than three days. There always seem to be people hanging about in various common areas of the hojskole building, which is really nothing to speak of in terms of architecture or furnishings but still houses a full compliment of social spaces, which means that it's only a matter of time before everybody sorts out who is going to be engaging and extroverted.

Out of all this, the thing that gets at me the most is that I keep thinking I see people I know from home, and it's uncommonly disconcerting. I remember this happening when I first got to Grinnell, as I remember finding that other people had the exact same experience. I think it's hard-coded into our brains to try and reconcile the people we meet with people that we're comfortable with, but the simple untruth of that artificial overlaying is beyond uncomfortable for me. I'm really bad at looking people in the eye some times, especially when I'm sitting next to them for instance, and the shock of hearing them talk for a while and then looking over to see a face that I expected to be more familiar than it actually is has been getting to me.

Also, I highly doubt I'll be able to keep up with this pace of blogging that I've set for myself here these past few days. Simply too much is happening in so little time, such that the text above describes only a fraction of this still young day and the unimaginable newness of the experiences bounded within. I choose to view this as a good thing. Plus, the more I forget to write down now, the more I'll forget later and thus the more I'll be able to embellish or patently invent later when I'm writing memoirs and such.

--simokant, as my DIS username reads, signing out.

3 comments:

  1. whiskey was brutally expensive in israel, worked out to 80 usd for a thing of jack, vodka however, was hilariously cheap, as were any beers that weren't from a bar.

    keep having the great time, but just know everytime your putting in a danish sounding word, i'm just assuming your speaking the devil and or rolling your face on the keyboard

    -lewis

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  2. You have no idea how brutal this language is to pronounce. The rule of thumb is that EVERY LETTER IS A FUCKING "U"

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  3. You must live in Helsingør if every other shop sells liquor. Watch out for drunk Swedes.

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