05 March 2010

well, the city isn't the country

about a week before i left for denmark last june, i was talking the the librarian in my town (my town is so small that our library is run by one - extremely capable - woman) when an old man interjected in our conversation about copenhagen, saying, "you know, copenhagen isn't denmark." he didn't really explain what he meant, but he did repeat himself and tell me that i would see. at the time, i was kind of bewildered, not to mention a little put-off. i had, after all, been to copenhagen before. i'd seen all the red-and-white flags hanging outside of the ice cream shops, the massive quantities of carlsberg beer and aquavit in the 7-11s that dot every other corner, and i'd even ridden the s-trains and the ultra-modern (and, at the time, brand-spanking-new) metro across town. what could be more danish, i wondered, than drinking a beer on the train while on your way to get an ice cream on a sunny afternoon?

i catch myself - and a lot of other internationals - using the names "copenhagen" and "denmark" interchangeably far more often than i am comfortable with. every once in a while, something like "everyone bikes in denmark" will slip out of my mouth, or i'll hear a friend say, "everyone in denmark is gorgeous." and while these generalizations may ring true - as much as any stereotype is ever able to, anyway - in copenhagen, i think it is important to remember that they simply don't hold for the rest of the country. it's not that simple. a lot of the smaller towns (or even smaller cities, as i'm told by my friends who aren't from The City) don't even have bike lanes, and, when they were growing up and had to bike to school, it meant biking on the shoulder of a two-lane road, fighting cars for passing space. sound familiar? to me, coming from rural california, it does.

as for generalization number two - one that i myself made when i went to a concert in christiania as a seventeen-year-old way too excited to see of montreal - it's just as disputable. yes, there are a lot of beautiful people in denmark! of course there are lots of beautiful people in denmark - there are a lot of beautiful people all over the world! but as far as the copenhagen-is-full-of-scandinavian-beauties stereotype, i just have to say that that's because of who it attracts. what's that statistics word for it (i've never taken statistics)? pool? the subject pool has a high concentration of traditionally attractive - and clinically stylish - individuals, because virtually all the jobs in denmark that require looking good (national t.v. anchor, gucci salesman, designer, bartender at a club, you name it) to make a living are in copenhagen, and those are the people you see riding around town on seven-thousand crown (twelve hundred dollar) bikes in full makeup with louis vuitton bags on their handlebars. or on just a normal bike with a sweatshirt from wood wood and cheap monday jeans. it doesn't matter. the point is that copenhagen is a subset. it is a part that is lesser than the whole but somehow gets almost all of the attention.

denmark is an awfully rich country. but i think it's unfair to judge the merits (or faults) of an entire country on a few square kilometers where the majority of the country's wealth is located. the same goes for politics: copenhagen as a whole decidedly leans to the left, but that's because virtually all of denmark's political leftists are in copenhagen. consider the fact that a quarter of the country's population lives in the capital region, and you know where all those votes for enhedslisten are coming from... although you can keep wondering where the hell all those votes for dansk folkeparti come from. that doesn't mean that everyone in copenhagen is liberal (or left, or red, or however you want to put it). no. but most "liberals" are in copenhagen.

some people say that copenhagen people are more "tolerant" and "accepting" of "foreigners" than the country people because copenhageners are "used to" the "international environment." other people say that the people from the country - particularly west jutland, which is, i guess, to copenhageners what the midwest is to californians (use your imagination) - are kinder, more open, and more accepting of newcomers (be they foreign or not) because they're not caught up in the day-to-day performance art that life in the capital city entails engaging in (there isn't a narcissism barometer on amagerbrogade for nothing!) and, accordingly, are able to engage with people outside of their own social spectrum on a more genuine basis.

i don't know. i'm definitely not an authority on this. in the three-quarters of a year that i've lived here, i've only been out of the city for a couple days, in the north of sjælland. i've spent far more time in swedish small towns than i have in the danish provinces. but i trust my danish friends' opinions on the matter: after all, this is their life. but i have to say: i've met the nicest people from everywhere, and, honestly, it's not worth the mental classification it takes to make and hang onto all those generalizations.

whew. my brain is tired. i'm kind of translating from danish to english as i write some of this stuff. now here are some pictures!

for the last three days, we have been straight-up blessed with sun, sun, the glorious, magical sun. which means breaking out the spring shoes and swinging on tire swings just because. i hope the snow melts soon.

hygge and giggles with new friends kira and esther in nørrebro.

more sunshine, more bike-riding. same old, same old. except it will never get old.

happy weekend! (one thing i love about this place is that everyone, especially old people, always says "happy weekend" on fridays. yes, thank you!)


Anonymous said...

I agree wise woman!

Geneviève said...

how have i not been reading this all along???

i love your words my maya
words + pictures mmm

i will be coming here a lot now.


Ada said...

hi from scotland!

it's interesting to hear your thoughts on this as this is what everyone has been saying to me during my short stay here as well - "edinburgh isn't real scotland" etc. probably because it's full of the English...

somehow i find myself missing copenhagen already though. we should do some more sunny bike riding when i get back!