A Travellerspoint blog

An American in Copenhagen

Observations from the first two weeks

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For those of you who were wondering, I am afraid my comeback attempt in the Danish American Football Federation has stalled. After getting up Friday morning after Thursday's night practice with the Herlev Rebels, I had soreness up and down my spine, throughout my legs and around my shoulders. I was cut on the forearm and I think my ears were still ringing. Somewhere along my strenuous minute-long trek from my bed to my bathroom I realized why I had quit football in the first place. Had I not known what I had done the evening before, I would have guessed that I had been pummeled by three thugs in an alley on my way home. Had that beating occurred, unfortunately, it would have resembled the game of football much more than my practice with the Rebels did. For the time being, I'll remain a one-dimensional student here in Denmark.

Today marks the end of my first full week of classes and second week of me being in Denmark. It has gone faster than I expected, and the transition to life in a foreign country has been smoother than I anticipated. I wish I had an entertaining story to share with you, but not every day offers an exciting or enlightening moment to stash in away in the files of experience we keep. In fact, the majority of the time here in Copenhagen has been no more exciting or chaotic than my daily life back in the U.S.A. Granted, the first few days required that I pay close attention to Danish customs, daily life, and most importantly, the lay of the land, so I could figure out where the hell I was. Yes, there are some major cultural differences that separate the Danish from Americans. But, at the end of the day, everyone is still human. They just happen to be speaking a different language and eating slightly different things, like liver paste.
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I'd say one of the more discomforting things about living in a country with a foreign language, is, quite obviously, not being able to understand what is being said around you. We Americans tend to be quite perceptive about our surroundings and how we are being viewed--in just about any given situation. Everyday when I ride the bus, I wonder if those around me can tell that I am a foreigner, if they can tell I am an American. I wonder if they are judging me by the different clothes I wear, if they dislike that I am a student here and yet still cannot speak their language. While it may be uncomfortable for me now, however, living in a foreign country forces one to break from these constant dealings with perception. I am sure it will be an important experience on the road to maturity to lose sight of some of these things. In that same breath, last night, I was strikingly reminded that perceptions and generalizations are often more deceiving that they are accurate.

My friend Jennings and I were wandering around our part of town looking for a place to eat. We stumbled on a place that was too good to pass up, a place I never thought would have existed in the heart of Europe. It was a bar called OSBORNE and Inside, the bar was not much bigger than my room here. Although smoking in public areas is thoroughly prohibited in Copenhagen, it was difficult to see across the bar through the thick gray haze. The walls were blanketed with black and white pictures of hundreds of American icons: Johnny Cash, James Dean, John Wayne, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, etc. Above the pictures of icons, old American license plates lined the top of the walls where they met the ceiling, including remote states such as Wyoming, South Dakota and Hawaii. Everyone was still speaking in Danish, though, despite this American theme. We didn't stay long, for it didn't seem like a place where non-regulars were welcome to stop in. On our way out, a bumper sticker behind the bar caught my eye. It read: Barack Obama, Just Another Bum Looking for Change.

This bar reminded me, as much as I don't want to be thrown with certain stereotypes, I, too, must be careful to not paint with a broad brush while observing and experiencing the various cultures around Copenhagen and Europe.

You never know what you might find when you aren't looking for anything.

-Keith

Posted by kchapman88 08:22 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

A "Chat" With a Dane

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A main goal of any student studying abroad in a foreign country is to have interactions with the native people of that nation. When I came to Denmark, I also wanted to ensure that I had real conversations with Danes, I did not want to force conversation just for the sake of meeting and talking to Danes. I learned quickly, that Danes are not receptive to mindless chatting anyway. We were thoroughly informed during orientation that Danes tend to engage only in serious dialogue, and despise those who make small talk: they see it as being fake and as a waste of time. Danes keep to themselves while in public, it is rare to see anyone smile or even acknowledge others while making their way around Copenhagen whether by public transportation or walking.

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Despite this, one of my first interactions with a Dane came when I had just found my seat on a bus going back to my kollegium (dorm) on Thursday night. I was listening to music and staring blankly out the window when I felt a soft pat on my shoulder. I quickly yanked my headphones out of my ears, thinking I had likely trespassed and trampled on some unwritten Danish social rule in finding my seat on the bus. A middle-aged man was sitting in the row behind me and was speaking to me in Danish. I signaled to my ears and butchered the Danish phrase for "I speak little Danish." He apparently got the message, though, for he switched to English and immediately apologized. He didn't need to, I was flattered that he hadn't taken me as a foreigner upon first glance. He was talking slowly and his eyes were glazed over, he reeked of alcohol. He looked as if he were on the verge of tears. He then divulged into a long-winded story about how his mother was very ill and that every week he and his brothers go to see her in the hospital. He informed me that he had just left their weekly reunion at the hospital. He continued on to say that he felt bad because he couldn't stand seeing her like that, so he drank heavily every week before the visit, for it was like going to a 'memorial'.

I wasn't sure how to respond, I started to think that maybe he was hoping for some spare change, for this seemed like a story a homeless person back in the U.S. would pitch prior to asking one for money. I shoved my hand into my pocket and reached for some kroner coins. But my theory was contradicted by how well-dressed he was, he wore a thick overcoat and a fancy scarf around his neck. So I apologized and tried to be as sympathetic as possible, nodding often as he continued speaking. He told me not to be sorry but that it was 'life' and that is what you have to do for family. I couldn't tell whether he using me as a counselor or trying to teach me a life lesson. In either case, he got up abruptly at the next stop and said back to me in a lighter tone, 'it was nice having a chat with you' as he stepped quickly off the bus. Confused, I placed my headphones back in my ears. I had my first conversation with a Dane. If this conversation was merely a 'chat' in his book, however, I couldn't imagine what a deep conversation with a Dane would consist of.

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On Saturday I walked downtown and wandered around for about three hours, taking in random sights and absorbing some of the daily Danish life. I walked through the King Gardens (which will look a lot better come spring), to the Royal Palace, down the main walking street of Stroget, and to the Church of Our Lady-- one of the oldest and prettiest Cathedrals in Copenhagen. These pictures are from Saturday, I think there are seven total. You can see the others under my photo gallery I believe.

-Keith

Posted by kchapman88 06:33 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

Rebel Without a Language

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I don't think I have dreamt about playing professional football since about the fourth grade. Nonetheless, tonight I completed my first practice as a Herlev Rebel (and thus forgoing my senior year of eligibility at DePauw, for those who were wondering). Granted, the DAFF (Danish American Football Federation) is slightly less glorious then the NFL, the CFL, or say, even your average American middle school team.

My Danish teammates were friendly enough, and the practice was light-hearted but passionate. It lasted only an hour and a half, and the entire practice consisted of tackling drills. Since the players are still very new to the game, they need to polish their basic football skills--particularly tackling. There were no X's or O's, no strategy, just pads and helmets clacking. The instructions were given in primarily in Danish, however, the coaches would oblige me and the one other American in English occasionally. Most of the drills were pretty self-explanatory. The players' skills are very raw, and they are an average age of 23, the coach told me. I am confident that a good junior varsity high school team could defeat the Rebels. The one exception, however, is the other American, who played Division I-AA football in South Carolina, and who I gathered was very good at this level, only a step away from the NFL. He is sort of a mixture of player and coach (the head coach is an older Dane and does not play). The Rebels apparently recruited him from the states, and pay for his housing and expenses while he is here.

The conditions were the worst I had ever played in. The mud was about four inches deep, and I thought my cleat would come on several occasions when I planted hard in it. There were no yard markers, and the field was likely about 50 yards by 30 yards rather than the standard 100 by 52 yards. The lights were not great, to make matters worse.

Anyway, I enjoyed every bit of it. It was good to go play again without the stress of a real season and without the time pressures that accompany college football. We only practice twice a week for no more than two hours, games do not start until April. We'll see, however, how much I enjoy getting out of bed tomorrow-- I don't think we did that much tackling in practice during my entire full season of college football.

On another note, yesterday morning we were broken into small groups of about a half dozen and did a walking 'scavenger hunt' around Copenhagen. The sights included some famous Churches, the Parliamentary building, and concluded at the Royal Palace where we saw the changing of the Royal Guard. The Royal Guard protects the Royal Palace and they change every 24 hours. The new Royal Guards wind their way through the streets of Copenhagen, probably starting at about 11:30, and arrive at the palace exactly noon. There are about 50 of them, dressed in colonial attire and wearing huge furry helmets. Half of them play instruments throughout their march, the other half march rigidly carrying M-16's. They have their own police escort (which is ironic, since they are Royal Guards and are carrying machine guns). Anyway, when they finally arrive at noon at the Royal Palace, there is an elaborate ceremony they take part in before they switch guards.

I had my first class today, Copenhagen: History and Urban Issues. It seemed interesting enough, definitely a new topic for me. I think it will be a real good class to take while I am here.

I have four more classes tomorrow, which should be interesting. Tomorrow night their is a party for DIS students somewhere downtown.

Should have some pictures up next time, I finally got batteries for my camera. I'm hoping to take a bunch around the city this weekend, weather permitting.

-Keith

Posted by kchapman88 12:36 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

Copenhagen.

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Touchdown! Arrived in Copenhagen yesterday at about 10:30 a.m. We met DIS people there who took us to a brief orientation session and then they took us to our living units. I live at Keops Kollegium, located in Norrebro, on the northwest part of town. My building is right next to a bus and train station. The building is not much to look at from the outside but the rooms are really nice--although with some differences from what I am used to. The shower is not separated from the rest of the bathroom, except by a curtain. Because of this setup, the floor is heated in the bathroom to help dry the water from the shower.

Although I didn't sleep well last night because of jet lag, I managed to sleep well enough to miss my living group leaving for the opening ceremony at 8 a.m. I make it there by myself via the bus, and was only a couple minutes late. The busses run every five minutes and are very reliable. After the ceremony I did some grocery shopping and tried to get more acclimated with the city. I took the bus back downtown for our Danish "survival course" from 1:30-4:30 p.m.

The city itself is very different the cities I know in the U.S. It has excellent public transportation-- and plenty of bikers. Cyclers have their own defined lane throughout the city, and vastly outnumber car drivers. Even high ranking government officials--including the Minister of Finance--ride their bikes to work. One has to be equally if not more cautious in avoiding bikers as they are in avoiding cars in Copenhagen.

It is interesting to see the cultural influences that a place like Copenhagen absorbs. The Danish appear to be a very diverse and distinct people. They obviously have their unique, Danish culture and values, I'm sure more than I can see after just a day and a half here. It is also apparent that they are drastically influenced by the English speaking world, particularly America. Some of us were walking in a group today, and some Danes, who noticed that we were staring at maps and probably easily recognized us as Americans, started chanting "Obama!" as we walked past them. Additionally, there was extensive coverage of Obama's train ride to Washington, as well as of the recent plane crash in New York in the Danish newspaper. Just about everything is in English as well as Danish, and some stores or advertisements are labeled only in English. Burger King's, McDonald's and 7-11 stores dot the area. I've seen several Danes wearing New York Yankee caps. I saw several ads today for Super Bowl parties at bars and restaurants. For as much as some Europeans gripe about our culture, they have had just as many opportunities to reject it--and haven't.

Nevertheless, it is not the American culture I am here for. I'm looking forward to exploring many different parts of Copenhagen. We had some great pizza from a local place last night, and I want to try the famous Danish Smorreboard (open faced sandwich). In the coming days, I am going to try to make it to the Sofiero Castle where Danish royalty reside, and the famous Cathedral of Lund.

More to come in the next few days, hopefully some pictures, too...

Posted by kchapman88 09:51 Archived in Denmark Tagged educational Comments (0)

First Contact

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This is my first experience within the world of blogging, and I am excited to share what I can on this site. My past travels are pretty modest compared to some, but nonetheless, I hope family and friends will enjoy following and keeping up with me on my travels. I hope to add some journal entries and photographs from past trips to start off. Then I would like to keep the site updated with my journeys in the future, particularly my trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, in the Spring of 2009. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy.

Posted by kchapman88 17:55 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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