01/21/18

I just thought I’d give an update on a few things real quick:

Don’t hold me to this, but I’d like to start writing on this blog a lot more.  Perhaps an entry every Sunday? Who knows, I’m horrible at sticking to a planned schedule.

New Year’s Eve was a lot of fun.  I went to a dinner party and listened to the Danish Queen deliver her New Years address.  Afterwards, I went to a party with my friends.  There are a few traditions in Denmark that are different to North America.  For instance, instead of watching NYE live from Times Square, many people tune into an old film (the name of the film escapes me) from the 1940s’ until the clock strikes 12.  Additionally when midnight comes people stand up on their chairs and leap down to “jump into the new year”

A few things:   In a few weeks I’ll be heading back to Copenhagen for the day to meet with one of my friends from back home.  They just happened to be in Denmark while traveling abroad so I’ll be visiting them for the day.  Not only will it be nice to see them after so long, but it’ll also be amazing to go back to Copenhagen.  As small as Denmark is, it’s still a long way to Copenhagen if you don’t own a car.  Shortly after my trip to Copenhagen, I’ll be off into continental Europe again.  This time I’m heading to Austria!  I have a week-long ski trip booked in the Austrian Alps (I’ll be sure to write about that when I return in Mid February.  Aside from that, not much else is new.  Winter is in full swing where I live.  However, “full swing winter” in Denmark means about an inch of snow and -2° if the winds are blowing from Russia.  Otherwise, January in Denmark is remarkable Green – As shown below –

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I’m incredibly excited for the coming weeks, and if anything notable happens before I go to Austria I’ll make a real attempt to update this blog on a more regular basis!  Until then, vi ses

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Jul

While today is Christmas in North America, yesterday, the 24th, was the christmas equivalent for Denmark.  Instead of the festivities being held on the 25th, everything is done on “Juleaften” (Christmas Eve).  Christmas in Denmark, and much of northern Europe, draws upon a much older history, with far more ingrained traditions than in North America.  In fact, I believe that the archaic “yuletide” comes from the word “Jultid”, meaning christmastime.  Because of this lengthy history, the traditions date back to time immemorial.  History, combined with traditions, combined with the Danish idea of hygge make for a Christmas on steroids.

The day begins with a rather normal church service,  people sing danish songs, read passages from the Church of Denmark’s bible, and generally just get together as a community.  The church I went to yesterday was built sometime in the 1100s’, a structure far older than my own country, or even the colonial institutions that created it.  After church one may go back to their house and have a christmas lunch with friends or family.  However, the main event begins when the sun sets (this late in the winter this happens around 3:30pm) when dinner is served.  It’s traditional to have a goose for dinner along with potatoes fried in a caramel sauce and rice with whipped cream and almonds for dessert.  The food traditions are so ingrained that many families will make these dishes even if no one present actually likes them.  One has to appreciate the lengths people will go to in preserving their traditions

After dinner the Father, or husband of the house will go light the candles on the tree, real candles, while the rest of the family waits impatiently to begin giving and getting gifts.  However, before that can begin the family will hold hands and sing and dance around the tree.  Gone is the american tradition of stuffing the tree in the corner of the living room and mummifying it beneath one hundred meters of colorful artificial lights.  A Danish tree sits proudly in the center of the room, adorned with real candles and homemade decorations.  After much singing and dancing, the family seats themselves around the tree and begins the gift process.  However, unlike in North America, where it’s a free for all with kids scrambling over one another to plunder the bounty beneath the tree, the Danish process is patient.  One member of the family is given a gift, they open it in front of everyone, and then the go to the tree and pick a gift for another member of the family.  This is repeated until there are no gifts left.  It can take upwards of two hours depending on how many people/ gifts there are.  All of this is done in the evening, unlike the American Christmas morning.

In Canada, my family and I were never big on christmas, thus, it’s never been an important time of the year for me, and I’m not bitter about that.  However, experiencing the tradition in a way that’s closer to its roots has been a delightful experience and I’m glad I was here for it.

Glædelig Jul til alle.

The Problem With Exchange Blogging

There is an intrinsic problem with exchange student blogs.  This is something I’ve witnessed with my exchange friends in the past, and my very own blog as well.  See, the main problem with blogging as an exchange student is that you’re blogging about how different your host country is.  All the little quirks and differences, perhaps the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that make you think of home.  But at the end of the day, almost every blog made to capture the essence of exchange is one that attempts to do so by contrasting an old life, and a new life.

And that of course isn’t the real problem; we watch documentaries and read news from far away lands to experience just that, contrast.  The first few months of a blog are always the most interesting, you can read raw thoughts on a new country, read about experiences you couldn’t hope to have back home, and live vicariously through the author as they go about their new life.  But what happens when a new life just becomes your daily life?  This is the intrinsic problem I mentioned before; eventually the contrast you were once able to identify becomes normal.

Yesterday I marked the fourth month living in Denmark.  Three months prior I could’ve written about contrast until my keyboard fell apart.  But now, everything just seems so normal.  I remember one of my earlier blog posts, it was about the rain and weather in Denmark.  The mere fact that it rained 6 out of 7 days of the week was so foreign to me.  But now? Now I’ve just accepted that Denmark is only suitable for amphibians and vikings.

All of this made me think; as an exchange student, I’ll tell people mundane things about life in Canada that just shocks them.  For instance, snow days.  Days where you don’t go to school because there’s simply too much snow on the roads; that’s just a regular facet of Canadian life.  But, to the Danes it’s incredible, especially when I tell them we get 10-15 of them per year.  This of course is just one example of “normal life”.  But, now I have two “normals” and it’s interesting to reflect on which of the two normals will win over in my mind.

Perhaps you may live a life that would be unimaginable to someone else.  It’s hard to imagine someone eagerly wishing to live vicariously through you in your own life, but yet it’s easy to become excited when you read, watch, or experience the life of another.  Is this because your life is merely uninteresting or normal? In my experience, no.

The more “normals” I experience, the more I realise how extraordinary normal can be.

I’m Back.

It’s been a while since my last post, I think over a month to be honest.  A lot of stuff has been going on so I’ve been busy a lot!

Since my last post I’ve travelled to Western Europe when I visited Amsterdam with my school, I celebrated my 3 month anniversary since coming to Denmark, I changed classes in school, and I moved to my second host family.

Going to Amsterdam was phenomenal.  As you may know, I love large cities. My favourite place on earth is Manhattan; so, finally getting travelling outside of rural Denmark was fantastic.  Amsterdam was unlike any city I’ve been to before.  I was struck by just how quiet the city was at night.  I’d walk along the canals in the cool autumn air and could just quietly listen to the city.  Three months ago I was still in North America, never travelled to Europe, and now I’m sitting on a bench by the Canal enjoying one of Europes finest cities.

New York is a City to Dream in, but Perhaps Amsterdam is a City I Could Live in.

While I love Manhattan in all aspects, I find myself living Amsterdam in a different way.  Sure, there isn’t a constant 24/7 hustle and bustle, but perhaps that’s a good thing.  Seeing the sights in Amsterdam, the canals, the leaning houses, and the Dutch culture, it was amazing.  Oh, and I had the opportunity to see an old friend from Canada on Canadian thanksgiving.  Suffice to say, I had a great time.  I think Amsterdam is my #2 city of choice to live in.

Three months is a long time to be away from home.  No parents, no home, no Canadian comfort food (well, I brought maple syrup with me, but that’s besides the point) and no familiarity.  This exchange was a leap before you look kind of affair.  It’s been fantastic for me in more ways than one.  For instance, prior to leaving Canada, I was defined by certain characteristics.  Maybe I was that “smart guy”, or the “cocky guy”, but since coming to a country where I’m unable to express either of those things through language I’ve been forced to adapt and try to flesh out other parts of who I am.  It’s been good for me to expand upon different parts of my character.

Today is my 100th day in Denmark.  300 days of Denmark only has 200 days left…  Chronophobia is the persistent and irrational fear of the passing of time.  I can definitely relate to that fear.  Sometimes I lay awake at night and think about all the people I meet here, the things I do, and the places I go— it’s all temporary.  Sure, the memories will exist for the rest of my life, but in all honesty nothing has given me more profound sadness than remembering my old life.  I don’t miss home, I miss the memories.  And perhaps someday I’ll miss the memories of my Scandinavian home.  That thought constantly runs through my head, and the fact that I can’t do anything to stop the passing of time really messes with me.  All I can do is try to ensure that I don’t waste any time.

This year is approximately 5.26% of my life.  But if I play my cards right the memories will account for a much higher percentage.

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Canada Is Weird.

Canada and Denmark inhabit disparate worlds.  Such is to be expected on an exchange; totally different cultures and beliefs.  And most of the time I am able to adequately explain my culture to the unfamiliar Danes.  “why do you drive everywhere? Why can’t you take the bus?”  Well, Canada is massive.  Public transport isn’t feasible for most of the country. “You’re from Canada, why don’t you speak French?”  For the same reason you don’t.  I live just as far from French Canada as you do from French Europe.

But there is one aspect of Canada I cannot defend or explain to a Dane.  And that aspect is our hybrid measurement system…

See, Canada is a metric nation, for all intents and purposes we are like most other nations.  And perhaps I don’t speak for all of Canada, but where I live, we use metric and imperial in a 50/50 split.  If you asked me how tall the CN Tower in Toronto is I could tell you in meters.  If you asked the cruising altitude of an airplane I’d tell you in feet. If you inquired how tall I am I’d reply with feet and inches in a heartbeat.  Want me to cook dinner? Sure, the water boils at 100 Celsius but the oven will be set to 350 Fahrenheit and I’ll certainly be measuring my ingredients with tablespoons and cups.  Want to ask a Canadian the temperature? You’ll get it in Celsius.  But, ask a Canadian how much they weigh and you’ll get it in pounds.  I’ll pump my gas and measure it with litres, but when I buy a coke it’s in a 16 ounce bottle (591mL).  Making things even weirder, when asking a Canadian how far away a city/town is, you’re likely to get a response in minutes and hours, not kilometres.

Why do we do all this? Why don’t we pick a system and commit to it? Who knows, maybe we’re just a little stubborn 😉

Awesome

Many words in Danish don’t have literal translations.  Words like “hygge” (by far, the most famous untranslatable word in Danish) which describes a general feeling of coziness and comfort.  However, Danish isn’t the only language with a linguistic monopoly over some words.  While talking to my host mom about the subject, she told me of an untranslatable English word.

The Danes don’t have a word for “awesome”

Okay sure, they have words that are synonymous for “great” or “fantastic”.  And they have words that describe a humbling experience such as: “ærefrygtindgydende” (It just flows off the tongue, doesn’t it?).  But the Danes don’t have a word that directly translates, or shares the same definition, to “awesome”.

Well, Denmark, I have some good news.  For I know of a Danish word that is synonymous with Awesome that you can have for free.  Because in my mind, “Denmark” and “awesome” are one and the same.

Ensomhed

ain • sohm • hell

“Ensomhed” is the danish word for loneliness.  Something every exchange student goes through.  Something every living person goes through, no doubt.  But, Danish loneliness is something different.  Danish loneliness is sitting beneath a grey sky, dressed in all black, clutching a one dollar cup of coffee, and for that moment the comfort of holding something warm in you hands – that cup of coffee – is your best friend.

Danish loneliness is being a constant “outsider”. It’s being that person that everyone wants to practice their English on.  It’s that state of mind where all of a sudden all those English class lessons about the archetypal outsider all make sense.  For now, you are an archetype.  Danish loneliness is being reduced to your basic and primal attributes.  No longer are you that “smart kid” or the one who always dresses nice.  Nobody knows who you are;  you begin to question if you ever knew either.

Danish loneliness is knowing you left everyone behind.  People who loved you. A girlfriend, a best friend, your parents, your friends… everyone.  Danish loneliness is knowing some people may never forgive you for that, and knowing that some people couldn’t care less.  Danish loneliness is trying to forgive myself for doing that to them.  Danish loneliness is having new friends, but being unable to be friendly.

Danish loneliness prevents one from being excited for their return home.  For Danish loneliness is knowing you’ll never have a home.