Denmark Book Club

In the near six months, I’ve been in Denmark, I’ve had an incredible amount of free time, for better or worse.  In fact, I’ve realized that this will be the only time where I need not worry about a job, my grades, or any real “adult responsibilities” until I retire.  After this year I have 45 years of responsibility until I enjoy such freedom again.  As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. So I thought I’d share just a few of the books I’ve enjoyed:

Dune

Dune is a sci-fi novel often considered the best there is in the way of sci-fi literature.  It’s part of a massive series but I only read the first novel due as I really don’t feel like delving into an expansive universe that would take months to finish.  However, I really enjoyed this novel and was the first book I read on my kindle.  I’d recommend Dune if one is skeptical of heavy sci-fi.  Dune isn’t as “out there” as other sci-fi such as Star Trek and Star Wars as it focuses on politics far more than the “spacey” stuff.  Though if you’re into that, there’s plenty spacey stuff too.
I’d give Dune a 4/5.  Solid Read.

Lolita

Lolita has been on my reading list for a while now.  While rather controversial, Lolita is a beautifully written novel about a man who falls in love with a prepubescent girl.  Often Grotesque and disgusting, Lolita is written so well that it will illustrate all the thoughts and ideas of a pedophile in vivid detail.  I’d recommend Lolita to a specific kind of person; you really should know what you’re getting yourself into before you read it.  While it’s not a long read, it’s quite dense and on my find themselves needing to take a break at points.
I’d give Lolita a 3/5.  Good read, but I’d be hard-pressed to reread it.

Annihilation

Personally, I didn’t really enjoy this novel very much.  It too is part of a series I have no interest in finishing.  I read Annihilation as it is being made into a movie shortly and because it was a cheap e-book on Amazon.  Annihilation takes place on Earth, not far into the future where, due to unexplained reasons, Earth is in an ecological peril and society is limited to colonies and settlements.  The novel follows a group of explorers scoping out an expanse of uninhabitable land.  However, the group slowly begins to discover just what makes this land so dangerous.
I’d give Annihilation a 2/5.  Can’t really recommend this one.

The Handmaids Tale

The Handmaids Tale was an interesting read, but unsatisfying.  It tells the story of an America that has fallen to a religious theocracy sometimes in the near future.  This isn’t an alternate history, all the events of America happened as they do today, but at some point, America became a society of religious totalitarianism.  Women are mere objects for breeding, they have no rights, and they are expected to live as a woman in the 1700s’ would.  I enjoyed this book, but much like Annihilation it left many questions unanswered and was unsatisfying to complete.
I’d give The Handmaids Tale a 3/5.  Great worldbuilding and a scary glimpse into what could be.

Birdsong

Birdsong was the first of many novels taking place in World War One I read, the others being A Farewell to Arms and Regeneration.  I went through a WW1 phase before the new years and Birdsong was the last, and best novel I read of the bunch.  It takes place before, during, and after the First World War and tells a story of love, pain, and the futility of war.  This anti-war novel really depicts the harrowing reality of modern war and is well worth the read.
I’d give Birdsong a 4/5.  Solid read.

Animal Farm

Animal Farm was the First of several classics I read, Of Mice and Men and The Art of War being the others.  My classical phase was enjoyable and I’d recommend all three books for different reasons.  Animal Farm was a great read, partially because you could sit down and finish it in an afternoon, and because it’s topical to modern society today.  Due to its relevance, I’d recommend it to anyone, especially because the time investment required is minimal.
I’d give Animal Farm a 4/5. Solid Read.

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere is a story of suburbia taking place in the late 90s’.  It follows a mother and her daughter as they move across America.  Featuring a vast cast of characters all expertly written Little Fires Everywhere explores ideas of coming of age, race, and identity.  Additionally, the mother raising her child is a photographer, harkening back to my own childhood, this novel was a nostalgic trip and I would recommend this novel to anyone.  Because of this, and much more, this is the only novel I’d give a perfect score to.
I’d give Little Fires Everywhere a 5/5.  Great read, I’d recommend this to anyone.

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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

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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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.

Denmark Five – Oh

By the time this post is 12 hours old, I will officially have been in Denmark for fifty days.  All I can say really is: “wow”.  Denmark has been so good to me, and of course, Denmark has been so good for me as well.  Long have I passed my personal record for time spent away from home on my own (two weeks while I traveled to New York city).  I’ve been here for seven weeks now.  It is crazy to think about really, fifty days prior I was in the Toronto airport, saying goodbye to my family, my friends, and my country. and fifty days later I’m sitting on the edge of my bed writing a blog post; reminiscing about old memories, and old faces.

But, no matter, new life – new me.

I’ve been up to a lot recently.  I toured an old prison on the east coast of Denmark, I was able to see one of Denmarks mega-farms, a massive facility responsible for a huge chunk of Denmarks agriculture production, and of course, I’ve seen a great many of the Danish cities – Odense, København, Roskilde, Vejle, etc.  Of course, I have to manage all of this while also maintaining a school life.  On top of all this, I must also maintain a personal life.  Maintaining a personal life while abroad is harder than one may imagine.  It is true that I have a lot of free time, but it can be difficult to preserve who you are while you’re away from home.  One the one hand, you wish to become an integrated into your new culture and be indistinguishable from any other Dane.  But on the other hand, you want to preserve your culture and maintain who you were before you left home.  For instance, flannel and plaid are rather uncommon and unfashionable in Denmark; but, as a Canadian, you’ll have to tear my flannel from my cold, dead, hands.  

A lot can happen in fifty days.  There are years where nothing happens, and there are weeks where years can happen.

 

 

 

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.

 

I Haven’t forgotten about you

It’s been a while.  But I promise I haven’t forgotten about you or this blog.  I’ve just been really busy recently.  So, perhaps there will be a flurry of blog posts in the coming days.

However, this post will be rather short.

As I approach the one month mark, the idea of Canada is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to wrap my head around.  It feels like I’ve always lived here in Denmark despite it being less than 30 days since I arrived.  Anyway, It’s the little things that remind me of home sometimes.  Like hearing an American accent on the television.  Or seeing the Danish flag draped in a way that it almost looks like the Canadian one.  Or even just someone asking me where I’m from and why my accent sounds so funny. Small things mean the world to an exchange student I suppose.  As a result, the big things mean even more really.  For instance, my parents shipped me a care package recently with a plethora of Canadian/America goodies in it.  I can tell you, every North American takes peanut butter for granted.  Every one of them.

Despite my mind finding it’s way home more often than not, I still find it difficult to miss my homeland.  One must venture away from the known so they can find what “home” actually means.

Talking to other exchange students; they all say the miss the feeling of being home.  But for me it’s different.  Perhaps I always feel at home, wherever I am.  Or, I have never felt at home and must keep searching for it.  Either way, eventually I’ll know.

I’ll write soon, I promise.

One Week Later

One Week Down, Forty Four to Go.

Today I woke up in my new bed, in my new home, in my new country, and I realised I’ve been in Denmark for a week now.  It hardly feels real.  It’s as if I’m expecting to return to Canada shortly.  I don’t think my mind has come around to the fact that I won’t see Canada, I won’t see North America, for nearly a year.

I won’t see home for hundreds of days.

While I have only been in Denmark, physically, for a week, I feel as if I have been in Denmark a lot longer.  In the short week I have been in Denmark, I have already liberated myself of many things I used to hold dear to myself.  For instance, when I speak in English, It is with a Danish accent –It was so nice to hear an American accent in a film I watched with my family-,  I have abandoned half of my wardrobe for it simply wouldn’t be chic, or proper, to wear it in Denmark –I miss my plaid.  But most importantly, I have parted with my sense of “Canadiana”.  People ask me “hvor kommer du fra?” –Where are you from?-  and of course, the immediate answer is “Canada”.  But for a moment after I answer, I find myself unsure…

I mean, sure, I literally am from Canada, I was born there, I was raised there, and my home is there.  But does that mean that must follow me wherever I go? As if my destiny is determined by the portion of earth I grew up in?  I like to think my destiny, fate, and future is determined by nothing but my own will and determination.  To make a long paragraph short, I don’t miss Canada.  I miss my Canadians.

“Parting with People is a sadness; a place is only a place”