Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yellow Card

I hereby apologize for the ridiculous lack of blogging that has plagued my life the last several weeks. Every time I sat down to write, something else would beg for my attention. I had planned to write about my first experience with the Danish healthcare system, my trip to London and Oxford, how I finally cleaned my room, the field trip to Christiania, and how Troells threw an onion at Fredrik last night and how Thomas ate a pig heart and set his hand on fire.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been time. You've been stuck reading my posts on syndication. I'll start now, begging forgiveness, with Episode 1 of the Second Season of The Kitten Sandwich: The Yellow Card.

Foreigners who stay in Denmark for an extended period of time are highly encouraged (and possibly required by law) to register for a CPR number. Akin to a social security number in the states, your CPR number entitles you to free healthcare and library books! Two of my favorite things, you know. When I arrived at DIS, I filled out a form and lost it somewhere in the abscess of my room before retrieving it a month later and dragging it to the local Kommune.

Don't freak out, that's just what they're called. This isn't Soviet Russia.

The woman at the registration office (that's basically what a kommune is) stamped all over my passport and forms and I got a CPR number. I was told a yellow card would arrive in my mailbox within a few weeks.

And arrive it did, in a non-descript envelope I nearly threw away unopened (note: never, ever do this in Denmark). It's rather aesthetically pleasing, with its yellow center and neat white border. It looks a little like a plastic egg. In card form. My CPR number features prominently in the design, in raised black type, over my Danish address and under the name and number of my primary doctor.

That's another thing to note--when you receive your card, you are automatically assigned a doctor in your area who will refer you to a specialist if necessary.

The sides of my card serve as excellent examples of the Danish adoration of behemoth words: REJSESYGESIKRINGSKORT on one side and SUNDHEDSKORT on the other, the former translating to travel health insurance card and the latter to health card (I actually knew that without looking it up!!)

Within a few days of receiving my card, I made an appointment in order to get a referral about the pesky toe problem that's been bothering me on and off for years. The only problem I've encountered with the Danish healthcare system is this--it takes FOREVER to make an appointment. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that receptionists often only answer the phone between 8 and 9 in the morning (when I'm in class) or even just whenever they feel like it. And that American fear about long waits and lists is partially true; the first surgeon I was told to call told me--and this was in September--"we have an appointment on November 21".

Navigating this sea of red tape, however, isn't that difficult. I made a few phone calls, and got an appointment for the very next day. That's the secret---call every doctor in Copenhagen until you get someone on the phone, and then keep calling until you get an appointment in your desired time frame. They do exist, I promise you.

I arrived at the doctor's office not knowing what to think. Anyone who knows me in real life will likely be aware that I am a supporter of Universal Healthcare in the states, but I'm not afraid to admit that I was a little scared at facing the real thing. Glenn Beck can do that to you.

I needn't have worried. My doctor was the sweetest, kindest surgeon I've ever met. In between shots of anesthesia, he patted me on the arm and got me some water. And let me tell you, Danish anesthesia is strong stuff. I couldn't feel anything in my toe, not even the usual pressure I've felt in former surgeries. He might has well have been operating on the air beside me. After the surgery, he gave me a free supply of gauze and painkillers and swiped my CPR card. I had to stop myself from whipping out my checkbook--there are no co-pays in Denmark. When I realized that I could no longer fit my foot in my shoe due to the gauze, HE DROVE ME HOME.

That would never happen in America. I can tell you that much.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Danish: It is hard.

That, I believe, should be the official state motto of Denmark. Let me set the scene:

I am perched on the edge of a plush bus seat. We are about to stop at the train station, which welcomes an influx of approximately 23479871098709873 people, and I need to get off at the next stop.

"Excuse me," I say, in perfectly-accented Danish. I want to add "can I get by," but as I can't remember which of two phrases I have in mind is actually the proper one, I say nothing. This basically amounts to me shoving my way off the bus. Good thing, though--I checked my phrase book later, and had I followed my instincts, a busfull of Danes would have heard this:

"Excuse me, I'm just looking! I'm just looking, excuse me!"

And then I probably would have gone to a store and assaulted the manager's graceful "can I help you" with a callous, "no, can I get by?"

This kind of reminds me of the time I introduced my godmother to my Spanish class as the mother of God.

Also, one of the guys on my hall is blessed with the last name "sloth". It is quite naturally, however, pronounced 'slut'.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fødselsdag Festen! (Birthday Party)

You haven't lived until you've sung opera to a bar full of Norwegians and heard your own American accent morph into something distinctively drunken and Scandinavian.

Our kollegium has both a cafe AND a bar, because the Danes are just that fun-loving. Before we get there, let's go back a few hours. The beginning of the birthday party.

Two of the Norwegian guys made this:

And yes, it was that delicious. And yes, Scandinavian men can bake.

We then rearranged the kitchen so it looked like this:

See the ceiling light in the left side of the picture? We had to string it up with paperclips because it kept threatening to hit me on the head. Oh, and everyone's toasting. This happened quite a lot. When you make a toast in Denmark, you say 'skål' and look everyone in the eye AT THE SAME TIME without breaking contact. I still don't really know how that works. 

Before we had the cake, we sang Happy Birthday in Danish, which goes like this:

I dag er det Christine's fødselsdag - hurra, hurra, hurraaaa...

I don't know the rest, but you can probably find it on youtube. Or just watch the Dogme film Festen if you REALLY want to have fun*. 

And then we did this:

We're dancing in this picture; it's a little difficult to tell. It was about that time that we decided to move the party to the cafe. And then to the bar. And then we all fell asleep. It was pretty great.

*sarcasm. Great film, but very, very dark.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My lovely, hygge room

That Explains A Lot

Though the world still views Danes as tall, blonde bundles of genetic perfection (their hair doesn't even get messed up when they're biking!), Denmark is developing a more international face. It's impossible to identify Danish speakers just by looking at them.  As you can imagine, my first two weeks here were spent trying to navigate my new Pseudo-Danish identity through interactions with people who expected me to be as Danish as they were. My attempts at dealing ran through several stages, which I will name as follows:

1. Dumb Dane

People talk to me. I say, "huh?" and sound like a prepubescent boy because I have a stuffy nose.

2. Bitchy Dane

This phase lasted for, like, two weeks. I would speak a little Danish to the kool kids (Danish and international) in my kollegium, and then they'd try to talk to me later and I wouldn't respond. Why? Because this is what I heard:

tyg tye hugy grig se aeaea*

I mean, you should only speak like that to someone you know. I thought he was talking to the guy next to me.  He wasn't.

The next week, I dropped a potato on someone's foot (therefore inadvertently marking my territory if we go by the cucumber story). I said, "oh, sorry" and he said, "where are you from?" When I told him New York, he goes, "That explains a lot."

And from then on, everyone was really chummy with me. In fact, I did a shot of whisky with the guys last night. We're developing a ritual that consists of bad 80's movies and alcohol (the latter consumed more by them than by me, I can assure you. Never EVER try to outdrink a Dane). It's kind of nice and reminds me of my guy friends back at home--except these guys are ALL tall, blond, and gorgeous.

This morning, I finally got to know the girls, who are a bit more reserved than the guys (at least on my hall). We made--er, they made and I watched--pancakes with caramel ice cream. They made me eat with them--yes, poor poor me--even though I hadn't helped them in any way because I didn't think I'd be asked to partake. They chatted in Danish for the most part, but occasionally stopped to summarize in English to my great relief. And then I ate lentils.

Tonight, we're all going out to celebrate the birthday of Mari, who's from Norway! I'll keep you posted.

*obviously not real Danish, but seriously, this is what it sounds like. There's a lot of choking sounds involved. I'm afraid someone will cough up a hairball one of these days.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Quarantine, and After

When I'm sick I take up so much of my time.

This weekend I fell into such a state, and subsequently did nothing noteworthy between the hours of 15:00 on Friday and 8:30 this morning, with the exception of learning to cook.

That's right. The  Cucumber Queen has gone where no one--actually, where many people have gone before. Not only did I boil gluten-free pasta, lentils, and asparagus, I learned how to turn on the stove!

Seriously, though, the buttons on that thing are highly vexing. I spent almost fifteen minutes just turning it on and watching it turn off again, not knowing that it was in lock mode. Fortunately, the guy in whose presence I had dropped part of the cucumber referred to in my last post saw my struggle and valiantly came to my aid. I subsequently became acquainted with the oven.

I took a picture of myself eating an egg. There's not much else you can do for sightseeing in times like these. I shall refrain from posting it, however, in hopes that my new camera will arrive soon (that's why there haven't been any pictures!)

Anyway, I de-quarantined myself in time for class this morning--we had a test in my Current Trends in News Media class--and felt much better as the day went on. It was a rare sunny day, and quite warm. Walking to my bus station, no longer conscious of finding my way around the city I felt almost--Danish.

I took the bus home, as usual, and, as usual, there was a baby stroller on board. The difference this time was that said baby, young enough to not have any teeth, was pushing whole slices of bread into his mouth at once. Each slice would fill his cheeks. I laughed, and so did the other people near the baby. It was a nice communal moment that took place outside language. Sometimes this is what study abroad is all about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Suite Life with Kate Silver (ME!) and Danish People

I am afraid of many things.

Cooking is one of them.

To combat this fear, I am sometimes able to achieve a state of cognitive dissonance that entails extreme avoidance. Namely, I convince myself that if I ignore my roaring stomach, it'll go away. Not my stomach, that is, but you know...the hunger. I wish I were speaking of some super-emo existential hunger, but that's another story.

Today, I was hungry. Shocker! I ate all the food I had in my room, and since I didn't have class (no one has class on Wednesdays, but sometimes you have field studies--more on those, later) I didn't go into the city. Eventually, I realized I might have to go to the kitchen.

This was an unnerving thought. It really shouldn't have been; the Danes on my floor seemed nice enough. It was my cooking skills I was worried about.

I thought of running in, grabbing my mammoth cucumber, and running back to my room. I thought about it again, realizing that absconding with any suggestively-shaped variety of vegetable would label me much more decidedly than any lack of cooking skills. I had no desire to be THAT girl.

So I opened the door, and the Danish guys asked me something, to which I responded "En Engelsk?" and everything just kind of went from there. They thought it was pretty cool that I was from New York, and I thought it was pretty cool that they were from Denmark (I didn't tell them that).

They told me about Danish reality shows, and I told them about Netflix. Apparently they have a system like that here, but it's pretty sketchy.

As for the cucumber? It (he?) and my red pepper made a delicious light dinner along with a roll of bread and some peanuts. And since no meal would be complete without me dropping food on the floor, I nodded in satisfaction when the last chunk of cucumber landed on the tile and bounced halfheartedly. I have marked my territory.

Faux-Pas Series: First Installment

If there is one question you should never ask a Dane with whom you are unacquainted, it is "How are you?" 

Those three little words can only elicit one of two responses:

1) The Dane slowly backs away as though you are threatening to shoot him or her in the face. 

2) The Dane stops to think for a moment before saying, "Well, my ulcer is taking a break, but I seem to have a herniated disk so I went to the doctor and he told me I should stop cycling until it gets better, but of course I don't want to and then..."

Or something to that effect. So what is it about our beloved American expression that seems to push Danes into a paranoia/overshare dichotomy? 

They take it literally. What is a synonym for 'hi' to most Americans is considered by Danes a genuine inquiry after a person's well-being. Saying "how are you" (notice I didn't say "asking 'how are you'" to a stranger in Denmark is insulting and an invasion of privacy at the worst, and at the least, very confusing for the Dane. It shares space with the breach of etiquette that is telling inside jokes around outsiders. 

Once you know someone, though, it's alright. For the record, it's 'Hvordan går det?'

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Vague Account of the First Week

I couldn't find sleep on the plane. It wasn't in the surprisingly hearty rolls or even in the red wine. I didn't find it in the episode of Bones that repeated every hour, and not even in the lulling Bergman surrealist drama Fanny and Alexander.  

I've been in København (pronounced Kew-bin-hawn) since Sunday, and have picked up some sleep here and there between the smorgasbord of activities that pervaded my first week at DIS.  

I picked up a whole bushel of it last night, causing me to miss the boat trip and welcoming party. The first week really is exhausting!  

That's not to say that it hasn't been enjoyable. Yes, I'm intimidated by the number of Danes in my kitchen at the moment, but at least I have someone to inform me that I'm about to throw my garbage under the sink.  

I'm a student in the CMM program, but I'm a Film Studies major back at home. All my professors, Danish or American, really know their stuff, but my favorite class so far is The Literature of Ice and Snow, the first day of which we addressed our preconceptions of the words "North" "Ice" and "Snow". We considered semiotics, denotation, and connotation, and I'm really excited to read Smilla's Sense of Snow, which is a Danish modern classic that explores the postcolonial relationship between Denmark and Greenland. It's also a murder mystery, and I'm a pretty big fan of that genre!  

More later. I'm going to figure out how to cook some beans!