Monthly Archives: April 2015

Bucket List

Time is a hot commodity for current DIS students, as the end of the semester rapidly approaches. That truly unenviable time when one must decide to maybe figure out how to pronounce the town they live in or else just focus on seeing their 25th European country of the trip. Talk to an actual Dane or simply extract culture from another can of Carlsberg? It’s around this time that students begin developing a bucket list of sorts, and I’ve tried to make my own as realistic as possible: co-opt a current controversial political campaign into a list of basic demands that will improve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for a future crop of DIS-ers.

Here’s the original poster as I saw it in Vordingborg, Denmark:

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I’m pretty sure I was just trying to take a mirror selfie at the time, but turns out that slogan is a bit shocking. ”Islamisme” is simply the Danish word for Islam. This campaign is run by the Conservative Party, and is just part of a whole set of ”STOP” advertisements.


It literally translates to ”STOP HEART LOOSENESS”, which is actually getting at a desire to move away from systematic bureaucracy and into letting people (”hearts”) make decisions.

In the end, it just seems like quite the ambitious task and if there is anything I have learned in Denmark, it is that ”small is good”. I believe it is my role to change Danish society from the ground up. It won’t be easy and it won’t be without roadblocks, but I strongly believe that a brighter future lays ahead for Denmark if they follow my lead.

Firstly, it’s about time:

Konservativ - stop selling crumbly rye bread

Once that horrible practice can come to a close, we can move on to a serious social issue:

Konservativ - stop saying goodbye so cute

”Hej hej”, pronounced ”hi hi”. People just flit around Copenhagen like little birds, and half of their conversations are the sound ”hi”. There’s such a thing as too happy, I’ll have you know. On the topic of language, there is another grievance that must be shared:

Konservativ - stop using the soft d

It comes up in common words like ”bored” and ”street”. You can’t even introduce yourself without encountering this menace. The word for ”food”, for example, is spelled ”mad”. It is pronounced ”mel” with a hint of ”th” at the end. Yikes. Art and culture are our next topic:

Konservativ - stop listening to the grease sountrack

On one hand, I get it. It’s a great movie with fun songs. On the other hand, we invented High School Musical for a reason. Danes graduating high school in the last three or four years have repeatedly cited the Grease soundtrack as the most listened to songs over their school careers. And I hear it’s even played in Danish nightclubs. Better shape up. Lastly, let’s take it to the streets:

Konservativ - stop waiting for the green man

The little green man runs the lives of every Queen-loving Dane. He alone controls when, and sometimes if they will cross the street.

There he is. And in four seconds, he will be gone. But guess what, Danes. When you stand in front of a one way, one lane alleyway and can see to Sweden in one direction and Germany in the next, it’s okay to cross when no cars are approaching. This one will likely not be solved in my lifetime, as I’m sure countless other righteous jaywalkers have tried and failed before me. Regardless, the dark angel looks pensively across her gray yet happy nation.

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Tee-Look-Uh Mar-Guh-Reh-Tuh

Just a gratis phonetic Danish guide for all you wannabe Danes out there. “Tilykke Margrethe!” or Congrats Margrethe!” That’s the phrase of the day here in Copenhagen as the beloved Dronning (Queen) celebrates her 75th in appropriately public fashion. Cameras were being set up across Copenhagen yesterday and today, and Her Majesty did not disappoint. Starting from her royal palace at Amalienborg (hub-bub documented below),

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she was paraded through Copenhagen to the City Hall, where she was treated to an event not dissimilar from a high school band concert inside the building, as it was being live streamed to the peons out front. An hour later and she on the balcony waving once more to her kingdom. The onlooking Danes were respectfully muted, perhaps thinking of their own parents and grandparents of advanced age who do not take well to a lot of ruckus. The sound of waving plastic Danish flags was the dominant noise, performed dutifully by nearly all in attendance.

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Queen Margrethe was born 75 years ago today, and just a week ago Denmark celebrated another monumental, while a bit more sobering, 75th anniversary. On April 9th, 1940, 40,000 German troops entered Denmark at 4:15am and had the country occupied in fewer than four hours. This was a dark time for Denmark, but Margrethe’s birth a week later brought some optimism into the newly-occupied country. A Danish man at the birthday celebrations today told me that Margrethe’s grandfather, Christian X, rode through Copenhagen daily during the Nazi occupation, reassuring his people that Denmark still belonged to the Danes.

Today Margethe does not have to deal with such challenges, but it was nice to see how her birthday can incite such national pride and likely some creative playing hooky stories. Here she is up close, with her son Frederik (the next King of Denmark) and his wife Mary.

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Tilykke Margrethe! Here’s a lame statue as to not distract from ol’ queenie:

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A Sort of Homecoming

Last week brought me the good fortune of seeing a couple cities in Eastern Europe as well as a few nights in the hidden gem of Malta. It really was quite a privilege and it’s wild to realize that I will likely never forget this trip. But despite the gray skies and bizarro language, it was lovely to sit on the comfy seats of the S train and know I was back in Denmark.

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The City of Viking Love, of bikes and liver paste. And there is much to celebrate here. Aside from a new 7/11 in the Norreport train station, Tivoli (amusement park) is now open, fountains are turning on all over the city, and the queen turns 75 next week. There are rumors of free pastries at the celebration.

The part of Denmark that currently has me captivated is the incarceration system. That word, though, incarceration, might even be taking it a step too far. The majority of Danish prisons are called “open” prisons, and the policies and facilities are just about as relaxed as the name suggests. When this was introduced to me, it came all too fast and caused a bit of a shock. I had never thought of myself as a defender of the American prison system (while admittedly not knowing much about it), and so was surprised to feel such strong negative feelings when the Danish open prison system was first described. So I’ll start with some simple differences.

1) Prisoners (in both open and closed prisons) can wear their own clothes.

This seems like a nice gesture, maybe indicative of something larger…

2) Prisoners have their own rooms with TVs, and share a kitchen where they can cook the food they brought from the on-site grocery store.

Wait a minute…where do they get money to buy their own food…?

3) Prisoners can hold jobs that pay near minimum wage (higher than US minimum wage) and even go to University. These occupations can take place on, or off, of the prison grounds. Sick pay is issued when a prisoner falls ill.

This is when the whole picture starts to become visible.

4) Prisoners are allowed to go home every other weekend, sometimes more frequently


5) Guards are not armed.


6) Some open prisons have a local bus stop running right through the prison grounds that carries normal citizens and can be used by prisoners to go into town when they are allowed.

Prisoners are actually allowed off the grounds all the time, for jobs, family, and purely for recreation. They interact with everyday citizens and participate in normal events. This all leads to the core difference between Danish and US prisons. Danish prisons seem to avoid anything resembling punishment. They strive for comfortable conditions, to empower the inmates, and give them opportunities for their post-prison lives. The US system is centered around punishment, the 3 S’s always seem to be the goal. Make punishment Swift, Severe, and Certain (a “c” snuck in there). They don’t even seem comparable. But these open prisons deal with rapists and murderers, the same as in American maximum security prisons. Closed prisons in Denmark are generally reserved for those who have abused their time at an open prison.

Open prisons are not quite a 24 hour Tivoli (see above)- they do have some rules. No internet access on the grounds is a big one. Also no alcohol on or off the grounds, and certainly no drugs. Gang members are also sent to closed prisons. And a Danish brochure for prisoners reminds them that, “It is a criminal offence to escape from the prison”. Rough. They’ll be glad to know that Danish prison terms are significantly shorter than US prison terms.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for axe murderers on the mean streets of Copenhagen but so far so good.

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