Since I moved to Copenhagen, certain things about the city and its people have stood out to me. I don’t want to call them weird or odd, so perhaps “quirky” is the right term. I’m not going to pretend all Danes do this – I live in the country’s biggest city after all – and I know not everyone living in Copenhagen is Danish. So as I wile away my time in Germany for the summer, back in familiar territory, here is a summary of some of the more, er… (opening thesaurus.com in a new tab) off-the-wall things I have noticed while living in the Danish capital.
Keep to the left…sometimes
I have been to countries that drive on the left. I have seen Japanese people lined up beautifully on the left side of an escalator, leaving the right open to pass. Denmark drives on the right. The people here cycle on the right and pass on the left. You are meant to stand on the right side of the escalator. However, if you’re a pedestrian walking down the sidewalk, all of these norms go out the window. If you are keeping to the right of a path, chances are you will see someone heading towards you on the same side up ahead, and you’re going to be the one that has to step to the left so you can pass each other.
I noticed this too when I lived in Uppsala, but assumed it was because the shared walking/cycling path had the walking portion on the left, and people wanted to keep their distance from passing cyclists. But since that’s not the case in Copenhagen, I’m wondering if this is just some weird Scandinavian thing.
Assert your dominance on the sidewalk
Now that you know to keep to the left when you’re walking through the city, you also need to build your confidence so that you get to stay on the sidewalk at all. Sidewalks in Copenhagen are made to comfortably fit two people, meaning two people can pass each other with no problem. But if you find yourself coming up against two friends walking side by side, you may have to practice your staredown. It seems the most insulting thing you can do to a stranger in Copenhagen is to expect them to walk behind their friend for a few strides so you can pass each other without someone having to cross the grass or step into the cycle lane. It doesn’t matter if you’re lugging a huge bag of groceries or panting as you near the end of a run, people walking side-by-side would rather just run you over than be forced apart for a couple seconds. Of course, if you’re a jogger you can assert your dominance with some flailing elbows.
Guesstimates when it comes to food
Okay, this one doesn’t have anything (that I know of) to do with the people here, but I did find it very curious. I don’t think I bought a single package of tea in Denmark that told me how long I should leave the tea bag in my cup. I am not so much a tea connoisseur that I could taste much of a difference if I left the bag in too long, but since I have seen ranges from 1 to 9 minutes depending on the type of tea, I did feel a bit left in the lurch by Danish tea companies. It seems product labels here don’t like to give too much away, though – I often spent longer than I should have trying to find the weight of dry goods because it simply wasn’t printed somewhere obvious. I think I’ve been spoiled by growing up with bilingual labels that make sure to give you all the information twice.
Fanny packs are fashionable
Copenhagen twenty-somethings love their bumbags. But not tied around their waists like some over-the-top tourist; rather, they strap them over one shoulder and under the other, like a light version of a backpack. I suppose it makes cycling easier if you don’t have a basket.
Broken glass everywhere
Maybe there just aren’t enough glass bottles sold in Canada for this to be a problem, but I noticed this in Germany too. People are smashing glass – bottles, car windows, bus stop shelters, eyeglasses, you name it – everywhere and it never gets cleaned up. I figured the people doing this in Germany were just angsty youths who wanted to make trouble for cyclists, but it really surprises me that there isn’t more respect for keeping the cycle paths clean in a city where so many people use bikes as their main mode of transportation.
Produce is sold per item
Denmark is the only country I’ve bought food in where my bananas, apples, and tomatoes are priced per piece instead of by weight, and I have no idea why. I feel a little cheated when I buy small bananas there.
There are designated waiting areas near the doors of the metro
This one is actually brilliant. Recognizing that people like to be first on the train, but knowing that things just run more smoothly when passengers can exit the train first, the designers of the Copenhagen metro decided to paint designated waiting areas next to the spots where the train doors open. And people (myself included) just queue up along the glass, leaving plenty of space for the train to clear out. As I German, I appreciate this efficiency.
Ah, those quirky Copenhageners. Weird as they might seem when I’m there, I’m excited to count myself among them again soon.