Friday, December 19, 2008

Vi ses, København!

It is my last night in København. It has been a fantastic semester and I thank you all for reading.

Hopefully I'll post again once I am back in Seattle and can digest a bit of what I have learned/experienced.

But now I have to go and hang out with my host brothers and watch the Colts (my host brothers LOVE the NFL) play (they broadcast a few games every week on Danish TV).

Vi ses (see you),


My host family and me: Ole, Søren, me, Simon, and Solveig.

p.s. It is my host mom, Solveig's, birthday today and because we have to leave for the airport at 5 a.m., birthday breakfast (as you saw the post for Søren's birthday) is at 4 a.m. Should be fun...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

We're Not So Different After All...

Of course I've been noticing all of the differences between American and Danish cultures during my time here and commenting on any interesting experiences I've had. Today though, I wanted to share a quick story that shows that we aren't really all that different...

I went on a bike ride with my host brother, Søren, today to see his gymnasium (Danish high school), just so he could show me where he studies and we could talk a bit about Danish education.

While walking past a classroom, Søren pointed into a window and said:

"See that back row? That's where all of the students sit who don't do their work and just are in class on their computers.

"And in the front. That's where you have all the kids who like the teacher and know everything," he said while making a gesture of raising his hand.

It's always good to know that slackers and suck-ups are international concepts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tillykke med Fødselsdagen: Happy Birthday!

As you know, it was my host brother Søren's 19th birthday on Monday, and I wanted to take a moment rather than working on homework to share a few interesting cultural notes about birthdays here.

Rise and Shine: No sleeping in
Whether it is so that a birthday boy/girl can enjoy as much of their birthday as possible or whether it is because families need to get to work but want to show their kids that they care about them on their birthdays, a birthday lasts MUCH longer here in Denmark. That's because early in the morning (such that the whole family can be there), everyone grabs their Danish flags, gathers together, and barges into the birthday boy/girl's room, waving their flags and singing "Happy Birthday" in Danish. For Søren's birthday, we woke him up at 7 a.m., even though he didn't need to be at school until 10, and (thankfully) sang "Happy Birthday" in English afterwards. He didn't seem too happy to be woken up.

The early wake-up, though, is so that the whole family can have breakfast together and give presents. Søren, for the most part, received beers for presents. He was happy with that.

Be Careful What You Wish(?) For
The other interesting cultural difference I noticed came as Søren was about to blow out the candles on his birthday cake that evening (no, if you are wondering, it was a homemade cake so there was no chance for a Cake Wreck). I asked if Danes make wishes when they blow out their candles, which my family said no one really did. My host brothers told me, however, that the popular thing (at least for adolescent boys, I assumed) is that you blow out your candles, trying to leave at least a few lit, and then however many lit are how many girlfriends you'll have. At once? Overall? That I didn't really understand.

After seeming to blow all of his candles out, one flickered back and stayed lit. Søren seemed happy about that and said it was good.

By the way - have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We're going to attempt to make one here that I think will be a bit non-traditional - maybe sort of a Danish/American Thanksgiving. Should be good.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I know many people don't care because they get snow all the time, but I always love it when it snows. And yesterday afternoon while giving an advertising presentation, I looked out the window and noticed it was snowing!

For most of the evening snowflakes were falling but none were sticking, but by the time I got home there were a few patches here and there. When I woke up this morning, here's what I saw:

It snowed about one inch, but that's always enough to cover all the grass and a bit of pavement, so I was really excited when I looked outside. I commented to my host parents, Solveig and Ole, and said that if it snowed this much in Seattle, we'd cancel school. Of course that's mainly because we don't know how to deal with it and we have crazy hills, but they still got a kick out of it. My host brothers and their aunt and uncle who are visiting because it is Søren's 19th birthday on Monday also thought it was hilarious and said this didn't really even count as snow...

Hopefully this won't be the only time.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Forget elephants and donkeys...

After staying up to watch election results (the networks called it around 5 a.m. here) on Tuesday, I returned home, excited but exhausted, and received congratulations from my host parents. They have been following the American election almost as closely as I have: any time the Danish public TV station, DR, would have a program about the election we would watch it together. Breakfasts are also always a recap of the night's political news.

When I returned home Wednesday afternoon, I found the following on my desk:

I thought, "Oh, that's nice. Solveig (my host Mom) must have gotten some roses or something and gave me one."

But that evening, when she asked what I thought of the rose, she told me that it actually had a great deal of significance. The rose represents the Democratic (well, actually Denmark's Social Democratic) Party. Instead of animals, each political party in Denmark has a flower. For the Social Democratic Party, it is a rose, and Solveig said that whenever your party wins (my host family are Social Democrats), you get your party's flower. The woman at the flower shop didn't know what the American Democratic Party's flower was (rightly so), so she thought that the Social Democratic Party (which, like most Danish parties, aligns fairly well to the Democrats) was a good choice.

Sure, without an animal mascot, my bumper sticker from high school ("Democrats are sexy... Who ever heard of a nice piece of elephant?") wouldn't have been possible, but I'm going to say that I'd much rather have flowers represent our political parties. Dibs on the rose.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night in Denmark

Just wanted to say a quick hello and let you all know that I'm back from my travels around Europe. I'll likely blog about a few things soon, but I'm off right now to an Election Night Party (though results likely won't come in until far after midnight here...).

Here are links to my Facebook albums from the trip:


Friday, October 10, 2008


So I was able to show it to my host family (they were really excited) and do this:

Hell yeah. Obama/Biden '08.

In other news, I'm off to London/Amsterdam/Barcelona/Munich/Prague/Vienna tomorrow.

I'm back in Copenhagen on November 2nd. Be well!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jeg er jødisk

During the (Jewish) holiday season, I've had a lot to think about while here in Denmark. Not surprisingly, there aren't many Jews here, and, even less surprisingly, the Orthodox synagogue is the main shop in town. Many Danes, including my host family, have never met a Jew before, and it was a bit challenging trying to describe my religion and why I wouldn't be going to school on certain days or be at dinner, possibly just because I had a hard time pronouncing "jødisk."

I spent Rosh Hashanah at Shir Hatzafon, a small progressive synagogue that doesn't have its own building. A member from my synagogue at home had helped start the congregation when he was living in Copenhagen, and since 2002, they've been doing monthly Shabbat services and celebrating the major holidays. Many of my friends here and I went to Shir Hatzafon for Rosh Hashanah this past Monday night, and the service was very nice. The visiting Israeli Rabbi was originally from England, so we used the Liberal Judaism (one of the two streams of Progressive Judaism in the UK) siddur, which dictated that the service would be in Hebrew and English - much to my liking. Only about 50+ people were there for the evening and morning services, including many DIS students and other Progressive Jews living abroad (we met a Progressive Jew from Australia who is studying abroad at one of the universities here), but the community was welcoming, and many of the tunes for the prayers were similar. For someone that often has a hard time feeling truly happy at different congregations around the world (and even country), I felt very comfortable. This Wednesday night and Thursday, I'll be going back to Shir Hatzafon for Yom Kippur.

Today though, Becca and I were invited to the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen, by an extremely nice Danish Jewish girl we met on one of our field studies. Even though her uncle is the head Rabbi at the Orthodox (and main) synagogue, she isn't religious - I think it just happens to be the main place to go, which I suspect is a large reason many people go there. Because Progressive communities aren't well known or aren't well established, in Denmark, like in many countries besides the US, if you are Jewish, most often you are "Orthodox."

Nevertheless, I was excited to go to Shabbat services today, mainly because I had only been to an Orthodox service once before, and tried to go in with an open mind. Personally, I am proud to be a Reform (Progressive) Jew, because (without going into too much detail) I believe that our religion should be interpreted and practiced in a modern context. One (very simple) example to illustrate this: besides the fact that keeping kosher wouldn't make me feel any closer to God, many of the laws were written when it was unsafe/unsanitary to eat animals such as pigs and shellfish, and in my eyes are not practical for today. For this, and many of my views, such as the fact that women should be allowed to be ordained as Rabbis (they are in Conservative and Reform communities) or that Jews who convert (not an easy process at ALL) should be recognized as Jews, I wouldn't be accepted in most Orthodox communities.

Becca and I met our Danish friend, Josephine, at 10:30 a.m., though services had apparently started at 9 (apparently that's what you do), and didn't get in for a while because we had to go drop our bags off back at DIS (security reasons). Becca and Josephine left to head upstairs (Orthodox don't allow men and women to sit together), while I donned a kippah and walked into the main sanctuary. Nearly everyone was middle-aged or elderly, with a few sons just starting to grow their peyes (curly sideburns), and seemed to be intently mumbling (praying), occasionally chanting aloud a couple words. I eventually was able to recognize a prayer and found my page, but never really was able to "join in" for there was nothing to really join in to. Orthodox communities, in my eyes, don't breed community. A man in front would chant maybe the first line of a prayer, occasionally most of the congregation would say a line or so, and then everyone would just mumble. To me, prayer has always been a communal thing - everyone singing, praying, focusing, and acting together. Also, during multiple times during the service, men would just turn around and talk (somewhat loudly) to each other while others would be completely consumed in their own prayers - something I feel you'd never see in a Reform or Conservative service. Josephine and Becca said that the women are no better - they constantly just talk and look down at the men praying (or also talking). I've heard that Orthodox services are often like this, but the entire time, I just tried to think if this was really how God wants or wanted us to follow God's teachings. Am I, or any other Jew, "worse" or even "not Jewish" as many Orthodox see those who aren't Orthodox? If anything, I felt better about how I practice my Judaism. A group of men, only some of whom are actually reciting or even reading the prayers (though, yes, many were just praying silently), but often just talking to each other and saying one line of some prayers while their wives look down and also kibitz (the Yiddish word for chatting) did not seem like celebrating Shabbat to me.

I might not know every single one of God's teachings and don't follow all of the "rules" like these men do, but I feel happy about how I practice and celebrate my heritage.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Denmark NOT Green?

As I mentioned in my previous post, my journalism class here met with Ida Auken of the Socialist People's Party at the Danish parliament, the Folketing, last week. She told us that she is a major advocate of making Copenhagen and Denmark more "green" and said that where the country was right now was shameful.


Denmark, so I thought, was generally considered a fairly "green" country - between dedicated bike lanes, gasoline taxes, and getting 20% of its electricity from wind power, I thought that Denmark was doing pretty well. I, like Ida Auken did for us that day, had read Thomas Friedman's August 9th column about Denmark's great focus on renewable energy:

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent. ...

There is little whining here about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had “a positive impact on job creation,” added Hedegaard. “For example, the wind industry — it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark.”

So you can understand I was shocked when she finished reading Friedman's column only to say that it was a completely untrue account of the situation here. "But that's what I've seen," I thought. Everyday I ride my bike to the train station and then get in the packed train with thousands of other commuters, many who then continue to bike once in the city, and we pass a multitude of wind turbines on the way.

Maybe it was just this politician, I said to myself. She had, in fact, told us a few minutes earlier that as a political stunt to encourage a congestion tax to drive into Copenhagen she raced her friend from the Liberal Party into the city - Auken on her bike and her friend in her car - during rush hour (Auken won). So maybe she just was "overly" environmentalist or something? Denmark is REALLY GREEN... right?

But then she began to tell us how Denmark, which HAD been an environmentalist country, had been falling off in recent years do to inactivity and changing perceptions in the government. Though I haven't fact-checked her statements myself, the fact that she shot down Denmark's "green" status was still alarming.

Part of it is just that Auken believes Denmark has greater potential - she wants Copenhagen, for instance, to be carbon-neutral by 2030 by having 60% fewer emissions and purchasing 40% worth of credits elsewhere - but in recent years, she said, the government has took down more wind turbines then it has put up, fewer people are biking, and fewer people are taking public transportation, which she said had its funding cut recently.

"It shouldn't be a moral choice not to drive, but a practical choice," she said. While she may have won her bike race into the city, she said that public transportation is nowhere near to the fastest, most convenient, or cheapest commuting option (my commute does cost around $5 each way). She said she's been trying to put the government in charge "in a wheelbarrow" and push them along towards making Denmark greener, but it has been challenging. The Climate Minister, in Auken's eyes, says lots of great things, but actually does nothing. The Prime Minister even praised President Bush on a recent visit for being such a "green" person. Wow.

I have yet to truly see it though. This past weekend on my class trip to Odense on the island of Funen (will post later - we visited a really cool TV station, TV2, the leading competitor to the public station here) we drove past hundreds of turbines, all creating enormous amounts of energy. My commute takes 20+ minutes on the train, and the trains come every 10 minutes. I see hundreds of people biking all the time.

Maybe the government is doing a good job of putting on a face of environmentalism, but if Denmark - which IS still considerably environmentalist - isn't doing that well, what does it say about us?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Denmark is like a village"

Well here I am in Denmark, a small but lovely country of only 5.4 million people (a bit smaller than the population of Maryland), and today my News Media in Transition class visited the Danish Parliament, called the Folketing.

And with so few people, so I learned, politics, especially the relationship between politicians and the media, is an entirely different game.

While walking onto Christiansborg, the island that the Folketing sits on (it once contained the royal palace and thus needed to be surrounded by a moat), a fairly large protest was taking place. In addition to the normal protest of the Iraq War, which someone has been doing 24/7 since the US invaded, around 100 people were holding a demonstration protesting, we found out, the closing of local hospitals. Apparently the Danish government wants to build/use larger hospitals that could be more efficient in helping people (by the way - all Danes (and visitors!) have free healthcare here) but people were worried that they might not be able to get help as quickly (in an emergency) if their local hospital was closed. Of course, the fact that they were protesting was not surprising, but while we were walking up, the Minister of Health was waving to the crowd after he had just finished an impromptu address. He did not have to speak to the protesters, our professor told us, but she said, "Denmark is like a village," and explained that there was no reason not to at least address and act kindly to the protesters, even if he disagrees. Why not treat everyone in your small country with respect?

Once inside, our class first met with Claus Kaa, a political reporter for Danish Radio.

Claus talked about the challenges of covering the 7+ parties in the Folketing, especially how hard it is to move beyond simple coverage such as how parties will align. Since nothing can really get done without a majority, the various parties form alliances; the power has been held since around 2001 by the right-wing alliance of the Danish People's Party (an anti-immigrant group), the Liberals and the Conservative People's Party (don't ask the difference... all we heard our speakers say is that supposedly all Danish political parties could fit inside the Democratic Party in the US... maybe it is something about that Welfare State they have...). Sure Claus might only have the 179 members of the Folketing to cover, unlike a Congressional reporter potentially covering 435 representatives and 100 senators, but it still seems pretty difficult. Especially because whenever the Prime Minister wants new elections (a chance to get a better majority), they will occur in THREE WEEKS, needing extremely strong coverage from the journalists and a great deal of energy from any candidates. Unlike a 19+ month presidential election, Danish politicians have less than three weeks to convince their constituencies to vote for them. Maybe it is a little easier since around 89% of the electorate vote. Although that makes sense when you trust the government (which most people I have spoken with do) with 50% or more of your income in taxes.

Claus told us that the media and the politicians need each other, "but it is wrong if we become friends." The media often needs stories to publish, especially in "cucumber time" - the summer months when the Folketing is not in session - and the politicians need the media to get information out.

Ida Auken, a member of the Folketing for the Socialist People's Party, joined us later and said that, especially in a three-week election, getting in touch with the media is crucial (as it is in America). But her election strategy and experiences she described greatly interested me.

Ida needed to tell the city of Copenhagen last October who she was and why they should elect her, all in a short period of time. Ida used her youthful insight - she's 30 (!?!) - to attract voters during the campaign. By starting a Facebook page that she actually still updates herself, maintaining a fairly polished blog and website ( if you want to check it out... not that I can understand any of it other than the design and pictures), texting supporters and making short YouTube videos, and probably the fact that her mother is a former member of the Folketing and now is a member of the EU Parliament, Ida was elected. In the Folketing, she's been a major advocate for making Copenhagen even greener (more on that in a later post... apparently a country with 20% of its power coming from wind energy and with dedicated bike lanes is not doing enough?).

This past summer, during "cucumber time," a journalist from one of the major Danish newspapers asked Ida to interview her about an article he was writing (because no news was happening) about the "new generation" of leaders in the Folketing. Because (remember, 5.4 million people in the whole country) the journalist and Ida knew each other - he was an ex-boyfriend's friend, they met at Roskilde Festival (this year's line-up included Radiohead, Neil Young, Band of Horses, The Streets, Battles, Jay-Z and many more) to do the interview. Here's where my knowledge of journalist/politician relationships started to fall apart. Apparently the conversation was really casual (maybe something having to do with it taking place at a giant music festival) and she said a few things as jokes and/or out of context when talking about the state of her party. But, so our professor explained, because of the village-like relationships, she was able to talk with the journalist and go over all the quotes he was thinking of using, and even asked him (and he agreed) to not publish ones that looked at her party in a critical light. Of course his editor ended up publishing one of her quotes as a headline and many other papers picked up on the "controversy," but that isn't the main point of the story. The fact that she had the opportunity to choose what the journalist would and wouldn't publish was shocking to me.

Maybe this kind of thing happens all the time, but it was a very enlightening experience - I'm sure one of many that I'll have while learning about the differences in journalism and politics at home and abroad.

Pictures from the trip below:

Claus in front of the original Danish constitution, from 1849

The main chamber, as seen from the royal seats. The press boxes (back of the picture) have better views...

Outside the Folketing... unfortunately the main tower is being fixed or something.