One Mission of this BreakAway: Show the kids their heritage. Like all good writing teachers preach: Show, don’t tell. So we’re here—not just listening to Grandma’s tales or eating lefse at Christmas. It’s working, mostly, if by osmosis; they see the blue eyes and blond hair and fit right in. They like the Danish salamis and ice creams.
We’ve made it to Hornbaek, Denmark—a beach town about an hour north of Copenhagen. One downside of multi-destination BreakAways becomes the days that get wasted by moving from Point I (Italy) to Point D (Denmark). So after a 12-hour migration that took us from hot sun to cold gray, we moved into a comfortable house a few blocks from the beach.
Danes love their little country and carry a national pride evident in everything from extraordinary cleanliness to ubiquitous flags. The people are quieter than Italians—especially in the countryside and, for that matter, the towns. Still, Danes live it up too. Edginess sometimes lurks.
Yet one rarely sees a cop, a posting of rules, or a threat of any kind. Denmark rejects wars and violence. “All for one, and one for all” works here in a way that’s refreshing when you come from America—always in conflict, evermore a police state.
What you do see: Homes and farms and hills so quaint and cute you wonder if you’ve stepped into a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Ancient castles, churches, and neighborhoods that make you wonder if you awoke in a former life. Jauntily dressed individualists with bikes and bags going about their business amid an exceptional quality of life.
In America, dogs are often elevated to aristocratic status. And in some circles, shops, and settings, kids are viewed as a nuisance. Here, children are not only welcome most anywhere, amenities for parents abound, kids’ discounts (to age 15!) are common, and some spaces (libraries, parks, museums) are so kid-centered you wonder if adults are allowed in on the action.
My offspring have assimilated to that notion quickly, while also, being kids, being oblivious to it. For example, they’ve gotten lost for hours in two engaging, well-equipped public libraries now; how often does that happen at home?
At the local Solstice bonfire on the beach they call “Sankte Hans,” one worldly young Dane sensed my incredulity at the remarkable safety and trust. No one locks doors. Or bikes. Or cars. Or, usually, anything.
It takes people like Americans a long time to grasp that much trust. “Imagine: A world with no fear!”
he proclaimed with wide eyes.
No one checks for tickets on the trains. Many people scan their own groceries on the honor system. When you wander museums and attractions, a security guard occasionally appears, but you’re more likely to find yourself lost in a castle dungeon so dark and treacherous you’d have to sign waivers to see it in the U.S.
It’s easy to chat up a Dane. You may have to take the first step. But after that, it may be hard to step away. Most will beam—or at least smirk—at the notion of a foreign tourist. And though they’re often demure (even kings were expected to practice modesty), they’re particularly delighted to meet an American visitor.
Their English has been less than scholarly so far, though. This surprises me, and is not how I remember it from my last visit. But they probably still can handle three more languages than the average American. And we’re in the country now; Copenhagen’s city-folk will probably be more westernized.
Though every vista and setting gets tended to the point of super-tidy, the Danes don’t work all that hard. Oh sure, there’s that aimless European economy. And both entitlement and unemployment run deeper than the fjords here.
Yet as a suburban American, the service methods can be maddening. An upscale restaurant will be so short-staffed you’ll be tempted to help out. The supermarket lines will be so long you may opt to go hungry. No one’s in a hurry (except at closing time); steeples have clocks that stopped working centuries ago. It’s relaxing at times. Other times? God bless America!
Denmark makes the green movement look like no movement at all, but simply the right (and only) way of doing things. Some of the roofs are even green—as in, covered with live grass! Bikes are certainly more common than cars, and given the best parking spots, easy access to trains, and the right of way.
One word: Plastics. If you believe in their future, you’ll pay dearly—for picnic goods, your basic zip-lock, and even a grocery bag . And garbage gets sorted so thoroughly that when I threw a soda can into a nonrecyclable garbage bin by a train station, someone had reached in and taken it out within seconds.
Wild little daisies and clover are welcome in lawns here; pesticides are not. And though some prices run high (Pringles may run you $4 and a large soda in a café may set you back $10), you can buy fresh produce for way less than the states. The message: You want to live unhealthy? Fine. But you’ll pay. Anyway, many prefer to grow their own food.
Food? That rumor that Scandinavia is gastronomically challenged has been officially disproven here. In fact, some items (laks, mussels, pickled veggies, etc.) are as good—and healthy—as any I’ve had anywhere. And THE best restaurant in the world? It’s in Copenhagen. It serves delicacies you’ve never heard of, and that they pick in deep, wild woods. It’s Nomo. And it will set you back about $800 if you want the full multicourse tasting meal with accompanying wines.
By the way, they’re booking October 2012 right now. So plan ahead, as in 3+ months ahead!
Which is to say, Danes put their money where their mouth—and their heart—is. And this country has a lot of heart. Of course, the weather may cloud things up; they say it rains one-third of the days, and my experience is it’s cloudy on most others.
And yet, there are 21 hours of daylight this Solstice week. And peace, love, and integrity fill the clean air.