Denmark is a funny old place. On one hand everyone stops at the red man here. Like immediately and with the utmost precision. The roads here are a lot wider due to the cycle lands so often there is a middle island dividing the two streams of traffic. If the pedestrian light switches from green to red, then these two things will happen:
- People who were about to start crossing the road will immediately stop.
- People who are midway through crossing the road will also stop at the island.
In major UK cities that I’ve lived in like Glasgow, faced with the same scenario, the following would happen:
- The person who was mid way through crossing the road would carry on nonchalantly crossing the road, perhaps turning to look at waiting drivers and give them a look says, “Aye pal, it was fuckin’ green when I started oot so this is ma road right’
- The person who was about to cross the road but hand’t yet started would carry on crossing if they were within the first half second of the light turning red. They would kind of pretend that their exists an imaginary and unseen ‘amber’ state for pedestrian lights where the first few seconds of red are ‘fair game’. They would speed up their walk and about half way break into a weird half-run-jog thing. Irritated motorists who were now having to wait at a green light would be appeased with a Tom Cruise style wave of the hand and an awkward smile as if to say ‘Sorry for your inconvenience, but I’m kind of a big deal round here and I need to get to my premiere in a hurry’.
This doesn’t happen in Denmark. They totally play by the rules. If it turns red you immediately stand to attention and don’t attempt to cross. If you are midway through crossing, then you wait at the island until a whole cycle of lights has gone round again. Socialist mentality, they trust the state and follow the rules I guess. But then on the flipside, loads of people are naked and the women and men piss in the streets.
So on the one hand you have this very rule-abiding socialist nation. On the other hand there is a complete like of respect for the rules of decorum and keeping a stiff upper lip, even if that means pretending to be happy when wearing layers tight-fitting formal dress in the baking sunshine. Anyone that’s been to a UK summer wedding or opera festival knows that a key part of being British means wearing completely inappropriate clothing, whilst sweating profusely and ‘NOT MAKING A FUSS darling’.
In central Copenhagen, there is a man made beach opposite the water from my work. I bunch of hippies from Christiania constructed it because I guess they wanted to somewhere to lounge around in the sun, smoke dope and play guitars whilst sensible and respectable people go off to work 40+ hours a week for a living to buy the things that the television tells them they need to be happy… (Christ…what have a I done with my life, how did I end up a project manager….Ooops sorry, just had a sudden moment of existential doubt there)
When the sun comes out, men, women and children all come out to play on this beach and generally they do this without clothes on. There is an awful lot of naked yoga that goes on here which causes all sorts of appendages to wobble and swing and can provide the most disconcerting distractions during your work, e.g.
Yesterday I worked on refining the backlog for Sprint 3 and reviewed the tests we have for the auto login function, today I’m going to chase up the designs for the menu selector and….JESUS CHRIST, THAT GUY’S GOT HIS COCK OUT!
Basically being naked in Denmark is just no big deal and it’s probably up there with candle buying, cycling, beer drinking and pork eating as part of the favourite national pastimes. In the UK, our Victorian inheritance gave us the situation where a low-cut top or a pair of tight-fitting tennis shorts is enough to send us into eye-rolling hysteria and require several subsequent therapy sessions to recover.
Honestly, they just don’t case here. It’s so common on my cycle ride to work to see men and women stripping off at 7am for a dip in the harbour (there’s some weird swimming thing here where everyone seems to think that morning swims are the secret of health and long life). If I went down to the Isis river in Oxford at 7am and took my clothes off an went for a dip, I would be front page news of the Oxford Times: ‘Naked Pervert Defiles Popular Beauty Spot’ and I’m pretty certain that if I didn’t receive some sort of custodial sentence, I would definitely have an ASBO and possibly be banned from picking my children up from school.
So they don’t play by the same rules here. In fact sometimes there are no rules. Every year the good citizens of Copenhagen decide to let their streets be taken over for a major electronic music festival. Distortion: http://www.cphdistortion.dk/
Sure the Youtube video looks great (and it is a great festival), but the streets end up full of beer, vomit and so much piss. It gets cleaned up the next day, but my Japanese colleague has a really hard time dealing with the fact that since moving to Copenhagen she has seen so many women pissing in the street:
“I mean why would they do that,” she says, “I don’t understand why they would do that when their are toilets right there. In Japan a woman would never piss in the street. It’s disgusting”.
It isn’t just at festivals too. Don’t get me wrong, the Danes are super-big on hygeine (just go to a swimming pool and try to not have a shower and you’ll be body slammed back into the changing room until you have throughly scrubbed) but on drunken occasions rather than walk the extra mile to the nearest convenience, both men and women will make use of their urban landscape.
Let’s get one thing straight. I am all for equality. If men are pissing in the street, then it stands to reason that their should be no cultural glass ceiling to prevent women pissing in the street…. but let’s take a step back here and consider the point of view that NONE OF US SHOULD BE PISSING IN THE STREET…. it’s a street. That’s why they call it ‘a street’.
It’s this weird mixture of freedom and order that combines to create some of the oddest and most interesting experiences I’ve had here. Plus the Danes do love a good festival which I’ll be writing more about soon.
To be continued in part 2…