Bright and early, I wake up to the SAD lamp powering through its 100W light wake up alarm complete with bird noises….Yeah, weird I know but it was left by our landlord and it does the job.
Soon enough, I’m all power-dressed and on my way into work.
I was supposed to be having a lazy start to the my new job but due to some resource changes it turns out I’m due to jump straight into a sprint planning meeting. Not the easiest of starts but I’m working on the assumption that ‘if I keep my mouth shut, people might assume I’m intelligent’ – It’s done me pretty well in my career so far….Still the cycle into work is nice, oh and did I mention my work is ridiculously good looking.
This is the view as I park my bike:
It’s an old renovated boat-house type affair, near to the beautiful opera house and close by the Danish Academy of Music.
I go in through the glass double doors and pass the shoe shine machine:
Breakfast is laid out in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves. Every day there is a different cheese for breakfast:
Let me repeat that in case you missed it…. Every day…. there is a different cheese… for breakfast.
I’m not just talking about some nonsense Bavarian smoked cheese or some Philadelphia…. No, on Day 1 it’s Camembert. Rather than leaping around with joy, I find myself being strangely uptight, I feel like I’ve somehow landed on a strange planet where Camembert, Comte and Ash-rolled goats cheese are perfectly acceptable breakfast items and I’m now paralysed with fear as I wonder if there are any nasty surprises…. Like it can’t all be this good right? What if the milk is herring flavoured or something like that… I feel I should approach with caution…. but no, after looking around… it looks like cheese and rye bread is a totally a breakfast thing or a ‘Morgenmad’ thing (pronounced ‘Morernmalllrl’ or something like that because the Danes all got together one year and decided…’let’s piss off the rest of the world by having no consistency, logic or reason between the way we write words and the way we pronounce them’….more of that later).
The mind is a funny thing, and at this point mine chooses to remember a hotel-worker I used to know 17 years ago who had health issues after eating too much cheese. I suddenly have future visions of a doctor telling me I’ll be dead in two weeks due to my excessive cheese consumption. With these cautionary tales now stored in my synapses I somehow manage to show some restraint and only have two slices of cheese on some rye bread… Then its on to making coffee.
I’m confronted by something that sort of resembles a V6 engine. I take a couple of looks at it and decide that it can only be for executive use on national coffee day or something and not for the likes of me. So I move onto the bean-to-cup machine which has two types of bean and can make a pretty decent job of most posh coffees. It’s all pretty sweet, especially when you’re a coffee junkie who thinks nothing is wrong with heating up day old coffee rinsed from a teatowel. I go for an Americano and take a seat.
The upbeat, hyper-friendly office manager drops by. She tells me she goes swimming in the lake/river/thing most days before work (even when the lake/river/thing is frozen over) and then directs me to my desk where I find a Mac book Pro, an iPhone, notebook and pens. She later brings me a vase of flowers.
I’m smiling at all of this but in the back of my mind, I’m really thinking:
The whole office is ridiculously tidy… I start to wonder how long I can keep up some semblance of decorum and professionalism before I get found out… The clock is ticking.
Anyway, then I get dragged into sprint planning.
Look, I’m not going to write anything much about work unless there’s some really useful learning as its a good way to get fired (NDAs are everywhere) quickly but we jump into a full on day of planing, discussion and estimating.
At the end of the day, (and I mean right at the end of the day after 6 hours of meetings) we finish up tired and weary but happy with a job done. Someone suggests a beer but it turns out they were just joking. My heart sinks.
On Tuesday I get to meet more people. They are all super-nice and friendly. It’s a really international company without about 17 different nationalities. I meet people with wildly-interesting names and totally fail to pronounce them properly. They seem forgiving, but I feel ultra-ignorant. One of my colleagues is named after an Icelandic God… I can’t pronounce his name properly, but it sounds cool. I immediately feel ‘name-envy’….why can’t I be named after an Icelandic God.
I explore the office a bit more
These are the fridges stocked with fizzy drinks including Faxe Kondi for anyone who is thirsty…. Oh did you just want water….?
You can get sparking, still or super-cold from the funky water machine. Everyone has a cup and a vase and are encouraged to use the same one all day for environmental reasons. I have no idea what the vases are for but people seem to drink from them.
The toilets are ridiculously nice too. People around the office are now starting to give me strange looks as I photograph everything around me. I keep trying to give them looks that say: ‘I’m just not used to these nice things in my life’ but I’m not sure it abates their suspicion.
Lunch is just ridiculous. Its always something hot with like 3 salads, bread, a cheeseboard and there’s always loads of eggs for some reason. Everyone stops at around the same time and knowingly heads to the kitchen. I notice that everyone just seems to take one plate and not got back for seconds or thirds… The restraint is amazing…clearly Danish democracy and social equality in action. I’d like to see them try these lunch spreads in the UK, I’m sure we would find a way within minutes to corrupt the entire system.
After lunch I try to deal with the fact that my keyboard seems to have extra keys… I don’t know what to do with these…? PÅLÆØ ? Should I be doing more PÅLÆØ_
Yesterday I definitely noticed that your everyday office workers were using the super posh coffee machine, so I resolve to get in early and make myself a posh coffee.
There’s a whole grinder thing:
And then its onto the V6 coffee maker deluxe.
The Icelandic God colleague helps me out a bit, but I still manage to make a mess of it. I try to use the hot water from the V6 machine to clean out the wand but get coffee and water all over the floor. I immediately grab some tissues and get down on my hands and knees and try to clean it up but I just seem to be spreading mess around further. I’ve not seen anyone else make any mess at Valtech ever… I think I’m the first and am frantically paranoid that this might be a sackable offence. Lots more people come into the kitchen and seem to make perfect lattes with the utmost ease whilst I’m scrubbing around like Dobbie the frickin’ House Elf thinking ‘Master, please don’t send Dobbie back under the stairs.’
I eventually get back to my desk and eat my Rye bread and Cheese whilst looking bitterly and enviously at all the cool kids making perfect Flat Whites. I suddenly wish I’d invested in Barista training rather than the Scrum Alliance membership fee.
It’s a fairly stressful day. I go home and explain my woes to my wife and am telling her about how making the latte was really, really stressful.
There’s a sudden silence and a chill in the air.
She gives me this hard, cold look that says ‘Oh diddums, did the poor baby have a hard day making a latte at the posh-hotel-workplace while I was out in the cold with two screaming kids and a packed lunch’. I decide to drop my complaints and ask her about her day.
Turns out Denmark is continuing to be a source of interest and excitement for the kids. We don’t have a car so my wife has to cycle everywhere but she’s been to libraries that have dressing up boxes, cushion pits and little kiddie-cars that the kids can use to drive round the library. One of the parks near us has cows and horses and goats. Guess what, the kids can just go into the goat bit at any time and play with the goats…. There’s no adult supervision, its just kids and goats frolicking and having fun….
Oh you crazy Danes… when will you learn that you just can’t let children play unsupervised like this…they might grow up to be creative or something dangerous like that.
I go back with more resolve and actually make a latte….Its a bit of a crap one as I mess up the milk but I least I don’t make as much mess this time (I still make some mess). There’s a post-it on the machine saying ‘Please don’t use the water from the V6 coffee maker to clean the wands’ so it looks like they are already onto me. Damn.
The rest of the day is some work-type stuff. I’ve got no real idea what I’m doing but then again, that’s pretty much been the case for the past ten years of my career so it feels familiar enough.
I have some conversations with a Danish PM. She asks me where I live. Now, I live in a place called Amager. However Amager is really big. Being British and class obsessed, its really important to me that I point out to her that I’m from the Northern part of Amager, near to Langebro which is a bridge into the city centre. I need her to know that I’m a central Copenhagen kid, paying full whack for my apartment rental and not living out in the sticks of southern Amager. The conversation literally goes like this:
“Where are you living?” she asks
“On Amager Boulevard”
“Amager Boulevard but the bit near Longbrow”
“Longbrow….? Longbrau…? Langeybro….?Lingbrough..?.”
“I literally have no idea what you are saying” she says
I start getting desperate…
“Lunbro?, lungebro?, leninbraw? lingbaaa..?”
She gives me this look. “You realise, you are just making odd noises now”
“I think it means ‘long bridge’ in English” I eventually plead.
“Ohhh… Langebro” she says (pronouncing it LANG-Broo but sort of spitting on me as she says it). “Right so you live near ‘Ah-Mar'”
You can kind of hear the pronunciations here
She gives me this look of sympathy. The sort of ‘well-done-for-trying’ look you give a toddler who has just ‘completed’ a jigsaw by bashing all the pieces together and chewing off the bits that don’t quite fit.
Everyone around here admits that Danish is really hard….it’s just they all manage to speak and pronounce it perfectly…Oh and they speak and write English perfectly too (which if you read anything I write, you’ll soon realise I have a recurring habit of giving up on grammar, syntax and spelling mid-way through a sentence). Plus they generally speak another language or two on top of that and they can do their jobs without breaking a sweat whilst still having time to make a perfect morning latte.
I suddenly feel very inferior and un-evolved and have a stark realisation that I’m gonna have to learn some pretty, fucking slick dance moves if I’m ever going to be able to compete round here.
Friday is the Christmas party. Let’s just say its kind of odd. For a start its November, but the Danes get so excited about the thought of Christmas (all those opportunities for extra candle purchasing) that they just have to start it early. Christmas parties will carry on into January too.
Then, there is Julebyrg….I’ll try to explain this.
In 1984 the Tuborg brewery came out with this advert:
The advert was so successful, that they repeated it the following year, but this time they brewed a special Christmas beer to go with it: Julebyrg.
Get this, they’ve been showing the same damn advert and releasing the same beer every year since. Its got to the point that even though the beer is only available for 10 weeks of the year – its still Denmark’s 4th best selling beer.
There’s proper parties and everything to co-incide with the annual release of the beer…It’s all a bit odd…but they seem to absolutely love it over here.
So anyway, as work comes to a close, we get on the partybus…
..yup… It’s literally a partybus and we are cruising through downtown Copenhagen drinking Tuborg and Schnapps.
Then we get to the place (I have no idea where it is). And there are these Tuborg Air Hostess type women waiting to serve us beer.
Those are the kind of outfits there wearing…. It all feels a little bit ‘booth-babes’ and I’m not totally sure I’m comfortable with it, but before I have too much time to ask questions about sexist undertones in Danish society, everyone is drinking and drinking heavily.
The Turborg dispensers keep getting filled up and the schnapps keeps getting passed around. I start a conversation about Christmas with another Icelandic colleague. I’m trying really hard to not ask stereotypical questions like ‘Do you eat Puffins, listen to Bork and live near a volcano?’.
Anyway, after about five minutes of conversation I find out that Puffins are in fact a delicious Christmas treat and she’ll be looking forward to tucking into 3 of them on Christmas day. I decide that I can take it for granted that she listens to at least some Bjork and I reason that everyone in Iceland does actually live somewhere near to a volcano.
She tells me that in Iceland, all the town comes out at a certain time of the year to help the young Pufflings who get trapped and disorientated in the towns. They help rescue they and direct them out to sea, so they will grow into healthy (and tasty) adult Puffins.
I decide that ‘Pufflings’ is my new favourite word.
By 1am, the crowd are thinning out but I’m demanding more Alphabeat from the DJ and staying to the bitter end. I’m not sure if everyone has headed out to a better party or they are all sensible and have gone home. Either way, eventually the place refuses to give me any more Turbourg. I head out and suddenly realise I don’t know where I am.
It’s 1:30am, I’m hammered and I realise I can’t pronounce the place where I live in a way that Danes can understand.
It starts to rain heavily.
I feel awful. My children are noisy. I need to eat some bacon. I miss Irn-Bru.
We eventually go to the Christmas markets. They are alright. I eat a sausage. It tastes good.
Later on, I buy two bottles of Faxe Kondi (everyone drinks Faxe Kondi) let the kids watch too much Netflix and eat bread and cheese.
In the evening we watch the finale episode of The Killing.
I turn over a new leaf and decide that I am all about healthy living. I make the family go swimming. I decide that we should cycle out to the super-fancy swimming pool and not go to the local one.
On the way, I get us lost and we end up taking an 30 min detour. Emma is not impressed but its a nice day so we carry on being happy families in happy Denmark.
Emma gets a puncture in her front tire. This is a problem. It’s Sunday and the only bike shop that is open is 30 mins walk away. We split up and she takes her bike to be fixed and I take the kids swimming.
I get to the swimming pool after another hard bit of cycling in our bucket bike. The two kids plus the bike are really heavy.
The woman at the pool says she won’t take my UK bank card. I have to go and cycle 5 mins to the nearest cashpoint. Except it ends up being really hard to find and then I’m cycling round for another 20 minutes while my kids start fighting in the bucket bike.
Finally we get to the pool. I’m really stressed, I can’t get hold of Emma and both kids are being pests. We go into the changing room. My stress increases:
- First there is the take off your shoes bit, so we all take off our shoes but I don’t quite know how it works so we end up taking off our shoes in the wrong bit
- Then I put our stuff in the locker
- Then we have to shower.
YOU MUST BE FULLY NAKED WHEN YOU SHOWER. There are all these signs warning you that if you shower with a swim suit on, you will be deported from Denmark for the most heinous hygiene crimes
- Then I realise I’ve left the towels in the locker so I have to go back (totally naked) through the shoe bit to get our stuff. I drip naked body-water all over everyone’s shoes. The Danes aren’t impressed.
- I get the towels and swim suits and finally get myself and the kids sorted and suited. I go back and lock the locker.
- We’re about to go in the pool when the boy decides that he needs a wee. Damn. I can’t leave the girl on her own, so we all crowd into a toiled cubicle while the boy does his business
- On leaving the toilet area, we see a sign that says something in Danish. I don’t know the exact wording but it pretty much says: IF YOU’VE BEEN FOR A WEE IN THE TOILET AREA YOU BETTER HAVE ANOTHER SHOWER BEFORE YOU GO IN THE POOL OR YOU’LL MESS UP THE HYGEINE
- At this point I’m really stressed cause I don’t know if we all have to take our suits off again. I mean bugger that for a game of soldiers. Not with a 3 year old and a 6 year old who are already uptight from being in the bucket bike for over an hour.
- I make an executive decision that we will keep our swimming suits on when we shower this time. I try to make it clear to everyone around us that we have already had one naked shower and this is just a top-up shower.
- We get in the pool and its quite decent
- Twenty minutes later, the boy needs another wee…I see myself becoming trapped in a sisyphean loop of infinite naked showers… never quite becoming clean enough in order to actually swim a length in a Danish swimming pool
- We do some more swimming. The pool is actually really good. You can see it here:
- After another 30 mins the boy needs another wee. I can’t face the stress of the hygiene enforcement ritual again and I decide that we need to head home
- The kids cry at having to go home so I buy them some sugary thing.
- I realise someone has nicked my phone. I’m stressed, tired and I can’t contact my wife. I decide Danes aren’t happy nice people after all but they’re all evil, naked-showering, corrupt phone thieves just trying to make my life a misery
- Turns out, my phone must have fallen out my pocket and someone has handed it in at the front desk… I feel bad for cursing Denmark and all Danes. They are clearly wonderful people who are comfortable with their own bodies and like to ensure good swimming pool hygiene so they can minimise chlorine usage. Even still my shoulders still ache from the stress of the day.
We go hone. Emma is fine. Everything works out. I buy some nice fish thing from the Fotex supermarket and we watch an episode of Borgen with a glass of wine. Everything feels manageable again and the Danish adventure continues.