Monthly Archives: March 2007

Stuff I love in Copenhagen

Ever since March gave winter a good rogering, Denmark has been a fucking tremendous place to live. After a record-soggy January and February, we Copers are now languishing in horizon-to-horizon blue skies and 15-degree afternoons. This time last year it was negative-2 and I was still wearing a hat, scarf and gloves just to walk to the corner kiosk to buy firewood.

Anyway, I decided to bring my camera along on my routine sunny-day Tour de Copenhagen. I've been doing this loop for almost a year now, and it never gets old. This is some of the shit that I pass by:

Weird little cove right by my houseBridgin'More coveWeird canal/hippie colony/motorcross track about 10 minutes away from my houseWhat IS this thing?

I think every body of water in Denmark is like 70% bikeBeach-ishIt takes a lot of wind-power to make all those hair products...In Europe, you're never more than 10 meters from a steepleRandom park in the middle of Copenhagen

This was built by Christian IV. Probably. Nice little canal next to my workI only took this picture because it combines my two favorite things: Sushi and gayness.A lot of people paid $8 today to drink a beer beside that canalCanal-retentive, right next to where I work

I wasn't trying to be artsy. The lighting just suckedThe Maturity World Tour continues...Random church by my house that I like in spite of its hella Scientology architectureMy awesome street!

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How I learned to stop worrying and get ruined with my coworkers

Yesterday we all stopped working at 2 in the afternoon (which is not, by itself, unique) and headed to a Fancy-Danskey reception for our CEO's 50th birthday. My boss is apparently quite well known in the international human rights community, and the party was attended by numerous prominent rights-caring-about peoples, from the mayor of Copenhagen to the Danish foreign minister.

Being the world's most inept mingler, I mostly took the occasion as an excuse to lurk around the cheese and get quietly drunk before sunset. Somewhere in between awkwardly sober and incoherently drunk, I learned the following not-yet-Wikipedia'd facts from my fellow party-goers:

  • The former dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, was executed on national TV with his hands tied behind his back. You can tell the age we live in from my reaction: "My God, that's awful. … So is it on YouTube, or?"
  • Argentina used to be more prosperous than Sweden. It was at one point the 7th richest country in the world. I'm not really sure how it all fell down, but at one point the inflation was so severe that stores didn't even put price tags on their goods because they had to raise the prices once or twice per day. People just started trading shit with each other.
  • The vast majority of Danish people have never heard of The Kinks, apparently.
  • Sudan is geographically the largest country in Africa.
  • There is a distinct subculture in Copenhagen of avid cricket-players. (Me, upon hearing this: "Wow. Do you guys play the full 8-hour games, or what?" [slurred giggling]. Cricket player: "Nah, just for 6 or 7 hours.")
  • Many European countries don't teach their own history beyond WWII.
  • Danish, English and Dutch all have fancy names for ladybugs. In Danish, it's 'The Virgin Mary's chicken'. In Dutch it's 'leaf gold-lover' or something. I just think it's interesting that none of them named it anything remotely resembling 'small red beetle'.

 

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Actual advice from the U.S. State Department to Americans traveling abroad

You, and the 55-60 million other Americans who travel abroad each year, have a unique opportunity to change at least some impressions of us from negative to positive. By following the few simple suggestions in this guide, you can have a better travel experience while showing America’s best face to those you visit.

I came across this, the World Citizens Guide, the other day while Russia-ing at work. It's a State Department-funded project to improve the reputation of Americans abroad through 'personal diplomacy', meaning more or less don't be a dick. Some of its wisdom-nuggets:

In many countries, boasting is considered very rude. It’s easy to resent big, powerful people. Assume resentment as a default and play down your wealth, power and status.

Subtext: You are big and powerful. Europeans are jealous of your 6-wheel-drive Dodge Dakota, your 12-speaker home entertainment center, and your bumper sticker that says "No fat chicks. Car will scrape."

Try to speak some of the language even if the only thing you can say is “Hello.” And “Thank you.” It’s okay to sound like a child.

Subtext: You will suck at this. 'Moshi moshi', 'guten tag', and even fucking 'hola' will render you a drooling infant. Better to just speak English very loudly and very slowly. When confronted with someone who doesn't speak English, the correct expression is: "You don't speak English?! Come on, bro."

Refrain from lecturing. Whether on pollution, energy usage or the environment, it’s not a polite stance. Nobody likes a know-it-all, and nobody likes a whole nation of them.

 

Dialogue instead of monologue. When you’re talking about the U.S. and your life there, ask people you’re visiting how what you’ve said compares to what they do and how they live in their country.

Subtext: You are not a fully-formed human being. Things like 'conversation' and 'listening' confuse and frighten you. Better to refrain from discussing sensitive topics altogether. Stick to universals, such as "So, who do you guys think is gonna win 'American Idol' this year?"

Be proud, not arrogant. People around the world are fascinated by the U.S. and the lives we Americans live. They admire our openness, our optimism, our creativity and our “can-do” spirit. But that doesn’t mean they feel less proud of their country and culture.

Subtext: You are open, optimistic and fascinating. Respect other cultures as far as common courtesy allows, but don't let that take time away from discussing all the things you Can Fucking Do. Make sure to point out when other countries embody a "Can't-Don't" spirit. I'm looking at you, Liechtenstein.

The guide also includes fun facts about countries you might be visiting with your revolutionary new 'interacting with others' skills.

In Norway, 40% of the Parliament and almost half of the cabinet positions are filled by women.

In Japan, it is considered rude to look at a person directly in the eye for more than a few seconds.

Subtext: Every Norwegian is 40 percent sissy. And never look at Japanese people directly. They are shifty and inhumanly agile, and not to be trusted. Also, what's a 'cabinet'?

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Overheard in Denmark

The nice thing about swimming a few times a week is that you meet the most interesting crazy old people. I swim at the cheapest, most Gotham-ass public pool in Denmark, and it appears to be frequented exclusively by uncomfortably friendly old men, economy-class-ruining children, and sentient back hair.

This morning a few of the geris took a break from nitpicking my post-shower routine ('Could you dry off over there? You're dripping on the floor.') to interact with one another. This resulted in the following profound exchange:

Old Man 1: Are there many people swimming today?

Old Man 2: No, not so many.

Old Man 1: It's usually not very crowded in the mornings.

Old Man 2: It really depends on how many people are swimming.

This was the equivalent of "It's awfully hot this summer."

"It all depends on the temperature of the air."

 

In related news, Overheard in New York is on fire today with the one-liners. A sample:

Teen girl to teen boy: It's all your fault! Whenever I spend the night with you, the animals suffer.

Girl to guy: I'll never forget the day my goat got polio.

Sororitard: Everyone always thinks death by shark is horrible, but I'm telling you, it is not that bad.

Teacher: Every time you put a penis into a vagina you're risking sex.

Girl: I heard two people having really loud sex on my floor last night. It was either gay guys or Asians, I couldn't tell.

 

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Are you a Balkan? Or a Balkan’t?

I think that when I look back on my time in Denmark, one of the things that will stand out is the sheer weirdness of the music I've seen here. In the last 18 months, I've seen a 15-year-old Swedish ukelele duo, a troupe of 13 turntablists, instrumental guitar-hip-hop from Brooklyn, and an eight-piece Danish plink-orchestra rocking laptops and violins.

Last night's addition to the What The Fucking of 2007 was a Serbian band called The Boban Markovic Orkestar, which consisted of 3 guys on drums and 10 guys on horns. I'm not kidding about this. Look:

boban_markovic_band.jpg

My friend Rasmus just came back from six months in Croatia, where these treble-smiths are apparently famous as Kanye and shit, so he talked me and Søren into Balkanizing for a night. The music sounded more or less like the awesomest marching band ever, all crisp drumming and oompa-loompa brass, and the Bos-Cro-Serb folk in the audience ate it up like spiced rabbit. The Danish attendees, i.e. the people without ponytails or mustaches, weren't as fist-pumpingly energetic as the Balks, but the band's energy was contagious, and by the third song we were all jumping and chanting along.

Next time I have people over, I'm playing nothing but the 'Mariachi on the Mediterranean' mix…

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We gon’ sip Bacardi like…

I turned 25 last week. This is apparently a milestone in ways other than the fact that I can now legally rent a car. 'Quarter of a century, man!' people keep saying to me, like I'm supposed to be experiencing some sort of self-examination blizzard. Luckily, 25 years on this planet has blessed me with an almost terminal superficiality, and the inexorable march closer to death symbolized nothing other than an excuse to get drunk with my friends.

My partner in Saving the World, Søren, was also milestoning (3.0!), so we decided to throw a joint party in the basement of an old house he used to live in. Thusly, we treated about 60 of our friends (i.e. 58 of Søren's and my two) to Danish drinking games, a sticky foosball table, poorly thought-out iPod playlists, and the cheapest beer known to Denmark. Hiyo!

The 'burb is the word...We made literally 12 kilos of dal. Lentil up!The birthday boysKeep stirring, Evil EmpireAmerica! Fuck yeah!

This band was supposed to play, but two of them are in jail from the riots. Rock n' roll!Gays' limp, energetic wrists make them excellent foosball players. Not many people know that.There were like 41 square meters of bare chest there Portugal and Sweden, finally unitedHey ladies! We sold 300 beers before fucking midnight

Look how small I look compared to my skyskraper of a roomate There's a thin line between a high-five and a Neo-Nazi meeting"So that's when I hit him with a broken bottle. What's your name, darlin'?"Iason does his best O-faceHammer time!

There's probably a story behind that wrench...Party on the Gay Couch!She's standing that way because she's wearing her Party Clogs

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Meet the Foxers

Here's a nice gallery of all the fuckups, lies and Bush-worshipping 'mistakes' that Fox News Channel has committed over the last few years.

It's not on the list, but I remember flipping on one of the 24-hour news channels a few years ago and seeing: "Experts agree: Osama bin Laden either dead or alive".

This one's my favorite:

But only because that phrase pretty much sums up my entire attitude toward life at this point.

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Tales from the ‘cerpt

[This first amuse bouche is from a short story called 'Peg,' by Sam Shaw. Nothing profound here; I just thought this was a  nicely put together (and embarrassingly realistic) paragraph.]

George worked the night shift at Penny's video. Some of his most loyal customers were young women, about whom he indulged lavish filmic daydreams. Typically his fantasies involved acts of sacrifice or heroism: there were blazing fires, bar fights, donations of blood that left him pale and depleted. Occasionally he'd spy one of his lady patrons in town talking with another man, and he would want briefly to die.

[This next one is from an essay called 'The New Mecca,' by George Saunders.]

Then he tells me how you get a date if you're a teenage girl in Saudi Arabia:

go to the mall wearing your required abaya [burka, whatever]. When a group of young guys walks by, if you see one you like, quickly find a secluded corner of the mall, take out your cell phone, lift your veil, snap a picture of your face. Write your cell number on a piece of paper. When the boys walk by, drop the scrap at the feet of the one you like. When he calls, send him your photo. If he likes the photo, he will call again. Arrange a secret meeting.

The world must be peopled.

 

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Another excerpt from ‘The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006′

[This one's from 'Love It or Leave It', by David Rakoff. Rakoff, a Canadian, is filling in the form to become an American citizen. He ponders the question "If the law required it, would you be willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States?"]

I surprise myself by checking "yes."

I figure it’s grass soup. Grass soup is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a recipe for food of last resort that my father apparently squirreled away somewhere. I have never actually seen this recipe, but it was referred to fairly often when I was a child. Should everything else turn to shit, we could always derive sustenance from nutritious grass soup! At heart, it’s an anxious, romantic fantasy that disaster and total financial ruin lurk just around the corner, but when they do come, they will have all the stark beauty and domestic fine feeling of a Dickens novel.[…]

A grass-soup situation is a self-dramatizing one based on such a poorly imagined and improbable premise as to render it beneath consideration. Michael Jackson saying with no apparent irony, for example, that were he to wake up one day to find all the children in the world gone, he would throw himself out the window. Mr. Jackson’s statement doesn’t really take into consideration that a planet devoid of tots would likely be just one link in a chain of geopolitical events so cataclysmic, that to assume the presence of an intact building with an intact window out of which to throw himself is plain idiotic. As for grass soup itself, from what I’ve seen on the news, by the time you’re reduced to using the lawn for food, any grass that isn’t already gone – either parched to death or napalmed into oblivion – is probably best eaten on the run.

All by way of saying, that if there ever came a time when the government of my new homeland was actually calling up the forty-something asking-and-telling homosexuals with hypoactive thyroids to take up arms, something very calamitous indeed will have happened. The streets would likely be running with blood, and such moral gray areas as might have existed at other times will seem either so beside the point that I will join the fight, or so terrifying and appallingly beyond the pale that I’d already be either dead or underground.

This is officially my new favorite metaphor.

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‘Nej’-ilism

I have a test in my Danish class tonight. One part of the exam is to read three short, ridiculously simple 'books' in Danish and talk about them for a few minutes. I had assumed that the books would be some Dick and Jane shit, but while the language in the books is indeed Pixar level, the subject matter is pure Almodovar. The first book was about two children nearly drowning, and I've just finished 'Father', which has the following exchange:

Henrik tells his girlfriend that he can't see her for the next two weeks. "Two weeks," Marie says. "That is long. You don't love me anymore?"

"Of course I love you," says Henrik. "But my exam is important."

"More important than me?" says Marie. She cries.

Henrik doesn't answer, so Marie leaves.

Ooooo… K. That's a bit serious. Later in the book, we leave See Spot Run territory entirely

"I'm pregnant," says Marie quietly. Henrik says nothing. He stares at Marie. Then he looks down at the floor.

"Pregnant? Who's the father?" says Henrik.

"You're the father, of course," says Marie. "I haven't been with anyone else." […]

"So what should we do?" says Marie.

"We should have an abortion, of course," Henrik says. […]

"An abortion?" Marie says. "No, I don't want to have an abortion. I want to have the child."

"But I won't be the father," Henrik says.

"You only think about yourself," Marie says. […]

"If you have the baby, I won't be your boyfriend anymore," Henrik says.

"Then we're not dating," Marie says. "You can leave."

Good Lord. I don't know if this 'Learning Danish With Nietzsche' approach is a deliberate decision or just a symptom of Danish Expectitis, but it's interesting that they break out the 'bortion this early in the Danishing process. I get the feeling that in the Level Two class, Henrik and Marie experience the business end of the 55 percent divorce rate, join the Hell's Angels, and start stuffing cotton rags into bottles.

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