Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding American Food in Århus

I've been mulling for some time about how to write about Bazar Vest, food, America, identity for a while now. This isn't all I have to say about the subject, that's for sure. But for now this is a post I wrote up quickly before I left for Amsterdam.

During my second week in Århus, the novelty of being in a new place was wearing off somewhat. I craved familiar things. At the top of the list was hummus and pita bread. In the States, I always have these two things on hand. This lead to me searching for hummus and pita in Århus, which I finally found in Bazar Vest, a market with stores by North Africa, Turkish, and Middle Eastern immigrants.

While at Bazar Vest,  I also had coffee with cardamom and it was as good as or even better than any I had in the States. A bakery sold baklava too! After I bought pita and hummus, my friend and I went to a mutual friends house where we sampled them. Even though the hummus tasted a little different, the pita was perfect. I thought the baklava lacked the fragrance of rose water, but it was really a minor quibble compared to finding baklava at all.

My friend summarized my quest for pita and hummus: a Chinese-American girl and a Polish boy go to the immigrant neighborhood in Denmark to find Middle Eastern food that reminded the girl of America. And the box from had the Chinese character 福 and a bamboo motif printed on the side.

I was very very happy that day because I got to eat food I really missed. But I also treasure that trip to Bazar Vest because it represents all the things I love about my life in America and in my life here: the intersecting identities of people in America and the cosmopolitan community of exchange students here in Århus.

 Pita. The label says it's Lebanese

Baklava in bamboo motif box

Baklava with 福 box

Monday, January 25, 2010

Leaving home

I'm leaving for Copenhagen in less than 12 hours. From there, I'm flying to Amsterdam on Wednesday morning. I'll be back in Århus next Monday, February 1st. It's going to be an exciting trip, the first time I'm leaving Århus since I arrived three weeks ago, and it'll be the first time I'm going to Amsterdam.

The funny thing is, I think I will miss Århus a little bit. Part of this is the normal anxiety of traveling; it's less stressful if I just stayed "home" for this week. I've gotten settled here. I feel almost comfortable in my new bed. But I think I might buy a better pillow soon.

But I think this feeling owes a larger part of the people I've met in three short weeks, people I can call friends. I've established a kind of rhythm here and going to Amsterdam is breaking that pattern. There are some people I have seen practically everyday since January 6 when the Denmark Today classes started but I won't see them for a week now. Actually, I likely won't see them as often when I return from Amsterdam because regular classes will start and we'll go to our respective classes.

A new city awaits me. Good night for now.

some of my housemates

Sunday, January 24, 2010

MOMS. Not the woman who raised you

MOMS is a hefty 25% tax on ... practically everything. I've bought in Denmark so far I have had to pay this tax. It stands for meromsætningsafgift (according to wikipedia).

This is different from sales tax in the states not only because it's a lot higher but also because it is levied on food as well. (Technically a VAT is also different from a sales tax but I don't really know the technicalities...)

Here is a receipt from my recent trip to Netto, a grocery store. I was making tacos so I bought items similar to that I buy in the States. Generally, things are more expensive here than in the States. Some things are only a little more expensive. Somethings are a lot more expensive.

taco seasoning (2 packages) $2
flour tortillas (6) $2
bell peppers (3) $2
roma tomatoes (i think 6) $3
ground beef (1kg) $8.50
avocados (3) $2.50
salsa $2.50
lemon $0.50
pads $4
total, including 25% tax $27

All prices displayed in stores are written with the tax included.

Practically all the exchange students I've met feel that living in Denmark is much more expensive than in their home countries. But not students from other Nordic countries, where apparently everything is REALLY expensive. People say that Swedes go to Denmark to buy alcohol and Danes go to Germany to buy alcohol.

Some things here are a lot more expensive.
1L of milk costs 5 - 8kr, or about $1-1.50. Compare this to the States where 1 gallon (3.89L) costs $2. My Norwegian housemate thought that milk here is really cheap.
I really want to buy soy milk but 1L of soy milk costs 15-20 kroner.
Eggs are sold in cartons of 6 or 10. I can't remember now how expensive they are, but they are definitely more expensive than in the States because eggs are dirty cheap in America.

It's hard to compare prices sometimes because many fruits and vegetables here are sold by piece not by weight. Bananas are generally 2.25 kroner/stick ($0.50).

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I'm living in a little gray house on a corner lot.

My room is actually the original living room of the house but all the rooms are now converted into bedrooms and mine is the largest (and more expensive but I didn't get to choose this room). A set of doors lead out to a little patio that will see plenty of use in the spring and summer, I imagine.

I'm paying heavily for the location of the house. It's across the street from Århus University so it takes me only a few minutes to go to class. It is also closer to the city center than where many other study abroad students live. I generally walk there, though sometimes when it's cold, windy, and late I take the bus.

The kitchen leaves much to be desired and the lack of common living space puts a damper on housemate bonding and my bathroom doesn't have a radiator, but it beats the dormitories I have lived in for the past three and a half years because I've been able to have friends over for dinner. We cook in my cramped kitchen where the oven makes a strange humming noise. 

Then we sit down together at a table with a non-matching top. (The original glass top was broken before I arrived.) But we got a piece of ... something that looks like a cross between plywood and cardboard. All the housemates and visitors have signed the table top and draw their flags.

And after we eat, we drink tea and chat.

Unfortunately, five of my housemates will be leaving soon. We just found out that people cannot live in the basement or in the addition built to the first floor. I'm not sure if the landlord just needed a permit or if those rooms are entirely illegal. Either way, we were all angered when our housemates got word of this. Even though I'm not affected by this, I felt that all of us as students are easily taken advantage of. We're unfamiliar with the university, the city, and Denmark.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Today I went to Matas to buy some Labello lip balm. Mata is a chain similar to drug stores like Walgreens, but without the drugs, food, stationery and a lot smaller. It pretty much sells drug-store makeup and hair products. Labello is the Chapstick of Europe.

While I was there, I looked at the makeup. The brands at Matas are: L'Oreal, Rimmel London, and similarly priced brands which I can't remember now. It's basically drugstore makeup anyway.

I noticed that each of these lines only carried five or six shades of foundation, be they liquid or powder form. In America, these would be the lightest five or six shades of a line totaling a dozen or so. But here in Matas, they're the only shades of foundation.

This isn't to say that there aren't darker skinned people here in Århus. There are. I see them every day walking around the city center, going to the grocery store, but they're not going to Matas to buy foundation. 

Admittingly, this may or may not reflect all makeup for sale here because I haven't been to the makeup counters at Magasin, the major department store. (It's comparable to Macy's.) I believe makeup lines there are able to carry a wider selection since their spaces are bigger than the teeny Matas store I went to. But they are also upscale brands like M.A.C., Clinique, and Elizabeth Arden. Even if they had more darker foundation, they'd cost more.

In many ways buying makeup in Denmark is like that in the States. Pretty much the global brands are available in both countries, but it's details like the shades of foundation that remind me that this is a very different society. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Every city has a ghetto

On my first day in Århus, I learned about the ghetto. "The ghetto where all the immigrants live"was the way it was described to me. This suburb of Århus is called Brabrand, to the west of the city. Students expressed their misfortune for having been placed in a dorm in this neighborhood. Some of the problem is simply its geographical distance. It's a bus ride into the city. But much of the problem is that it's "the ghetto where all the immigrants live". It was the only way I heard immigrants being described in Denmark.

There seems to me two contrasting pictures of Denmark. In one, it's a lovely country. It's people are very happy. Even if this is a myth (or the survey methodology imperfect), its is a widely believed one. The social services are really good. People bike a lot.Women participate in the workforce almost equally with men.

But a lot of people, well immigrants, aren't very happy. Denmark finds it very difficult to accept its changing demographics. Immigration and racism are sensitive topics here as it is anywhere else.

I haven't gotten a hang of how these topics are discussed in Danish society because I haven't found very good Danish news sources in English. But a few weeks back the attack on Kurt Westergaard by a Somali man brought this issues up in the States too. Time Magazine has this to say about Somali immigrants to Denmark:
Somali refugees are also among the least integrated minority groups in Denmark, a fact that experts blame on a lack of education and the strident tone of right-wing politicians. According to the Integration Ministry, only 34% of Somali men and 22% of Somali women are employed — a rate far below the average for immigrants in the country. "There are different reasons for this, but one is that there has been civil war in Somalia since 1991, and this has created a situation in which many have a poor education from their homeland," says Nauja Kleist, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute of International Studies. "But another aspect is the feeling of not being accepted by the rest of Danish society. The harsh tone of the political debate in Denmark has had the consequence that many feel they are not being recognized as equal citizens."
I heard that Denmark has very harsh immigration laws but I didn't know any specific examples until now:
Artan echoes that sentiment, saying that some Somalis feel as if they're being pushed out by the Danish People's Party, which has succeeded in passing several harsh immigration laws in recent years with the help of allies in Parliament. Last fall, a proposal was passed to pay "antisocial" foreigners 100,000 kroner ($19,000) to leave Denmark and give up their residency rights.
From the UNHCR:
Denmark introduced one of Europe's strictest immigration laws in 2002. The measure restricts citizens' ability to bring foreign spouses into the country, requiring both partners to be aged 24 or older. The law also requires the Dane to pass a solvency test, prove that he or she has not drawn social security for at least a year, and posta bond of almost $10,000. A reunified family's husband and wife must both prove "close ties to Denmark."
By no means do I have even a cursory understanding of the situation, but as you all know, immigration and ethnic relations are topics close to my intellectual and experiential soul. 

Food I'm craving today: hummus and pita. But I know there's bazaar in Brabrand where a lot of immigrants have stores and I intend to go very soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Days

I left the States last Sunday morning and arrived in Århus on Monday local time so I have been here for a week now.

The past week was a mirror-image of the first few days of college: moving in, finding the grocery store, going to the grocery store, figuring out bus routes. Though it's a very distorted mirror since this is a whole different country. The day I move in, a German girl was also moving in to this house. She and her parents drove up from Germany with their car packed full. Much of her belongings were in plastic tubs. My mom would have fretted over my accommodations the way her parents did, saying that the kitchen was small or the room was cold or the bathroom dirty. It reminded me so much of moving into my dorms and my parents helping me. It made me miss my mom right away.

Meeting new people made it seem the most like starting college anew. The past week has been non-stop introductions. Then followed a series of formulaic questions we asked one another countless times. It starts with introductions: What's your name? Where are you from? What are you studying here? Which dorm do you live in? Next we moved on to chitchatting about the weather: How cold is it where you're from? Oh the Australians must be having a hard time adapting. Oh I should have brought warmer clothes.  Then we complained about our living situations. Oh I live so far away. Oh my rent is so high. Oh I live with all Danes. Oh I don't live with any Danes. Then we compared who got the most money to study. Americans are the clear losers. Then we talked about drinking. It seems that students the world over drink a lot.

Throughout the week, there were events I wanted to go to and events I felt I should I in order to get to know people. I know that like starting college, many of the people I meet in the first days will become my friends for the durations. It's not the time to be anti-social. At times I really wanted to meet people, but other times I had to drag myself out into the bitter cold to meet more people. It was mostly great fun but all quite exhausting.

On Sunday I finally had a less hectic schedule. I went to Risskov, a seaside park with a few friends -- not too many. Walking in the woods and along the sea was much more relaxing than I thought it would be. Then I came back to the house and had some quiet time to myself. Blogging is really relaxing. I feel recharged and ready for the next week.

I hope now that I'll gotten over these introductions, I can get to know some people in greater depth. I think that will be very rewarding.

Right now I'm craving a bagel with cream cheese. The latter is available in all grocery stores, but the former, not so much.

A view of the harbor from Risskov

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I really want a striped scarf

Men & Women
Originally uploaded by Scott_3
Since I've been in Denmark, I've seen scarves that are dark gray or black with lighter color vertical stripes. I really want one.

(They might be available in the States too, but I hadn't noticed them there. Though perhaps scarf-wearing among men is more common in Europe than in the States as a whole?)

But almost as soon as I noticed these scarves, I also realized that they are men's scarves. Only men wear them. I have never seen a woman wearing them. But because I hadn't seen these scarves before in the States, I did not already think of them as menswear.

To me, nothing about them makes them exclusively for men. I mean, they're dark gray or black but women wear dark-colored scarves. I haven't been to a clothing store here yet, but I'm sure they'll be sold in the menswear section.

Perhaps over time I won't want one anymore as I become socialized to think that they're for men. But for now, I really do.

It Snows into the Sea

The best decisions I have made in preparing to come to Denmark were to bring my winter boots and my red pea coat. I didn't think I would need them, the boots especially, because I hear that it usually doesn't snow very much and when it does, it doesn't stick around.

The temperature have been about the same as that in lower Michigan. But in Michigan, I drive everywhere. Here I walk most places. It's also really windy here. Like 20-30 mph winds and higher by the sea.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I do not have a boyfriend

On the first day of Danish language class, I learned the relationship statuses of my dozen or so classmates.

The purpose was to practice the letter æ. We learned the word kæreste, meaning boyfriend or girlfriend. Then we practiced saying:

Ja, jeg har en kæreste. (Yes, I have a boy/girlfriend.)
neg, jeg har ikke en kæreste. (No, I do not have a boy/friend.)

Combine this with expression for saying one's name and the expression "to miss", my teacher then proceeded to make us say the name of our boy/girlfriend and if they were missed. This was all very educational.

On a more serious note, I found it interesting that boyfriend and girlfriend are the same word in Danish: kæreste. I wonder if this has any implications for gender roles in Danish society. But it is perhaps too much speculation because husband and wife are two different words, if Google Translate is to be trusted.

Honors System

I have taken the bus now twice without paying. (To be clear, both times it wasn't my fault. The first time the coin slot was closed and the second time the coin slot was jammed by the guy who used it right before me. The bus driver did not know that the coin slot jammed nor did he care.) But I think it illustrates that many things seem to run on the honor system here with regard to buses, car registration, and media licenses.

On the buses in Århus (but not other Danish cities), the ticket machine is at the back of the bus where passengers also board. Then they put money into the machine to get a ticket or stamp their passes. Since the driver does not see the passengers pay, passengers can sometimes get a free ride.

Though there is a risk in doing this because sometimes there are plain-clothed and uniform bus company employees on the bus who check to see if passengers have paid. Those that don't get a hefty fine of 200 or 300 kroner ($40-60) so it's probably better to always pay it anyway.

An Italian housemate of mine brought his car from Italy and now uses it here. He has not registered it in Denmark because it's expensive. People get a grace period (of a couple months, I think) to do it. But there's no way of knowing when my housemate first entered Denmark. In the unlikely event he is stopped by the police, he plans to say he just arrived in Denmark so his grace period hasn't expired.

According to my lease, all Danish residents must pay a media license fee to the government once a year of about 2000 kroner ($400). It's required for anyone using a computer, radio, or TV. This is separate from the monthly fee to the internet service provider which supplies our house. My mentor, a Danish student helping me to settle in, told me not to pay the license fee. Likely no one will chase me down so I shouldn't pay it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Personal ID

I signed up for a CPR number, which is needed for practically everything here. It's a national registration number issued by the Danish government. In about a week I should receive the number by mail.

With it, I can:
get universal free healthcare
open a bank account
buy a SIM card

This also means that I won't be able to do any of these things until then. I understand its necessity to government-related functions like healthcare, but to buy a SIM card?

Edit: Okay, you can buy a SIM card w/o a CPR number, but only the prepaid kind. If you want a contact plan with the phone company, which is cheaper, a CPR number is needed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Things are different here

My first day in Århus is coming to an end. I found out a lot of uncertainties that had me stressed back in the States.
  • Neither my MSUFCU-issued visa credit nor debit card work here EVEN WITH PIN NUMBERS! But I can still withdrawal money from the ATM with this debit card.
  • Traveling on the train turned out to be way more stressful than I thought. I know that trains are quite sophisticated in Europe, but perfectly on-time trains don't make up for the fact that it was very difficult to find a place to put my suitcases.
  • Things are expensive here. Many fruits and vegetables are sold by unit.10 clementines cost the equivalent of $5.
Tomorrow I'll meet some of the other study abroad students at a social activity organized by Studenterhus, an organization that brings together Danish and International students.

It's only 9pm here but I'm exhausted. I'm going to lay my head on my makeshift pillow since I didn't bring one from the States and haven't bought one yet.

sun and wind

Mental picture: emerging from rail tunnel onto the bridge connecting Zealand to Funen and seeing wind turbines on the left and sun rays illuminating patches of water through the clouds on my right.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Last update from the North American Eastern Time Zone

Blog has been light on analysis of late because I've been preoccupied by packing and associated preparations. It can be really draining, mentally.

I finally set up my laptop to type Scandinavian accents and letters. Now I don't have to copy and paste from another document like I've been doing the past several weeks. It's about time because I'm off to DTW tomorrow morning at 8am.

My itinerary is as follows:
Sunday morning:  DTW to Washington Dulles
After a 5 hour layover, 5pm departure from to Copenhagen
By train, Copenhagen to Århus arriving in the early afternoon Monday local time. 

I'm not sure when I'll have internet access in Denmark. I believe I have to buy internet when I get to my house so it may take sometime to set up and I'm not sure which university buildings have wifi or even how to log on to it.

I'll try to remember to keep Skype open when I'm online. I do have a username; it's written on my facebook profile. I'll be on Central European Time, 6 hours ahead of Eastern Time.