Have you heard of a city called Aarhus? It’s the second-largest city of Denmark and a university town, around four hours from the capital of Copenhagen. Before I started my application to Aarhus University for the Erasmus Mundus Master’s in Journalism, Media and Globalisation, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know of its existence. Now it’s my home and it will forever have a mark on me, as will the rest of Denmark.
The land of the Vikings is different from all the other European countries I have ever visited. Scandinavia has its own charm, its own appeal, and its own culture. For someone like me, who has lived in India for 31 years of their life, the move was an uprooting (willing and voluntary, if I may add), and it has been so empowering to be in a country that’s progressive, organised, and rule-abiding. Can you imagine that people actually follow road signs and stop for pedestrians?
It’s been just four months and I am still peeling layers after layers of Denmark, so the country is still a novelty for me and it keeps inspiring awe, surprise, shock, and joy.
1. Beer o’clock in school
Denmark has a concept of “Friday Bar”. Most departments at my university open a bar at 4pm on Fridays. These are places you go to get a drink for cheap. Danes, who are normally quiet and reserved, let their guards down at these bars. The drinking culture is one of the culture shocks for most of us who have never seen people get drunk in the campus they’d normally study in.
2. People use snus and nicotine pouches like crazy
Another shocking thing I discovered was snus. It’s a Swedish, smokeless tobacco product. It comes in pouches and you keep it behind your upper lip and suck on it. Interestingly, snus is banned in the EU except for Sweden, but nicotine pouches are not, so there are alternatives available in Denmark. If you’re hard-set on snus, you can bring it from Sweden. These pouches litter the streets in Aarhus and Copenhagen and thanks to an assignment I did on this, I can now identify the white paper-like trash.
3. Weather is as merciless as everyone says
In all pre-arrival sessions, newsletters, hangouts with previous batches, weather was a topic of conversation. I remember we had a play-by-play from a student on how to dress for the weather: how many layers, what to buy, what to bring, and mistakes to avoid. It is a THING in Scandinavia and they are blogs on it even on our university website, explaining, “There is no such things as bad weather; only bad clothes.”
I arrived in Denmark in August, peak of summer, and it was windy, cold, and I needed a jacket. Autumn brought more rains and less sunlight. I had to buy a waterproof jacket, a rain resistant bag, and waterproof shoes and spray—still, I was constantly wet. In winters, you hardly see daylight and it’s a blessed event when the sun peeks out for a couple of hours. The winds are a constant holler outside and the snow is pretty on the first day and a nuisance later with its grey slush everywhere. But you get used to it and learn to hygge with friends.
4. Recycling and reusing is part of the culture
Denmark has a no-waste culture, so apps like TooGoodToGo (where you can buy leftover food from supermarkets and restaurants for cheap) are popular. For furniture, there is the Facebook marketplace where you can buy/sell everything from clothes to bikes and vacuum cleaners. There is also Reuse, a place to get second-hand furniture for free. Second-hand shops (called Genburg) have vintage clothes, houseware, and electronics. Don’t want to go online to sell clothes? Just hang them outside your home with a price tag and payment instructions. No one steals.
5. Danes are on Facebook
Who knew Facebook still existed? My university has pages on Facebook; my dorm group is active on the social media app; and internationals exchange messages and buy and sell things in the Marketplace. It’s a lifeline in Denmark.
6. Denmark is the definition of expensive
Aarhus is not very affordable. You pay through your nose for groceries, food, and public transport. In India if I could dine out thrice a week, in Denmark, it has reduced to once in a fortnight because it doesn’t seem worth it to pay Rs 3,000 for a bowl of ramen and gyoza. But supermarkets have everything and it’s a compliment to the country that they make it so easy to cook at home. The produce is fresh and you can find discounts on everyday items at stores.
Naively, I had dreams of travelling through Europe with a base in Denmark, but I quickly discovered that Aarhus (and even Denmark) isn’t as connected to the rest of the continent as I had imagined. Billund Airport has more flights than Aarhus airport, but both are still more than 1.5 hours from where I live and trains and flights are not as cheap. Still, better than flying from India.
7. You bike, or you hike
Everyone has a cycle, and come rain or wind, people are wheeling it—uphill and downhill. If you don’t bike, you walk. My first month I rented electric scooters called Voi, but I tallied the bills and realised how unsustainable this way of commute was. I now have a bus pass and I bought a second-hand kid’s bike (I am a small person and Danes don’t make cycles for Asian sizes) that’s forever parked in the garage because I live on a hill and the weather has scared me off the bike.
8. Coffee kinda sucks
Danes might not know this (my professor certainly didn’t), but they don’t have good coffee here. Whenever I have had it, it makes me jittery and anxious and I can’t stomach it anymore. I had brought a variety of instant coffee packets from India and I savoured them for months, rationing to make them last.
9. But Danish pastry is lovely
There are so many different kinds. Whenever you enter a bakery or even a Netto or Rema 1000, you smell bread. I have discovered a Danish cheese that goes marvellously with sourdough bread and it has become a staple breakfast. Back home, I don’t eat so much bread or dessert but Denmark has changed me. There’s another thing I can’t get enough of: chocolate truffles.
10. No Amazon
There is no Amazon Denmark. When we have to order things online, we go to Amazon Germany. Just delivery culture is non-existent. There is Bolt for groceries and food deliveries, but mostly people just walk and shop. Also, no Uber. If you need cabs, the apps are DanTaxi and AarhusTaxa. They are also so expensive that no one every uses them. Public transport for the win!