When things work…

Story time.

My wife and I are moving closer to the city centre next week, and thus have been uprooting ourselves again.  All in all, I think it’ll be a huge improvement on our standard of living.  We’re just not happy where we are, and the house we’re in is just too big for us and it just doesn’t work for us at all.  In fact, to illustrate this point, after we vacate this house, a family of six (yes, six!) will be moving in to displace the two of us and our two pets…

In any case, as we get ready for another move, we’ve been packing the house up – putting everything back into boxes.  For the most part, it hasn’t been too bad living out of a suitcase again, but we’ve packed a few things that we’ve needed to drag out again, which means hunting through the stacks of boxes that have piled up in one of the unused rooms.  However, not all of our hunts have been successful.

One of the things that has gone missing was a set of papers that every pregnant woman in Denmark has – a “journey journal” (vandrejournal) – that tracks the development of the fetus across the term of the pregnancy.  You bring these two sheets of paper with you to every doctor and midwife appointment so that they can record all of the information in one place.  Of course, it’s the patients responsibility to hold on to these sheets of paper and ensure that they’re present at each appointment.

Normally, misplacing the sheets for a few days wouldn’t be a problem, but we had a midwife appointment this week, meaning that we’ve had to spend several days diving into each and every packed box to find the missing papers.  Showing up to the midwife’s without the papers would be a big no-no, like showing up to the dentist without brushing your teeth for a few days.

Alas, the papers never did show up, leaving us to walk sheepishly into the midwife’s office, offering up excuses that we were moving and just couldn’t find them.  Expecting a mild chastising at the least, we were utterly surprised with the result:

“It’s not a problem – we’ve installed an electronic journal system this week.  You will not need the journal anymore!”

Bullet dodged!  Apparently the whole thing is now online and when we do find the blue sheets, they’ll have a quick trip to the nearest shredder – Score one point for Danish Efficiency!

 

A few stares

There is SO much going on right now in my life that I’ve just been holding off talking about anything recently – but I haven’t abandoned the blog.  I’m just trying to find a better balance.

Anyhow, I have some entertainment to share.  I often find myself thinking “I never imagined I’d be doing…..  in Denmark.”

Today, that phrase was wrapped around “biking to work with a two-foot (60cm) tall stuffed Emperor penguin in my backpack.”  Obviously, it wasn’t high on my list of things to do, but it was a gift to a colleague’s daughter, and yes, I do bike to work every day.  So, in the back pack in went.  And clearly it didn’t fit.

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Plenty of people stopped to stare at it – and me – along the way this morning, but the story doesn’t end there.  My colleague also biked to work, and he got to bike home with the penguin on *his* bike as well.  So, here’s a picture of the penguin in the pannier, before he went home… and I’m pretty sure the stares won’t end till the penguin arrives at it’s new home.

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Pictures of Aarhus in March

I’ve been slacking in blogging for a while, for good reason.  February was the “hump” month for us.  We hit several major crises all at the same time, but the past week has been a very sudden reversal for us, as things have started to get sorted out, both financially and with respect to our living situation – and of course, now that I finally have some resolution on my thesis defense.  I’ll admit, for a while, we were seriously ready to toss in the towel and head back to Canada on the next flight, but I’m pretty sure we’ll pull through.  We’ve been looking at moving to a new house, which will cut our expenses dramatically while moving us out of the suburbs.  (NEVER move to a suburb if you don’t have a car!)  Suddenly, our outlook on life in Aarhus has improved dramatically!

Anyhow, with things looking up, I thought I’d share a few pictures from my phone.  Some of them are terrible – but they give you some insight into our world.  I haven’t yet pulled out my real camera, but as soon as the temperatures warm up a bit more, I’ll get around to it.

The first is the view in the morning from the bus stop, taken back at the start of February, when the sun was just rising when I left the house at 7:45am.  At this point, I’ve got my bike in working order (for the most part), and the sun is up by 7am.  Not that every day is sunny, but all the snow is gone, and I’m not really out of the house to see sunrises anymore.

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The second is a bottle of ginger ale.  You don’t know what you’ll miss till it’s gone – and after three months of searching, we came across this bottle in Germany during a weekend trip with my parents – and we’ve now found a source closer to home.

Apparently, ginger ale is American, here.  (And I’ll my life, I’ve been drinking Canada Dry…)

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Last weekend, we went for the opening day of the Paradis ice cream shop. (A play on words, as “is” is the danish word for ice cream.  We stood in line in temperatures hovering around 4C, with a 30km/h wind for about an hour to get two scoops of ice cream in a bowl.  It was worth it.  Danes seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to ice cream.  It was so good, I forgot to take a picture till we were down to the bottom of the scoop.

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And this is the line – it never really shrunk as it just stayed the same size the whole afternoon.

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You might find this odd, but this is the parking lot at the grocery store.  Danes seem to be in love with paving stones – and I thought it was a nice “texture” picture.

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We were at the grocery store on one of the warmest days of the year  – it went up to 14C, and the whole city seemed to be breaking out of it’s shell.  In fact, the warm temperatures were supposed to end today, going back to the freezing point again, but somehow, they’ve stuck around.

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At home, the “death ray” has repeatedly sucked us all in to taking naps in the sun.  The dog even warmed up enough to start panting in the sun.  Fortunately, with the warm weather, we’ve been able to turn off the heat in the house, and let the sun warm it up.  I really hope our hot water bill goes down a bit.

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And this is lunch at Ikea.  the $1 hot dog is in the front, and the $2 hot dog is at the back.  Frankly, I don’t get either.  The bun on the first one is about half the size of a regular North American bun, and the hot dog is long, skinny and doesn’t even fit in it.  Condiments are limited, comprising two types of mustard and one type of ketchup.  The more expensive hot dog is actually made up of a bun with the end cut off, and a circular hole in it, inexplicably called a “French hot dog”,  which enables you to fill the cavity with ketchup before putting the thin tube of meat into it.  What you end up with is kind of like a “pig in a blanket”, except the ketchup gathers into a pool at the bottom making it soggy and inedible.   Frankly, I don’t think I’ll trust a Swedish company in Denmark with French food anymore…

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Our current house is situated at one of the higher points of the city – which makes for a long bike ride home from work, but some nice views.  I took this while taking the dog out for a stroll.  Yes, we really do live within 3 minutes of a forest and a farm.

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This morning, we decided to go have lunch out. (Dinners here are way to expensive, so once a week, we try to do something out of the house.)  We ended up splurging at Emery’s, for our first real lunch out in nearly two months (excepting the misadventure at the pub with my parents, of course.)  They have a relatively expensive brunch special, which comes with a bread buffet, some meat and cheese and sauces.  I’m sure we didn’t look at all like Danes eating it, but it hey, no one called the cops on us. The people next to us used their hands too, instead of the usual Danish fetish for cutlery, and they didn’t seem to be Canadian.  Either way, they make a wicked hot chocolate.

For the record, the brunch is overpriced on weekends – it’s cheaper on weekdays, and the charcuterie platter seems to be similar, but slightly cheaper on the weekends. (-;

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After lunch, we spent part of the afternoon walking around in the cobbled streets, checking things out.

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Well, there you are – a quick snapshot of our life in Denmark, with a few of the highs, this time!  I promise that if the weather turns a bit nicer, I’ll pull out the real camera and get some decent pictures for next time.

DIY weather forcasting in Denmark

After two months, I pretty much have this figured out.  When you look out the window in the morning, you can work out what the weather will be with a few simple metrics:

If the sky is clear, you can expect strong winds from the west, and that star gazing will be pretty good.  You can’t really expect clear skies during the day.  Once the sun come up, the clouds will come back.

If the clouds are moving rapidly from the West, expect mild temperatures and rain.  Probably strong winds (45km/h) will accompany it.

If the clouds are moving rapidly from the East, expect cold and dry weather, probably snow and freezing temps, along with strong winds.  Definitely winter-like weather.

If the clouds aren’t moving rapidly in any direction, you’re probably not in Denmark.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my stuff is here from Canada!

Visiting Germany

I was fortunate to have been able to tag along with some good friends from work yesterday to do some shopping in Germany.  We spent the day in Flensburg, a reasonably small border town, where all of the goods are about 1/2 the price they’d be in Denmark.  Not a bad way to spend a day – and, equally important, we were able to find a lot of simple stuff that you just can’t find in Denmark (e.g. corn meal, cheap condiments, salad dressings, etc.)

Anyhow, I thought I’d share some pictures, ’cause Flensburg is pretty cute.

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The main pedestrian shopping area.

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A cute store, selling liquors, spirits, oils and other liquids in “bulk”.

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A hurdy-gurdy player (they still exist!) who cranked out a version of Mac the Knife.

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The docks, with a bit of snow.

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And yes, I even had my hair cut while we were there, which was an experience in itself. They started by asking if I’d like a wash, whether I’d like them to use scissors or a trimmer and which blades I’d like them to use on the trimmer.  I believe the translation my friend gave was “He doesn’t know – just be creative!”.

In the end, my haircut didn’t turn out too badly.

Danish Health Care Adventures.

So, I think my family and colleagues already know about events this weekend, so I’ll post a bit of a summary.  If you didn’t know, then you can find out below, although the purpose of this blog is really to give a summary of my interaction with the Danish Health Care System so far, for those who may be considering moving here.  Thus, I’m writing it to cover our interactions over the past two months – not just this weekend.  But you can skip on below, if you’re just interested in that part of the tale.

First, for those who don’t know, my wife and I are expecting a child in May – and so we’ve already had a few opportunities to learn how health care works here.  It’s not better or worse than what we’ve left behind in Canada – it’s just different.  Americans will probably freak out when they hear about it, but for Canadians, there are a lot of similarities and a lot of very subtle differences.

My wife has had the pleasure of meeting health care professionals already in several capacities, and her appointment with the ultrasound clinic stands out vividly for me.  The first ultrasound at about 8 weeks was done in Vancouver, done in a private health clinic.  The Canadian health care system paid for the visit, but the clinic was still private – and was plastered with adds for having a 3D ultrasound done in order to get a better picture of your child.  The appointments were fast, the technician highly competent and the results were given quickly.  If you ignored the brochures, you wouldn’t have known you were in a private clinic.

In contrast, the 20th week ultrasound was done in Denmark, at a hospital near our house.  Oddly enough, we were given two separate appointments – one on a Friday, and one the following Monday.  Unable to determine why we we had two appointments, but repeatedly told both were necessary, we simply went to the hospital when we were told to be there.

We walked over (as we walk just about everywhere), and got lost in the sprawling but nearly empty hospital.  Once we found our way to the ultra sound clinic, we swiped a card to notify them that we were there and then sat in the waiting room till the appointed time, when the technician showed up in the doorway and called my wife’s name.  They asked if we spoke Danish (we didn’t) and then were relieved to discover that we spoke English.  (The alternatives would have been difficult, I’m sure.  My French is highly rusty, and I doubt they know any Mandarin.)

Once in the room, we were told that a pre-natal heart specialist would join us, if he could – and, slightly more than halfway into the hour, he joined us and worked with the technologist to do a very throughout investigation to rule out any possible heart defects.  Apparently, having taken my wife’s history, they had flagged the need for a specialist and made the second appointment for the following week – but then had discovered that the heart specialist would be available at the time of the first appointment and amalgamated the two appointments.

In Canada, it’s unlikely that the specialist would have been involved, or that all of the components of the health care system would have been synchronized appropriately to blend, reschedule and coordinate specialists and technicians for our convenience.

To say the very least, we were very impressed with the efficiency of the Danish health care system in this respect.  (And, also to have been reassured that the baby is looking healthy from all angles!) Appointments continue to be scheduled for my wife with great efficiency via letters that frequently appear in the post.  Alas, they’re all in Danish, but we’re becoming more adept at reading them with the help of google translate. (Google translate employees, if you’re reading, we owe you big time, not the least of which for helping us learn Danish quickly!)

With that in mind, the events this weekend were a challenge to the health care system from a completely different direction.

Last Tuesday, I started to get sick – my voice dropped down into the range of David Attenborough’s, and the tissues/kleenex began to sprout in big piles.  Unfortunately, I started a business trip on Wednesday last week to Holland.  I won’t cover that in any detail except to say that by Friday, I was coughing quite a bit.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to say much during the meetings, but I’m sure I seemed unusually quiet and reserved.  (or sniffly, depending on the meeting.)

By Friday evening, I was at home and my cough worsened – probably due to the flying and cold air on the way home.  By Saturday, my cold had gotten a lot worse, and with the rainy weather, my wife and I canceled our plans for walking around downtown.  Saturday evening, the pain set it.

I’m no stranger to chest pain – I’m a tall and thin male, prone to spontaneous pneumothoraxes.  That’s when little weak spots develop on the lung, which can spontaneously burst, letting air fill the space between the lung and the chest wall.  Normally, that space is empty, which causes the lung to inflate as the chest wall swells, and to deflate as it contracts again. Hence, inhaling and exhaling as your chest moves.  With air in that space, the lungs are constricted, and it can be hard to breath in and out.  Normal causes in people who aren’t tall, thin males include gunshot wounds, being stabbed with a knife and broken ribs puncturing the chest wall.

Fortunately, I haven’t had any of the latter, but with a history of collapsed lungs, I have had a staple installed to hold up  my right lung so that it doesn’t collapse on me.  I don’t notice it anymore, and if my lung does anything stupid, it usually fixes itself quickly.  When a sharp pain started in my chest – in response to a LOT of coughing – I just assumed that’s what it was.  Another collapsed lung that would just pass in a bit.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

It hurt to lie down, but like a collapsed lung, hurt when breathing in and out and changing positions was like having a knife shoved into my back.  It hurt a lot – but nothing I couldn’t handle, I though.

Sunday morning was a disaster, though.

I sat up slowly from bed and the pain was immense.  My wife asked if we should go to the hospital, and I said no, I’d be fine if she give me a minute.

Then I started to feel faint – and I changed my mind.  We should go to the hospital, I said… and then I blacked out.

Coming out of the blackout was strange.  I couldn’t feel anything – I couldn’t tell if I was breathing (I thought I wasn’t)… and it took a while before I could open my eyes… and even longer before I could hear again, and then another few seconds before I could control my limbs.  Apparently, I was thrashing around for a while, while trying to regain feeling.  I must have looked like I was a goner.

The scary part was that she didn’t yet know the emergency phone number (112 in Denmark) and couldn’t reach any of our friends.  She had to wait helplessly for me to regain consciousness before I could remember the emergency number from the welcome to Denmark package we were given. (Thank goodness for that package!) and was able to contact a nurse.  Here, you’ll see the differences between the Canadian and Danish systems.

First they asked if I was still awake and to see if I was likely to fall unconscious again, and when they determined I wasn’t about to die, we were asked if we could get to the hospital ourselves (No, we don’t have a car), then told that a doctor would be sent within the next 2 hours.  In about 10 minutes, the doctor arrived.  She quickly checked to see what the problem was and to ensure I’d live.  Once my life was clearly determined not to be in danger, she placed a call for an ambulance to pick me up.  Again, we were told the ambulance would be there in the next two hours. The only question I was asked that wasn’t directly medical was when they asked for my CPR number (Danish identification number) on the phone – equally likely to find my medical history as for billing, however.

15 minutes later, an ambulance crew arrived at the door with a gurney.

I was able to walk to the ambulance and felt comfortable sitting in one of the jump seats in the back.  The guy in the back with me kept me talking (in English) all the way, clearly making sure I didn’t fall unconscious again, and even gave me oxygen.  Unfortunately, the guy in the front of the Ambulance, where my wife was riding, didn’t speak English, so the front was a lot quieter than the back.  I have to say, though, that the driver was fantastic – I could feel every bump with a sharp chest pain – and it was one of the smoothest car rides I’ve ever taken.

Within a few minutes, we arrived at the hospital downtown from which we were redirected to another hospital downtown.  (All this, despite the fact we live a 3 minute ride from yet another hospital.) In any case, after a second ambulance ride, we arrived at the correct destination, where we said thanks to the ambulance crew and were ushered into a room with two beds.  For most of the day, the second bed stayed empty, giving us an almost private room. (When it was occupied, it was by a smoker, who kept going outside for nicotine fixes… which didn’t really help, but nothing I could do about that.)

With a few minutes, I was taken for a chest X-ray, and shortly after that, the nurse came to see us and let us know (in rather halting, but understandable English) that the doctor would check out the x-ray and blood would be taken shortly.  At this point, I was feeling better, but in a lot of pain – that is, I was clearly in stable condition and in good hands.

The biggest visual difference between the Danish heath care system and the Canadian health care system is the uniforms.  At the risk of offending people, lets just say that the doctors uniforms are vaguely reminiscent of an outfit that would fit well in a Village People’s video.  Tight fitting shirts and pants in white, with a fitted lab coat.  It is the anti-thesis of scrubs.  In contrast, the hospital itself was quite spacious, plenty of room and well maintained.  It didn’t have the same underfunded/understaffed feel of typical urban Canadian hospitals.

In any case, we had a great doctor who spoke quite decent English. He explained that the condition was not my lung at all (a giant shock to me.) and that it was probably an inflammation of the membrane around the heart.  The symptoms all fit, and the chest x-ray showed absolutely nothing going on in the lungs at all, as confirmed by a radiologist.  At this point, I must have dropped way down the priority list, as long waiting periods crept in.

We were offered some food (meats and sauces on open faced sandwiches – a typical Danish meal), and then a colleague from work came by to check on us.  She cheered us up, helped ask some questions for us and made the day go by much more quickly.  Later on, she even helped by walking our dog!  Apparently, she also told everyone we knew as well – which wasn’t a problem, but a surprise.  It led to a lot of offers of help from a lot of people, some of whom I barely know.  A fantastic show of support from my Danish (and non-Danish) colleagues for which I’m very thankful!  (I won’t drag any of them into the blog, though, without their permission.)

Although the time between contacts then slowed down, throughout the afternoon, I was given an EKG, which found some slight disturbances in the force…  (electromagenitic force, that is.)  My heart then became the key suspect.

Further blood tests would be done on the blood taken earlier in the day and an ultrasound of my heart was scheduled, which brought in a second doctor, who’s name was Tor.  (He said it like Thor, tho…  and who hasn’t wanted to be treated by a doctor named Thor?  Seriously, I doubt there’s a single doctor in the entire Canadian system named after a Norse god.)

The ultrasound was unfortunately inconclusive and we were told we’d have to wait about an hour for the blood test.  One hour turned into two, and the blood work itself was inconclusive as well.  However, the doctor was relatively certain of the diagnosis of paracaditis, for which the treatment is anti-inflamatory medication and painkillers:  aka, ibuprofin. I was let go with a day’s worth of medication, orders to fill a prescription at the pharmacy and with a strong suggestion that I get some rest.

So, here I am, two days later, feeling a lot better, but still on some mandatory down time.  The cough is going away, helped by some over the counter throat lozenges, and the pain is masked and relieved by ibuprofin.

The only interesting addenda to this adventure is that I was told that anything a doctor prescribes in this country is free – anything you chose to do on your own is self-paid. That’s not quite true – I don’t know the full cost of the pills I was prescribed, but I did pay about $6 (31 dkk) for them.  If that was a dispensing fee, it wasn’t explained to me.

Finally, the drug stores here are also interesting: the doctor won’t give you a prescription to take there – instead it’s entered into the computer system, which the pharmacist can then verify when you provide your CPR number.

Slightly stranger, the pharmacy to which I went wasn’t actually a pharmacy – it’s an outpost of a pharmacy.  When you go in, they place the order at the other store, and have someone bring it over a couple of times a day.  So, the first trip over is just to tell them you’ll be using them to get the drugs and the second visit is to pick up the drugs and pay for them.

As it happens, the woman at the pharmacy was very interested in learning English and Spanish and made me practice my danish pronunciation when picking up the pills – as well as advice that I should learn spanish and go on vacation there… (-:

That said, it’s been a couple of hectic days.  I’ve come to respect the Danish health care system and it’s staff – and I’m glad I took the time to ask a lot of questions over the past week.  Without some of the basic information, the whole process would have been a lot more scary than it was.  And, word to the wise, learn the emergency code in every country you travel! You never know when you might need it.

Finally, in case anyone is worried, I really am doing better, and I don’t think anything in this whole misadventure was life threatening.  The treatment was swift and efficient and I’m sure I’ll be back at work shortly.  I have lots to do, and I’m very eager to get back to it.

 

Pictures of January in Aarhus

Life isn’t all doom and gloom in Denmark, although you might have thought so with some of my earlier posts.  That said, there are still things that are challenges to overcome.  Fortunately, it’s great to have a few friends around who have helped out quited a bit – and I’ve received some support lately that’s helping out quite a bit.

I thought I’d share a few pictures I’ve taken this past week.  Yes, they were taken with my phone, so they’re not great, and I even find composition difficult compared to my usual camera.  Fortunately, I expect our stuff will be arriving in a week or so.  I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!

First picture:  We had a gloriously sunny day on Saturday, so we took some time to go downtown and find the market.  Admittedly, produce available in Denmark in January is limited, but there were a few things out.

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Next, My cat has found the empty rooms in our house endlessly fascinating.  Here he is checking out the back yard.  Normally the doors to the extra 3 rooms are shut, but occasionally I let him in for the entertainment factor.

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Then there are sunsets.  Although they happen around 4:30, they can be pretty when the clouds don’t obscure it all.

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And one more.  Looking across the back yard.

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There you have it – a quick glimpse of Denmark.   Hopefully the quality of the photography will improve drastically once my camera arrives!

Violating the Danish pastry rules?

Danish people are very particular about what they eat, in what order and with what accompanying condiments.  Apparently, it’s a mortal sin to eat shrimp on rye bread (white bread only!), or to use remoulade with it instead of mayonaise.  I suspect careers have been destroyed by this.

Thus, every time I post about food, I’ll be wondering what Danish rules I’m violating – and who I might offend with each post.

In any case, our trip to the bakery yesterday yielded a fantastic treasure – some unknown new years treat that looked like an L-shaped cake or pastry, and the trip to the Føtex the other day found us bringing home a new years marzipan cake/stick.

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Unfortunately, we had no idea how much of each a serving size was – and our first serving of the stick was to split the package into 4, and each take a chunk along with a mug of tea.  It was a decadent snack, to say the least… and the marzipan stick is exquisite!  However, we’ve since learned that we each ate 4 servings – a stick is supposed to be enough to feed 6-8 people! Undoubtedly overindulgence on this scale violates at least one Danish law – and, if not, most likely requires paying a tax on the amount of calories eaten.

However, to compound the sin of over eating, this morning, we divvied up the cake, cutting it in to 4 and each taking a piece for breakfast (leaving 2 for later).  I’m relatively sure that that cake should be enough to feed an entire office, and that this was likely the most gluttonous pastry eating act that the country has ever seen.  What laws or rules were broken, I have no idea.

But to mitigate this crime against the Danish pastry sensibilities, we have spent the day cleaning the house and will be taking a long walk this afternoon to burn off the calories – dragging the poor dog with us.  The dog, to her great regret, has not overindulged on this scale.

Danish pastries beware – the Canadians are here and express no remorse when eating excessive quantities of unbelievably good treats!

A better day.

In contrast to yesterday, today was pretty decent.  The weather cooperated, and we were able to get out and explore a bit. Of course, with the buses running as infrequently as they do, it took some planning, but we made it work.

Mostly, the cold weather has settled in, but for once, there wasn’t a cold 45 wind blowing – and by blowing, I mean a gale force wind off the Atlantic ocean.

In any case, it meant that we were able to get out and enjoy a few hour of walking downtown while the sun was out.  We found a bakery [Schweitzerbageriet] that makes great pastry and even better bread, managed to find my wife a pair of pants – although it seems like a danish women must be 6 feet tall, as it was a challenge to find a pair that weren’t 32×34.

In any case, our successful shopping also included a vacuum cleaner [On sale at Føtex], which we knew we’d need anyhow, as our old one wouldn’t work on Danish electricity.   Besides, we were getting tired of sweeping the whole house with the tiny dustpan and hand brush we bought a couple of days after arriving.

The picture below is the shopping street, Støget, I think, about 1:30pm, about 2 hours before the sun goes down.  However, in the winter, the sun is never all that far over the horizon to begin with, so you get a permanent twilight feel to everything.  But, without the wind, it was quite enjoyable at only -2C.

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In any case, with the city starting to get dark by 4:00, the new years crowd was already getting a head start.  In Canada, new years eve is for partying and hanging out with friends – but in Denmark, it seems to be solely about blowing up firecrackers. I walked the dog at 3:30, and our neighbors had already produced a wonderfully thick haze of smoke from setting off a large artillery regiment’s worth of gunpowder.  As I write this at 5:30, the whole city is covered in a dense fog, and any invading army would be completely inconspicuous through the constant sound of fireworks.  Seriously, the invasion of Baghdad in the 1990’s looks about the same as this.

Anyhow, to top off our evening, I’ve replaced our traditional clam chowder with Salmon chowder – and made a recipe with the few seasonings we have in the house so far…

And, as I write, I’m being told that I should hurry up so we can eat it…. so off I go to eat.

Happy New Years, everyone.

[Edit: The salmon chowder turned out REALLY well, and the bread we’d picked up was pretty awesome…. mmmmm. Recipe available upon request.]

Aarhus in December

I usually have a reason for posting stuff to my blog – sometimes I want people to read it, sometimes it’s just something I don’t want to forget and occasionally I just need an outlet to rant.

This post is just to capture a snapshot of where things are, because I’m really hoping I’ll be able to come back to this in few months and laugh at it, or at least put it into some bigger context that makes things ok.  Since I don’t maintain a private journal, I’m putting it here.  However, this will probably sound like one big whinge, so I’m not going to suggest you read it – and if you do so, it’s at your own peril.

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Moving to Denmark has been difficult, but mostly because my expectations were high and have repeatedly been dashed to pieces.  Where I didn’t have expectations, I think everything has gone along quite well, but what I really needed before coming was a reality check: You will have to start your entire life over again when moving to a new country.

I think our biggest problem was that we saw some of the city during the summer, enjoyed it, and thought we’d be able to enjoy it.  We had expectations that we’d be able to walk around in the streets, visit shops, and participate in the atmosphere of the city.  The reality is that the only house that was available to us was WAY out in the suburbs, leaving us in a tiny residential hamlet where everyone commutes.  Worst still, Canadians can’t get drivers licences in Denmark without a major struggle, leaving us without a reasonable access to transportation.  The bus system here runs once an hour for most of the day, and it’s a half hour bus ride to downtown.  Thus, we find ourselves limited to walking out for groceries in the evenings for something to do.  (I walk home from work every day at a competitive walking pace, and I’ve gotten it down to 33 minutes – downtown is about 20 minutes further.)

The house itself is also not what we expected – in addition to it’s location in a hamlet, it’s also expensive, leaving us with a lot less disposable income than we’d expected, meaning that we’re still living in grad student mode, but with a big house.  I have expectations that this will change in the future, but that won’t be for at least another month or so.  A lot of our cash reserves have gone to buying things that we just can’t live without, like lights for the house, food for the cat and dog and such, which has made things somewhat tight, as well.  No eating out in Denmark for us, yet.

Our stuff also hasn’t arrived, although I just received word that it is expected to arrive in the city on January 19th, which is only a few weeks away.  That, at least, is encouraging.  But, that means we still have 3 more weeks of sitting in a nearly empty house – we’ve shut off three of the four rooms so it echoes a little less when we talk. (I would like to again emphasize that I am not ungrateful for what we have been given by the company to help us until our stuff arrives – but it’s minimal, and a far cry from having your own possessions.  A little bit of furniture is a huge help, but doesn’t really fill a house.)

And then, there was Christmas.  This year’s christmas was a disaster for us – again, because of unmet expectations.  We had been told before we moved that we’d been invited for christmas by some other expats and that we’d have some company over the holidays, however that never occurred, leaving us on our own.  Added to that, I also found out I’d have to work over the holiday break and that no time off would be given in exchange for Christmas eve and Christmas day falling on a weekend, which made this past week pretty miserable.  Thus, every hour that things were open for the past week, I was at work, and any time I had to go exploring in the city fell on the three days where the entire city shuts down. (And I mean entire city – even the convenience stores shut down for the three days of Christmas.)

Needless to say, we didn’t get out much (although we did find the art gallery was open), and so we mostly spent our holiday weekend at home in an empty house, desperately trying to come up with stuff to do.

To compound the expectation problem, I’d also been told, upon arrival, that the wonderful holidays that Danish employers give (nearly 6 weeks of holiday per year) actually don’t apply to employees in their first year.  I have 48 more weeks of slogging through before I can get my first vacation.

Furthermore, what we’d been told about Denmark and Christmas turned out to be absolutely correct:  Danish people are all into cozy-ness (hygge), which I had interpreted to be about friends and family: the equivalent to a Newfoundland kitchen party.  Unfortunately, what I missed was that it’s mainly about family and close friends – and we just haven’t been here long enough to make any of those. We haven’t earned our hygge yet.

Part of that stems from the language barrier.  My expectation was that it wouldn’t be a problem to communicate in English here – and for the most part it’s not.  94% of Danes (or some equally high number) can speak English, which means you can get away with not speaking Danish for a while.  However, asking people to speak in English all the time seems to be too much.  The work environment, despite promises that it would be in English, devolves into Danish much of the time, whenever I’m not being addressed directly or not in an official meeting.  Again, expectations dashed.

I hardly expect a whole country to shift languages to accommodate me, but it’s difficult – and I now fully appreciate what other people have said in their blogs:  I appreciate when other people make the effort to chat with me in English, but I recognize that it is an effort… conversations are slower, people don’t make jokes in English, and I consequently find myself just shutting everything out and ignoring whatever is going on around me because it’s futile to try learning a language by osmosis while trying to be productive at the same time.

Worse still, there are times when English just isn’t available.  If you call the doctors office, you get a recorded message in Danish. (It says “just stay on the line and we’ll get to you as soon as possible”, but I had to ask a Dane to translate it for me.)  If you call a store, you get a menu of options – in Danish. (“Press 4 for the animal food department”)  Simple tasks become inordinately difficult, and I find myself dreading some of the simple chores.

And, of course, all of those chores are being done in in the dark, because lets not forget that sunrise and sunset in Aarhus in December are about 9am and 3:30pm – which has been accompanied by frequent (several times daily) wind and rain storms.

Add that to the steep learning curves of starting a new job and trying to finish my thesis remotely, and this has become a recipe for depression and despair.

I don’t really expect the arrival of my stuff to make a big dent in the difficulty of moving to a new country, but it will change the feeling that I’m living in a hotel in the suburbs.  At least I’ll be able to pull out my camera and take pictures, or to hop on my bike and ride out to pick something up from the store, or even just to have my kitchen supplies so I can cook something decent.

Yes, I know, I’ve only given the bad, and not the good.  There are things working out in my favour: I have a cool phone to play with, I’ve met some interesting people, I love the projects I’ll be working on at work, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve been able to make in written Danish on my own.  And, google translate’s existence has saved my life a few times.  Not everything here is bad… but the struggle goes on, and sometimes that’s just what you need to rant about.

Hindsight is 20/20…  but as they say, I’ve made my bed, and now I’ve got to lie in it.