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Friday, July 20, 2001
As Our Story Begins...
Cigarette butts litter the ground. Indoor air circulation is very poor. There is the hint of a smell of a gymnasium. And customer service is almost non-existent. Ah yes, I am back in Europe.
Faithful readers of this fine tome will recall that I have been dispatched this week to Copenhagen for the ISMB 2001 Conference. This is my second visit to the continent, the first being five years ago to Amsterdam by Kodak. This time around, Gene Codes is footing the bill, sending both myself and my co-worker Jeff. Howard, the company President, is expected to make a short appearance here as well. Jeff was sent out the day before I was, so my plan is to meet him there. In many ways I am looking forward to this trip, as I have always wanted to visit Scandinavia. Knowing little abot the nation of Denmark, this would be a fine opportunity for me to increase my cultural awareness. Besides, I hear the chicks are cute there.
They Love to Fly and It Shows
Although the United flight to Chicago was a half hour late, there was still plenty of time to make my connection to Copenhagen. I found it a bit odd to fly west for an hour just to fly east again, but I am not the one who made the itinerary. On the flight to Copenhagen on Scandanavian Airlines, I sat next to a Danish girl who lives in Oregon and who was flying home to visit her family. She told me that Tivoli Gardens (near where the conference is located) is very pretty and that I should enjoy it there. We landed in Copenhagen at 1:10PM Thursday afternoon (local time).
As an aside, I never thought of myself as looking especially Scandinavian (especially to other Scandinavians), but I noticed on the plane that the flight attendants spoke to me first in Danish rather than English as they did with the other obviously non-Scandinavian passangers. Even after being corrected once, the same flight attendant repeated her error. I decided to take it as a compliment to be assumed as one of their own before being asked, despite my not having (to my knowledge) any Scandinavian blood in me.
Upon arrival (and losing 6 hours in jetlag time), I get to my hotel just to find that it is not my hotel. As it turns out, Jeff's and my reservations for ISMB got screwed up, and Gene Codes left me a message about my new hotel accommodations, but as luck would have it, only after I had left for the airport. One hour and one international phone call later, I arrive at my correct location, the First Hotel.
The rooms are exceedingly small, and presumably due to the conference, all the non-smoking rooms were booked. I have reserved the next available non-smoking room to change to, which unfortunately is not until Sunday. When I first arrived in the room, I found that none of the lights or electrical outlets worked. When I called down to the desk to find out what was going on, they explained that I had to put my room key into the main switch slot to turn on power. I assume that this is done to keep from wasting energy when I am not in the room. Unfortunately, it also means that air conditioning and my computer re-charging is unavailable when I leave the room. In addition, the Danes have found perhaps the most complicated way to operate a shower that I have ever seen. I had to have an attendant brought up to show me how it was done, as I left my secret decoder ring back in the States.
My first purchase in Copenhagen was nothing terribly inspiring: a hot dog for 20 kroner (or approx $2.50). Hot dog stands abound in Copenhagen, one on nearly every street corner. My first cultural lesson took place at such a stand. In the U.S., you would expect to receive a hot dog in a bun of the same size, with your choice of condiments on it. Here I received a plate with the hotdog, separate from a bun (which itself is only half the size of the hot dog), and mustard squirted on the side. Watching how others ate, the procedure appears to be to eat the hot dog with your fingers (sans bun) by dipping it in the mustard. The bun is apparently a sidedish that is not taken very seriously. If you insist on using the bun, another common delivery mechanism is placing the hotdog inside a test tube-like bun, with mayonnaise squirted inside, the top 1/4th of the hotdog sticking out. (And you thought there would be no cultural lessons in my journal.)
The "Bøf Sandwich", better known to Americans as the hamburger, is also available, but not nearly as common. Cheeseburgers seem to be unheard of here (depite Copenhagen's reputation for cheese). Even at the Danish McDonalds' such burgers seem downplayed in favor of Chicken sandwhiches and (believe it or not) McPork.
I finally hooked up with Jeff that afternoon, and we walked around the city for a bit, scouting it out. Although we both were suffering from serious jetlag, we surprisingly covered a great deal of ground, as Copenhagen is quite favorable to pedestrians. We ate at one restaurant whose concept of non-smoking seating meant eating outdoors. I am sad to report that European customer service is quite lacking compared to its American cousin. In the U.S., you can expect drink refills when your glass gets down to the 20% level, and a smiling attentive server would be tempting you into dessert immediately after of your dinner plates have been taken. That was not our experience here. Although dinner was served in a timely manner, Jeff and I waited about 15 minutes after our plates were taken to receive a check. Finally, we decided to take the initiative and flag our waiter down. And drink refills are apparently an American custom only.
There Is Nothing Like a Dane
Now for the important topic: What are the girls of Denmark like?
Danish girls are very tall, slender with long blonde hair. That is the reputation, and I have found it to be well intact. Walking down the streets of Copenhagen, I am impressed with how tall Danes are. No, they are not all amazons as you might be tempted to imagine if you let the stereotype runaway with you. But girls standing at 5' 9" and 5' 10" are commonplace, and even girls at 6 feet are not entirely uncommon. This is apparently what you will see anywhere in Scandanavia, not just Denmark. The men are also quite tall, as you probably have guessed, but as a percentage not as much taller as I found the women. Being no slouch myself at 6' 0", I find myself feeling rather average in height here, with 6' 2" and 6' 4" men being numerous. Still, the height differential between men and women shrinks drastically in Denmark when compare to the United States. With most couples I saw together, a two inch height difference seems to be average.
I also noticed that Danish girls have a penchant for tighter clothing than her American counterpart. Furthermore, a noticably higher percentage of them where skirts and dresses. In a somewhat related topic, I saw no unexpected body hair which some European girls are known to sport. Every bare female leg I saw, none would have been found displeasing to the American male eye.
Perhaps a more politically correct narrarator would have found a less obvious way of describing the ladies of Denmark than I have managed, but I'm afraid I am not nearly so clever. I haven't yet acquired the ability of pretending that an attractive woman is not attractive. Not being married, it is not required of me at this time, so I shall end by summing up. Although not as buxom as their Swedish cousins, these more slender Danish girls are by and large quite attractive, and seem to be of a pleasant disposition.
Overall, I find the Danes (men and women alike) to be a friendly people, despite the reputation of rudeness found of Europeans in general. Like other Europeans however, they are less likely to be overweight but more likely to smoke.
...but There's No Place Like Home
I would like to add (so that I do not hurt her feelings) that although Danish girls are pretty, I am happy to be with the girl I will be seeing in a few short weeks. The long distance isn't easy, so I hope the above is not taken the wrong way. :-)
Stay Tuned for Next Thrill-Packed, Exciting Episode in the Amazing Adventures of ...
As we were both wiped out from the day, Jeff & I turned early (about 10PM) to get a start afresh on Friday. Although Jeff has activities for the next day, I essentially have the day off, as my tutorials begin Saturday. I plan to get some tourism done tomorrow, and update you with those events.
Stay Tuned! Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!
Saturday, July 21, 2001
Copenhagen, Day 2
Sorry for the delayed reporting as I have been having trouble with uploads abroad. If you have not done so already, go to Friday's Journal entry now to read about my first day in Copenhagen for the context for this part of the story.
My second day in Copenhagen was spent touring, sight-seeing and learning more about the nation of Denmark. The remaining days after this is to be spent at the ISMB 2001 Conference, so I decided to take advantage of my time while I was free to do so. It included a sight-seeing tour via taxi, and a boat ride around the city, both generating great pictures. But the sight-seeing tour, which lasted almost two hours, was particularly memorable.
Death & Taxi
If you have ever had the misfortune of being a passenger of a European taxi, you know what I am about to say. European driving is hands-down the most aggressive and sloppy I have ever seen. Oh, you may have your stories about New York or Boston, or perhaps you've been to Canada and think they are the worst. Nope. They are wimps from European standards.
Despite feeling I was putting my life on the line in this vehicle, I enjoyed my tour guide Paul very much for his refreshing point of view. Paul is a British expatriate living in Copenhagen these past many years, and has in that time formed several opinions about Danish life which he was not too bashful to share.
Prior to being picked up for my trip, I had purchased Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes, a witty British publication giving insights on the Danish people, how they view themselves and others, etc. Paul was a little less concerned with tidying up the language. For example, Xenophobe's guide speaks of the Danes as the most "laid back" of the Scandinavians, while Paul says that they are just "downright lazy". Paul blames most of this on the Socialist government in Denmark, with no real incentive to work, and an exceptionally high tax rate of 68%. The problem with Denmark is that fewer and fewer producers are expected to carry the weight of an evergrowing non-productive segment of the population. According to Paul, Danish Socialism (which he calls a "soft communism") will be the ruin of the nation if something is not done about it within the next generation.
Stopping at Red Lights
As a followup to yesterday's journal entry on Danish girls, I thought you would be amused to hear Paul's thoughts on the subject. He agrees with my impression of them, but warned me against falling in love with one: "They are quite beautiful, but they are very independent here in Denmark. Danish women are used to having everything their own way all the time. I recommend a love 'em & leave 'em policy." Paul has apparently not kept up with the contemporary attitudes of American women, as that description fits them as well. I should also point out that Paul is on his second divorce, and apparently Denmark is much more generous to the wives in divorce settlements than the husbands. This may have slightly clouded his judgement on the matter.
Paul, as every citizen of Copenhagen, talks of the Red Light District quite matter of factly, as one would point out the business district or a shopping mall. This may be in part due to how different Copenhagen's Red Light District is. There are no naked women behind glass windows enticing passers-by to come in, as there are in Amsterdam. I admit I found this a little disappointing. Even though I would not partake of such activities, it would have been fun to go window-shopping.
In addition, I was surprised at how close the Red Light District was to my highly rated hotel. Amsterdam's Red Light District was in a rather seedy area of town; in Copenhagen, it is one block from the hotel, and it is in a very safe area. It is apparently designed as much as a tourist attraction as anything else. The girls are also a bit expensive (ahem, or so I've heard). Although the age of consent in Denmark is 15, you will rarely find a woman who is not at least in her early 20's. As Paul describes it:"When Denmark removed all of the old sex laws, Copenhagen embraced the new freedoms, with the new Red Light District bustling with activity. It was the 1970's and it was all good, clean fun...in a dirty little way. Pornography became Denmark's third largest export, following argriculture and pharmaceuticals. (How does he know this stuff??) Prostitution is legal as long as it is not your main source of income. The ladies must have their own careers. (Imagine meeting your companion from the previous evening in an executive board room!)
"Unfortunately, the Red Light District is a mere shadow of what it used to be. Today you see a few sex shops and night clubs with girls available, but it has shrunk in size and lost a lot of the charm it used to have. Although you'll still see a few street walkers here and there, I don't recommend them. I suggest you go to one of the hotels or nicer clubs and get what they call a Champagne Girl. They are a bit more expensive, but they are clean, attentive and very beautiful. She will smile at you, give you sex, take your money, and leave."
I told him that this last sentence essentially described every relationship I've ever been in. (Except for the current one, of course! :-) ) He found that quite amusing. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I really wasn't in the market for such activity. Besides, I found the whole thing quite fascinating. He encouraged me to go with some of my buddies to the Red Light District some evening and enjoy ourselves. I told him I would think about it.
Coming Up Next!
The ISMB Conference ... Visting the Red Light District ... Taking the "Ride from Hell" ... and the Beach Boys!