Observations from a year in Copenhagen
I am on a metro at three a.m. going home from a party with a close friend of mine from South Korea when I realize it has been exactly one year since I moved to Copenhagen.
To my surprise, it doesn’t feel like a whole year, while at the same time I feel a strange sense of belonging to this city, as if I have spent an entire lifetime here. Copenhagen is still a very small city for me, regardless of all the hidden gems I still have not had a chance to visit.
My view of the city is biased based on the comparison I am making to other cities I have lived in: Ankara, Shanghai, Busan, and Seoul. They are all big cities where the chances of me running into someone I knew were a remote possibility.
Copenhagen is different in that sense, because everything you need is clustered and within walking distance. There is a vibe of a dynamic metropolitan city where something is always going on.
At the same time, you can escape the noise by taking an only 20-30-minute train ride north to Dyrehaven or Charlottenlund Fort for a relaxing stroll. I think this particular aspect of Copenhagen is what makes the city feel so comforting and cosy.
Anyhow, my half-drunken epiphany in the metro is followed by reflections over my past year here and the things I have observed while living in Copenhagen.
Observation no. 1: Sunlicking
The first item obviously has to do with the weather. I have observed that if temperatures in the city are anywhere around 18° C or above, it is mandatory to engage in an outdoor activity. It almost feels as if there is an unspoken consensus amongst the Danes.
I have even heard the Danish expression “to lick sun”, which now makes total sense to me. The location or the activity is irrelevant as long as you have some sun exposure.
I personally prefer sunbathing at a beach or a sunbathing spot with a drink and a book to entertain myself. My favourite for sun is the Charlottenlund area. I often take the train to Charlottenlund Station and walk through Charlottenlund Palace.
It is breathtakingly beautiful and relaxing. I also often go to Svanemøllen or Nordhavn, closer to the city but more crowded.
When I first moved to Copenhagen in August last year, I considered 18° cold. I recall being startled when I saw people in shorts and T-shirts in 18° C. However, I have grown naturally accustomed to Danish temperatures – a fact I proudly mention to my Danish friends.
Since Danish winters are very gloomy, I have realized people try to feel the sun on their skin even if it is for a shortwhile or the temperatures are not that high.
To my dismay, I have also spotted people sunbathing at the Assistens Cemetery in Nørrebro. I have seen people sitting on the grass and relaxing with their friends, and some other people jogging or sunbathing.
At first, I thought this quite bizarre as cemeteries are – normally – not places to hang out. I asked my Danish friends and I also asked Google why. I was not alone perceiving it as odd: I saw others question the same thing.
I then found out that Danes consider hanging out at Assistens Cemetery in Nørrebro a cultural activity – as some of the most noteworthy people in Danish history are buried there.
It answered my question, although I do not know if it holds true as the primary reason.
Observation no. 2: Effortless style
Secondly, Danes are gifted with a propensity for style. Danes know how to dress well without looking like they had to put in too much effort. In fact, looking effortless seems to be the goal here, not looking merely stylish.
I cannot recall the number of times I was astounded by the styles I saw in the metro and the number of subway fashion crushes I have accumulated over time.
Observing the outfits in the streets of Copenhagen is equivalent to browsing through a fashion magazine. In fact, it is a rather more enhanced experience as there is more flesh and bone to it.
I have learnt a substantial amount about Scandinavian fashion by now, about minimalist styles and muted tones. For sure, a formula exists of how to put different pieces together and get the proportions right.
However, this does not make Danish style anything near predictable. In fact, Danes still keep impressing me by how effortlessly they can reinvent ways to integrate new trends into their outfits.
It might even be fair to assume that Danes are setting the trends. It could be a bucket hat or a colorful starfish necklace; or a purse in a popping colour, you name it. A touch of personality.
Even more impressive in my opinion are the Danish women who manage to look
fabulous while biking on a rainy Copenhagen day. And not to mention Danish guys who seem to have just as good a hold of current trends.
Observation no. 3: Do Danish guys date?
Lastly, there is no need to state the blatantly obvious fact that Danish guys are painfully attractive. Nonetheless, as the saying goes: every rose has a thorn. Danish guys do not date, or they do not know how to date.
I don’t quite know how to put this one as it is still confusing to me, but I will still try to address it. And either way, you will have to experience it yourself.
You might have heard this before: Danes also consider women equal to men when it comes to initiating a romantic affair.
It is not considered strange that the female takes the initiative instead of the male. And it is truer than anything else I have heard about Denmark before moving here.
The dynamic in romantic relationships seems to be different to those you might have experienced at home or elsewhere. It is more common in Denmark for a girl to ask for a guy’s number, which I believe is not entirely a negative thing.
However, it makes it difficult to understand if a boy is genuinely interested in you or interested in something rather casual.
This is because, contrary to what is the convention elsewhere, Danish men do not always take the girl out for dinner (although some do).
Low-key activities such as going for a walk or sitting on a bench near a church are considered equivalents to “going on a date”.
However, often people also do not take things seriously and there seems to be a lack of the element of romance. That is, friendship and convenience seem to be rather more important before forming a romantic connection.
I have heard from Danish friends that they have seen their partners over long periods of time (a year or more) before they decided to become official.
While I also believe friendship to be crucial, I must admit that it was, at first, very puzzling for me to pick up these cues.
Regardless, Danish men and the Danish dating culture are still a mystery to me.