It's My First Time

First Impression: An American in Copenhagen

by Berit Baugher

One of 197 7-11s in Copenhagen. Photo by Berit Baugher.

On her first trip to Copenhagen, Fathom assistant editor Berit Baugher makes a few anthropolgical observations.

COPENHAGEN – After working with a few Danes who raved about their hometown, Copenhagen climbed to the top of my travel priority list. At first glance it doesn't seem so different from other European cities — there's a strong sense of history in the architecture, the cobblestones are plentiful, and everyone is tall and well dressed. But there are several quirks that make it stand out. Here are my observations:

1. There's a 7-Eleven on every corner. Literally every corner. New York Magazine recently reported that Denmark is home to 197 7-Elevens. In true Danish form, the one across from the central train station is charmingly adorned with ivy.

2. You have to admire a city that has pledged to be the world's first CO2 neutral capital by 2025. With 20 percent of their current electricity consumption coming from wind farms, green energy is a major priority.

3. Danes take design seriously. Copenhagen is known for clean, sophisticated design, which can be seen and appreciated in building complexes and chocolate bar-packaging alike.

4. It's not out of the ordinary to see sleeping children parked outside cafes in their carriages. I'll admit I was quite shocked when I first saw this. In the U.S.? Never. But in Denmark it's the norm to give the kids a little space.

5. Bicyclists rule the road. More than half of the city's citizens bike every day. Copenhagen has gone to great lengths to earn the reputation as the most cycle-friendly city in the world. They also have a knack for doing it in style.

6. There's an interesting intranslatable phenomenon in Denmark called hygge. In the book A Xenophonbe's Guide to the Danes, it's described as "the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one."

7. The Queen is kind of a badass. And the Danish love her for it. Queen Margrethe II is Denmark's first female monarch since the 1300s, a chain smoker, and known for her brightly colored clothes (some of which she designs herself). She recently celebrated her 40th jubilee and has maintained a steady loyalty throughout her years on the throne. In addition to making herself accessible to the public, she's managed to cultivate a colorful personal life, which includes releasing art under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer (her illustrations appeared in the Danish edition of The Lord of the Rings) and designing costumes and sets for stage and screen productions.

8. They're one of the world leaders in gender equality, with many laws in both the public and private sectors to reinforce their beliefs. This attitude has trickled down to the everyday habits of Danish men so, ladies, don't expect them to fetch your coat or hold the door open.

9. The Danes are modest by nature, and this can be attributed to the cultural concept of janteloven, which negates individual success and deems it inappropriate to draw attention to oneself.

10. That said, Denmark is a country of superlatives: It's the happiest country on earth. It's home to the smallest hotel in the world and the largest hotel in Scandinavia. It has the longest pedestrian street on the planet. It was the first country to legalize civil unions. The list is endless, but if you're curious, ask a Dane. They're a proud and patriotic bunch.


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