Hygge (WHO-guh) is an important element of Danish culture. There is no direct translation, but every website and blog out there will tell you that it basically means “coziness.” Now that the temperature is falling and daylight is getting shorter in Copenhagen, people take the time to enjoy one another’s company in a nice café or around a dinner table complete with dozens of candles. Seriously, candles are everywhere——Danes tell me that candles help them cope with the long, dark fall/winter nights. This past week, I had two encounters with hygge that made me feel like a real Dane, at least for a few hours.
First, I had a field study with my Danish Language and Culture class on Thursday. Experiential learning is central to Danish education, and almost all DIS classes have at least one field study during the semester, just like Danish high school or university students would have in their classes. Café night is always the first field study for Danish classes. The professor provides the address of a local café where you meet him or her for a light dinner with the rest of the class. My class met at Café 22 in Nørrebro, about a 15 minute walk from DIS.
We ordered our traditional open-face sandwiches ahead of time during class (see below), but everyone was required to order a drink in Danish (fortunately with the help of Suzanne, our professor). At her suggestion, almost everyone ordered a Somersby, which is a spiked apple or blackberry cider that tastes a lot like that sparking grape juice for kids. For the curious out there, the way to say, “I would like to have Sombersby Apple,” is the following: “Jeg vil gerne have en Somersby Æble.” (Yah vi GEHR-neh heh en SUM-ers-bee AY-bluh). Say that ten times fast.
For about two hours, Suzanne and the class talked about our first impressions of Denmark, how we all chose DIS, and what to see during the rest of the semester. We learned more about Suzanne’s background and picked up some more Danish cultural traditions like “Skål!” (Skul). This is the typical toast among Danes, and it dates back to the time of the Vikings when they would drink out of the skulls of their enemies (heavy stuff). It was also one girl’s birthday, so we sang “Happy Birthday” and then gave her three Danish cheers of “hoo-RAH,” which is a typical chant for celebrations. We all got a kick out of it. Towards the end of the night, I realized that this was my first experience with hygge, as I felt right at home with a bunch of people who were complete strangers two weeks ago.
On Saturday, I finally got to meet my DIS Visiting Family. I was a bit nervous——Would I act like too much of a tourist? Would there be awkward silences since Danes hate small talk?—–but once I met Sanne (SAN-uh), my visiting mom, I felt right at home. At 6:00 P.M., Sanne picked me up by bike, and our first stop was to get ice cream for dessert. We stopped at a place very close to Signalhuset (can’t remember the name) that has been awarded the title of Denmark’s best ice cream. I never would have known that if I didn’t have a family to tell me. The ice cream flavors we chose (below) were mint chocolate chip, vanilla, rhubarb, mango, and oreo. It tasted a lot like gelato and was deserving of its title.
Anyway, Sanne noticed that my front bike tire was pretty low on the way to her house. Without a second thought, she offered to have her husband, Flemming, take a look and replace the tire if it was punctured. It was touching that they were treating me like one of their own before they even got a chance to meet me formally. I guess that’s Danish hospitality for you.
When we arrived at the house, I met Flemming and my two “sisters,” Sara and Nina. I gave each member of the family a small gift from home (including saltwater taffy from the Jersey Shore, which they really enjoyed), and then we all sat around the table to have a Carlsburg while we waited for dinner to be ready. We talked about my first few weeks in CPH and all the different adjustments I’ve had to make since coming to a new country. I could tell my family was genuinely interested in hearing from an American student, and I was equally intrigued to learn more about life in Denmark. After about an hour of talking, it was as if I had known these people all my life.
Dinner was up next. We had steak with tzatziki sauce, a potato/pepper salad with feta cheese, and a mixed green salad with avocado and bean sprouts (below). I realize this sounds a lot like a Greek meal, but regardless it was great to have a homemade meal for the first time since I left home. (Note: attempts to cook on my own do not count.) A friendly neighbor of the family, Claus, stopped by for dinner as well and had us laughing for hours. According to Sanne, the entire neigborhood block is very close and gets together frequently, with or without notice. I really liked hearing that. At home, I know my neighbors’ names but have never had anything close to an open door policy like that. There seems to be a much stronger sense of community among the Danes, and it was/will be great to be a part of it.
For dessert, we had the ice cream along with a Danish dessert whose name I can’t remember. It consists of several kinds of nuts with honey and has a scone-like consistency. It was topped with fresh rhubarb whipped cream and strawberries. I was drooling. We continued to talk for almost 3 hours about pretty much everything——US vs. Danish education, our travels abroad, English vs. Danish, places to see in the city, my and my family’s experience with Hurricane Sandy, the recent great weather in Copenhagen, etc. The cozy atmosphere and 15+ lit candles in the center of the table reminded me that this was definitely another moment of hygge.
Around 11:00, Sanne drove me home in the family car because she thought it was too cold to bike; Flemming said he would take a look at the bike on Sunday and bring it back to my dorm during the week. What a great family. Overall, it was a pleasure to share a meal and spend an evening with the Jaensch (Yensh) family, and I look forward to many more nights like this one with them during the semester.
Tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM, I will be leaving for my “short study tour” to western Denmark. My Global Economics class will be visiting five Danish companies in and around the city of Århus over three days in order to learn more about productivity, outsourcing, and competition in the EU. It will be my first time staying in a hostel too. More on that next week. Vi ses!