I’ve always loved Ariel, so I should have known her hometown would be cool and beautiful, just like her. I’m talking about her sea level hometown, of course… I’m not sure the exact location of her birthplace in the sea, and I’m very prone to swimmer’s ear, so I couldn’t go even if I had the address.
Last weekend, I ventured to Copenhagen, Denmark (or as I referred to it all weekend, København – call me if you want the correct pronunciation) to meet a couple of my best friends from Chapel Hill. My friend Rachael was taking a few weeks to travel before starting a job in Chicago, so I picked my favorite stop from her travel itinerary and booked a ticket to meet her. My friend Olivia is spending the semester in London, so Rachael and I convinced her to join us. I haven’t been with anyone from home in about a month, so as you can imagine, I was ecstatic.
To be completely honest, I thought Copenhagen was going to be a lot like Amsterdam. And in some ways, it was. There was water and there were people. Oh, and the people rode bikes. But those were all of the similarities. Other than that, Copenhagen was a whole new world. (Frick. That’s Jasmine.)
I learned quite a bit on this little getaway, but one of my most important lessons came on day one at the Copenhagen Airport when I wanted to withdraw some cash. I didn’t know Denmark had its own currency – the Danish krone – and I definitely didn’t know the conversion rate. I was also too lazy to look up the conversion rate, so I took a wild guess at the ATM. I wanted $20, but my mom texted me later to ask why I withdrew $400. (Sorry mom.)
Of course, this didn’t turn out to be an issue – it’s easy to use cash when all you buy is ice cream and donuts from street vendors. Next to staring at the colorful buildings and boats in Nyhavn, eating was my favorite activity in Copenhagen. Which brings me to another lesson: don’t eat like Michael Phelps just because you’re in a foreign land with amazing food. Your poor friend will find you passed out on the bathroom floor at 3 a.m. from a fatal food coma. (Sorry Rach.)
On our last full day in Copenhagen, Rachael and I walked through The King’s Garden, a gorgeous park outside of Rosenborg Castle. We both got silent for thirty seconds (a long time for us) as we took in our surroundings – children running around even though it was the middle of a school day and adults dressed in work clothes but definitely not at work. I can’t remember who broke the silence, but one of us said it while one of us thought it – “Do you feel like everyone in Copenhagen just kind of… exists?”
It sounds stupid because Copenhagen is obviously a productive city, but hear me out. The shops operated on limited hours and the people walked as if they didn’t have a destination. We noticed many times we were the only people on a street – main streets! I’m talkin’ 5 p.m. and we were the only people at Amalienborg Palace. Not to mention there were barely any cars on the road no matter where we went (Copenhagen is dedicated to having a very small carbon footprint, hence all the bikes – take notes, America). There were TWO times on this trip when I felt like I was in a crowd – in Nyhavn and at The Little Mermaid, who our tour guide referred to as “remarkably underwhelming”. (I bet his ex-girlfriends have high self-esteem.)
As it turns out, none of our observations were incorrect – the Danish people really do live differently. I did some research and learned about janteloven, better known as the Law of Jante, a popular concept in Scandinavia. The actual Law of Jante is a list of 10 harsh rules a society should live by, but over time it has turned into a mindset. Most people in Copenhagen live in a way that can be summed up in one sentence: We are all the same and there’s no need to be competitive.
It sounds strange, especially because our society is extremely competitive. (Remember AR points? Yeah – it’s been ingrained in our heads since we were five years old.) However, there’s something to be said about it – in fact, there’s a lot to be said about it, considering the fact that Denmark is the happiest nation in the world.
This subtle cultural difference made a huge impact on me. I mean, we noticed it before we learned about it. That’s crazy, right? I also want to mention that everyone seemed really happy, which I know is hard to imagine because we often associate happiness with individual success. And I’m not saying there are no successful individuals in Copenhagen – that would be a very false claim. What I am saying is that I don’t think the Danish consider individual success an ultimate goal, but more of a bonus that sometimes comes from working to better the society as a whole.
Copenhagen was an incredible place to visit and I hope I can return soon. Catching up with my friends was the icing on the cake (I’ve always had trouble with this expression because it makes me hungry and right now I’m in an airport… dangerous), but the cake itself was discovering this fascinating state of mind. Maybe I’ll use it as an excuse next time I’m late to work in Amsterdam.