Aliens in Denmark

Everyone around you is speaking a foreign language. Normal looking people – living normal looking lives – just foreign. But wait, we are the foreign ones here. Alien. Officially we are aliens in Denmark. They gave me a card showing this – it has my “biometrics” on it – no really, not only does it show my official photo, but my fingerprints are stored on a chip held within that card. We had to fly on a plane from Portland, OR to Sacramento, CA to have our “biometrics” registered with the Danish Consulate in America before we could move here.

We were also granted the special CPR number that unlocks many aspects of Danish life. They gave it to us. Without it – you can do very little here. Can’t open a bank account without it (which means you can’t get your contractually agreed upon relocation funds without it.) Difficult to sign a lease without it. Can’t get a mobile phone without it. I can rent a car, but I can’t lease a car without it. But. What we can get is free medical care with that card. We can now go to the library with that card (and they do have some books in ENGLISH). My children could go to university for FREE with that card. It’s a good card. It was quite a process to get it. No one told us the process. We may or may not have done it correctly. But we have that darn card now.

Does it make me feel less like an alien? Maybe? Minutely. I will admit that when I am out and about, I don’t speak much. Everyone speaks English perfectly enough, but only if you do first. “Hej!” Traditional Danish greeting. It is pronounced exactly the same as an American “Hi!” Be wary of using it if you want to be understood. To immediately announce oneself as a non-Danish speaker upon entering a specific establishment when greeted – you say “Hello!” not “Hej!/Hi!” This is a sure-fire clue for the purveyor to use English to ask if you need any help or assistance. I feel a sense of sheepishness for employing this entrance and absolutely do not enjoy admitting that I have no idea what they are saying. Most of the time my deer in headlights expression is clear enough for them to switch over to English. Sometimes I muster an “Engelsk?” and they flip right over. Other times I just smile and nod, smile and nod and hope I am not agreeing to something ridiculous. This tactic usually horrifies my eldest who already feels quite conspicuous as an outsider that me feigning some sort of understanding is abhorrent to him. There is a claustrophobia in my muteness and not understanding. If you know me – muteness is not my natural state and is somewhat challenging. I like to talk. Talking is therapy to me. I work through things by talking. Everyone speaks perfect English, but only if you do first.

Looking at the cup half full – muteness does afford a heightening of alternate senses. I listen. And the sounds can be deafening. I live in the city again. I have not lived in the city for twenty years when I was living in a “garden level studio apartment” on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. It was nowhere near a garden. It WAS subterranean. My tiny kitchen looked out at the sidewalk and onto the bus stop. The city sounds (even the horrible brake squeals of the metro bus out my window) were my white noise. Those noises fill my window again. Fill my life again. The police cars sound different, like a European movie that I am suddenly living. The church bells tolling. Children laughing. There are not so charming sounds as well. The garbage trucks that seem to take an eternity to move down the street. The raucous young folk returning from a late evening whose peels of laughter and boisterous language seem to echo through the street bouncing between the buildings. I can’t even describe to you the level of noise on New Year’s Eve. Like Denmark had started another World War. I listen to it all. I hear.

I look. There is so much to see. My camera roll is filling up again with all the looking and seeing. This is bucket filling for me as I am very visual and love to take photographs. This is good. The light here is amazing. I will dedicate another post solely to the Nordic light alone. When there is light that is. It is winter in Denmark. I observe. I watch people. What they wear. What they buy at the grocery store. How they ride their bikes. In furs and heels and cute scarves. How they chat with their children in their cargo bikes – pedaling along. In the dark. In the rain. In the wind. In the SNOW. So much to see. I look at it all.

Riding bikes in the snow - I have seen little that stops the Danes
Riding bikes in the snow – I have seen little that stops the Danes

What I know is that I want to be a part of it all. I will use my special Alien card and sign up for those free Danish lessons. Will it help? I don’t know yet. Will time help? Probably. In the meantime – I will take my brother’s advice upon leaving Oregon – learn something every day. Get out there and experience it. I’m trying bro. I’m trying.

New Year’s Eve in Copenhagen near the Lakes

Godt Nytår from Copenhagen! Happy New Year!

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions, but can’t deny that the turn of the calendar definitively promotes fresh starts. 2014 was a year full of opportunities seized, plans made and challenges faced. Moving from Portland, Oregon to Copenhagen, Denmark was definitely one of those opportunities that has fulfilled and challenged many of our best laid plans. We left Oregon mid-November and after a brief tour of Barcelona and Madrid, spent the remainder of the year attempting to set up life in Denmark – not so easy as it turns out. (More on those comedies later).

It is a new year. Godt Nytår as they here say in Denmark. Here we are. In a semi-IKEA-furnished flat in the middle of Copenhagen. Seizing opportunities and making new plans. One of my goals for 2015 is to be creative daily. How that creativity expresses itself is up to me, the day, and what I have access to. This is supposed to be an attainable goal. Resourcefulness – using what is around me. In that vein, today I used the fruits of our family’s fishing endeavor yesterday – namely 13 frisk torsk. Fresh cod!

We woke in the wee hours and boarded Spar Shipping‘s “Skipper” skib in Østerbro Harbor yesterday. It was a 5+ hour tour of Øresund – just known as “The Sound” around here. It is the body of water between Denmark and Sweden. Cod is in season now – plentifully swimming in schools not too far from shore gorging on crabs near the bottom.

The "Skipper"

Despite the cold, it is pretty easy fishing – throw your rod and lure overboard, gently jig the line up and down and wait for the strike!


Success! We brought in thirteen nice cod. Not as big maybe as some of the others we saw, but for a first go – pretty satisfied.IMG_0185A quick lesson in gutting and heading your fish on board makes teenage son feel important while wielding a large, sharp knife and into a large plastic sack our fish go.


Home now with 13 friske fisk.


A bit of background, I’m not actually the fisher-person per se in my family. My dad endeared us as children to the wonders of baiting and casting and waiting and CATCHING. He was also the one who cleaned the fish. I have never actually cleaned a fish myself. Oh dear cod! So catching cod is conclusively easier than cleaning, filleting, and skinning said cod. What to do when you would like to use all the recipes that friends so charmingly forward to you for usage of the cod you advertised? Why you YouTube how to fillet a cod of course. So I watched this one “Passionate about Fish – How to Fillet a Cod” … maybe 17 times. (It is quite difficult to hit pause and rewind when you are covered in fish slime and scales.)

My first attempts were not pretty and did not afford the beautiful presentation NOR the fishmongers yield.DSC_3830 BUT – after nearly two hours – I now have eleven (we baked two whole last night) cod all cleaned and ready! DSC_3835 They still would not fly in any master cooking show – of which we have been watching a lot because TLC is one of the few channels in English here in Copenhagen, but they will be utilized in a myriad of ways.

Here is last night’s attempt at baked whole cod:


Rubbed with olive oil, S&P inside and out, placed with sliced lemons and rosemary sprigs into oven at 200C til separated easily from skin. Not family’s favorite application, and I see that the bones were an issue, but easy and quick whilst still slightly wobbling from Baltic boat tour.

This was deliciously easy and quick lunch fashioned today – which I can highly recommend:

Creatively using freshly caught cod for lunch
Creatively using freshly caught cod for lunch

Steamed filets with S&P and dusting of ground ginger, served over baby spinach and refrigerator pickled red onions and a little bit of olive oil on top. So delicious. Fish and chips to come for littles tonight. Will let you know how it goes! Feel free to share ideas on how you are creating your new year. Skål!