Friday, February 2, 2001

You have to sober up and go home sometime...‏

Hello everyone!

Well, it seems so sad to think about it, but my time here in Denmark is finally up. :-( I leave here at 7:45am tomorrow. I keep thinking that I've forgotten something that I wanted to buy, or a picture that I wanted to take, but I know that it's just my brain trying to find a way out of having to leave. I mean, I am SO excited to come home, I can't even put it in words, but there's a big part of me that's really going to miss it here. Perhaps the Mimosas and the red wine I had this evening are making me sentimental, but there is just an otherworldliness about Denmark and Europe that I'm going to be sad to leave behind.

Anyway, I realize that I haven't written about my trip to Prague, but I think that I will just have to tell you all in person. I haven't finished packing yet, and I need to try to sleep a little bit before we start the long drive to Billund at 3:30 this morning.

However, I would like to tell you briefly about my last day here in Aalborg.

First of all, it started snowing today. They very rarely get snow, but for some reason the weather shifted and now we're expecting a big storm tomorrow. Naturally. But, I'm sure that the weather will hold out long enough for me to fly back home.

Pernille, Kieth, Ulrik and I had lunch at a nice place called the Cafe Rendez-Vous. The sandwich I had was great. Did I ever tell you that Danish people eat EVERYTHING with a knife and fork, including sandwiches?? Craziness. Anyway, after lunch we walked to this other restaurant in order to have some hot chocolate because it was so cold outside. This restaurant was built in the wine cellar of a very old building and it was just gorgeous. There were arched stone walls and glowing candelabras everywhere. The seats were actually just wooden benches. It had a great atmosphere, if not such great hot chocolate.

Afterwards, Ulrik left and we went shopping for some last minute stuff. We were late getting home and Pernille was worried because she had forgotten to set out the cornish game hens we were having for dinner, so they weren't defrosted when her mom got home.

We had a small dinner party/going away party tonight. Her mom made some great bruschetta as an appetiser and then we all sat around and ate it while drinking champagne and making toasts to me having a safe trip. Dinner was cornish game hens with a white sauce that had grape halves in it. So delicious!! And dessert was this beautiful cake her mom spent two days making, called a Rubensteiner Cake. I took a picture, of course. :-) And then her mom said she wanted to make a speech and then proceeded to pull out a piece of paper, on which she had written a farewell speech to me. It was so sweet!!! And they all told me that they would love to have me back to visit anytime. Gosh...these people are so nice!

Anyway, the time has come for me to stop stalling and start packing. :-( Well, by this time tomorrow I'll be in the States again and I'm sure I'll be very happy. Right now I feel kind of sad, but I'm sure that once I get home and don't have to convert currency in my head everywhere I go, I'll be grateful just to be back. Anyway, I'll see all of you soon!

Thursday, February 1, 2001

One for my baby (and one more for the road)‏

Hello again everyone!

Well, it looks like I've fallen behind on my reports, so I'm going to write two back to back in order catch up with everything. :-)

OK, so I left off with dinner last Monday with Kasper and Jasmine at the French restaurant...that means I still need to tell you about the American restaurant and English lessons with Aunt Margret. LOL This is going to be fun....

Let's start with Aunt Margret. After rereading my previous email, I think I might have given you guys the impression that Aunt Margret is like 90 and all crippled up. Actually, she is more like 68ish and is actually very spritely. Her husband (Ole's brother) died last year, which has left her with a lot of spare time to fill. So, she has started taking classes such as English, aerobics, bridge, etc..., plus she has a part-time career as a sort of massage therapist. She is very loud and energetic, and actually quite funny. Her grasp of English is not very sound, as I mentioned before, but she is quite enthusiastic about learning, so that kind of makes up for her lack of actual skill.

Anyway, we decided that I would come over to her house for some English conversation on Wednesday evening. At first, she wanted me to come over for 4 hours. Well, to be frank, Aunt Margret doesn't know enough English words to fill 4 hours of conversation, so eventually Pernille worked her down to 2 hours. At the appointed hour, Pernille, Kieth, and I walked to her house (it's very close to Pernille's). They were planning to play ping-pong while Aunt Margret and I chatted.

When we got inside the house, I could tell that she had spent a lot of time preparing for my visit. There were candles lit everywhere and in the kitchen she had made up two trays, one with 2 cordial glasses and one with cookies. After Pernille and Kieth went downstairs, she showed me around the house. Her husband was an architect, so he had designed the whole place. It was of a very sparse design...very minimalist. And, naturally, it had those damn hanging lamps everywhere instead of decent lighting. It was a lot less decorated than Pernille's house, but it was still very very nice.

We settled down in two rather stiff chairs in her formal living room, with the tray of cordials between us. And sure enough, it was that same damn disgusting dessert wine that Pernille's parents had served at the dinner on Saturday. But, I was very brave about it and when she got up to make some tea, I just shot it down and prayed that she wouldn't offer me more. (Kieth says that the trick is to leave a little bit in the glass so that you don't give them an excuse to refill it.) :-)

Anyway, it was actually very interesting to talk with her. She told me as much as she could about her relatives that live in Kansas City and about what she does to keep busy. The funniest thing about Aunt Margret was that since she doesn't speak English very well, when she got to a difficult phrase or concept, she just slipped right into Danish, as natural as can be. I mean, we're talking whole sentences and paragraphs worth of info, in Danish. And she was looking me in the eye the whole time and chatting on so casually, as if she thought I was understanding every fucking word of what she was saying, despite the fact that I've told her MANY times that I only know about 4 actual Danish words. So, here is a fair approximation of our conversation:

Me: So, tell me more about your family in Kansas City!
Aunt M: brother Consule...I think...she will do you say? then Fyrretyvende digt kalveskind mælkepulver nikotinforgiftning offentig piskeris savsmuld!!! *Lots of laughing on her part*
Me: Oh really! That sounds like fun!
Aunt M: Yes!

And so the two hours passed... But actually, it wasn't too bad, and before I knew it, Pernille and Kieth came back upstairs so that we could all enjoy some tea together.

Now, Kieth and I have discussed how funny it is that when you're listening to people speak a language that is *completely* foreign to you, you unconsciously listen for words that sound like English. So, even though you don't mean to do it, every now and then a Danish word pops out at you because it sounded like English, even though it really wasn't. Well, Aunt Margret was full of those kind of words.

One memorable incident was during this tea sharing session. You see, she had also made these biscuits that were very tasty and I asked her if she had the recipe. And she replied, "Auck yah!" which sounded incredibly like "Fuck yeah!" So, naturally, Kieth and I about fell out of our chairs laughing. Once we explained it to Pernille, she translated the misunderstanding to Aunt Margret, who thought it was hilarious and then she kept shouting "Fuck yeah! Fuck yeah!"

Oh, and earlier in the evening, Kieth had come upstairs to ask where the bathroom was. Well, apparently the US is the only country on the face of the planet that uses the term "bathroom" to denote a place where you can perform certain bodily functions. To everyone else, the term "bathroom" means a place where you take a bath, which, in all fairness, makes perfect sense. So, you have to use the word "toilet" if you want them to understand you. Well, Kieth kept asking Aunt M where the bathroom was, where the restroom was, etc...and she wasn't getting it. So, finally, he said, "You know, the BATHROOM" and made a motion to unzip his fly. LOL After a brief pause, Aunt Margret screamed "Oh YES! The TOILET!" And then he went to the toilet and then left. Well, after we explained the fuck yeah comment, Aunt Margret told us that she couldn't understand what Kieth had been saying earlier because she thought that he was asking for the BEDROOM. Which was pretty hilarious considering that he had made the motion of unzipping his fly in order to explain himself.

OK, so those were some good times with Aunt Margret. What a nice lady.... :-) Anyway, the next evening, Kieth, Pernille, and I went out to eat at this American steakhouse, called the BaufHaus, I think. Anyway, it was in this really old building that had the rafters exposed and all that. The decoration was a mix of Rustic Americana and 1950s Americana. They even had an old Wurlizter jukebox that you didn't even have to put any money into! Anyway, our server was an Asian man (naturally-what else would you expect when you're eating at an American restaurant in Denmark) and he was very friendly. The food was actually quite quite good. The menu (and I got one to bring home with me) reminded me of TGIFridays because of their color scheme.

The food wasn't too expensive, so I ordered a steak with some of their Whiskey Sauce. Oh my god-this was some good fucking sauce. I might buy some at the store to bring home with me. They also had a Cognac Sauce, which I tried, but it wasn't quite as good. They had it set up so that you picked a type of potato to have with your steak, as well as a kind of sauce, and then you could have as much of both as you wanted. Very good idea.

Dinner went fairly well, with one major exception. There was this one waitress that brought us our food and kept walking by our table. Kieth kept staring at her ass and saying that she had a great "ghetto booty". Pernille and I were just like, WHATEVER. Then, to my horror, Kieth stopped the waitress and asked her to turn around, at which time he lifted up the back of her shirt so that he could get a better view of her ass!!! Then he said, "Ok, just checkin'! You can go." I was completely mortified. It was so shocking, I still can't believe he did it.

OK, so the next night was the night before I left for Prague. Pernille's mother decided to have a mini-dinner party for me. So, Aunt Margret came, as well as Pernille's best friend, Karina. Karina is really nice and she even gave me a currency converter as a going away present! :-) Anyway, the dinner was great and it stretched on into the night. I had been planning to pack after dinner and then be in bed before 12 or 1. Yeah right.

I hadn't planned on everyone getting so roaring drunk at dinner that the conversation stretched on forever, or on Kieth wanting to show all his pictures from Russia, or on the fact that I was so nervous about going that I finally succumbed to familial pressure and had 2 large drinks consisting mostly of gin and then spent the rest of the evening smoking cheap mini cigars with Kieth and Jutta. Needless to say, I didn't sleep AT ALL before I left at 6:30am Saturday morning.

But, that morning, I wasn't the only one who was totally stressed out. Pernille's mother and father were both awake around 5:30am with Pernille and I. Her father said that he couldn't sleep because he was worried about me. Pernille's father had staggered off to bed around 3, or so we had all thought. But, when I got up from "resting my eyes" around 5:15am, there was a note on the kitchen table reading "Shannon-I hope you have a nice trip to Prague. I will miss you. Please call when you get there. Love, Ole 3:30am" (I took a picture of it.) And standing proudly next to it, was a tall stand on which waved the Danish flag. It was formerly on their porch, so I can just imagine him dragging it through the house in his drunken stupor. He seriously almost fell out of his chair at dinner...

Anyway, Pernille and her mom made breakfast for us all. Kieth was the only one who didn't get up. They were all so cute and worried about me, it was just like getting ready to go somewhere when I'm at my own house. :-) Pernille and her mom kept asking me things like, "Do you have your passport?" "Do you have directions to your hotel?" etc... I was just waiting for her mom to whip out some holy water to bless me! (Grandma!) And then, in the end, Pernille and her mom drove me to the train station. I was so nervous! But, they waited for the train to leave and then waved goodbye as we pulled out of the station. It was so sweet of them!

OK, I need to go because there is a hot game of Monopoly waiting for me. Later this evening I'm going to write all about my trip to Prague. It was a lot of fun and so beautiful!! Anyway, I hope you're all doing well. I can't believe I'm already going to be coming home on Saturday!! Man, I am going to have to spend a small fortune in order to develop my pictures, but it's going to be worth it. I think I've taken 9 rolls so far! Anyway, I'll talk to you all soon and I can't wait to see you!

Friday, January 26, 2001

Dinner and a show‏

Hello everyone!

Well, it seems like it's been a long time since I've written, but I guess it's only been a few days. I guess time just seems to pass slower here.

Anyway, as I recall, I left off right before the big dinner party that we had last Saturday. So, let's start with that.

OK, I was really looking forward to this dinner party that Pernille's parents, Jutte (pronounced like You-tah) and Ole (pronounced like Ola), were hosting. First of all, their house is *perfect* for such parties. They have a sweet stereo system in their living room, with big speakers hanging from the ceiling on both ends of the room. Plus, the living room and dining room are decorated in soft golds, magentas, blues and other colors that just lend themselves to looking fabulous in the rather low, glowing light of a proper party.

For those of you interested in such matters, I wore a short black dress to the party. And, as a jacket over it, I chose my brand new mesh-type one that has ostrich feathers all around the collar and halfway down the front. Plus, my new jewelry (silver choker necklace with blood-red oval hanging stone and matching earrings). And I somehow managed a sophisticated hairstyle reminiscent of early Jackie Kennedy. :-) So, I was actually pretty stylin' and naturally was totally excited for the party.

Pernille's dad, Ole, started in pretty early on the wine. I don't want to criticize him, because I think he's a very nice guy, but I suspect he might be a binge drinker, if 60+ year old men that pretty much only drink wine can be considered binge drinkers. But seriously, every weekend I've been here, he has finished off a couple bottles on his own and then he goes to bed and passes out. So, there you are. Anyway, as I was saying, I think he got started a little early on Saturday, so that by the time I was dressed and ready for the party, he was already drunk. When I came out of my room, he was gushing and gushing (as much as he could with his limited English) about how beautiful I was and then he grabbed me around the waist and for one horrifying moment I thought he was going to kiss me!!! But, instead he just leered at me and then staggered off to go watch TV in his room until the guests arrived. Sweet Jesus!!

But, I recovered nicely and then went into the living room to take some pictures and relax before the party. Well, there was to be no relaxing for me because Jutte came in and turned on the TV and lo! there was that moronic asshole George W. Bush being sworn in as our new president. So, after I finished vomiting in the potted plants, I made myself a stiff drink and sat down to watch the spectacle. Can you even believe this moron had the nerve to CRY after he was sworn in?!! I wanted to be ill. And of course, I was muttering obscenities and exclamations of outrage and disbelief all through his acceptance speech. Pernille's mom must have heard me because she came in then to watch. (She was able to understand what he was saying because they had two journalists from Denmark covering the event. But I could barely hear what Bush was saying over their very loud translation.) Apparently Danish people don't like Bush either, so Jutte and I tried to console each other.

Then the guests started to arrive. In attendance: Aunt Margret (Ole's sister-in-law), Mette (Aunt Margret's daughter), her husband Erhling, their two kids Peter-Oskar and Kasper, Pernille's older sister Vivica, and her two kids Christian and Lisbet, plus her little weiner dog, NaNa. It was quite the assortment.

From the first, everyone was so nice to me! All of them spoke some sort of English and they didn't hesitate to ask me all sorts of questions. Jutte showed them the postcards of Iowa that I had brought with me. They all wanted to know where my city was and where UNI was in relation to that, etc. They were surprised that my school was so far away from my home city. Of course, they have no conception of how big the States is. I mean, for them it's four hours to Germany; for us it's four hours to Omaha or Kansas City. Huge difference.

Aunt Margret (only a nickname, real name something like Bitte) was especially, intensely inquisitive. I figure this is probably due to a number of factors. 1) She had the worst English of anyone and therefore was almost impossible to understand. 2) She is deaf in one ear and therefore can hardly understand what is said to her. 3) She has a very small "personal space" and assumes that everyone else is the same. 4) And naturally, she had been snorking up the onion dip like it was going out of style. So, without a doubt, it only Karmically makes sense that she would be the one who wanted to ask me the most questions. And this is the lady that I had been told earlier wanted to book a few hours of English practice with me. Naturally. :-)

The time for dinner arrived not a moment too soon. I was seated between Kasper and Christian, both of whom were in the third grade, and both of whom looked at me like I was something out of movie. Mostly like a horror movie, really. They didn't speak any English, so everytime I said something to them, they would turn red and try to hide. Fabulous. Mette was very nice, and I got to sit near her, so that was a relief. And I sat across from her husband, and since he was a doctor, his English was pretty good. We talked a lot about politics and America. They could not understand how Bush won and I assured them that nobody in America could either.

The first course was puff pastries filled with salmon and spinach, along with julienned carrots and leeks in a remoulade sauce. To my surprise, all of the kids left the table after eating this course. I thought this was unusual. But apparently, between each course, most of the women disappear to the kitchen in order to wash the dishes and get the next course ready. So, it's kind of like eating in a restaurant and having to wait 10-15 minutes between each course. Interesting. But, they wouldn't let me help, so I was left to sit at the table with the men and Aunt Marget, who was too old to help out.

The kids were recalled and the main dishes were brought out. Roasted beef tenderloin, with boiled potatoes and french fries (I think this selection was mainly for my benefit. Americans=french fries, naturally.), and this absolutely hideous "salad", comprised, I think, of finely minced purple cabbage, apples, and a putrid vinegar concoction. Then it was all mushed together so that it didn't look like a coleslaw or anything, but rather like a fruit salad. UGH.

Dessert was a pear half poached in wine, a candied fig, a date, and two small scoops of vanilla ice cream, all artfully arranged on each plate and drizzled with some of the red wine left over from the poaching. Very tasty!

Of course, throughout the whole dinner, there was wine. White wine, red wine, refills of each, and then some absolutely nasty dessert wine. Heavenly lord, these people drink so much, I just can't emphasize it enough. So naturally, as the evening progressed, the conversation flowed as freely as the wine, and towards the end of the evening, it took some rather graphic turns. (Ehrling showed us all the "gynocologist's handshake", for example.) And once, when I got up to go to the kitchen, Pernille's dad slapped me on the ass. Good grief.

After dinner, I wanted to smoke the Cuban cigars I bought earlier in my trip. I tried to get Ole to smoke one with me, but he took a few puffs and then staggered off, presumably to either throw up or pass out. So, I smoked mine at the table with Ehrling. Since I wasn't allowed to help with the dishes, it felt rather like being a man. Just sitting there, enjoying a glass of wine, smoking a cigar, watching the womenfolk clean up after dinner....ahhh..the good life.

Anyway, the evening as a whole went well. It was a lot of fun to talk to everyone and it was even more fun to try to understand what they were all yelling about in Danish. In some ways they reminded me a lot of my family because they all tended to get really loud and talk at the same time. :-) There were some points in the evening when I wanted to pull an Uncle Pete and shout, "Hey! Keep it to a dull roar!"

OK, so then on Monday, Pernille's boyfriend/fiance/what-the-hell-ever Kieth came into town. And yes, that's how he spells his name, which should give you some indication of his personality. I don't like him very much, but I'll just keep it at that. To be honest, I was kind of feeling like I wanted to leave for Prague a lot sooner than Saturday! Anyway, Pernille and I had made plans to go out to dinner that night with Kasper and his girlfriend. Kasper studied with Pernille in the States and I knew him from UNI, so I was looking forward to dinner.

Anyway, Kasper chose this incredibly beautiful French restaurant, named "Provence". The ceiling was very high and was decorated with gorgeous stained glass. The front windows were covered with several garden-type arches that had vines growing all over them and up the walls. The restaurant wasn't very big...maybe it seated 50 people, but because of the high ceiling, it seemed fairly spacious.

The dinner, and the company, was just delicious. I had the Steak Au Poivre (steak covered in pepper and served with a pepper/red wine sauce), but the kitchen screwed it up and cooked it medium. But, you'd be proud of me, Stephan, because I sucked it up and just ate it the way it was. It wasn't bad, but I don't think I'll be ordering steaks like that in the future. :-) Anyway, that came with a cup of the absolute best vegetable soup I've ever had in my life. It was simply magnificent...the flavors just danced on the tongue! Mmmm!! And also, it came with a side of twice-baked potato, which was similar to Christopher's. For dessert, I had the Creme Brulee. Very good. And, we also were able to enjoy 3 bottles of wine (two red and one white), thanks to Kasper's generous pocketbook. Alcohol at restaurants is VERY VERY expensive, to make up for the cheap food. So, if you order just water in order to avoid buying expensive booze, they charge you for the water. Sometimes up to $2 for *each* glass. Sorry, no free refills here!

We sat and talked a lot about the miserable taxes they have here in Denmark. Kasper and his girlfriend, Jasmine, are dying to find jobs in the States because they can't stand the taxes here. In fact, Kasper has even been studying a huge book of the US Tax Code. I assured him that he would be *very* well prepared to live in the States, considering that most of us never bother reading even a chapter out of that book, let alone the whole damn thing.

Oh, and it was a good thing we had all this to talk about because it was a solid 30 minutes between each course. That has been a hard thing to get used to about eating out here. I'm still in the American mindset of hurry hurry hurry. And, the way that people order here is different, in that most people chose to buy a "menu" instead of buying courses separately. For example, I purchased the 99Kroner menu. That came with an appetizer, a main course with side dishes, and a dessert. And then they have a list of items for each course that you can choose from. And of course, there are more expensive menus. Kasper had the 189Kroner menu, which gave him the option of having lobster for his appetizer. Oh, and here, whenever you go out, everyone gets their own appetizer, instead of ordering 1 or 2 for the table.

OK, well it's getting kind of late and I'm leaving for Prague at 6:30 tomorrow morning. UGH!! So, I'd better end this here. I'll make sure to send an email from Prague!! Take care and I'll talk to you all soon!

Monday, January 22, 2001

In the wee small hours of the morning...‏

Hello once again everyone!

Well, here I am writing you all an email and for once it isn't like 4 in the morning! ;-) It's actually about 12:30am right now, so it's kind of early for me. I just got home from dinner and playing pool, and since Pernille had some business to take care of, I just decided to sit down and write this email now.

OK, so I know that my last email was a little uneventful. But this one has lots of juicy, succulent tales, that I'm sure you're all going to be sharing around the watercooler tomorrow. ;-)

Where to start? Well, I believe I left off the day before I was supposed to go out bowling. OK, so last Thursday, Pernille and I went bowling with one of her friends (Ulrik) and one of his friends (Allan). Actually, beforehand Pernille and I went to dinner at this restaurant named Casablanca. As we walked into this place, I was immediately struck by the fact that there was no artificial lighting. Candles were everywhere, including the entrance hallway. I suppose that they were going for a "Casablanca"/Rick's American Cafe effect, but even Bogie had some lamps for Christ's sake! Actually, in the end I sincerely appreciated the extreme lack of light, due mostly to the extremely sketchy food. But I'll get there in a minute. ;-)

Anyway, the architectural design of the place was very becoming. The theme was along Moorish lines, with lots of arches and columns and creamy colored walls. The chairs were small and had rounded, completely solid, wooden backs, which made them a sort of tight squeeze for my aforementioned big fat American fast food ass. At first, Pernille and I waited for a waitress to bring us a menu. For 10 minutes. Finally, we snagged a passing waitress and asked her for some. Well, she said, we're actually having a buffet tonight, and it's made up of all of our menu items, so you might as well get that. We pondered the idea of waiting what was sure to be at least 2 hours for actual personalized food dishes, and in the end we went for the buffet.

OK, they had a lot of dishes on this buffet, but most of them were very suspicious. You know the sort...some variety of meat floating in an oily brown sauce, cold pizza, sour cream that had been sitting out for god knows how long-right up against a very hot serving container, etc... You could just see the salmonella skulking around. Anyway, there were about 10 large serving containers filled with various meats/sauces/rice/vegetables and I had to have Pernille translate the little identity cards in front just so I would know what the fuck they were. Most of it was veal, which was not sounding good to me at the moment. So, I tried some fried potatoes, curried chicken, fried rice with whiskey sauce, a couple slices of pizza, and a hunk of baked potato. For dessert, there was a selection of incredibly thin cake slices, and amazingly the two I nibbled at were pretty tasty.

Anyway, after dinner, we walked across the street to the bowling alley. On the outside of the building was a big sign advertising, "ROAST AND BOWL". Hmmm....Pool and Chicken, anyone? (Inside joke.) :-) Anyway, apparently they have a night where you can go down there and enjoy some roast pork and a few games of bowling. Interesting concept. Ok, so this place was a little small for a bowling alley, meaning they only had like 15 lanes, but the rest of the place was OK sized. I think that bowling places in the States tend to be spread out horizontally, but this place was more vertical. The lanes were on the second level, for example.

The guys we bowled with were very nice. I actually had met Ulrik when he was studying at UNI, so that was cool. His friend didn't say much, so that was interesting. Anyway, man I bowled like SHIT the first game. I don't think I've bowled since high school! But, after a game or two it kind of came back to me. I just kept trying to remember what my dad would say about making sure that I held my hand straight when I let go of the ball. Speaking of you dad, I could not believe how SLOW everyone bowled. I remember that when we used to go bowling when I was younger that whenever you bowled, the ball just flew down the lane and the pins made a horribly loud crashing noise. Well, the guys here bowl like little girls and the girls bowl like they're afraid that the ball is going to jump up and bite them in the ass if they throw it too hard. I've never seem such timidity at a bowling alley!! Anyway, my first score was a pathetic 54, putting me in last place. My final score was 121, in first place.

Some tidbits about the bowling alley: they don't spray the shoes with disinfectant. You just get them from a shelf and when you leave you throw them back on the shelf for someone else to grab. Ugh. It cost almost $20 for an hour of bowling. I'm not sure what it's like in the states, but you can get mixed drinks here. They blare dance music constantly, very very loudly, every night.

Oh here are some more general tidbits that I forgot to mention last time: the traffic lights are a little different, in that the light turns yellow again before it turns green. So that way you don't have to come to a complete stop at a red light if you know that it's just about to turn green. The US needs to implement this feature IMMEDIATELY!!!! Oh, and something about lamps-they very very rarely have any lamps mounted on the ceiling in a house. They have the power supply in the center of the ceiling like us, but then they take a cord and hang the lamp down at right below eye level. So, when you're standing up, the whole upper half of the room is barely lit! I complained about this total lack of quality lighting one night and I was told that in Denmark they just don't put lamps on the ceiling. They prefer to have a more intimate atmosphere. Well, ok, but I'm going fucking blind trying to look around this place. Whatever... ;-)

OK, so that was Thursday. On Friday we drove to Germany. What an utter waste of time. The weather was horrible! First of all, every single day I've been here, except the first two, has been completely overcast, cold, and depressing. On this particular day, however, God decided to add "sleeting" and "completely fucking freezing" to that list.

We left in the morning and it took us 4 hours to get to Flensberg. Flensberg actually looked like it was a beautiful town, but in such shitty weather, I definitely could not appreciate it. Our visit started off with a real bang when we almost got hit by a train. We were trying to find a place to park, and we thought that the parking lot on the edge of the river would be a great spot. Well, we couldn't find the entrance and there was a lot of traffic. So, Pernille saw this driveway into the parking lot and we said fuck it, let's just turn in here. And then suddenly, as we were turning, this small train seemed to come out of nowhere on our left side and almost fucking hit us. Someone (the conductor?) was standing outside on the front part of the train and was blaring his whistle at us while shaking his head and pointing his finger severely in our direction. Naturally, this attracted the attention of all passers-by, most of whom, even the other drivers, seemed to come to a complete halt in order to stare scornfully at us.

Once we got out hearts beating again, we decided that we had to find somewhere to go to the bathroom. Well, unlike most places in the States, according to Pernille no restaurant in Europe will let you use their bathroom unless you buy something. So, we found this brewery and ordered some drinks just so we could piss. I must say though, they had immaculate bathrooms. :-) Oh, here's something about the toilets here: the flusher is on the top of the toilet, and it's usually a button that you press down or a knob that you pull up. Interesting.

In the end, we spent about a half hour walking around. They have a walking-only shopping area, like Aalborg, but their shops were very expensive. We bought some pastries, and then we left. It was just too cold to spend any more time outside. Then we had to stop at this discount place before we left. It was actually in another small town close by, but we could not find the bastard. We seriously had to cross back over the border and then find a road that would lead to this town. It took us at least 30 minutes and several heated phone conversations with Pernille's mom before we found the right road. (By the way, driving while talking on a cell phone is illegal here, punishable by a large fine.) :-) Oh, and when I asked the border guard to stamp my passport, he looked at me and said, "Five bucks!" I told him I only had a quarter, but he stamped it anyway.

Anyway, this store is something set up basically for the benefit of Danes that cross the border for the cheaper prices on cigs and booze. As I mentioned before, the sales tax in Denmark is 25%. (Some other taxes: 180% car tax (plus an extra tax that depends on the weight of the car), 30% tax on water and utilities, a TV and radio tax, and a 40% to 65% INCOME tax!!! This all pays, of course, for totally free education (including college) and health care, but I just don't think I could go to work every day if I knew that the government was getting 65% of the money I made.)

OK, so this store was tiny, but it was packed with people. And they were all frantically grabbing bottles of wine, cartons of cigarettes, and boxes of chocolates. It was like the last chopper out of Saigon was leaving in 15 minutes and they all intended to be on it, clutching their bottle of Chateau Margaux and a carton of Camels. Pernille was under orders to buy several !cases! of wine for her family. (Probably just for the week, I imagine.) I got a bottle of wine, a few chocolate bars, and some French cigarettes and then we got the hell out of there.

Well, this email has turned into a book. :-) So, I think I'll leave the stories about the big dinner party on Saturday and dinner tonight for the next time.

I hope you're all doing well. Of course, how well can you all really be doing considering that Bush was sworn in this weekend? UGH Anyway, take care and I hope to hear from you all soon!!


Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Denmark, 2nd email home

Hi everyone!

I just thought that I'd send out another email to keep you up to date on my trip. :-)

Well, to be honest, we haven't exactly gone out and done anything too exciting in and of itself, but I've had a lot of time to study the different habits and customs here, and I think that they're interesting enough on their own.

I think I wrote a bit about the shopping/restaurant area in my last email. Well, we've done quite a bit of shopping since then, so I have lots more to talk about in that arena. First of all, the main shopping area here is very quaint and beautiful. You have to drive to a parking ramp of sorts (or just find one of the limited street spots), pay for a parking pass (which you put on your dashboard), and then walk to the shopping area. The reason for this is that there is no driving allowed on those streets. They are about as narrow as a driveway, and there is a fair flow of people walking around, so driving on them would be a nightmare anyway. These streets are twisting and paved with a mix of narrow concrete pavement paths and cobblestone. The buildings are tall and stately and are almost all hooked together. So really, it's like there are little shops on the ground floor of a big long building that's painted different colors to make it look like it's really separate buildings. Hope that makes sense!

Anyway, the shops are so beautiful, even just to look at! They all have huge front windows and beautiful displays. And, a lot of them are having sales right now, so they have tables of sale things set up right outside their stores, just like when the mall has a big sale. The only difference is that these stores sell some very interesting things, so you tend to have tables and racks lined up on the streets filled with peek-a-boo bras, thongs, furniture, Pier One-type decorations, food, books, EVERYTHING. By the way, I'm really glad that I came during January when they're all having sales, because the sales tax here is *25%*!!! And Iowans bitch about raising the sales tax one penny to fund schools. They have no idea...

In addition to this shopping area, there's another place to go that's huge and sort of a combination Wal-Mart/Hy-Vee. We went grocery shopping there a couple days ago and it was pretty interesting. First of all, in order to take a cart, you have to put 10 or 20 Kroner (about $1.50-$2.50) into this little box on the cart so that it will release from the cart line. Pernille said they do this so that people won't steal the carts. Like in their trunk or what? I don't know. :-)
Anyway, for those of you that are deeply involved in the business of grocery stores, I think you'll find this interesting. The cashiers are allowed to sit down while they ring up groceries! The guy that rang mine up the other day barely looked up at me. And after I paid him, he just threw the change in this money plate in front of me without so much as a thanks. On the whole, though, I think this is unusual treatment. In all of the other shops I visited, they were very small, so the shopkeeper was really nice and attentive. Oh, and at this other, much smaller, grocery store we visited, you can park on the roof and then walk down some steps into the middle of the store. When you're done, you take an elevator up to the roof, along with your grocery cart. Oh, and you get your money back once you push the cart back into another row of carts.

Pernille's family continues to be wonderful. We have had dinner with them several times now and it's always good. And they are always trying to make me drink wine. Seriously, I had NO idea how much wine people could drink. I think their family kills 2 bottles of wine a NIGHT! You know how we might have pop or a beer while watching tv at night...well, they drink red wine. Glass after glass after glass! At the store last night we bought 8 more bottles! Fuck! I sometimes have a glass, but since I'm not really a fan of dry red wine, I tend to just have one of their "Snowflake" beers or a sparkling water with lime. But I don't think I can impress upon you how much they would like to see me drinking more. It's so odd after coming from a family that drinks wine mainly just on special occasions.

Oh, and EVERYBODY in this house smokes, except me. UGH. I think that all my clothes are going to reek when I get home. And when you go out to a restaurant there's still no reprieve because there aren't separate sections for smoking and non-smoking. On Tuesday I bought some Cuban cigars. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? ;-) Just kidding Grandma! Actually, Pernille's dad and I are going to smoke them at the big dinner party they're having here on Saturday night. The party should be fun, but I have the idea that I'm going to be the American guest on parade. Already Pernille's aunt has booked 4 hours of English practice time with me. :-) Should be a blast since apparently her speaking level is as good as Pernille's parents. As for their level, well, just think "worse than YOOKI." ;-)

Tonight I was telling Pernille's dad that I was tired even though I actually got some sleep last night. Well, now I've got doctor's orders to sit in front of his natural light lamp for a half hour tomorrow. Some of you know what I'm talking about, but for those of you that don't, it's a lamp that sufferors of Seasonal Affective Disorder have to sit in front of because the lack of light in the winter affects them poorly. Not that I have SAD, but he just thought it would help. Should be interesting. :-) It's just that it's been gray and bleak here almost every single day. Plus, the sun sets before 5 and doesn't rise until almost 9. But, on the bonus side, in the summer the sun sets around 11pm and rises again around 3am.

The people here are all so beautiful. Seriously, there are like models everywhere. Skinny little bitches practically clog the streets. Oh, speaking of streets, the people here drive like maniacs. When I drive with Pernille I have to close my eyes. In the little streets close to the shopping area, the speed limit is about 40! And there are people on bikes EVERYWHERE. You'll be driving along a huge street and they'll be one right next to you in the middle of traffic. Apparently, drivers here have more consideration for bikers and pedestrians, but it just makes me nervous! Another interesting thing is that every car has a little clock pasted onto the lower inside right corner of their front windshield, one of the "Be back in _ minutes" kind. In some parking lots, they have to set the clock for the time they left and then they get a ticket if they're not back in so many minutes. How this works effectively is beyond me.

Every night there are cool movies on TV, in English with Danish subtitles. They have about 35 channels, but most of them are in German, Swedish, or Danish. European MTV and VH1 are really cool; they play music most of the time, for a change. One of the channels turns into The Playboy Channel after a certain time, but Pernille tells me that that's just standard practice, nothing her dad is paying extra for. ;-) Which is a good thing, because her dad goes to bed almost every night by 7pm. We've also been renting movies. Last night we watched "Scary Movie" and I thought of you, Stephan. Well, just during the scenes involving hard core narcotics. ;-)

Anyway, it's getting rather late and I really should head to bed. I hope that you're all doing well and that you'll forgive this rather uneventful email. Next time I'll be able to report on our trip to Germany. Take care and know that I'm thinking of every one of you.

Friday, January 12, 2001

I never thought I'd make it! (To Denmark, that is...)

Hello to everyone from Denmark! I hope that this won't be too too long, but I wanted to write you all to let you know how things are going here. :-)

First of all, the flight over here wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be! As most of you know, I was dead terrified to fly. Period. But, after I got on the flight, I calmed down considerably and actually enjoyed it-to a point. I was sitting next to some nice people, and contrary to my mother's advice, I actually talked to them. One guy was flying to London on business, one guy was in the Armed Forces (stationed in Omaha, doing recon survival technique training) but he was going to London for his grandma's funeral, and one couple was very sweet and helped me clean up after I knocked my full beer can off of my dinner tray! And, despite my earlier plans, I did not get tanked before or during the flight. I had one can of beer, one glass of wine with dinner, and one glass of Amaretto after dinner.

I couldn't sleep a damn wink! I didn't doze for one freaking second, and that totally sucked later on. And the seats were so uncomfortable! I leaned mine all the way back, but I think that was like a grand total of 4 inches. Whoopee shit! I did have the aisle seat, with one empty seat between me and the next guy, so there was room in those directions, but the seats still sucked. There was only mild turbulence, so that was good.

When we landed in London, it was totally cloudy, so I couldn't see shit, which was very disappointing. And actually, we didn't even really land in London. We landed at an "annex" of Gatwick airport, clear out in the country! This "South Terminal" was really busy, though. I was so scared getting off the plane! But, I followed everyone else and there were these moving walkways that made getting into the terminal a lot easier. It wasn't one long continuous walkway, so I had to get on and off about 10 of them. I think it was probably close to 3/4 of a mile between where we landed and where we had to check in.

By the way, it is SO bizarre to finally hear an actual British person talking! Even though I'm a huge fan of British movies and TV, it is just so WEIRD to hear it spoken TO you. Plus, some of it was very hard to understand! Anyway, the people were very nice at the check in desk and I was sent off to the main international departure waiting lounge. Well, so much for it just being a room to sit it!!! It was HUGE, like a freaking mall!! It was a round building, with two floors, and the center was completely open, so you could look up to the second floor and see all the shops and stuff. There were more than 30 duty-free stores, including outlets for places like Harrod's, a fish&chips place (I ate there-very good!), and even a McDonald's. By the way, the McDonald's was the same as here, but they had fish sticks and a vegetable burger on the menu.

When I first got in there, I looked for a phone to call my mom because I had bought a phone card before I left so that I could let her know I was ok. Well, apparently I am completely stupid, because I had forgotten to write down the country codes for calling out of England and into the US, and naturally, the phone I found didn't have those codes listed. So, I was in a total panic. Sweating, looking nervous, freaking out, obviously American and a first-time traveler...I just kept thinking that I looked like a perfect target for a mugger or something, so that made me worry even more! :-) So, I tried asking for info at a flight desk, but they just gave me a number for the operator on the phone. That didn't work, so I started walking around again, totally freaking out! Finally, I found a phone that had the codes on it. But, it wouldn't take my credit card or my phone card! Then, I went back to the first phone I had found and THANK GOD, it took my card. I talked to my mom and that calmed me down a bit. And even though I had woke her up at 3:30 in the morning, she was very nice to me.

After that, I looked around at some of the shops. I found some Cuban cigars, but I wasn't sure if it was OK for me to buy them and take them to Denmark. I had to be patted down by the London security people because of the metal on my fucking shoes, so I didn't want to risk the additional shame of being taken away in handcuffs to an interrogation room just for being an American carrying Cuban cigars!

Anyway, it was just sooooo amazing to hear all the different accents and everything. It was like my dream come true! Finally I was somewhere I had always wanted to be! Eventually, I bought some lunch and sat down to rest. I waited for EVER for my gate to be announced. They didn't tell it to me when I checked in. They just said that I'd have to watch the monitors in the afternoon. Well, the monitor didn't post my gate number until 30 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off!! I was starting to get nervous by then, I'll tell you!

Anyway, I found my way there and was able to board with no problem. The old lady next to me on the plane was very sweet and translated the Danish for me. She was even able to get me a free glass of Bailey's. The seats were even smaller than on Northwest. I barely squeezed my big-fat-American-fast-food ass into these seats that had obviously been designed for tiny Scandanavian supermodels or something. It was so humiliating when they brought the "cold meal" (piece of something that looked, but did not taste, like chicken, and some pasta shells with a pathetic tomato sauce), because I couldn't even find the tray (it was hiding in the armrest) and then when I did, it would barely fit in front of me. I mean, we're talking like my gut was fairly hanging over it! I thought I was as embarrassed as I could possibly be, and then the stewardess told me that I could use the tray of the empty seat next to me if I wanted to. Ummm, no thanks, I think I'll just fling myself from the plane right now, if that's alright with you.

Anyway, it was a short-enough flight and by that time I was too tired to care about much of anything. I honestly wouldn't have cared if we started to plummet. I actually thought to myself, "Well, at least if we crash I'll be able to get some fucking sleep." (At that point, I had been awake for more than 24 hours.) So, by the time Pernille picked me up at the airport, I was more than ready for a nap! I slept in the car a bit on the hour and a half drive to her house.

By the way, Denmark reminds me so much of Iowa!! It's still very green and the just seems similar. I think it's because they're also a very agricultural place. Anyway, it was lovely-what I could see of it, in the twilight, that is...

I got to Pernille's house and her mom ran out and gave me a huge hug! She is so so nice and just tiny, like a little doll. I don't even know what her name is, because it's so complicated to pronounce! And Pernille's dad, Ole, is also very nice. He is very funny (when I can understand him) and was very welcoming. Their house is actually very tiny. But, it's VERY well decorated and just awesome. Their whole living room glowed because it's painted gold and they had candles lit everywhere for dinner. And Pernille's mom takes painting classes, so the whole place is filled with her paintings, and they're very cool. My room is very small, less than half the size of my room at home, but it's still awesome. And their bathroom floor has heated ceramic tiles, so your feet aren't cold when you get up in the middle of the night.

At dinner, her dad kept insisting that I drink wine so that I could sleep well. I should have told him that I didn't need the help, but he was being so nice that I couldn't say no. It was so funny because her dad kept wanting to make toasts to my arrival, good health, excellent sleep, a good life in general, etc... Their word for toast is something that sounds like "Skoal!" LOL Anyway, I told him that my family makes a toast by saying "Salute!" and he liked that. So, from then on when he made a toast, he said, "Salute!" It was a lot of fun. :-)

Her dad is also big into music of all types, and so is her mom. So, once they found out that I like Frank Sinatra (he's a god to the Danish people, according to her dad) and Dean Martin, he insisted on showing me some of their CDs. Her mom likes Dean Martin and Freddy Mercury of all people. She had a record of his that he made with an opera singer. Bizarre! It has the song "Barcelona" on it, which I had never heard of, but it's supposed to be famous. Her dad was talking about Freddy Mercury, in Danish, and he apparently called him a bad word that Pernille said translated to "Someone who likes to get fucked in the ass." I was surprised to hear that they just had one word for it! Apparently Americans are quite a bit more prolific with their homophobic slang. ;-)

And then her dad brought over this CD by a Danish guy that dresses up like an East Indian and sings songs about curry and his sitar and stupid stuff like that. It was weird! Apparently, Pernille's mom dressed up like this guy for Halloween. He wears clothes that look like pajamas, a turban, and he paints his skin so that he's totally dark all over. Hmmm...I don't think that the Politically Correct people of the US would appreciate his humor. It reminded me of the performers of the good old days that used to paint themselves with "blackface" in order to play black people. Like Bing Crosby in "Holiday Inn", as a matter of fact.

Anyway, after 3 or 4 big glasses of Spanish red wine, and two bottles of special Danish "snowflake" beer, I was more than ready for bed. I went to bed at 11 o'clock and I woke up at 6pm the next day!

Tonight, Pernille and I went out for dinner. I can't even begin to tell you how cool it was! Aunt Maggie, now I know why you kept encouraging me to go to Europe and travel. It is beyond words! I felt the whole time like I was on the set of a movie! I kept expecting any moment to look up and see the ceiling of the movie studio. It was amazing!

We ate in their central downtown area and it was filled with twisting little cobblestone streets and shops with colorful displays. We parked by this enormous white church and walked a few blocks to a Mexican restaurant, but they were too busy and weren't accepting people without reservations. So, we walked a few more blocks and found this great Greek restaurant.

I've never had Greek food before, but it was awesome. The atmosphere in there was like magic. It was small, and they had people crammed in everywhere, but that just made it cozy. The owner was there, sitting at a table, drinking with some customers. Shortly after we got there, he went to the back and brought out his guitar. Two of the waiters went and got a little bongo-type drum and a flute. They all started singing and playing. It was so cool! At first, they just sang Danish songs, but then they changed to American and Spanish songs. I can't explain how surreal it was to be sitting in Denmark, in a Greek restaurant, listening to "La Bamba", with flute accompaniment. I LOVED it!!! (One thing I didn't like, I must say, was the fact that restaurants here are not divided into smoking and non-smoking. It was very strange, but oh well.) Oh, by the way, they had the most fabulous olives! I was thinking of you, Stephan! I think you could really make some money on that Greek olive farm of yours. ;-) And they were black, which I normally don't eat, but these were salty and just wonderful, despite their pits.

After dinner, we walked around for awhile and looked in the shop windows. Of course, they were all closed, but we planned where we would go shopping on Monday. There was even a 7-Eleven!!! It was open 24 hours/day, so I had to go in and take a look! It had mostly Danish stuff, but there were some American candies and drinks. There was, of course, the ubiquitous hot dogs on the rolling metal roaster-thing. Ugh. By the way, for those of you in the know, there are Toblerones EVERYWHERE over here. :-) I think I'll be shipping some home for my later enjoyment.
When we got home, we watched the end of "The Client" with her mother. In English with Danish subtitles, naturally. After that, we watched our movie. We had stopped to rent a movie, which I can't remember the name of now. Bruce Willis is a hitman and Matthew Perry is a dentist...I don't know. :-) But, it was very funny. By that time it was 2am, and even though I wasn't tired, I went to bed like Pernille and her mom. Well, not really, because here I am writing this message to all of you. :-) It's about 3:30am now, and I'm supposed to get up tomorrow at 10am, so I guess I had better let you all go.

Sorry that this ended up being so long, but I am just so overwhelmed with this experience that I had to tell you all. Thank you to everyone that helped me get over here. I really appreciate it!!!! And Mom, thank you for packing my suitcase, but now I'm screwed because I don't know where anything is!! ;-) I promise that my next email won't be so long. I hope you all forgive me for writing so much. And if I find out that you ditched half-way through (Ahem! Stephan! Ahem!), you're going to be in big trouble. Yes, there will be quizzes when I get home! ;-) Anyway, I'm going to buy a phone card when the stores open on Monday, so I'll try to give you all a short call then. I hope everyone is doing well! Talk to you soon!!