Controlled Chaos

Today I am no longer fearful of Danes. Not like yesterday.

I got a call from the internet repair guy this morning, who spoke to me in Danish. I quickly interrupted him and said I didn’t understand. He switched to English without missing a beat (Danes are amazing at their English speaking skills. I haven’t met one yet who would either refuse to talk to me or not know how to talk to me) and arrived early (I find that Danes often do; when they say “I’ll be there in 15 minutes”, expect them in 5).

I showed him my non-functioning modem and he confirmed that it was, in fact, not functioning.

“I see you tried re-setting it by sticking a pen in there,” he said.

“Yes. They told me to do that over the phone.”

“That’s good. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Well, I see it is definitely not working. But the signal is strong. I think you must have gotten a faulty unit.”

He switched out the unit in no time at all.

“Please accept my apologies. This shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry you had to call twice. Of course, there is no charge to you.”

This seems like really good customer service, right? Well, Danes are not big on customer service. I mean, it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes people will be very nice and pleasant – in restaurants and in shops – but often they will be short with you, unsmiling and unhelpful. I’m starting to think that people are just themselves. There’s no “customer is always right” tradition here and not a whole lot of emphasis on wishing anyone a nice day. So when someone is nice it just feels genuine.

So that was a good interaction and oh, so good, to finally have working internet.

Just as the internet guy was leaving, one of my new neighbors walked over. If I were to judge him by his looks, I should have been wary. And I was…

An older gentleman, with gray hair and fashionable glasses. Very Danish looking. I braced myself for some mansplaining.

Boy, was I surprised! (note to self: keep those prejudices in check, won’t you?)

My next door neighbor – his name is Karsten – is a retired biology teacher (his wife is also a retired school teacher, but I don’t know which subject she taught). He still quite obviously has a lot of passion for biology. He showed be his amazing garden. Overgrown with beautiful purple and yellow flowers (a Husky would feel right at home here), it’s also a mishmash of tall grasses, blueberries, currant, grapes growing along the southern wall and even figs! Also, it’s overgrown with weeds (but only the native kind, Karsten assured me), for which he apologized, but also said they were necessary for the truly healthy ecology of his garden.

I loved the garden a lot, but then he invited me to his house over for coffee. I was so excited about that! Going to your neighbor’s for coffee was a tradition in Poland. People always served each other coffee. About half of each day was spent in some else’s kitchen. People, of course, make each other coffee in Seattle, but it’s not the same kind of tradition and a neighborhood thing to do (someone suggested that in America people bring their new neighbors apple pie when they move in, but I denied it is true. Only in the movies…).

Karsten’s home is much like his garden. In disarray, but controlled somehow. It’s clean and cosy, but also full of amazing art! I asked him if he had an artist in the family.

“Oh, that? That’s just me.”

“You? You painted these?” I was referring to all the portraits and landscapes and abstract art. There was a common thread there, you could see the same person painted all of them, but they were all so unique! In addition to the paintings there were also these collages that I really fell for.

“Would you sell one of these?” I asked him.

“You’re joking. No, no. People ask me to do their portraits sometimes, but I don’t always feel like it.”

“I’m talking about the collages.”

“Those? Those shouldn’t even be here. I need to put them away. I was just inspired by Berlin, you know.”

“I’ve never been to Berlin.”

“It’s a wonderful city. As a Dane, I never wanted to even go to Germany. You know, we have a rough history with the Germans. Germans are always attacking their neighbors.”

“Yes, I know. I’m Polish.”

“So you know. Well, I grew up despising Germans. Naturally. It felt like the right thing to do. I always just associated them with Nazis.”

“Yeah, growing up in Poland…  I did too.”

“Well, then I met my second wife. Her father grew up in Germany. There are some Danes in northern Germany and he was one of them. He loved it. And she loved it. And she convinced me to go.

I went and loved the scenery, but still was very weary of the people. But then I met the people and realized that they are warm and kind and nothing like what I thought they were. In some ways, I think Danes are more German than Germans.”

I told him about my friend Kristina, who is nothing like the kind of stereotypical German I grew up expecting and he understood.

“So you know. Germans are actually such good people. And Berlin… Oh, Berlin is just amazing. So full of art! Everywhere you go, there is art. And not just curated art, but so much street art too. There are these trees on a city promenade completely covered in chewing gum!”

Like Karsten, I am a huge fan of street art. The chewing gum on trees of course reminded me of Seattle’s Post Alley gum wall.

“And all these trends that are slowly making their way to Copenhagen, with all that reclaimed wood… You know the aesthetic I’m talking about? Well, that’s been done in Berlin for decades! You need to go. You’d love it there.”

Karsten said that the flight to Berlin is about 40 min, so there is no excuse not to go.

I am so, so thankful for this amazing, interesting and surprising neighbor. Karsten restored my faith in Danes today.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s