Charlie and Alex Balch update from wonderful Copenhagen.
For those that don't know us, my wife and I moved to Copenhagen at the end of August 2001 from St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands. These are my impressions of Copenhagen three weeks later.
Things are different here. Probably the best part about Europe is that I'm now thin and rich. I lost a lot of weight when I we switched from pounds to kilograms. I get eight Kroners to the Dollar so I must be rich too. The bills are all different sizes and very colorful but some of the coins have holes in them. The largest coin is worth close to three dollars (no hole in this one). All in all it is fun to spend money here even though most things cost eight times too much. Best of all, I know things before you do. Everything happens six hours earlier here. I plan to make a killing on the stock market - I'm amazed that no one has thought of this before!
It's not all perfect; Celsius makes things colder.
three paragraphs are Nerd News.
I've had hell getting a working computer system. ;
I thought I was being smart to travel light and just take my hard drives and some RAM but the system I bought here had problems which lead to a partial install of my OS which lead to too much to talk about.
All is resolved now. My biggest remaining challenge
is the Danish Layout of my new keyboard. If I had this to do over again,
I'd bring my computer case and keyboard then buy a monitor here. Before tax computer
prices are comparable to US.
End Nerd News
The Danish are wonderful people. It didn't surprise me too much when most everyone on the street had a smile to share but, when store clerks and government officials were universally friendly and helpful, I knew I wasn't in the Islands any more. Universal literacy and health care are balanced by a 50% income tax and 25% sales tax on most things. Food, beer and bikes arenít taxed; computer equipment is. Iím told this creates an environment where few do exceptionally well or poorly. ; Crime is pretty much non-existent. Somehow they manage to do this with a minimal police presence.
Then again they donít consider a lot of things that we do illegal. Drugs and prostitution are not criminal activities in Copenhagen.
Most everyone speaks English. I've been told by more than one Dane not to bother learning Danish as most Danes want to practice their English. I intend to try anyway.
There is some bias. Americans are rated above Italians, Swedes and Germans but few others. Except for the Swedes, I'm still trying to understand why. Best I can tell about the Swedes is that the Danish will never forgive them for not being part of Denmark anymore. On the other hand, everyone I've met has been eager to chat and willing to forgive my country of origin when I agree that Bush is a terrible president. They still love Clinton and are quick to admit that America has done some wonderful things for Europe.
The World Trade Center is still very much a raw issue. All agree that it is a terrible thing but there is a lot of worry that the US will use the WTC as an excuse to do things that are equally terrible.
There is a special place in the Danish heart for the many Muslims that they have allowed to immigrate to their country as political refugees. Most Danes donít care that many of them donít work as most Danes prefer not to work either Ė government is there to make sure that you get your vacation time which is sacred. Everyone seems to take a year off from time to time for some reason. The big problem is that the Muslims have a lot of problems accepting the very open culture of the Danish.
This criticism of their culture puts the Danes in a catch 22 scenario. They pride themselves on being open and tolerant but it is hard to do when the criticism is about youíre being open and tolerant. This is of course not describe all Muslims but it takes just a few folks to give a group a bad name. For instance, out of about twenty cab rides we have been ripped off twice. I didn't ask their religion but both drivers were obviously Arabic.
It is unfortunate that a very few can give so many a bad name.
All it really takes to get on the good side of the Danish is to mention that the current space feels very comfortable (the Danes take great pride in creating comfortable spaces) or mention the '92 European Soccer Championships. Careful with the second one though as you may have just bought into a conversation with a lot of detail.
Transportation is very good. We started out with cabs then switched to busses. While the busses run all night, are inexpensive and on time, bikes are even better. Every road has its own bike paths. Getting bikes opened up our world. Everything in the city is a five to ten minute bike ride away. Alex got a very nice bike. I was happy to find something that reminded me of my old Samari. Itís a clunker but I like clunkers. My old biking skills have somewhat come back even if the muscles havenít. Iím now easily transporting a case of beer as I ride around.
Alex is enjoying her new job as a manager at Hard Rock Copenhagen. Or at least she is doing well. Her first evening running things by herself was huge. It also happened to be a night when the Danish Soccer team was playing an important match. Europeans take the fun they have while watching Soccer very seriously. It is hard to believe that anyone is watching the game between the yelling, face paints, funny costumes (lots of hats with horns) and drinking. Did I mention that they also tend to get rowdy? I can't imagine what they act like when they are actually in the stadium or their team wins - the game on Alex's first night was a tie so they only partied till four in the morning. At any rate, both Alex and Hard Rock survived and she only had to call the cops once.
I continue to teach for UVI via the Internet and am doing some consulting work on the net as well. For tax reasons, Iíll need to spend some time back in the Islands or somewhere out of Denmark once we are settled in here. You might want to check out my latest freeware project http://serenesound.com.
Dairy, meat, veggies and beer are much cheaper than the islands. The Danish are very careful to sell only the freshest of veggies. They are also very much into conservation. I.E. the deposit on a bottle of beer can often exceed the price of the beer; this is a strong encouragement to bring your empties back. With the exchange, quality beer, such as Carlsberg, costs about US $1.50 a six-pack! I've been so busy investigating beer that I've not touched a drop of rum since our plane landed in Denmark. So far my biggest complaint is that they tend to serve beer a bit warmer than I'm used to.
The weather has been perfect so far but we know it will not last. I'm not looking forward to 17 hour winter nights and traveling with freezing rain.
After a long discussion with a real estate lawyer, we placed a signed bid on an apartment we both want. Our lawyer thinks he can get the price down a little. We hope he will be successful in the reduction but are prepared to spend the asking price. So this is a pretty sure thing. The biggest obstacle seems to be that I may not be able to get my name on the deed.
We'll know in a day or two. We would have confirmation sooner but our Real Estate agent decided to go on holiday for a week and they are very serious about their vacations in Denmark.
We hope to move in by the middle of October. Right now we are in a temporary apartment. Before that we stayed in a hotel and before and a B&B.
There are a great number of such temporary apartments. Living space is so dear in Copenhagen that, by law, you cannot leave your home unoccupied for long periods of time. Like most Europeans, the Danish get five to six weeks of vacation, and, while this is not enough to kick in the forced occupancy law, many like to rent out their space for extra income. The difference in cost to rent here and less expensive European destinations can pay for their vacation!
Vacation pay is done a bit differently. The government pays the vacation pay in a lump sum Ė you get to decide what you want to do with it but your employer has to give you the time off if you want it.
Many of Alex's employees live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle as they move from apartment to apartment every few months. One of the reasons that we are buying is that people wait five to ten years to get an apartment that they can rent year round!
Space is expensive here. I think the whole apartment we are looking at would come close to fitting in the living room of our old house but you could buy two houses in the islands for the price. Thus, apartments, perhaps best thought of as condos, are small. I have a suspicion that the Danish, descendants of the Vikings, carry on the grand boat tradition of small, well made and expensive in their homes. Like boats, they manage to pack a lot into a small space. I.E. Many places have a combo washer/dryer that fits in less the space of the usual American dishwasher. I've not yet investigated how much can be washed at one time.
This may not be important to the Danes as they appear to be happy with a minimal wardrobe. Any color is fine so long as it is black. Iíve finally figured out why all those Europeans in the islands wore dark socks with their sandals. It must have been a reach just to wear the sandals. That would be a second pair of shoes. This will be a great excuse to reduce the "stuff" in our lives. I've always been happy with just one pair of shoes. In addition to the three indispensable pairs that she brought with us, Alex has already bought two pair and is talking about the boots that are absolutely necessary too.
Like most of Europe, it appears that hot water and water pressure are not very important.
If we get the condo we bid on, the location is hard to beat. Besides being in one of the better residential neighborhoods in Copenhagen (Frederiksberg), the building has a private communal area for things like BBQs or whatever the Danes do when they share food - fondue? They call this area a "garden" but I didn't see anybody growing anything other than trees and grass (the type you walk on).
The concept of building level community is huge here. Like most buildings, ours has a private courtyard. The city is simply full of parks and green spaces both public and private.
We were fortunate to be here when the folks at our temporary apartment building threw their once-a-year building party. This is apparently a very important event. We were invited by at least five people and were made to feel very welcome when we showed up. The party went on till seven in the morning and the music was very loud. Mostly American Pop that you could dance to. There was a lot of dancing.
We are right across the street from the biggest park in Western Europe. Lots of interesting shops are about a block away and the center of town is a five-minute bus ride with the bus stop a block away. Public transportation is very reliable. Most everyone rides bicycles here; on bike it would be a ten-minute journey to the city lights where Alex works.
While researching our potential new neighborhood, I've had some great conversations with folks in the local pubs (three within a few hundred meters). Folks got even friendlier when they hear that we are moving into the neighborhood. They like to buy rounds.
Another huge difference that I see is young children walking around by themselves and many older folks who are participating in the community. It makes me feel good about this culture.
We've been living out of suitcases for almost six months now - it will be a very pleasant change to have our own space. Of course this means that we will have to buy furniture. I think the only thing scarier than the gleam in Alex's eye when she thinks about furniture is the gleam in mine thinking about a new stereo system. I'm also campaigning for a beer tap or two so we don't have to carry all those empties back to the store.
Once we get furniture, we will have room for guests. That will be in a few months - just in time for it to get really cold.
Until we have an official address, snail mail is best sent through Alex:
Hard Rock Cafť
1630 Copenhagen V
Hard Rock Phone: 45 33 12 43 33
Charlie's Cell 45 26 71 23 07 Ė firstname.lastname@example.org - http://charlie.balch.org
Alex's Cell 45 26 28 11 27 Ė email@example.com http://alex.balch.org