New in Denmark

Annual Wife Carrying Contest at a Western Canada Scandinavian Festival

I thought readers of Nothing Rotten In Denmark blog would like to know that come summer time, numerous Danish and Scandinavian festivals are held throughout North America in the US and Canada. This feature about the popular wife carrying contest at a festival in western Canada will appear in the Danske Pioneer/Danish Pioneer and Norwegian American Weekly newspapers.

The teams had names like Tartan Trolls, Thighs to the Sky, and Mooove Over. ‘Wives’ had to weigh at least 100 lbs. or “eat an extra helping of Swedish meatballs” according to the rules. The winning team won the wife’s weight in Carlsberg beer, sponsor of the Carlsberg Cup.

Clearly this wasn’t the Kentucky Derby.

Under a broiling sun, people at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival at the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby, BC, Canada lined up on either side of the makeshift racecourse of styrofoam obstacles and wading pools (the husbands had to get both feet wet before reaching the finish line).

Around a dozen teams entered this traditional Finnish race. But all on this day, Finnish or not, any adult team could participate.

The rules were as silly as the race: Regardless of being married or not (or even the gender), the ‘wife’ shall be the contestant carried and the ‘husband’ is the contestant doing the carrying. A husband could carry his wife, his neighbor’s wife, or someone found ‘further afield.’ Inflatable wives “will be disqualified.”

Some of the men carried their wives upside down, side-to-side, and even upside down. A few even took a tumble on the grass course with their unique carrying style. But as the rules stated, “Husbands may carry their wives any way they choose.”

After a while the crowd – enticed by the MC with a mic – yelled not for the winning runners in the relay races but the ones coming from behind. One made it to the finish line only to come crashing down. Ruled they crossed the finish line before collapsing, the only thing hurt seemed to be their pride.

In the final run for the cup and beer it was the tall-and-short team – she wasn’t even 6 feet while he was 6-6 – of Thighs to the Sky with the winning time of 29.91 seconds who won. Pretty good considering Alysia Baldwin and Kent Hodgson, both 30 and from Vancouver, just returned that morning from Maui, Hawaii.

One of the husband and wife teams at the starting line of the annual Wife Carrying Contest held at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Burnaby, BC, Canada on Sunday, June 22, 2015.

One of the husband and wife teams at the starting line of the annual Wife Carrying Contest held at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Burnaby, BC, Canada on Sunday, June 22, 2015.

It was Baldwin’s and Hodgson’s first time running in the Wife Carrying Contest.

It took five cases of Carlsberg beer, stacked on top of each other, to equal the weight of Baldwin: 134 lbs. Clearly, this was not a race for a wife to be bashful about her weight; her ‘husband’ (partner) weighed 250.

One of the security men asked if the winning couple needed help with the beer. “That’s the best line I’ve heard in getting some beer,” said a bystander to the security man wearing an orange vest. It caught him by surprised. But Alysia and Kent caught the joke and laughed.

Guest Blogger: Danish Parenting and Gender Bias

This month, I have asked author of the book  The Danish Way of Parenting , Iben Sandahl Ehrhorn to provide a guest blog on gender equality in Danish schools and in raising children. You can find her new book on Amazon.com  Enjoy!

Iben:

I grew up in a very social/liberal environment – one might say that my family was in the forefront of those who were active in the feminist debate.

Both of my parents worked and in the early days we had a nanny in the house. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, which forced both of them to take care of everything that had to do with housekeeping and the family. I learned that it does not matter if you are a man or woman – everybody joins in to make the family function properly.

Friday, June 5 was Constitution Day in Denmark – and the 100th anniversary of Suffrage for Women, too.

It is a story of a more than 150-year struggle by my predecessors, which has ensured complete freedom for me in our democracy without suppression or feelings of inferiority towards the men around me.

I appreciate having grown up in a country with freedom of speech and ingrained respect for the individual’s word. I have seen how fighting the battle has paid off.

It is very difficult for me to grasp the fact that life has not always been like this. I can understand it intellectually, but that is as far as it goes. The dignity of the individual and respect for her or him has always been an inherent part of my natural heritage.

This does not mean that everything is smooth sailing, however. Let us take an important experience to illustrate this: Throughout my adult years, I had visited my doctor on occasion and I had a good and professional relation to her.

We had never had any problems communicating in spite of the fact that she was originally an immigrant from a distant country.

It was a great shock when at the age of 27 I had a consultation with her together with my husband. I was expecting for the first time, and we were setting foot on our new and unknown path to becoming parents. This was, for sure, a joint project.

The moment my husband and I came in and she welcomed us at the door, I suddenly became totally invisible.

I was shocked! I was the one who was pregnant, but she only looked at my husband and only spoke to him. I was there in the room all right, it was me who was in focus, and yet it was as if I was not present – did not exist. It was a very strange experience, and I had just not seen it coming.

It dawned on me, of course, that she had a different cultural background. We had many things in common and yet there were different indicators revealing that our attitudes to gender equality were miles apart. My husband and I were faced with a woman from a different and strong cultural heritage, her mindset still firmly fixed after 25 years in Denmark.

It was an interesting experience.

Living in a democratic country where equality is always a burning question is very much reflected in Danish education. Danish students are champions of democracy, mainly due to the Danish tradition of critical thinking. Students are taught to look critically at adopted values and in so doing acquire a deeper understanding of democracy.

It is not about taking a negative stance but about being realistic.

‘The Danish Way of Parenting’ points out that Danes do not pretend that negativity does not exist. We just focus on the bigger picture rather than getting trapped by one aspect of an argument. This is what psychologists call being ”realistic optimists”.

Much parental education takes place in schools today. This is one reason why the book provides input on how we parents need to focus more on developing healthy, whole human beings, rather than promoting self-centered little creatures.

On looking back, you will find that gender differences in school was not such a salient topic in twentieth century Denmark. A non-discriminatory understanding is a pre-requisite for teaching being gender-neutral.

Educational theory and practice are of paramount importance for a proper focus on the differences between boys and girls. All are treated equally, but with increased attention to differentiating according to the individual student’s needs.

Most classes have an equal proportion of boy and girls and most teaching is organized around the children’s individual skills. However, it is impossible to differentiate thoroughly with an average of 26 students in a class – but teachers strive to do their best and to address each child’s zone of proximal development.

(The ‘zone of proximal development’ is defined thus: “A child needs the right amount of space to learn and grow in the zones that are right for them with the right amount of help” – Lev Vygotsky)

Instead of focusing on equality, teachers focus on things like socialization, autonomy, cohesion, democracy and self-esteem. As we are equal human beings, teachers want the students to develop a strong internal compass, which can guide them through life.

My co-writer Jessica Alexander and I recently talked to a well-known psychologist, and we were discussing the present-day plethora of diagnoses like ADHD, which tend to be given to many boys in school. You can find them in almost every class today. The psychologist told us that the common Danish reaction is to read the term ADHD as ”Alle Drenge Har Det” (all boys have it). One could suspect that there is some kind of discrimination going on here!

By focusing very narrowly on the differences between boys and girls in general, we think that stigmatizing takes place and therefore prevents the individual child from unfolding.

Instead of spending resources on categorizing children (using diagnoses or gender differentiation) which we often tend to do so that we can more easily get through our own assignments, it would be much better if we concentrated our good energy on understanding the individual that we are facing.

What matters is not what gender person you are face to face with – but what individual you are involved with.

When many years ago my own doctor ignored me during my pregnancy consultation, I was taken aback. At the same time, I also became curious about who this woman was when she took off her doctor’s coat. A woman who had carried along her cultural heritage into her adult world, as we all do.

I did not think it was because she was a woman or because she wanted to be rude or because she did not know my cultural heritage. I understood that she was authentically being herself with her own personal cultural baggage.

‘The Danish Way of Parenting’ invites readers to reflect on their own practice. Our purpose in the book is to put various facets of life and different approaches to upbringing into perspective.

We want to treat boys and girls – not as gender individuals but as human beings with equal rights and equal possibilities. This is not the same as saying that you can encompass all possibilities– but there are really many that you can reach.

The Danish Way of Parenting’ believes in the importance of meeting other people with respect – that it makes a difference.  Thanks for reading!

Copenhagen’s Great Synagogue

Often in my time in Copenhagen, something very special happens. Today was one of them. I came upon the caretaker of The Great Synagogue, Copenhagen’s largest synagogue, taking down a banner. After a moment’s conversation, he gave me a special two minute peek inside one of the most beautiful Jewish synagogues I have seen.

The Great Synagogue is the primary synagogue of the Jewish community in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Conservative synagogue is defined by its unique architecture around the Ark of the Law. Opened in 1833 (182 years old) it is one of a few synagogues of its period to use Egyptian elements in the columns, ceiling and cornice over the ark.

Outside the building is quite conservative, tall and wide. Inside, it is an architectural masterpiece of gold and silver, velvet and carved wood. It is a Conservative congregation and it has stood on Krystalgade for 180 years and survived an attack this year.  I was blessed today to set my eyes upon this. It made me want to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, hagomel lahayavim tovot, sheg’molani kol tov.

Amen. Mi sheg’molayikh) kol tov, hu yigmolkha (yigmolayikh) kol tov. Selah.

O’de Adonai b’khol levav b’sod y’sharim v’eda.

Amen. Mi sheg’molayikh) kol tov, hu yigmolkha (yigmolayikh) kol tov. Selah.

Unlike living in New York, New Haven, Boston, Los Angeles and other large USA cities, you do not see the Jewish community much in Copenhagen. They are in fact, quite invisible. For someone accustomed to living in a diverse setting and seeing people who Christian, Jewish Muslim, etc it is odd. Unless I have not yet found it, there is no Jewish neighborhood in Copenhagen. It is more that the Jewish community in Denmark has historically been disseminated throughout the community dating back to when they first immigrated to Denmark during the reign of King Christian IV. That’s a very interesting story for another time!

A Note of Tragedy

There have been some tragic or dangerous events in its history. During World War II when Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Denmark. the Torah scrolls from the synagogue were preserved by taking them and hiding them in nearby Trinitatus Church. The church was bombed in 1985 and earlier this year in 2015 there was a fatal shooting attack at the synagogue. Because of the latest event, while the caretaker gave me a quick tour, police armed with high-powered rifle waited outside (however, it is safe to to walk around the city!) for us.

Annual Festival

But…come to Copenhagen the first week of June each year and your can catch the annual Jewish Cultural Festival. Maybe you can catch an opportunity to see this beautiful historic Copenhagen building that is a center for the Conservative Jewish community.

The magic trinity – summer, sun, Snogebæk

A postcard from beautiful fishing village Snogebæk

A postcard from beautiful fishing village Snogebæk

As the weekend comes to an end, I just wanted to share all the summer love and beauty it contained. We are on Bornholm again, back to enjoy some hygge time with our thesis writing. The postcard-perfect nature provides the best setting for focusing your mind, letting your thoughts flow onto your fingertips. In between the long hours of typing away, we also managed to steal a few moments away from the computer screen and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Kornblomst, the cornflower, is my favourite beauty of the island.

Kornblomst, the cornflower, is my favourite beauty of the island. So simple and graceful…

On the south-eastern coast of Bornholm, there is one very special place – the village of Snogebæk. This tiny pearl is a true paradise, but you shouldn’t take my word for it, as I might be a little biased, given it is my husband, Andreas’ homeplace. Rather, you should come and experience its mesmerizing beauty yourself. And trust me you will yearn to come back after that one single visit.

Snogebæk has beaches so white and pristine I feel like I am walking in a Robinson Crusoe dream every single time my feet touch the soft sand. If you think this is a picture from Maldives, think again!

This white sand beach of Snogebæk catches my breath every single time.

This white sand beach of Snogebæk catches my breath every single time.

On our previous visit to Bornholm in May, the island was all about an ocean of yellow flowers. A month later all the yellow prettiness disappeared as if Hermione was on the island waving her magic wand and casting some beautiful spells. Instead Bornholm was covered in the sea of white and pink flowers that were in perfect harmony with the rocky beaches.

The colours of Snogebæk in June

The colours of Snogebæk in June

Love the sight of these beauties!

Love the sight of these beauties!

The weekend was also about eating delicious smoked fish. And that is something Snogebæk knows how to smoke properly.

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Bøjsens is

Who can say no to a scoop of this deliciousness? Not us…

That was one beautiful weekend, that passed flew away way too quickly. Hope the sun was shining out there for you as well :)

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Greetings from Snogebæk. This place is just wonderful!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

9 Years an Expat

9 Years Expat

June 5, 2015 is Constitution Day in Denmark. There are many Danish flags being waved on Constitution. Mine is one of them as this month marks my 9th anniversary in Denmark, my second home. Wow. 9 years of residency.

On June 21, 2006 I arrived, kit and caboodle in Denmark to start a new phase of life, to live out my dream, to go to school and then work and to enjoy life. A successful entrepreneurial businesswoman, journalist/writer and ordained minister (priest), I was determined to broaden my horizons with more education and opportunity to work in teaching and intercultural project management in Europe.

By The Numbers

It has been quite a journey and a lot of numbers.  On June 21, 2015 it will be 3,288 days. It took the Danish Immigration Service 1,445 of those days to agree to process my green card application submitted while resident in Denmark, which meant it took just under 4 years to get my green card in my hand. Great googly moogly!

I have gotten to personally know more than 300 lovely Danes and more than twice that number of people from other parts of the world, all while in Denmark.  899 of those days were spent at university working on an additional Bachelors degree and Master degree (besides my Masters, Bachelors and Associates degrees from the USA).  As a project manager,  I conceived and launched or provided oversight for at least 10 intercultural events, projects and programs.

Educating the World Through Denmark

Here in Denmark, I finally did attain, however, briefly, my dream of teaching at a university (Roskilde University). I learned my 3rd language (5th language overall, not including ancient languages; I also have French as a spoken language). Here in Denmark I have taught English to non-English speakers and translated Danish into academic English, empowering people to reach wider audiences. That makes me feel good to know I can help people connect to more people. During this time, I even had the experience of being a public school teacher to children and youth in grades kindergarten through 12th.

The Very Good With The Very Bad

I personally experienced that it is possible to enjoy Tivoli every single day of every open season (as my family and close friends now know very well!)

I have had some very bad days and times in Denmark and seen and experienced corrupt Denmark. I have experienced and witnessed the callous, disgusting, xenophobic side of Denmark. But I have seen some bad things in other countries, too. I have seen or met lovely Danes who have been my friend and ally and those who demonstrated low human evolution, lack of humanity and sometimes outright malice, corruption and high abuse of power.  But again, that can be found everywhere in the world. I have had Danish friends who have bravely and compassionately done all in their power to  make my experience of Denmark wonderful.

Some days have been depressing and sad in Denmark, which deepened culture shock and I had to embrace my American heritage to overcome. I love the United States of America and I have a warm wide space in my heart for Denmark. Only because I am an American can I come to a small country like Denmark and appreciate it, warts and all, while being honest about both the good times and the bad, the great things and the things which are not so good. You learn as an American to have big shoulders and let things roll off them.

I have been blessed to have some wonderful Danes and others in Denmark to sustain me, surprise me, and enliven me.

Tasty Dishes and Delightful Towns

I have had some tasty Danish dishes like rhubarb tarts topped with sour cream, bowls of koldskål (lemony buttermilk) with strawberries and kammerjunker (sweet cookies like Nilla wafers), pickled herring on rye bread with onions and other smørrebrød – which are open-faced sandwiches. I also nearly eliminated pork from my diet in Denmark. I ate very little before I came but then there is so much pork here I began to eat less. But I HIGHLY recommend the flæskesteg. That crunchy top is my favorite part.

Exploring Strange New Ways

The Danish way of celebrating high Christian holidays is less spiritual than I like and mostly focused on drinking alcohol and eating a lot and closed to family. I do enjoy a party, a good party, but for Christmas, Easter, Pentecost etc I need a more spiritual Christian observance and I am quite open to inviting non-family to join in the meals. That is not to say, however that I have not been invited to some rocking Christmas parties celebrated with Christmas beer (julebryg) or not had some joyous Christmas dinners (julemiddage) with Danes because I blessedly have. I even won the prize in the rice pudding each time I was invited!! Dancing together around the Christmas tree was heartwarming. My first and only Easter lunch (påskefrokost), I only realized the effects of 4 shots of akavit and 4 pint glasses of Easter beer (påskebryg) on top of all the food after I stood up. That was SOME Easter.

I learned to do some odd Danish things and to appreciate the small town feel of things. I have seen BEAUTIFUL places and spaces…oh especially Bornholm.

It was on Bornholm I met a delightful man named Ernst, who talked with me about Denmark and his lovely thoughts of the USA. He told me of a great Danish film series featuring his brother and from there I watched those Olsen Banden films and hastened my grasp of the Danish language.  Between those films, the fictional series revealing Denmark through the years (“Matador” “Krøniken” and “Nikolaj and Julia”) and the films featuring Dirch Passer and the gifted Ghita Nørby, I became more comfortable with Danish language.

An American Boldly Going Forth

As a result of living in Denmark I have expanded my entrepreneurial life and nearly manifested my dream of writing a series of children’s books. A Cannes Palme d’Or award-winning artist is illustrating my manuscript. The first book in the series is due out this summer and is based in Paris. The second book in the series will come in 2016, my 10th anniversary in Denmark, and it is based in Copenhagen.

In 9 years, I have had thousands of days in Denmark where I marveled at the beautiful green landscape and the loveliness of the small towns.  When you walk through these small towns and even in neighborhood in bigger cities, you get the feeling, life is good.

On a fine late spring day like today, you walk down a Copenhagen street and see the beautiful bright blue sky dotted with white puffy clouds and how clean and crisp everything is and you say, life is good.

In the next year I hope to find a position I love in a Danish company or organization, especially one that works with intercultural or international projects. Maybe I will teach again.

A Danish male friend told me once that I am the most open, intelligent and interesting woman he knows; that I am beautiful and bold for coming to Denmark and committing to and embracing for all it is truthfully is. I rather like his compliment.

In Denmark, I am committed to living my beautiful and bold life. I am also thankful I am able to do so.

And so I do.

9 years.