A couple of nights ago, my visiting mom, [H.], invited me and my roommate, [N.] over for dinner. Following the etiquette taught by my Danish Language and Culture class, I bought a bouquet of tulips before going over, and she brought a box of chocolates. We were both very excited to be invited into a real Danish home, as if it would be drastically different from any other home. From our class, we learned that the Danes spend a lot of time inside their home, since Scandinavian winters are so long and harsh. Homes are expected to look not too neat but not too messy either — it should look like it’s been lived in for it to be the “hyggeligt” atmosphere that the Danes cherish.
And that’s exactly what we found when we arrived at my visiting family’s home. Even though it was a large house (perhaps the biggest I’ve seen since coming to Denmark), it felt extremely cozy and homely — something that I had missed for a very long time.
There were frames and frames of their son’s artwork on the walls, as well as photographs of their large — but tight knit — family. While my visiting mom was preparing dinner, my visiting father showed us pictures of the family in the computer room. Some were living in Israel, some in Denmark. Other cousins were living in the States, while some were traveling all over the world. It seemed that even though they were far in distance, they were close to their hearts.
When dinner was ready, both N and I stood next to the chairs, waiting to be “invited” to sit down.
“You can sit down?” H. said, amused at how polite we were being.
“Oh, right, it’s just that in IPC, we have to stand next to our chairs and wait for the chef to announce what food he prepared,” N said. “And then we have to clap and sit down.”
“It’s a habit now,” I said. “At first, we weren’t used to it either.”
“It must be nice to be thanked every night for dinner!” H. laughed, shooting a sideways glance to her husband (my visiting dad), [S.] He smiled sheepishly and didn’t say anything. ”But please, make yourself at home!” she added warmly. “Would you like some wine?”
While we ate, they asked us on our opinion on American politics, and we asked about their viewpoint on immigration in Denmark. Since it’s an election year in Denmark, politics have become a part of my daily conversations. Just a few days ago, the court had ruled the once “free town,” Christiania, as a part of Denmark once again. And I’ve heard from some that the things that the Danes were proud of, such as their healthcare, education, and welfare, were slowly fading away. However, my visiting parents added that the Danes don’t realize how well off they are, compared to other countries. A few weeks ago, my visiting mom described Denmark as a “nation of complainers.”
Our political discussion made me wonder why politics and religion was such an uncomfortable subject in the States. I remember last Thanksgiving, I went over to my friend’s family’s house in Pennsylvania. They were Mormon and avid supporters of Glenn Beck (not that it is any way correlated). I knew this, but it didn’t make me think less of them. They were warm and hospitable, just like any other family would be. But as soon as they asked me about Keith Olbermann and whether Cornell’s agricultural school was “actually even a part of the real Cornell because Glenn Beck said it isn’t,” I died a little inside. Apparently, Ann Coulter was the one who said that about Keith Olbermann; for the record, both are Cornellians. But I digress.
H is an integration teacher in Denmark. This means she teaches minority children (mostly Muslim refugees) about Judaism, while her colleagues teaches them about other religions and cultures. Like every country, Denmark has its flaws, especially when it comes to racism and discrimination.
After dinner, we moved over to the living room, where there was a warm fire waiting for us. We talked about our families, the different traditions and values we uphold, and any culture shock we experienced while in Denmark. As time moved on, S showed us family albums and talked about the different places they had gone in their lives. H talked about her teaching experiences and the “strange” students they had hosted in the past from DIS.
A little later, she showed us all the books she had in the living room.
“I have so many books!” she said. “And my philosophy is if it’s not exciting within 15 minutes then it’s not worth it — life is too short, and there are too many books to read!”
“I like that philosophy,” N said.
Even though they were both much older than us, I felt like I was talking to my old friends. I even went on a small rant about how much I disliked my Positive Psychology class because it felt like sitting in on Oprah every Tuesday and Friday at 8:30 AM.
“There are a lot of feelings and estrogen involved,” I explained.
“Is your professor Danish?” H asked.
“No, he’s Swedish,” I said.
“Oh, no wonder!” she cried out, joking about the rivalry between Sweden and Denmark. “Swedish men are the worst!”
Our Danish teachers weren’t lying when they said how long Danish dinners last. H said that her children and grandchildren made up a term for the time they spent after dinner with: “aftenhygge” And of course, there is only one rule to “aftenhygge,” there must always be some form of chocolate. So, of course, for our aftenhygge, there was chocolate chip cookies.
When H. and I went back to the kitchen to make more tea, I told her that I really loved her house.
“It doesn’t look like it came out of a home decorator’s magazine,” I said jokingly, referring to some of the homes I had been in in the States. “It kind of reminds me of what my house in California looked like.”
“What is your house like?” she asked with a smile.
I smiled and said, “It was very cozy. I mean, that’s how my friends used to describe it. It was just the right size, and it was… kind of like this. Just warm.”
She stopped preparing the tea and turned to me with a confused look.
“Why do you keep saying ‘was’?” she asked.
I explained the long story short of it. Riverside was hit with foreclosure, and my house was unfortunate enough to be one of them. But I’ve since learned that a lot of things happen that we can’t help or really explain. And they ultimately pale in comparison with what’s happening with the rest of the world, such as depression among college students or the violent uprisings in Libya.
“I think no matter where you go,” H said. “You’ll be alright. People everywhere are the same. I don’t believe in a heaven or hell, only the current life we have now. And I believe, if you’re a good person, good will come to you. Don’t waste your time on the bad.”
We brought out the tea and continued to the “aftenhygge” until N and I both realized how late it was. After many thanks, “tak,” and “tusind tak,” S. drove us to the Hellerup Station, where we waited for for the next train back to Helsingør. We both needed a hyggeligt night after the rather stressful week we both had. Although I don’t talk about it much, there is school work and what Cornell would call prelims involved.
The next day, my friends and I went to Malmö, Sweden to shop. It’s amazing how we can just decide to go to a completely different country for a day. After a whole day of wandering around the new city and deciding that Copenhagen is better, we went to a nice Italian restaurant (as a prequel to our upcoming long study tour to Milan, Italy).
We had all been abroad for more than a month now, and it felt like we had known each other for years. Everyday brings a new experience, a new friend, and a completely new perspective on life. Sometimes, it’s even a new country to explore. There are so many things to keep up with, and it can be overwhelming.
“Alright, so I’d like to make a toast,” K said, raising her glass. We all followed suite, some with cider, others with wine. “When I first came abroad, I never thought I would find such great and amazing people. So here’s to…well…”
“To friendship!” V finished.
“To friendship! Skål!”
The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.