Things I Fucking Love About Denmark

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Beautiful Møns Klint, a nature reserve on Sjælland, south of Copenhagen.

The singlemost surprising thing to happen to me in this lifetime was to become Dane-ish. Who knew that the blonde guy at the party I bounced a cigarette with in the nineties (it was the nineties, okay, everyone smoked) and drunkenly handed my business card and panicked when he called the next day because I kind of had a boyfriend, oops was going to become the dude. You just never know where this life journey is going to take you so always wear good broeks and waterproof mascara just in case.

Lunch Can Last Eight Hours

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A typical Danish smorgasbord.

The Danes are generally an understated bunch. They hate clutter, self-aggrandisement and anything over-the-top, but the one time all this modesty and minimalism go to hell in a hand-basket is when they sit down to lunch. Not any lunch, an occasion lunch – a birthday, Easter, a confirmation (yes, this nation of atheists become pretty religious when somebody’s child turns 13). When it’s an occasion lunch, it’s balls-to-the-wall. They make up for all that healthy eating and biking big time. Before I learnt to take small portions, even greedy guts me found herself in a bit of a dilemma being stuffed to capacity by the fourth course. I was never foolish enough to make that mistake again. If you sit down at 12pm it’s quite common to still be sipping strong coffee and nibbling home-made chocolates at 8. You’ll have had every kind of fish and meat dish this nation created including smoked eel, hot liver pate with bacon and mushrooms, roast pork with crackling, chicken and asparagus tartlets and salmon and herring prepared a dozen different ways. Eaten on bread, by the way, with a knife and fork. A Danish smorgasbord is a thing of rare beauty. Everyone should sit down to one at least one time in their lives.

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In a country which has more pigs than people it’s not even a meal unless there’s bacon.

They Drink Schnapps, Like, All the Time

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We drink schnapps when we’ve had two bottles of white wine and the DJ is playing eVoid and several hours ago already you lost all sense of reason. The Danes drink schnapps because it’s lunch time, because it’s cold, because it’s on the table in a variety of interesting flavours. Before you start pooh poohing a schnapps moment (cover your ears, vegans) you need to try a shot of ice-cold traditional Akvavit with a slice of nutty, freshly-baked rye bread smeared with a bit of pork fat including the crispy bits (wait, wait, bear with me) topped with herring in a creamy mustard sauce covered with thinly sliced red onions and a hard-boiled egg. Okay, sexy as I try to write it it still sounds grim, but I promise you – wash this lot down with a shot of fresh, herby schnapps and an ice-cold Danish beer and you’re up there with the angels.

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This shot of Nyhavn has become a bit of a cliché, but on a long summer’s evening it’s a very spectacular place to enjoy a glass of something and watch the world go by.

You Don’t Take Your Husband’s Name When You Get Married

Because what for kakois is that idea, anyway? Sorry, but this is a thing of mine. They just get under my skin, these stubborn vestiges of the patriarchy that stick around like gazonkelnuts because it’s always been that way. How about saying no to that ridiculous norm? How about creating a new way where you’re equals in the partnership? How about he takes your name? That’s how it works there. If you’re a woman and you have a better name than your male partner he takes yours. It’s all very simple and uncontested and makes perfect sense to me. So, you women becoming Somebody Poggenpoel? Please stop it already.

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How Danish women get around.

Old Women Ride Bicycles and Smoke Pipes

I’m really not advocating smoking, I’m actually very anti-smoking (since I stopped smoking in the nineties when I was very pro-smoking) and the Danes smoke too much, true story. But it fills my heart with joy to descend the stone staircase of my favourite restaurant in Copenhagen which is built into a cellar dating back practically to the Viking days and sitting beside a roaring fire and watching two old ducks at the next table dressed in fur coats and looking fabulous drinking enormous vats of beer and puffing on cherry tobacco pipes. It says something about the way gender plays out in that place. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a submissive woman in Denmark; it’s just not the way they are raised. They don’t give a fuck. Which leads me to my next point.

The Women are Woes

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My favourite actor, Danish Iben Hjejler, doing what she does best. I wish I could carry her around in my bag and unleash her on South African men who forget their manners.

Danish woman are not wallflowers. They go naked if they want to, they have sex when and with whom they want to and they’ll tell you quite quickly where to get off if you start with your chauvinism rubbish. Here, there is no hierarchy of the genders. Both partners work. In many households the woman is the breadwinner. Not only that but she cleans her own house, does her own washing, makes her own liver pate and bakes her own bread. Then she’ll get on her bicycle and collect her children from school (there’ll be a little trailer attached to accommodate them all. Most have around seven), cycle home in sleet and order everyone around like a sergeant major. Danish men are terrified of Danish women, and for good reason. They’re beautiful, tough as nails and scary as shit.

The Summer (when it comes) is Spectacular

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I don’t know if it’s because it’s so elusive and long-awaited, but the summer in Denmark is a special kind of magic. The air smells like the rambling rose bushes which erupt everywhere in hot pink and crimson during the warmer months. People sit on the harbour wall drinking elderberry cider while ancient wooden ships creak out a ditty of their mysteries. At 10pm the sun is still visible on the horizon. Bonfires are lit on the beach. Children run into the warm ocean, forests become impenetrable walls of bright, lush green. All the nation celebrates  with wine and strawberries and buttery new potatoes. People eat hotdogs with remoulade and dill-flavoured crisps. Music concerts spring up everywhere and nobody wants to go to bed. These hot nights are too delicious to waste. These long days are for savouring and for seduction. Most of the time Denmark is cold and flat and grey. But from June till September she’s tanned, blonde and very, very sexy. Visit her then and you’re sure to fall in love.

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Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stewois (another French dish)

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As it cooks the chorizo lends a fabulous smokiness to the sauce.

As everyone in my family knows, I’m somewhat of a cheat. I believe cheating wherever possible is an intelligent way of getting where you need to be with a minimum of hassle and stress. I cheat at things like boule and Monopoly and now and again I forget to tell MyFitnessPal about the chocolate croissant I inhaled on the school run because anyway food that isn’t eaten on a plate doesn’t count. The thing is, if I didn’t cheat I would regularly lose at things which would negatively impact my self-esteem, and since I’m so kak at games of all descriptions, it’s a survival mechanism I’ve had no choice but to hone over the years.

Like this past July in Copenhagen when we went for Sunday lunch at some friends who were spending the summer in a fancy house by the sea where the rich people of Denmark live. After a wonderful lunch of steak and fried potatoes (our hostess was French where they not only eat carbs but fry them and yet remain as thin as mist), we did what rich Danish and ordinary French people do and went out onto the lawn to play boule. I’m not great at boule, and while I’m not a bad loser as such it just gets embarrassing when you’re competing against a wafer-thin French girl who wears silk lingerie and not beige broeks like me (I know this because I snooped around and found a clothes horse hung with tiny, diaphanous items of underwear, like Barbie had one hell of a night) and you’re coming totally stone last, being beaten even by young children.

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Rich people of Denmark.

So, when the players ahead of me were distracted and talking about the various merits of a la-la-Pinot Noir I would subtly use my foot to get the ball into a more favourable position, significantly hoisting myself up in the rankings. The fact that I’d had several glasses of the above-mentioned Pinot Noir which impacted my balance somewhat and made me fall over once or twice alerting everyone to my tricks we don’t really need to go into, but they were polite enough to let me pretend I really came fourth.

Also when we play Monopoly, even when I try really hard to save and make sound financial decisions and not be like I am in real life somehow I end up alternately in jail or on Regent Street at the doorstep of the hotel my husband has yet again unkindly purchased and keeps laughing meanly when I land there round after round. So you can’t really blame me for taking advantage of the times my fellow players are momentarily distracted by the loud gwang of a hadeda landing on the roof and everyone gets up to look out the window to see if it’s a baddie come to kill us and I pilfer the money of the other players and hide it under the board so the theft is not immediately apparent. Because this is the only way I’m not bankrupt and out of the game within 15 minutes. And I know it’s not ideal that the people I’m stealing from are my own children, but on the other hand they need to learn that the world is full of robbers and swindlers and nobody should be trusted, least of all their own kin. But enough about that.

This French dish (which possibly isn’t even really, but it goes with the cheating theme and it does contain French tarragonois) is so ridiculously easy and yet appears quite fancy and sophisticated when you serve it to guests, so naturally it’s a hit with the likes of me. There are one or two things you can’t cheat with, though. It has very few ingredients, so you must buy good things. Pay more for your chicken and don’t even think about buying Chorizo from a poofy shop. It’s going to ruin everything and nobody will think you’re Nigella anymore which defeats the whole object of cooking for anybody ever. This is what you’ll need.

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No filter on earth can make raw chicken look appealing. But see how few ingredients 👍🏼

Ingredients:

  • Several chicken pieces
  • Chorizo
  • bacon
  • 2 tins of butter beans
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • dried French tarragonois
  • chicken stock
  • an onion
  • garlic
  • rosemary
  • a bay leaf

Method:

Fry your chicken in olive (or any damn) oil and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour if you feel like it. Remove browned chicken pieces from the pot and in the lovely, chickeny fat fry your bacon, then add your onion, garlic and chorizo not whole but sliced, obvs. When you’ve fried that for a while add your tomatoes, a tablespoon of tarragonois, chicken stock, fresh rosemary, 2 tins of butter beans and the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and let it simmer gently for a couple of hours. Serve with rice and/or crusty bread and a nice bottle of white. It’s very tasty and your friends will be impressed with your cooking skills. Also, the amazing thing about this dish is that halfway through cooking it you’ll find that you are thinner and also able to speak fluent French even if you didn’t speak a word of that language before. That surprised me quite a lot, but then life is full of surprises. Bon appetit!