Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

A Traveler’s Thought: On Facts Guidebooks Don’t Tell You (Denmark Version, Part II)


It turns out that 2 years in Denmark has resulted in more observations of trivial facts, and inevitable comparisons (i.e., “I wish Denmark had X”, “I miss Y in the U.S.”).

Things you don’t find in Denmark that are common in the U.S. (or ideas for care packages if you know someone in Denmark):

  • Vanilla Extract: you can find whole vanilla beans in a nice tube even in a discount store, but no vanilla extract (not even imitation vanilla extract). Vanilla sugar (sugar with ground vanilla beans) are also available. We found tiny vials of vanilla extract in a high end department store with a hefty price tag, so we took matters into our own hands: bought the cheapest bottle of vodka available and placed 6 vanilla beans that were split down the middle. Wait a couple of months.
  • Lactase pills: Scandinavians have a gene mutation that allows them to digest milk sugars much longer than other races, so lactose intolerance is uncommon. The lactase pills are mainly for immigrants, and they are pricey if you can find them.
  • Zip-top plastic bags: the smaller ones were starting to be more available, but the large sizes were still hard to find, and the ones we bought in Germany (boy, were we excited when we found them!) were not as durable and the zip part was not as easy to seal as the ones found in the U.S.
  • US keyboards: hope none of your gadget parts die while you are in Denmark because you will have to order it from elsewhere (and hope it’s within the EU, because there are special tariffs assessed). Our English language-centricness hits you like a ton of bricks when you borrow someone’s keyboard to type out something and suddenly you are lost. Where is the “@” sign? There are all these Danish alphabets where colon and apostrophe keys used to be…
  • Double duvet: non-existent as far as we could tell. Even for a double bed, each person gets a single duvet or blanket. That settles the “Honey, you took the covers last night”. If you bothered to ship your double duvet, make sure you also brought matching covers because you won’t be able to buy any in the right size in Denmark.

Things we don’t miss about Denmark:

  • Lack of ethnic diversity
  • Licorice in everything
  • People not making eye contact (ignoring = being polite, as defined by the Danes)
  • Paying for tap water at restaurants (yup, ~$2 a glass or $5 for a pitcher)
  • Expensive restaurants (labor cost is high, so even a burrito dinner will set you back about $30)

It’s not all bad! We already miss so many things about Denmark:

  • Nationalized health care coordinated through your general practitioner (and doctor visits are paid for by your taxes, or specialty visits such as physical therapy and psychologists are subsidized)
  • “Pin and chip” credit cards and widely used debit cards (Dankort): no signature when you use your credit or debit cards, just punch in your pin
  • Payment systems that do not involve checks: what checks? NO ONE uses them
  • Seeing the full price of what you are buying (taxes and fees are included in the prices that are posted), made possible by having a centralized government and a small country (no layered local taxes that are different from region to region, etc.)
  • Per unit or per kilogram pricing is also posted at supermarkets so it is easier to compare prices
  • Salmonella-free chicken: it’s possible to raise chicken without salmonella
  • High quality fresh eggs and pork that didn’t taste like cardboard
  • Cheap mobile data plans and options for no contracts (~$10/month for 2 GB of data, pay as you go calling plan), thanks to EU oversight (are you taking notes, FCC?)
  • 6 weeks of vacation per year, where most people take a big chunk (like a month) during the summer for an extended trip
  • Dedicated bike paths that don’t treat cyclists as second class citizens

Some of these are quite possible adopt/facilitate in the U.S., while others may require massive reform. We did observe that where things are possible, we don’t do them because we are simply unaware of what it could be. Case in point: Stanford University is one of the richest educational institutions. On its campus are bike paths, where they can design them to whatever specification they want because they are on private land. Yet the paths are simply part of the road marked off with a white line, rather than creating a dedicated curb and a lane (imagine a sidewalk for bicycles, that run right along side of car lanes and regular sidewalks). The roads are wide enough to accommodate dedicated and curbed paths, but they aren’t. Why? Because no one else is laying down bike paths like the Danes in the States.


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This entry was posted on September 16, 2015 by in Culture, Denmark, Travel.
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