Hygge and Self-discovery in Denmark

I can feel the initial discomfort of being abroad in a non-English speaking country fading.  I’m hardly jaded, but my daily walk to class through Parque del Oeste has become routine, and my Spanish has improved enough that it is starting to seem less like a secret club to which someone forgot to invite me.  Still, the fact remains that I’m living in relatively unfamiliar territory.  So when I hopped on a 9 am flight to Copenhagen, Denmark this past weekend, a city with a wildly different ambiance than Madrid, I was a little overwhelmed…again.  There’s nothing like a little culture shock to accompany culture shock.  It wasn’t just the surge of frigid air that hit me upon exiting the plane, either.  Once I found my friends in the airport whose apartments I’d crash for the next two days, we headed to the metro, where I received my first instruction (it would be repeated consistently over the weekend): “SHH.”  Apparently, Danes aren’t ones to talk, which doesn’t bode well with my naturally loud disposition.  I just get too excited about too many things, and my excitement tends to transcend my words and result in some effusive, affirmative exclamation.  Anyway, this doesn’t fly in Copenhagen, but I ignored the stares.  On the walk from the metro to my friend’s apartment, I was surprised by the ubiquitous honor code that seemed to pervade every street corner.  The rumor that parents leave their baby strollers on the street (yes, with the baby inside) while they grab something from the supermarket is true.  At the same time, I was instructed to avoid gushing over the babies, because that’s too much emotion for Denmark.  Same goes for dogs.  That one nearly killed me.  And never go out of your way to hold the door for someone, because that’s just plain unnecessary.  So I came to learn about this duality that seemed so strange to me—love thy neighbor, but try not to act too happy to be doing so.

Madrid has a different attitude.  I’m constantly being told to put more emotion into my sentences and to be surer of my actions.  If you don’t hold your place in line, someone will take the opportunity.  If you whisper on the metro, well that’s a little odd.  You should feel free to “ooh” and “aah” at every puppy you pass, and you should probably hold the door for the person behind you.  It’s just polite.  Don’t get me wrong, I could use a little more of Copenhagen’s laid back atmosphere here in Madrid.  Actually, I was quite enamored by their obsession with things that are “hyggeligt,” or “cozy” (I’ll give you 20 Kroner if you can pronounce it).  Since it’s so cold and, frankly, miserable outside most of the time, “hygge” is necessary in every restaurant, bar, and home.  Sure, it would be nice to add a little “hygge” to my life here in Madrid, but if I have to give that up so I can loudly rave and cheer in public to my heart’s content?  It’s worth the sacrifice.

And so it goes—another trip, another journey, lessons learned, self-discovery persists.