What’s it like coming to Ireland from Copenhagen? They’ve got Noma, we’ve got Lennox’s.
ACCORDING to my friends back home, I was the ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ of the bunch, making a living as a freelance writer and Eurosport commentator, always seen in high heels and cute outfits. But then Mr Big came along and I chose love and moved to Ireland. It’s been almost two years, and I’m getting better with the Cork accent and the Irish way of living.
Coming to Ireland from Denmark has been an interesting experience outside of love, because despite the obvious differences like language and the hilly landscape, we have a lot in common. Both countries have small populations, at least in comparison with bigger neighbours (UK and Germany). Both nations thrive on meat and potato diets and we both really, I mean really, like our beer.
So it has for those and many more reasons, been a relatively easy move. Irish and Danish also seem to share the same sort of humour (that basically means you crack a joke about just about anything). But of course it is in the differences we discover ourselves, and what makes life more interesting.
Traffic is at the top of my list. The obvious difference being the left side driving, but to me that’s been the least of it. Maybe I should start from the beginning and introduce myself: ‘Hi, my name is Tania and I’m from Copenhagen, where transport equals biking.’ Copenhagen is the most bike-friendly city in the world and almost all roads have designated bike lanes. Biking for transport in Cork is different and sometimes just plain scary.
First of all, the bike lanes seem to appear and disappear on the roads at random. On the road itself, it’s evident that cars aren’t used to bikes. The two extremes are the drivers who slow down and stay behind the back tire like huge frightening shadow, and the maniacs who try to drive you off the road.
Food is another thing that really tickles the experience of living abroad, though the basics of the Danish and the Irish kitchens are very alike. Potatoes, meat, cabbage and diary seem to characterise both countries. Noma and the new Nordic cuisine is gorgeous and a fantastic way of promoting Denmark and Danish produce, but that’s not what’s on the average Danish dinner table. We do have a lot in common, and I even found a new favourite yoghurt here in Ireland, Glenilen Farm’s raspberry. I even miss it every time I go back home.
But what is up with pouring stuff on chips? On my first visit to an Irish chipper, the legendary Jackie Lennox’s in Cork city, I order a ‘catch of the day with chips’. The man asks if I want mushy peas with my chips. I think about it for a fraction of a second. Something like this runs through my mind: Peas = vegetable = healthy.
“Yes please, I’d love to.” And in horror I watch him take a soup ladle full of greenish mush and put it on top of my chips.
The second he started pouring, a disbelieving sound came out of my mouth: “No... please don’t... not on the chips”, but it was too late. He smiled and handed me the little paper box of green mush and soaked chips. I kind of stood there with a big question mark on my forehead: Why would you want to pour a wet substance on top of the freshly cooked chips? Isn’t the whole process of deepfrying the potatoes to make them crispy? Needless to say, I now order everything on the side.
However, I couldn’t blame him. He was just doing like always, and besides, he said those special words, “Hi, How are you?” Only in New York have I met a similar outstanding customer treatment. It sounds like big words, but when your local supermarket in Copenhagen used to be managed by a man best described as Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito character from Goodfellas, you really appreciate friendly service.
There’s another thing I don’t really understand about the Irish society. In Denmark an accident is an accident and nobody gets sued, unless there was some kind of bad malice or malpractice involved, but then it’s no longer an accident. Here, the fear of being sued is all around and seems to shut down some of the creativity and initiative that otherwise would thrive. This national fear of lawsuit is strange, since the friendly Irish spirit and the threat of lawsuit doesn’t seem match each other very well.
The ‘Hello, how are you?’ is a phrase, I really come to enjoy using myself. I don’t stop to answer anymore, as I did when I first moved here, not realising anyone actually expected an answer to the question.
But it feels good to say, because to me it’s like expressing a polite acknowledgement of your fellow human beings. It’s like a ‘Welcome to my house/phone/store/cash register’ without any of the pathos of the grand ‘welcome’.
Also ‘Please’ and ‘Thanks’ are frequently used in social interactions. There are many things that could be said about Irish public transport and I regularly say a few myself (after waiting in vain yet again for the 205).
But I know the bus drivers in Copenhagen would be green with envy if they heard all the thanks the average Irish driver gets. Danish people take public transport (which is on schedule) for granted, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a thank you in a Copenhagen bus.
Maybe I’m becoming more Irish, because I don’t expect the bus to be on schedule anymore and I always thank the driver on my way out.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved