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I take stuff: Reflections from a student trying to save money

Op-ed — I know what I do is unethical, so I hope I'm not the only one doing it.

»It’s not right but it’s okay.«

Although I am pretty sure Whitney Houston was not thinking about taking free sugar, salt, pepper or toilet paper when she wrote this lyric, that’s what I do – and Whitney’s words describe how I feel.

So, I am now sharing with you some bad habits I got from living in Copenhagen for three months as an Erasmus student.

What I do to save my money is pretty simple. I take all the stuff that is free. It can be those little sachets of sugar, salt or pepper in restaurants, or sweeteners and milk in cafés and administration offices, also sheets of paper and tissues, and even toilet paper. Everything that is basically free, I take it.

But unlike your casual visitor, I take as much as I can. I even took some tea bags in a couple of coffee shops. Maybe I am a bit of a thief, or maybe I have just found a great way to save money.

Saving money by all means

Let’s agree on the fact that taking free stuff in cafeterias, restaurants, and other places, is not really stealing in the criminal sense. To me, it is enjoying fully what these places have to offer as I buy a coffee or a meal.

To be honest, though, I am not proud of what I do. Even if I am convinced I haven’t done anything genuinely illegal. If I were cynical I would say that I just take what the system allows me to take.

There are many other ways to be thrifty, of course, like recycling your bottles, using the ‘Too Good To Go’ app, evolving cheaper habits and clever spending. But I found this, my way, to be a pretty easy way, and it certainly requires less organization.  I see it, it is free, I take it.

Because of my guilty hobby, I don’t buy any salt, or pepper, sugar or tissues. At least not as often as students normally would.

I want to share with you an idea. I haven’t done it yet, but I really want to do it in the next couple of weeks. In some cosmetics shops downtown, samples of products like hand balm or body lotion are free of charge outside the shop.

When I walked those streets at night, I saw that the bottles were still out.

My idea is to fill my own bottles with those cosmetics, so I don’t have to buy the expensive products for a while.

A foreigner confronts social trust in Denmark

I know what I do is unethical, so I hope I am not the only one doing it. I would like to be able to say to people like me, that they are okay. It’s okay to take toilet paper in restaurants if you don’t want to buy a roll. Those guilty pleasures are a part of student life.

Probably, when I’m old and greedy, I will rage against disrespectful youths who take advantage of the system. But enjoying the system is part of the system.

I asked Laura, a student of nursing I know who lives in France, if she considered my behaviour outrageous. »Why deprive yourself?« she said. Which is exactly how I felt.

She added, however: »It is a bit embarassing. And you know, yeah. I wouldn’t do that everywhere.« Meaning that enjoying the free stuff should be avoided in some places.

The hidden reason?

It sounds like a big excuse to say that I take sugar, salt, pepper, and toilet paper because I feel a social pressure. And yet … perhaps.

Because I am taking all this free stuff, I can spend my money elsewhere, for example on drinks with friends, or going out without worrying about not being able to afford anything.

When you don’t have enough money, and you ask your friend the price of every single thing, you feel like you can’t have fun unless it’s free. And you feel like you’re annoying your friends with your questions.

Maybe the pressure also comes from me. Because I want to enjoy my Erasmus a 100 percent, I don’t want to prevent myself from doing something fun because of a bunch of kroner.

I am responsible for my actions. Trying to explain why I do what I do is important to me. But with this mea culpa, I don’t feel like an outsider who doing silly, illegal, things in a foreign country. Neither do I feel like a kleptomaniac who steals from the system. No, I feel more like a random student who has chosen a weirder, and more unethical, path.

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