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Out of Africa, and into suburbia

Two international students from the Faculty of Life Sciences took off their shoes, and entered a Danish home

Taxes, pickled herring and nursing homes. Topics of conversation as the University Post joined two international students from the Faculty of Life Sciences – invited to see just what the average Dane gets up to on a Sunday afternoon.

At the faculty’s Meet the Danes event, Danish host families were paired up with internationals interested in getting a closer look at the mysterious interior of the cultural enclave that is the Danish single family home.

Ice breaker

I was invited along as Tenaw, from Ethiopia, and Tapuwa, from Zimbabwe, shared a cosy, ‘hyggelig’ they say in Denmark, afternoon with Kirsten and Jens Jenlev.

»Does it really snow here?,« asks Tapuwa as an ice-breaker.

It seems that no matter where we come from, the weather is a conversation starter. On this dripping wet and windswept Sunday, there is enough weather to keep us talking all the way out to our destination the peaceful suburb of Lyngby, 10km North of Copenhagen.

Tenaw is studying Environmental and Natural Socioeconomics and Tapuwa Sustainable Forestry and Nature management. It seems quite appropriate that we will be going for a walk in the woodlands of the deer park Dyrehaven, defying the rain in true Danish style.

Shoe ritual

On our arrival at the Jenlev’s home we all perform the obligatory shoe removal ritual, to protect the spotless wooden floors. The house is undeniably Danish, light and airy with white walls and well designed and sleek furnishings.

Quickly, we get down to the serious business of culinary exploration at the Jenlevs large dining table.
And Tapuwa and Tenaw are not getting off lightly.

The food in front of us is presented with a hint of Danish pride, as well as the slightly mischievous joy that comes with serving a national delicacy that few outsiders can stomach.

Dangerous lunch

It is of course ryebread, a big hit with American talk show hosts, apparently. And the inevitable pickled herring, in curry dressing and au naturel. There is also mackerel in tomato sauce, which is presented by our cordial host Jens as »not dangerous« and »a favourite of the children«. It is clear that this leaves the visiting internationals wondering just how dangerous the herring is.

All goes well, and the herring seems to be a hit, at least with Tapuwa. He is well trained in the consumption of ryebread, after a trip to Jutland, he says.

Political winds

As the afternoon progresses, we warm up and dare to tiptoe out into the slightly more controversial grounds of political conversation, starting with the upcoming climate conference, hoping not to stray too far from the familiar weather-talk.

Both Ethopias Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe are planning to attend COP15. The talk around the dining table is of wind turbines, and whether a more ambitious climate agreement would benefit African nations economically.

Talking tax

And then, over a cup of coffee and Danish Christmas cookies, we mustered the courage to take on how the Danes look after the elderly. Tapuwa and Tenaw had not seen any signs of nursing homes, although they had heard that this was how most elderly people end their days.

This led to a discussion of personal freedom. Tapuwa compared the Danish model to Zimbabwe, where his family obligations mean that there is »very little personal development« no matter how hard he works. This led, of course to a discussion of the Danish fiscal system.

You know what they say: When in Denmark, talk about the taxes…

Check out more pictures from our visit here