Browsing Tag

bicycling

Bicycling and Danish culture are closely tied together. In the winter when it snows, the bike lanes are plowed before the streets where cars drive. New immigrants to Denmark, particularly those from countries where bicycling is rare, are often given special bicycling lessons so they can get around.

Stories about life in Denmark

The Christmas tree on the bicycle, and other stories of a bike-only household

Whenever the holiday season approaches, I always think about the time I brought home our Christmas tree on a bicycle.

It was a grey day in late November – we Americans like to start our Christmas decorating early – and my young daughter dearly wanted a tree for our Copenhagen apartment.

So we walked through the snow to the parking lot of a nearby Netto, where a cheerful fellow from Jutland was waiting with a good selection of sweet-smelling pines.

Being a very small girl, my daughter wanted a very big tree. The man spied our shopper bike and looked a little doubtful, but he went ahead and wrapped up one of the largest trees in white plastic netting, and helped us lift it onto the bike.

The trunk was on the baggage carrier in the back, and the top of the tree over the handlebars and into the basket. We walked the bike home that way, with my daughter holding the big pine tree at its center over the seat, while I steered the bike in the right direction.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Two-wheeled Vikings and why I own three bikes: Danes and Cycling

In a country where new cars are taxed at 180% – that means a $20,000 car will cost you $56,000 – bikes are bound to be popular.

Everybody bikes in Denmark. You’ll see executives in grey pinstriped business suits on bikes, and pretty girls pedaling in high heels. You’ll see people toting their kids through heavy traffic in fragile-looking bike trailers.

You’ll see old ladies biking very, very slowly with a lot of people backed up behind them, and you’ll see me, trying to balance my fresh dry cleaning on my bike because I don’t have a car.

The fact that Denmark is relatively flat helps – nobody likes to bike uphill – as does the fact that the climate is temperate. Denmark is as far north as parts of Alaska, but it usually isn’t bitterly cold in the winter.

So even in the winter, you’ll see Danish commuters pumping their bikes through the snow. In Copenhagen, the bike lanes get plowed before the streets do.

An extra, ugly bike
Most people in Copenhagen have more than one bike, sometimes three. One might be a sport racing bike, or a mountain bike, and the other might be a ‘shopper’ bike, with a big basket for bringing home groceries.

It’s also quite common to have an extra, ugly bike.

An ugly bike is a bike that gets no love, and often no maintenance. It’s a rusted, broken-down bike you use for short commutes and leave at the train station.

When I used to work at Carlsberg, the beer company, I’d take my shopper bike to the train station by my house, get on the train, get off at the stop near Carlsberg, where I had another bike waiting – an ugly bike.

It wasn’t a nice neighborhood, so I needed a not very nice bike, something that wouldn’t be worth the effort to steal.

I’d ride the ugly bike to work. At the end of the day, I’d ride the ugly bike back to the station by Carlsberg, leave it there, get back on the train, get off at the stop by my house, and ride my shopper bike home. Two bikes and a train – that’s a pretty typical Copenhagen commute.

Immigrants have better bike manners
If you want to live in Denmark, you will need a bicycle: bikes are an integral part of Danish culture.

Children learn to bicycle when they’re 3 or 4. Their parents stick a broom handle behind the back wheel and hold them upright until they can balance on their own.

Bikes are so important that the government actually teaches immigrants how to bike so they can get around.

Apparently it also teaches the immigrants good bicycle etiquette, because they have much better cycling manners than native-born Danes.

Gentle blond people turn savage
For Danes, bicycle lanes are the Vikings’ last stand.

Those gentle blond people, these people who will wait two minutes at a red don’t walk sign instead of crossing an empty street – armed with a bike, they turn vicious and brutal. They will lose their temper, scream abuse, lecture and start pointless arguments in the bicycle lanes.

They will ring their bicycle bell dozens of times if they think you are holding up their all-important trip to the supermarket.

Pedestrians out of the way
They also text while they’re cycling, talk on the phone while they’re cycling, groove to music through giant headphones while they’re cycling. They go through red lights and intentionally go the wrong way in bicycle lanes.

They ride straight down sidewalks, ringing their little bells to tell pedestrians to get out of the way.

Occasionally the police in Copenhagen do bicycle raids. They hide around a corners and watch Danish bicyclists do all the things they do on a daily basis anyway. Then they hand out tickets for DK750, which must be a nice little money-earner for the commune.

You know, now that I think about it, if they could write a ticket every time Danish Viking bicyclists did something aggressive or illegal, you could cut down on some of those notorious Danish taxes.

Or at least pay for a larger network of bicycle lanes.
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019

Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Cars: Why Real Men Drive Bicycles

final_danes and carsUnlike their German neighbors, who are passionate about cars and driving, Danes have a slightly bashful relationship with cars.

There is a certain sense that the driver should be slightly ashamed to be driving a car at all. Real Danes drive bicycles.

This is partly a tenet of environmentalism – the Danish national religion – and partly because of an egalitarian conviction that no one in Denmark should have anything unless everyone else has one. The Danish government subscribes to both of these principles, and makes car ownership as difficult as possible.

Danes and cars

The purchase of a new car in Denmark sets off a 180% sales tax – in other words, a $20,000 sedan will cost you $50,000 to drive off the lot. This is the only tax you’ll ever hear Danish working-class people – greengrocers, carpenters, Page 9 topless models (who tend to be on the socialist side) – complain about.

Heavy gasoline taxes, which were recently increased, bring the price of a gallon of fuel up to around $8 a gallon, even though the country is largely burning its own North Sea oil.

Even parking fees are punitive: an hour on the street in downtown Copenhagen will cost you $6, and payment isn’t optional because the meter maids mean business. On a small street near my old home in Christianshavn, they gave out 1692 parking tickets in a single year.

In Denmark, driving a fancy car is slightly embarrassing.

All this discouragement goes a long way towards explains why only about a third of Copenhagen households have cars, and those who do often choose small, shy cars, or used cars that aren’t subject to the sales tax.

Villains in a silent movie
Those who do buy new cars buy flashy ones – BMWs, Jaguars, Audis – knowing that they are on the wrong side of public opinion. They feel defiant. “Ha! I have an expensive car!” they seem to say, as if they were twirling a handlebar mustache in a silent movie.

It’s hard to say who are the country’s worst drivers – these guys, with their blue business suits and thinning hair – or the immigrant kids who drive their ancient, rusted Saabs at high speed through the bus-only lanes.

Both are fond of chatting on their mobile phones as they drive and making bizarre U-turns at unexpected moments.

I personally, have no car. I got a Danish drivers’ license as soon as I arrived – for the first year, you can simply exchange your American license for a Danish one – but I’ve never actually driven here, since Danish cars don’t have automatic transmissions.

(This is part of the same Viking ethic that dissuades them from taking an aspirin for a headache: an automatic transmission, like a painkiller, is considered the “easy way out.”)

I suppose I could learn to drive a stick shift, although I’ve never bothered to try. Instead, I make do with my bike – which is lovely on warm spring days, and less lovely in the rain, or when you have to bring home dry cleaning.

Moving furniture on bicycles

Actually, Danes are remarkably good at moving furniture on bicycles: I’ve seen slender women prop chairs, lamps, and healthy-size shelving units between the seat and the handlebars. I personally have transported a Christmas tree across the snow and ice on a womens’ shopper bike, and I still bring home groceries in its saddlebags.

Wine bottles are really the worst. They roll around in the bike basket, and jump out onto the pavement and shatter during sharp turns.

Bike culture is pervasive in Denmark, and having more than one bike per person is common. A swinging bachelor might have a “city bike” to drive to work plus a “mountain bike” for weekends, while a mother of young children might have a personal bicycle along with a giant three-wheeled contraption with a carrier for the kids in front.

Many own two bikes
Commuters often keep their “good bike” at home, sometimes inside their apartments, while riding a rusted old corpse to the train or bus stop, where it can be parked without attracting the attention of Bulgarian bike-stealing gangs. These gangs roam the city at night, tossing dozens of attractive or lightly-locked bikes into trucks they drive back to the Balkans.

Oddly enough, there seems to be very little car theft: people with enough money to buy Porsches confidently park them on the street. Perhaps the thieves are embarrassed to be seen driving them as well.

At any rate, I don’t miss owning a car, although I do miss driving. And apparently I am not alone.

The first thing a Dane does when he moves to another European country – Sweden, Germany, Luxembourg – is buy a beautiful, flashy car.
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019