Hello to all!
Sunday, March 1, 1998
After driving all day from Hamburg, Germany here we are in Skals, Denmark. This is a tiny town where the majority of the population are students of various schools. Skals Efterskole is a public Danish boarding school with 108 students (somebody picked that number because it’s so divisible) in ninth and tenth grades. They have names like Jesper, Axel, Lars, Heidi and Stinne. They live in three houses on campus during the week, with four or five students per room. There is also an auditorium, a roller-blade ramp, a gym, a dining room, and classrooms on campus.
The First Day
I woke up to the sound of one of my roommates franticly saying “Forrest, you have to get up, you have to get up, breakfast is in one minute,” (They all speak almost perfect English). So I fell out of bed and pulled on pants and a T-Shirt and ran out the door, where I was surprised to see a heavy snow storm whirling around me. “It never snows in Denmark in March, and this is the first time it has snowed this year,” one said. Anyways we were the last two into the dining room where they explained to the person in charge that it was not their fault that they were late. It took me a week to figure out why everybody is always on time here, if not they have to walk to the ‘mailbox’, a box two kilometers down the rail road tracks where they must go and stamp their hand in their free time. Back home this would not work, the late person would just hop into daddy’s beamer and zoom off, but it sure works here.
After breakfast they have time to go back to their dorms and clean up and listen to music. Their favorites are Mettalica, Konghuest (a Danish rap group), Rage Against the Machine, Body Count, and Aqua. As I was told ten thousand times before I left, Aqua is a Danish group, and they are very proud of their first group to hit it big.
Other famous Danish things are The Little Mermaid, Legos, and Carlsberg beer (they were also proud of the first Danish beer to hit it big). Danish teenagers drink more alcohol than any other nationality, a fact that they shrug off. However, there is much less alcohol related violence here than in the US, and they cannot get a driver’s license until they are eighteen.
Next we all go to the auditorium to watch the daily news, then they have a discussion about it. The big news now are the elections. There are about twenty big parties here, so nobody has the majority. Most of the students that I talked to will vote for the liberal party, which, in Denmark, supports lower taxes and less government involvement.
“For example, a regular family four-door car here costs as much a Porsche in your country,” said one of my friends, Rasmus, “There is three-hundred percent tax on new cars here.”
I then asked “Doesn’t that mean more people ride bikes, making less pollution?”
“No, it means more people buy older cars that make more pollution.” he said.
“And does the government spend the money on good things?”
“No, they jut make more useless government jobs.”
You can draw your own conclusions from this conversation, but many more people do ride bikes here, and the government does spend money on things like BIKE PATHS and PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.
The rest of the day is school, with lunch around noon and supper around six. Two hours a day are allocated as homework time, and the rest free time.
There were snow flurries on the morning of my sister’s birthday, but nothing worth playing in. The next day, however, there was about four inches of perfect sculpturing snow on the ground. A tiny lump of my snowman from the first day had survived, so I gave it life again by putting it into my new one, which was two meters tall.
The first weekend in Denmark we spent at the summer house of the director of the school. No hot water there and the only heat came from a small wood stove. We went to the northernmost point of Denmark, where the Baltic and North Seas meet, and I stuck one hand into each. I was cheating though, wearing Gore-Tex with Thinsulate gloves. The wind chill was, uh, cold. We also climbed on some bunkers from WW2. The sea is moving in here about one meter per year, swallowing a graveyard, a church and a lighthouse.
Sunday we went to the largest aquarium in Europe, Nordsømuseeten (The North Sea Museum). I felt proud that the seals were looking at me, but when I moved and followed their line of sight the were staring intently at the door of that their their feeder was about to come out of. Oh well.
For the last few months the students (all of them) have been practicing a dance routine. The second Saturday we went with them to Århus where they had a segment in a day long show with other schools. So, which school won? Hah! Tricked you! You, as Americans, think it is perfectly natural to have such a thing as a competition. They thought it was strange that I thought it was strange that it was not a competition, just a performance.
The other acts varied from young people groups dancing to middle-aged people doing hand-springs off of a spring-board. There was even a group of older people square-dancing to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’. No, not a competition, just for fun.
At Skals Efterskole the three main rules are: no drinking, drugs, or sex on campus. On the fifteenth of March a popular girl drank a beer and got expelled. The student body was taken into the auditorium and told, and within seconds people were crying. I thought somebody had died until someone was nice enough to lean over and tell me. After the announcement a firey debate ensued, questioning the rules, terms of expulsion, and Danish law. At the peak of emotional intensity one of the teachers said ‘But, if she writes a letter of apology, the punishment will be lessened to a week of suspension.’ The rest of the day was pretty tense, and I outwardly sided with the students. I never asked the main question on my mind, though, which was: why did she do it in the first place, and what did she gain from it? The cultures are so different it is hard for you to imagine.
The third weekend I decided to study some Danish teenage weekend culture by going home with one of my friends, Kasper G, or just G (pronounced ghee). He liked to lead off his questions by saying “Hey man I was wonderin one ting…” His obsessions are free style rapping and Bruce Lee. The first night we walked down to the movie rental place where we got some Jackie Chan movie and Spy Hard, both his choices.
Saturday night we did something “a little more Danish:” stay up most of the night and visit discos, bars, and a Hip-Hop Jam. He admitted that the Jam was terrible, especially when the rapper tried to free style in English. Kasper could do it better than the paid guy.
The last day in Skals, the 24th, everybody was sad that we were leaving.
“I do not want to make friends with you tonight, I’ll just cry in the morning,” said Lasse, who then started to ask questions about life in the US. This is how all of the friendships with people started here, as someone different is always interesting. The next day he did not fulfil his promise of crying, though.
On the road again, now through Germany to Rheden, The Netherlands. But this is another story, for some other time. Today is the 27th of March, and we have been gone for 170 days, and have just nineteen left. HOOOOOOOOOOOME!!!!!!!!!
Don’t forget to write,
Michael Forrest Dysart Oliphant