We were recent arrivals in Denmark from Canada, fresh off the boat, you could say. We’d been living there a few short months, and had been learning about the culture, the routines, the landscape, and of course, the people. We’d been told what to expect from the Danes. They are rule followers, private and shy, and according to some people, standoffish. I disagree with that last descriptive, by the way. Not inclined to initiate a conversation with strangers, they are open and willing to share if approached, but shun the superficial North American ritual of asking strangers, “How are you?” Asking it may evoke baffled surprise that a stranger would dare ask such a personal question.
Friends had invited us to a local hockey game one evening, the family of a boy my son had met at school, and whose mom with whom I’d become friendly. The dad in the family had been given tickets for the game, which was happening in the small town where we were living, just north of Copenhagen. We were their guests.
We hopped on our bikes, oh so Danish-ly, donning gloves and wrapping ourselves in scarves against the chilly evening, flicking on our bike headlights to guide us through the dark. Canadians in Denmark. We had arrived.
Parking our bikes outside of the arena, we maneuvered the crowd to find our friends, past the smoke of the bbq set up outside the main doors, where hot dogs were being grilled. No event in Denmark was complete without hot dogs, and the sight of a bbq outside any sporting or community event would become a familiar one.
Our friends located, we made our way inside and the mom showed our tickets at the gate, returning them to her purse once they’d been scanned.
We found our seats, and my son and his friend stood in front of the boards, away from the parents, watching the game a safe distance from the grownups. The mom and I sat and chatted, mostly ignoring the game, leaving the two dads to awkwardly become acquainted with each other.
At the end of the first period, the dads went off for snacks and beer, the mom and I still engrossed in our conversation. The other dad came back a few minutes later and handed us beers, the two boys trailing behind him with their sodas.
I looked at my son and asked him, “Where’s your Dad?”
“Dad went to get me a hot dog,” my son answered. I tipped my head at him, and went back to my conversation.
The hockey game resumed and we chatted and chatted, oblivious to any hockey game. I hadn’t realized about twenty minutes had passed until my husband huffed back into his seat, handing my son a hot dog.
He grumbled at me, “I called you like, eight times.”
I glanced down at my phone, and sure enough, eight missed calls and a bunch of text messages from him, asking me to bring his ticket outside.
He proceeded to tell us why it had taken a half hour to buy a hot dog. “I was locked out. I walked by the guy at the door and asked him if I could go out and buy a hot dog and come back in. He told me, no problem, so I went out for the hot dog. I walked back in with the hot dog, and he asked for my stamp. I asked if he remembered me, I’d just gone out and came back. He said, yes, he remembered, but I still needed a stamp on my hand, and I hadn’t asked for a stamp before I’d gone outside. I told him I didn’t know I’d needed a stamp, and he hadn’t told me I needed a stamp when I’d asked him if I could go out and get the hot dog. I told him my ticket was inside, with my wife, but even though he watched me walk out two minutes earlier, he wouldn’t let me back through the gates because I didn’t have a stamp and I didn’t have a ticket. I asked him if I could go in and get my ticket, and he told me no, I would have to buy a new ticket. I could only enter if I had a ticket or a stamp. That was the rule.
I stood there next to the ticket taker, holding onto the hot dog and trying to call you. After about fifteen minutes, she says to me, Your hot dog is getting cold. You should eat it.
I told her it wasn’t my hot dog, it was my son’s, so she asks me, Where is your son?
I pointed inside the arena and told her the guy at the door said I couldn’t back into the game. She told me to go give my son his hot dog and she let me inside.”
We laughed at his story, the hot dog got eaten, and the game continued. All was fine until about ten minutes later, when we saw a woman walking through the arena, scanning the crowd. Then she spotted her target.
She marched up to my husband and spoke to him accusingly. “There you are. I thought you were just bringing your son his hot dog?”
My husband explained that he had been inside the game already, and was coming back inside from going to buy his son a hot dog. Our friend pulled the tickets from her purse and showed them to the ticket taker, proving to her that he was not, in fact, trying to sneak into the local, junior level hockey game.
The Danes are rule followers, to the extreme, at times. The joke goes, a group of Danes tried to rob a bank once. They failed because the getaway car wouldn’t make an illegal u-turn to escape. I say this with only feelings of good will for Danish people and their need to follow all the rules, all the time, even if it did cause me frustration at times.
Danish culture works well because they follow the rules. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I can’t bring myself to walk into a crosswalk unless the little man on the light tells me it’s okay to do so, even when it’s midnight and there isn’t another soul in sight.