It's New Year's Eve in Copenhagen, and time for another update.
When the robots take over the world, the Danes will the first against the wall. I've been subjected to plenty of Powerpoint presentations from the Feel Good Officer and others intended to help me integrate with Danish society, but I haven't gotten what I actually need: training on how to use Danish household appliances without killing myself.
Everything here is all about the labour-saving devices, but people have a peculiar idea of what constitutes a saving of labour. Lights are on motion detectors so you don't have to press a switch, and if you do have to press a switch, it's usually a fancy touch-sensitive dimmer. On the other hand, the lights are all incandescent. Halogen, yes, and that makes them a bit more energy-efficient, but I don't think I've seen a compact fluorescent let alone an LED light since I got here. Given the amount of effort devoted to saving energy and other resouces in other ways, the incandescent lights stand out.
Now consider the opvaskmachine ("up-wash-machine"). A regular wash-machine is for washing, which means washing clothes. My apartment came with one of those; more on that later. The up-wash-machine is for washing "up," which means washing dishes. Washing "up" actually means washing dishes even in English - remember how Bobby Brewster was always confronted by talking spoons and such when he was trying to do the washing "up"? Washing-up cloths, washing-up liquid, and so on. It just doesn't mean washing dishes in Canadian English.
Anyway, inasmuch as my apartment includes everything I need except a girlfriend and two cats, I have an up-wash-machine, and it came with four different consumable supplies, of which I only recognized two. There was detergent (in little rectangular pellets). There was rinse agent, because in Copenhagen we have very hard water and you need rinse agent to reduce (it doesn't eliminate) spotting on the glassware. But then there was also a bag of something labelled, in Danish, "coarse salt for up-wash-machine." I was quite proud of myself for being able to decypher that. But why does the up-wash-machine need coarse salt?
I thought about it for a while and came up with a reasonable guess: "Maybe the up-wash-machine has a built-in cation-exchange-resin-device, and the salt is for recharging that." I looked around on the Net and managed to find the English-language manual for the up-wash-machine, and was pleased to discover that my guess was right: the up-wash-machine does indeed include a cation-exchange-resin-device (or, as we would call it in Canada, a water softener), and the coarse salt is for that. See, in many places in Canada we do have hard water and we need a cation-exchange-resin-device to replace the calcium ions with sodium so that they won't precipitate out in inconvenient places, and that in turn consumes salt, so the difference is just that in Europe, those are routinely built into the up-wash-machines instead of being separate appliances. Fine.
I remained puzzled by the square bottle, however, and had to ask the landlord about it. It turns out that the square bottle is special detergent for washing the up-wash-machine itself as opposed to washing dishes in the up-wash-machine. After a few months, when everything gets nasty, you put the square bottle in the top rack and run the up-wash-machine on "pot and pan cycle" and it makes it nice again.
The up-wash-machine is almost totally silent when it runs.
I have a wash-machine in my apartment too - something of a luxury. It is pretty much exactly how I imaged a European apartment wash-machine would be. It has many, many buttons and options. The label on the front claims that it can handle five kilograms (roughly one reasonable-sized "load") of laundry, but this is a lie. Maybe the motor is capable of spinning that much mass, but the front-loading drum can only hold about half a load at a time. No big deal, I can just run twice as many loads... except the wash-machine, on its default settings for a generic mixed/permanent-press load, requires three hours and twenty-three minutes, exactly, to process a load of laundry.
I don't know why it takes so long. My general idea of how a washing machine works is that it fills up with hot or warm water, spins for a while, and then is finished, eh? The Danish wash-machine is a bit more complicated. On its standard cycle it seems to go through many different stages of partially filling with water, spinning at different speeds, draining, spinning again, refilling, spinning slowly, rinsing, spining at medium speed in the opposite direction, and so on. There are notes in the manual about how it is compliant with European Union standard such-and-such for proper washing and energy consumption. It's all very complicated.
Since I usually need to run at least two of these half-sized loads when I want to do laundry at all, and they take three hours and twenty-three minutes each, doing the laundry becomes an all-day proposition, and that is before we even talk about how the clothing gets dry. The wash-machine does, fortunately, have a built-in timer (I guess the proper term is a "perform-task-at-specified-time-device"), so I can set it to run a load for instance while I am at work. But it vibrates the entire apartment and sounds like a jet taking off when it hits its maximum speed of 1200rpm, so I don't feel good about setting it to run in the middle of the night; washing is pretty much a daytime-only proposition.
I do not have a dry-machine in my apartment.
The European thing to do, and all the English-language "how to survive in Denmark" guides try to guilt you into it, is to hang your clothing to dry. But that really isn't realistic when you live in an apartment, in the middle of the city, during the rainy season. So there is a communal dry-machine (and a communual wash-machine for my less fortunate neighbours who don't have wash-machiens of their own). In order to use it, I had to purchase a debit card from "Emma, on the first floor, on the left."
There is a poster (in Danish), on the building notice-board explaining how to use the communal dry-machine. There is also a poster (in Danish) in the laundry room explaining the same thing. And the landlord explained it to me in English when I moved in. None of these sources of instruction agree with each other, and the facts of the matter are different again.
I gave Emma, on the first floor, on the left, 250 kroner ($50) for a debit card containing 240 credits. This card has to be inserted in the card reader (backwards) and the reader shows the number of credits remaining. Then one must press the "dry" button on the card reader, and it will deduct 10 credits (the posters say 8) per five minutes. So, for instance, if you want 60 minutes of drying you must press the butten twelve times and spend 120 credits. ($25, which is a Hell of a lot of money for an hour of drying time.) The card reader has an LCD display and tells you how much drying time you have purchased. But this is a lie.
Actually, you're only supposed to press the button once. The card reader says "05 minutes" but that is sufficient for it to unlock the dry-machine for a complete cycle of whatever options you have selected. The dry-machine takes one hour and forty-nine minutes, on its default settings. Many other settings are possible, but no source explains then in any language, let alone English.
If you happen to have pressed the button on the card reader more than once, too bad! You will be charged 10 credits for each press, with no way to undo it. Maybe those extra credits are lost. Maybe they would be available to run the dryer additional times (at one hour and forty-nine minutes each). Maybe they remain in the system and the next several users get freebie drying cycles. Who knows? What I know is that so far I have gotten four drying cycles for $23, because of the trials and errors involved in figuring out that the time displayed on the card reader display means nothing and should be ignored.
You must also sign up in advance for one or two two-hour blocks to use the dryer, on the sign-up sheet on the communal bulletin board. The landlord assured me that this was rarely necessary because people only bother with the sign-up sheet during the busy times on weekends, but after having my plan to use the communal dryer pre-empted by someone who signed up on the sign-up sheet on a weekday in the 3:23 between when I started a load of wash and when I hoped to dry it, my policy is to sign up well in advance every time.
The oven (as well as being labelled only in Centigrade) has about eight modes of which I recognize three. One of the ones I had to look up actually turned out to be quite nice. It's called "ventilated grill." In this mode, the top element is active, but it's still controlled by the thermostat, as would be the case in a normal oven's "bake" mode. You can put something in to grill, close the oven door, and have good control over how thoroughly cooked it ends up.
Christmas is a pretty big deal in Denmark. Everybody does even less work than usual from about mid-December until some time in January. I am not actually quite sure when they expect me to show up at work again next year.
There is a lot of special food at this time of year. One characteristic Danish Christmas food is the "æbleskive" (plural: "æbleskiver"), which is pretty much exactly like Japanese takoyaki except with apple instead of octopus. It's even sold from booths at holiday street fairs, just like takoyaki.
There are traditional Christmas buffets. The IT University, where I work, sponsored one. Everyone drinks a lot of aquavit, performs the usual silly party activities, and eats a traditional meal - pork, more pork, duck, herring, and so on.
If you don't make eye contact with everybody at the table during the aquavit-drinking ritual, you are cursed with seven years of bad sex. But it doesn't work to invoke the curse deliberately because you wish for seven years of sex at all.
There is a specific decoration I've seen even in Canada, which is a sort of paper heart shape made up of two pieces woven together. These are apparently the official emblem of Danish Christmas, and are seen everywhere.
People in my neighbourhood have been setting off fireworks every few minutes since mid-December, but tonight (New Year's Eve) more than ever before.
A few days before Christmas I had a knock on my door at about 8:30 at night. That's usually not a good sign. Well, it was my neighbours from two and three floors below me, and they did have a complaint, but it wasn't actually a complaint with me - the thing was, they had water leaking into their balconies that they thought was from leaky gutters. I'm on the top floor, underneath the roof, and my apartment is actually above the level of the gutters, so they wanted to go out on my balcony to look at the gutters and see if they could see what was wrong.
I let them in and loaned them a flashlight (or "torch," because hey, we're speaking European English now) and they poked around in the dark for a while, eventually bringing a garden hoe into play to try to remove some of the collected debris in the gutter. It didn't seem like they really made much progress. They thanked me and said they'd bring it up at the next Building Society meeting that we really should have a professional clean the gutters properly.
One of the few perks of my job is that I get a small yearly budget that I can spend on pretty much anything I want that's related to my job. What with one thing and another, I didn't get around to actually spending any of this money until the last few work days of the year; and if not spent within the calendar year, it just goes away and cannot be carried over to the next year. As my boss said to me, "You know, nobody's going to come after you if you don't spend it," but nonetheless, I'd feel bad if it was wasted, so I made up a shopping list and managed to spend about 80% of the money before the deadline for filing the paperwork. I bought a Mathematica license, and three books from Amazon UK, and had an exciting time figuring out how to give both suppliers the proper code numbers to prove that these purchases were on behalf of a government agency and thus exempt from the Value Added Tax.
Amazon shipped two of the books in a package that was delivered to me at the IT University more or less without incident on Friday, December 19 - which was the last day that the University was fully open for business before the Christmas shutdown. The third book, according to the tracking system, was supposed to be delivered the following Monday, December 22. I probably wouldn't otherwise have gone to work that day, but inasmuch as I didn't really have anywhere else to be, I figured I might as well go be there to receive the package.
The tracking system said it was out for delivery... and then said the delivery attempt was unsuccessful, and I got email from Amazon telling me I ought to contact the "carrier" at a phone number that was not correct to arrange to receive the package, or else it would be returned and they would refund my money. Well, I really wanted to avoid that, because it wasn't my money - I had already paid and filed the paperwork to be reimbursed, so if I got a refund instead of the goods I'd be obligated to go through a big bureaucratic mess trying to return that money to the University, all the more so because it would be happening over the financial year-end and the Christmas shutdown.
I called Post Danmark at the number Amazon gave me and got a two-minute recorded message in Danish. I have no idea what it said, but it then hung up on me with no opportunity to do anything, so I guessed that was the wrong number. I looked on the Post Danmark Web site and found a different phone number. I called that one, managed to get a human being who said she would transfer me, and I then spent twelve more minutes on hold. They played music in the background during this time, but over it they played non-stop recorded messages in Danish for twelve minutes, again leaving me unsure whether there was any important information going past or what. I eventually was connected to an English-speaking human being who explained that the delivery attempt (to the IT University, mind you) had failed because my name was not written on the door.
This is a university, eh? It's only by luck (because we are probably the smallest full-status University in Denmark) that the whole university happens to be in a single building; and we don't really have one single "door." It's absolutely ludicrous to think that the names of all the hundreds of employees here could all be written on "the" door. My name is - I checked - properly listed in the employee database, which the operators of the internal mail system assure me ought to be good enough for me to receive mail from the outside world too. Note, also, that Post Danmark had delivered another package from the very same sender to me at this same address with no problems just a few days before. Nonetheless, the rep insisted that my name had to be on the door. I am sure that that is their generic excuse for all delivery problems.
Well, they couldn't deliver it to the IT University now because of Christmas, but they said they could redirect it to my home address, so I gave them my home address, carefully spelling it out, and thought that would solve things.
On the 23rd I got a call on my cell phone from a representative of Post Danmark, who said to me "We have a package for you, but we can't deliver it to the IT University because of Christmas." "Yes," I said, "I spent 20 minutes on the phone with you yesterday arranging to have it delivered to my home address instead."
They had no record of that.
They said they could redirect it to my home address, but I would have to pay 40 kroner (eight dollars) and wait until the 29th. I said, fine. And I gave them my home address, carefully spelling it out, and I thought that would solve things. And they they said they couldn't send it to my home address "because the package already has an address on it" so they would have to hold it at the post office for pickup. "Which post office?" I asked. They couldn't tell me. Just whichever one is nearest your home address. "Is that the postal outlet in the 'Kvickly' grocery store, where I've picked up other packages?" "Probably." That wasn't really confidence-inspiring, but I figured there was a good chance the online tracking system would tell me which post office anyway, so I let it pass.
Then as I was about to hang up, the representative said, "Wait, wait! I must tranfer you to my colleague who takes your card number for the 40 kroner!" So I spent another five minutes on hold, and then the same representative came on the line and told me that actually I didn't have to pay 40 kroner after all.
Bearing in mind how much customer service reps probably get paid in Denmark, I figure that this whole affair must have cost them more than 40 kroner by the time she got the words "This is Post Danmark" out of her mouth at the start of the call.
On the 29th, as of 8am, the tracking system said it was "out for delivery." I had no idea to where. But it evidently didn't arrive at my home address, nor did any card saying "pick up your package at this address" or similar. On checking the tracking system again in the afternoon, it told me I could pick up the package at the SuperBest (not the Kvickly). So I went out into the slush to look for the SuperBest, which I'd never visited before.
I spent 45 minutes pounding the cobbles looking for the SuperBest and couldn't find it. The big public tourist maps all showed a post office on a certain corner that I thought was the right one, but after (with some difficulty) locating that corner, it was just residential buildings with no post office in sight. I returned home, had a cup of cocoa and another good look at Google Maps, and tried again.
At the SuperBest, I presented my ID and tracking number, and the clerk looked on the shelf and couldn't find the package. After some back-and-forth the package was eventually found. It seems that it was filed under my first name only, and the IT University's address (which I didn't know off the top of my head).
They did not charge me 40 kroner.
One nice benefit of this business is that I now know about the SuperBest. I'll probably visit again, because it is the first reasonable-sized grocery store I have seen since my arrival here. There is apparently some kind of quaint city ordinance limiting the maximum size of grocery stores, which combined with the real estate situation means that most of them are more on the level I associate with convenience stores. Going to one store and doing all your food shopping for a week is not a done thing here. Instead, people visit lots of different places every couple days because that's the only way to intercept a reasonable selection.
I was specially cautioned by more than one of my work colleagues that I'd better be sure to have enough food on hand before Christmas because all the shops would be closed on the 25th and 26th. This because going a couple of days without shopping for food is a rare enough thing here that people have to plan ahead for it.
It's now 10:15, and the gløgg is catching up to me. I think I will leave further commentary for some future posting. Happy New Year.