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A few days in Denmark

Thu 4 Sep 2014 by mskala Tags used: , ,

As I start writing this, it's Thursday aboput 2pm in Copenhagen, and I am in the waiting room at International House Copenhagen, waiting to apply for a Central Persons Register (CPR) number. I have been in Denmark since Monday morning.

My flights (Winnipeg to Montreal on Air Canada, then on to Paris and Copenhagen on Air France) went reasonably well. I arrived at the gate in Montreal 15 minutes before they were scheduled to start boarding and found that they were already calling the first of the board-from-the-back groups. That was in fact my group. The plane to Paris was a 747 with ten seats across at the widest part, and it took well over an hour just to board everybody.

I was transporting my modular synthesizer, in a big Pelican 1610 flight case, and I'd been concerned that would have some issues: extra fee for the extra bag; maybe also for being overweight; maybe they'd scan it, see it was full of weird electronics, and think it was a bomb or something; maybe it'd be destroyed by rough handling, or stolen; and so on. I went to the airport in Winnipeg well before my scheduled check-in time and discussed some of these issues with the check-in clerk. She didn't know how to properly charge me the baggage fees for an extra bag on my itinerary, and she called in her colleagues. At one point there were four clerks and a manager all clustered around the computer screen trying to figure out how to handle my case. I think the way it works is that there's one airline that is the "main" airline for the trip, in my case Air France, and the check-in clerk at the start of the journey is supposed to collect the fee according to the prices set by the main airline even if she herself works for a different airline - and the fee schedule for Air France is especially complicated, and not well-documented in English.

In the end they decided to charge me CAD 150 for transporting the synthesizer. It was not overweight or oversize, but the check-in clerk suggested I take it to the oversize bag check station anyway, because it was electronics - that way I could argue with the scanner tech in person over whether the contents were dangerous, instead of leaving it to the mercy of the back-room boys who handle the regular baggage stream. I did that, and the scanner tech said there was no problem with it.

I should backtrack and mention my adventures shortly before leaving. Those last few days were quite stressful. I had cancelled a visit to my family on the West Coast in July, with a promise that I'd visit in August instead, before my departure for Denmark. I also needed to do some paperwork on the coast because I was changing my Canadian permanent address to match my parents', since I would no longer have a home in Winnipeg. So the visit in August had to be sandwiched into the time that I would otherwise have spent preparing to leave Winnipeg. And in between those two visits, my grandmother died, and so her memorial and dealing with that ended up being prominent features of my visit.

I returned with a few days to clean my apartment. There was a lot of cleaning to do, and my stress level was not improved by the form letter I got from the management company telling me the kind of cleaning they expected, which was incredible. I also hadn't realized just how bad some of the stuff in there was until I started cleaning it. In particular, the bathtub was scratched and stained and had the finish peeling off in several places, apparently having been "refinished" at some point shortly before my arrival by someone just brushing on a coat of enamel paint instead of doing real refinishing. I could see the spots where the paint applied to the tub itself had been smeared onto the panel below, which still showed what was presumably the original baked-on vitreous enamel. (Vitreous enamel is what you're supposed to put on bathtubs: it's basically a layer of melted glass, and very much more rugged than any kind of paint. Much more expensive to apply, however.) I busted my butt bringing the tub to the best condition possible under the circumstances, and everything else in the place, leaving it in considerably better condition than when I'd moved in but still way below the guidelines in the form letter. It also didn't help that the movers had already taken away my vacuum cleaner, so I couldn't use that.

The movers had also taken my mattress, so I was in a sleeping bag on the hardwood floor for each night until I left, and that did not help my mood at all.

At the exit interview, the manager glanced very briefly into each room, said "Looks perfect!" and signed off on the paper saying I'd left no damage.

I spent my last night in Winnipeg in an hotel near the airport; I figured it was worth it to do that in order not to have to juggle the move-out and flight check-in times, and to be sure I could get some proper sleep before the trans-Atlantic travel.

At this point in writing up the report they finally called my number at International House, so I went off and did the CPR number paperwork. I was back at the hotel before I continued working on this report.

Okay, so. I arrived in Copenhagen on the morning of the 1st. Not being able to get into my hotel room until the afternoon, I left my luggage in a locker at the airport and spent a few hours at ITU - after some adventures trying to scrape together DKK 75 all in coins to feed the locker machine.

Money: Denmark is part of the European Union but does not use the Euro directly. Danish money is kroner, singular krone, three-letter abbreviation DKK; sometimes called "crowns" in English. The dollar sign $ is sometimes used for this. It is pegged to the Euro at an exchange rate kept within 2.25% (but usually closer in practice) of EUR 1 = DKK 7.46038. (No, I don't know why such precision in a number that's only meant to be accurate to less than two digits.) At the current Euro exchange rate that's very close to CAD 1 = DKK 5 (that is, one krone equal to twenty cents Canadian) but I'm trying to pretend that the rate is CAD 1 = DKK 10; then the conversion is easier and the prices are less horrifying. Each krone is also divided to 100 øre, but the øre is such a small unit that it's not really used. The smallest coin is 50 øre and prices are usually rounded to whole kroner. The numbers are usually written like "123,-" with the comma for decimal point and dash showing the omitted øre.

There is a high sales tax, I think something like 26%, but it's included in posted prices, so what you see is what you pay. Tipping is not expected in restaurants, taxis, and so on, although some sources suggest that people here are at least aware of the concept - unlike, e.g., Japan, where they'll go to some effort to return the money you must have accidentally left behind.

I am working at the IT University of Copenhagen (ITU), which is a one-building, one-faculty, one-department university specialized in information technology and dating from a government effort to secure Danish competitiveness in the first dotcom boom around the turn of the century. There is also a University of Copenhagen, and possibly also a Technical University of Copenhagen. I'm a Postdoc in the Scaleable Similarity Search project.

My theory is that the prestige and importance of a job is in inverse proportion to the length of the official job title; and so the highest-ranking job is that of "guy" or "gal," as in "The guy from head office will handle that," or "We had a gal in to fix the radiator." On this scale I've received a big promotion, because my last job was as a "Postdoctoral Fellow," whereas "Postdoc" seems to actually be the official job title here, used on all the forms unexpanded.

Photos: My main desktop computer, containing the software installation I usually use for managing my photos, is crossing the Atlantic in a shipping container right now, so everything may not be quite as nicely integrated with my Web site as I would like for a while yet. But I've been posting, and will continue to post, some photos to my Twitter account. They may or may not correlate to what I write about here.

After visiting ITU briefly on the first day and getting at least part of the initial tour, employee card issuance, and so on, I went back to the airport and, not wanting to attempt to bring my luggage on public transit, I took a taxi (DKK 400) to the hotel.

I am staying at the "Livjæger Hotel Pension," which is a sort of extended-stay hotel or boarding house. I do not know how to pronounce the name. I'd hoped to book a "standard room," which is much like a university dorm - you get a bed and a desk and share a bathroom. They didn't have any of those at the time, so I got a more expensive "deluxe room," at least until a standard one should become available. The rent works out to about CAD 2000/month, which is a lot. However, it includes meals (breakfast and dinner on weekdays, brunch on Saturdays, breakfast on Sundays). The breakfasts are a bit spartan but the dinners are quite lavish. Other guests have commented to me that they expect to gain weight during their stay. The idea is that I will remain here until I can find an apartment elsewhere - a difficult process in Copenhagen.

I won't compromise their security by publishing the hotel's procedure for distributing keys to arriving guests, but it was, uh, let's say exactly what one might expect from Denmark.

When I arrived I was told that because of the flooding, the deluxe single room I'd booked couldn't be cleaned yet and so they put me temporarily in a deluxe double room. (I think this was because of the cleaning staff being busy cleaning the basement - the guest rooms, located on higher floors, had not been flooded.) Photos of that are in my Twitter feed. As of this afternoon I've moved into the single room, which looks very much the same but has only one bed and is correspondingly smaller.

My second day actually somewhat resembled a proper workday. I got my office computer and spent most of the day setting it up. In order to complete most of the bureaucratic requirements, I need a Central Persons Register (CPR) number, and I had been told that the office that issues those would not be open until Wednesday, 1pm-5pm.

On Wednesday - yesterday, my third day here - I went to International House to register for the CPR number. I had been told that this place was called the International Citizens' Service, but the address was right and there was a line of visibly foreign people stretching down the sidewalk, so I guessed it was the right place. Their open hours for Wednesday were actually only 1pm-3pm (not to 5pm) and they had been open on Monday and Tuesday as well, contradicting my information.

I waited in line for almost an hour to see the receptionist, only to be told that I couldn't register for a CPR number because my documentation from the hotel showing that I lived there was inadequate. I needed to show that I was committed to stay at least 30 days, and the confirmation email I had printed out only said "September 1 and ongoing." Since it also said I had to pay for an entire month, I didn't and still don't understand what the problem was, but the receptionist was adamant that I had to have a document showing both an explicit start date and an explicit end date with the two at least 30 days apart. However, he said that I could at least apply for a tax card that day (contradicting the information I'd received that doing that would require a CPR number first). So he gave me a number ticket and had me wait again.

A few minutes later the tax department representative called my number and after some discussion determined that the receptionist was wrong, I did (as I had thought) require the CPR number before I could apply for a tax card, but also, I probably didn't need a tax card because I probably qualify for "the special taxation scheme for researchers recruited abroad" and I should talk to my employers about that.

On returning to the hotel I talked to the manager and he said he'd email me, first thing Thursday, a copy of my rent invoice for the month of September. That would have the dates and show I'd paid a full month's rent; and I should also take his cell number and tell the International House people to phone him, should they still give me trouble. So Thursday, today, I went to ITU, did some work, printed out the invoice, and then went back to International House planning to get there before their Thursday opening hours of 11am-3pm.

I arrived at 10:40 and there was already a line-up. I waited about a half hour in the line and the (different) receptionist seemed satisfied with my documentation this time, so she gave me a CPR-number waiting-room ticket, number 138. They began calling the numbers starting at 100, at a rate of roughly one every 5 minutes. It was close to 2:30 before my number was called. I left and had lunch during the wait. I'm sure they handed out enough numbers that they couldn't handle them all before 3:00. Maybe that was the time at which they would stop handing out numbers, not the real office closing time. I sure hope later arrivals than me weren't given numbers only to wait until closing time and then be turned away.

Actually doing the CPR-number paperwork once my ticket number was called, took only a few minutes. The representative said something about my apparently already having a CPR number, probably assigned when my work permit was approved, but no matter. I have the number now, whether it's new or just retrieved from the database, and I have been assigned a family doctor.

The next several steps include taking my CPR number to a bank to open a bank account; taking it and the account information to ITU HR so that they can actually pay me; dealing with the application for the special tax scheme; getting a "NemID" (which is a list of one-time authentication tokens for the central Government computer system); getting a cellular phone; and so on.

And I have to go be fingerprinted - after figuring out where to go for that - because the contractor in Vancouver botched the job when I flew to Vancouver to file my work permit application. The CPR-number representative today seemed to think that this step is optional, but the dire threats in the work permit letter should I not do it seem to tell a different story.

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