Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Peanut Butter and other "Canadian Delicacies"

When we first arrived in Denmark, we were completely shocked by the limited selection of products at the local grocery store. There is no Loblaw's, Superstore, or Costco in Denmark. Instead, there are dozens of small stores (about the size of a Canadian convenience store). In our local Netto, there are four aisles, as well as a small cooler section, and some fruits and vegetables.
On our first shopping trip, we noticed the lack of peanut butter. There was also no frozen juice, pasta sauce, tortillas, or beans. We were unable to make many of our regular recipes. We went into almost every grocery store we passed, hoping to find these "staples.”
Our menu soon adapted to the limited choices. And, after much searching, we would eventually find the ingredient we were looking for, in one Copenhagen's many small, ethnic grocery stores. (When we found peanut butter, we bought 15 jars).
Still, Marieke will not be satisfied until we can make every meal we could back in Canada. Every time we head for Copenhagen, she has a new list of "common" ingredients we need to find. So far, we have found: garam masala, bok choy, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, tahini, wasabi powder, coriander, tempeh, tofu, miso, poppy seeds, black beans, chick peas, rhubarb, whole wheat flower, real maple syrup (Canada no. 1, medium), rice noodles and basmati rice.


I hear Canada is set for another election, so I’ve decided to write about my experience with Danish elections. For whatever reason, the Danish government decided to let me vote. In Denmark's last election, there was a swing towards right-wing, anti-immigration parties. Since this is having a direct impact on us (as “immigrants”), I figured I should take a stand.

Not knowing much about the political parties, I turned to the internet for guidance. Finding no English content on the parties' websites, I entrusted my vote to Wikipedia.org. There, I learned some interesting things (summarized below mostly for Berner’s benefit). Based on this research, I chose the Socialist People’s Party (not really communists) because they seemed to hate immigrants the least and support environmental initiatives.

At the polling station, I was handed two enormous ballot papers (about 1m long and 50cm wide). For the municipal election, there were 120 candidates and on the regional ballot, there were 340 choices. Thanks primarily to my votes, a coalition of the three most left-wing parties won both the municipal and regional elections.

For Berner:

  • They have no senators (or other “second chamber”)
  • They use proportional representation.
  • There are seven large parties (listed from left to right): Red-Greens, Socialist People’s Party, Social Democrats, Social Liberals, Liberals, Conservatives, Danish Folkparty.
  • The Liberal party is called “Venstre” in Danish, which means “Left.” They haven’t been left-wing for about a century, but they haven’t bothered to change their name. The Social Liberals (“Radikale Venstre”) are also not very left-wing.
  • Since there are many parties, they always have minority governments. The party with the most seats does not necessarily get to lead the country, if a larger coalition is formed.
  • The current federal coalition is between the Liberals and Conservatives. They have succeeded in implementing several anti-immigration policies, like tuition fees, language requirements for work permits (you have three years to become fully fluent in Danish) and restrictions on foreign marriages (you have to be over 24 to marry a foreigner).

Friday, November 11, 2005

Windmills, Windmills, Windmills

Over the past two weeks, I have not gone to much class. And not for the same reason I skipped class at Queen's (I'm not at home watching Law & Order). Instead, I've been on a series of field trips:
  • I visited a large offshore windfarm in Southern Denmark. This is considered to be the future of wind energy, since the wind blows stronger and there are fewer complaints from the neighbours. This allows the wind farm to be much larger and produce power similar to a traditional power plant. However, the added costs of construction at sea are still way too high at the moment.
  • The next day, I attended the Copenhagen Offshore Wind conference (COW). There were some interesting speakers, a bunch of flashy displays and they even arranged for interested students to meet with recruiters from Vestas and Siemens (mostly, to help us find thesis projects).
  • Then last week, we visited Siemens to see how they fabricate nacelles (where the blades connect to the generator). I also visited Vestas to see how they make fibreglass blades. Both trips were interesting, but since both factories were over 3 hours from Copenhagen, we spent most of our time on the bus. It also highlighted the fact that working with wind turbines often means working in the middle of nowhere. (Another note: on the way back from our field trip, the bus driver made a stop for us to get beer, and the prof even joined in.

There's plenty of pictures of windmills in our photos

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Christmas Beer is Here

Once again showing great confusion about when they should celebrate holidays, the Danes are already preparing for Christmas. The grocery store has a sign saying "Welcome to Christmas," and has started selling Christmas trees, decorations and "Christmas chickens."
The upshot of all this is that Tuborg has released its Julebryg (Christmas Beer). It was released last Friday at exactly 9pm, in a celebration called J-day. This is an annual event and it is a huge party. The beer is a bit stronger than usual (5.6%) and has a unique flavour. And, it is only available for the next two months.
After that, it's back to regular beer (Carlsberg or Tuborg) until the Easter Beer is released.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Until yesterday, I had not truly experienced culture shock. I think it all really sunk in while we spent a quiet night watching TV. That’s right, on Halloween. No huge parties, no ridiculous costumes, no big bags of candy, no fun at all.

About a month ago, everything seemed normal: there were pumpkins on sale at the grocery store. I began to plan my trips to the Salvation Army to find costume material.

Then, on October 13 (not a typo), they celebrated ”Halloween.” From 5-8pm, children wandered up and down the main street, completing a scavenger hunt at local businesses (the strangest was pumpkin carving at the funeral parlour). There was no candy, no “trick-or treats” and few costumes (those who did wear costumes wore a cape and a pointed hat – either a witch or wizard).

For the next few days, there were pumpkins on some doorsteps, but they were discarded long before the 31st. So that was it, and yesterday night, we just watched TV and “celebrated” Halloween with pumpkin curry.

In memoriam of my Halloweens of Yore, I have set up a photo tribute.