Before going on this exploration, I knew that the Danes were considered some of the happiest people on the planet. How does that manifest and what does it look like? It's not going to be a candyland with people skipping along gleefully, most definitely not - although the image above may contradict that (more about that later in the post). Without more than just anecdotal experience in place, I found it to have a calm sensibility. People aren't rushing everywhere, rather there is efficiency and a comfortable personal space around individuals, objects and buildings. The streets were relatively clean with trash cans readily available where people leave their recycling on the edge to make it easier for collection. The systems seemed to flow well, the traffic moved efficiently, people observed general rules of the road on bicycles and cars, the buses were quiet, and the direct train to the airport stops at the particular station I boarded every few minutes. With very wide roads allowing for wide bicycle lanes, the urban landscape is comfortable with buildings typically no more than 5 stories (our tour guide mentioned this is because of the water table) providing a relaxed urban environment rather than a condensed experience.
There also is an air of patience. The bridge that is incomplete because half-way through construction the engineers realized measurements were off sits as a perfect example of this concept as it is intended to connect two very busy parts of the harbor, but for now people continue to walk or bike around or boat taxi. A fancy new building we got to visit, the figure 8 by BIG, had a construction zone in the front walk-way finishing something incomplete? The skyline has industrial cranes but there wasn't an overwhelming sound or smell of massive construction. There is a casual joviality to the place with a random turn bringing the visual stories on the temporary construction walls inferring something such as 'sorry we've ripped up this plaza and we know it's going to take a while before the metro is actually running underground, but we'll give you something pleasant to look at during your pass by today'.
People speak English so well you think you are in America without a confusing accent, it's eloquent. At moments in grocery stores, cashiers would speak to me in their native language, but I didn't realize it as I'd be searching through my wallet or otherwise preoccupied. I'd look up and they'd be staring at me and repeat themselves. I would say 'excuse me'. Then the recognition that I wasn't a local would result in 'would you like a bag'.
Because of the country's socialism everyone who is willing to pay into the system has a job and as our tour guide told us on the bus ride from the airport the morning of our arrival this eliminates stress as people know they will be taken care of if something goes wrong in their lives. I did see homeless and asked her about this. Her response was that there had been in recent years an overwhelming immigration influx which has been constricted recently because of the strains on the system. Her explanation was that if someone is homeless they are refusing to participate in the system, while there was a distinct class system evident with people collecting recycling amongst the crowded streets and parks where alcohol consumption in public is completely acceptable and massively embraced.
This all brings me back to the concept of casual joviality. There are happy children we could all learn a lesson from in the spontaneity of joy in the randomness of someone placing chairs on a hot day into a pond of water. People aren't necessarily skipping in the streets, but they are not burdened by restrictions that are in place in the U.S. Some of these have to do with the use of public space and what individuals can do in that space - putting chairs into a pond fountain for one. Drinking in public is acceptable and it lent to a lovely spirit where people gathered their friends and sat along the canal, sat in public parks with large groups on a random assortment of blankets scattered throughout, rolled up their pant legs (even if metaphorically because the day i witnessed this scene it was actually quite hot) and frolic in the fountains. They take time for leisurely lunches inside or outside at one of the many sidewalk cafes and even the plethora of baby carriages (not strollers) being pushed calmly or left outside the stores or cafes.
On the 5th day of our trip we assembled onto one of the boat tours. As we waited, I noticed bicycles arriving in the general vicinity adorned with balloons and other decorations. Then I noticed there was a gathering of people in costume. Luckily I was able to capture the moment they waited for their own boat ride obviously celebrating something with that jovial spirit. On my last day in this city, I coordinated my walk to visit a total of 5 museums and galleries. For my dinner to spend as little as possible and use up my last Kroners but also to live like a local, I bought a can of berry cider and takeout from 7-11 which consisted of a 'paleo' packaged sandwich (scrumptious) and yakitori (extra scrumptious reminded me of Japan) street food. I found a spot on the curb overlooking the boats along with lots of other people and enjoyed my meal while people watching. I then trekked my way to the final two gallery openings of the 5 that were free after 5pm until 8 or 9 on Wednesdays. The Danish Architectural Center was my last stop. It was close to 7 or 8 but felt like middle of the day with the sun light still gleaming.