It’s summer and we’re all out and about. In between the downpours of rain of course. But, unlike the Brits who discuss the weather endlessly, the Danes just shrug their shoulders. Nothing stops them charging off to their summerhouses, marching along windswept beaches and invading parks armed with umbrellas and waterproofs. They are Vikings after all! And Vikings don’t let anything stop them from their dread purpose.
They seem so mild-mannered when they’re sauntering down the street with their rucksacks bobbing up and down on their backs, don’t they?
But, if you are on the walking street, don’t expect them to swerve to let you pass – oh no – theirs is always a straight, clear path. I saw it myself the other day: two pretty Danish girls, deep in conversation (not with each other but into their mobiles), forced a group of tourists to scatter before them like birds on a runway. And just as the frightened Japanese re-grouped, a large man, determinedly wheeling his Christiania bike, sent them splattering against the shops windows for safety like a scene from a bull stampede on the streets of Pamplona.
But this is nothing compared to a Viking behind a wheel, or for that matter on two wheels!
I remember when I first moved here from London, a Danish friend of mine was amazed that I, a total newcomer to the city and a Brit, dared to drive on the wrong side of the street around the busy streets of the capital city, without being sick with fear. At the time I laughed. After London, Copenhagen seemed like a sleepy village. But I quickly changed my mind.
London is teeming with traffic at all hours, but you can always get out of a side street into a main road without a second’s thought. A motorist will stop and wave you kindly into the traffic flow. You smile and wave back and everyone lives happily ever after.
But not here in the land of fairy tales. Here you can sit for hours waiting for a traffic accident before you’re able to get out, and if you’re trying to cross the flow of the traffic … then just give up and go home. If you’re brave enough to take the risk and edge apologetically forwards, you will be greeted by an assortment of angry looks and closing of the ranks. Not to mention the hordes of helmeted cyclists (those Viking helmets again!) who will unnerve you with their cacophony of bell-ringing, incoherent shouts and even the occasional hard thump on the roof of your car.
If you’re foolish enough (as I am) to play the female card and smile sweetly and toss your mane of blonde hair, which in London would instantly make a taxi driver screech to a halt and say: “All right darlin’ – off yer go”, instead of getting a thumbs up, you’re more likely to get another finger raised in salute!
Perhaps it is not so strange that Denmark was the first country in the world to create a walking street – it was the only way to avoid motorists and cyclists.
It also explains why pedestrians are so quick to reprimand a motorist for the smallest misdemeanor. A French visitor told me he happened to throw a piece of paper out of the window of his car while he was waiting at the lights. An elderly woman picked it up, approached the car window and said: “Do you want this?” “No thank you,” he replied. She said: “Well neither do we!” and threw it back.
We shouldn’t blame the pedestrians too much though. Statistics say that in Copenhagen a man is run down by a car every 30 minutes – and apparently he is getting bloody fed up with it!!!