The Balancing Act | My top three bafflers in Denmark

I do not get baffled easily, or shocked for that matter. Happy, emotional or irritated are entirely different matters though – those emotions can occur in the blink of an eye. I attribute this to having lived in India – a melting pot of contradictions, many delightful, some plainly unacceptable. But, over the past year in Denmark, I’ve had some interesting experiences that have truly baffled me.

#1: When smiling or talking to a baby is met with suspicious glances

Baffler number one came my way when I had a natural reaction to a baby on a bus who was gazing solemnly at me. I smiled at the baby and looked up at the mother to say how adorable her child was. Wrong move, it seemed. The lady glanced at me warily. I didn’t give it much thought, attributing the mother’s reaction to having a bad day. The next time, I went a step further and said “hej” while reaching out to hold the finger another gurgling baby was holding out to me (yes, babies and I do seem to have a connection). Once again, suspicious glances came my way.
I was baffled. Isn’t the innocence and beauty of babies meant to be admired? In India, mothers welcome smiles and conversations with their precious offspring. To them, it’s a validation from a neutral, third-party observer that their baby is indeed captivating and adorable – that they are not biased to think so. How was I to know that in Denmark a smile could be construed as an attempt to kidnap the baby right under the parent’s nose? I mean, they do leave their babies in prams outside shops and cafes … all alone.
Several such glances later, I stopped peering into prams. I just dart quick looks from the corner of my eye.

#2: When sweets are prohibited, but alcohol and cigarettes are not

Celebrating my three-year-old’s birthday at her daycare turned out to be the occasion for baffler number two. I decided to get a cake big enough to share with all the children in the daycare, not just my daughter’s room or class. Turns out, I wasn’t being magnanimous, just naive.
The cake was returned in half because one of the daycare workers decided that the children were eating too many sweets. Imagine the horror! I tried, really hard, to understand the harm caused by eating cake once in a while, but failed spectacularly. I blame my sweet-clogged Indian genes for this.
It’s hard to fathom the strict discipline parents here enforce when it comes to eating anything remotely sweet, while at the same time being so tolerant about underage drinking and smoking. Sure, too many sweets and candy is harmful for children. But, isn’t there a bigger cause for worry when 12 to 13-year-olds drink and smoke?

#3: When Danes strut their stuff in the buff

This one came in the form of my first culture shock here. In India, a visit to the swimming pool entails taking a shower – with the option to keep your swimsuit on and in the privacy of an enclosed space – before you head to the pool. Added to that, Indian swimwear is designed with modesty, not swimming in mind. In a league of its own, it has several elements – a high neckline, sleeves and built-in tights. The pièce de résistance is the frock swimsuit: a one-piece swimsuit with a frill attached, meant to modestly cover the hips, butt and any accompanying cellulite! Indian women in bikinis are as rare as a full moon eclipse.
I was prepared to see women in bikinis. You can imagine my surprise – no, let’s make that shock of the open-mouthed, gaping kind – at the spectacle of nude women in the changing rooms here. My three-year-old daughter stared like only children can. And to think I had planned to send her with her father! Really Danes, all that leisurely bending, stretching and singing while in the buff is unnecessary.
These are perhaps complete non-incidents for most people. But then living in a foreign land wouldn’t be quite as interesting if the balance didn’t yo-yo every now and then, would it?