Brick by Brick: Fast becoming a tradition: the flooded basement

Stephanie Brickman made the hop across the North Sea from Scotland to live in Denmark with her distinctly un-Danish family. This 40-something mother, wife and superstar is delighted to share her learning curve, rich as it is with laughs, blunders and expert witnesses.

We are lucky as we live in an incredibly sociable street. While I know people who still don’t know their neighbours after 15 years in the same building, we knew our neighbours after 15 minutes. And our street has traditions, including a street party, which took place last week.


The Danish neighbourhood party – like an extended episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’ (Colourbox)

Festivities, flødeboller, flooded

This year’s festivities included sack races, alcohol and a flødebolle catapult, which was a genius combination. As the evening wore on, the weather still a bit on the damp side turned into pelting rain, so by the time the next morning had arrived, we had experienced another street tradition: the flooded basement.
Like most of our neighbours, we had a couple of centimetres of water sloshing merrily around the subterranean grandparent accommodation we affectionately call ‘the crypt’.

Freaked out, sold out

So off my husband and I went to a large DIY shop in Nørrebro to score a dehumidifier. I’ve noticed it takes a lot to attract the attention of the people who work at DIY stores, so we split up to double the chances of hooking a sales guy. I spot a salesperson between the shelves and start stalking him in the building materials section. He sees me and does a U-turn, but I head him off at plumbing by the U-bends.

Unfortunately he doesn’t understand what a dehumidifier is, and I don’t know the Danish word. However, I taught English as a foreign language for a while and therefore have total faith in my ability to act out stuff. I raise my hands and splay my fingers, trying to mime ambient humidity, and then make sucking noises, adding a snaky neck movement for extra effect. His eyes flick nervously from side to side and he takes a step backwards. We’re both relieved when my husband shouts that he too has hooked an assistant.

Ow foochter hell

However it’s bad news. They have sold out of all dehumidifying equipment. We sit despondently on a bench outside in the rain. I take out my phone and type ‘dehumidifier’ into Google Translate. ‘Maltese detected’ it flashes up officiously. My finger is too wet to change it to English. Miraculously it works anyway and up pops the word affugter.

Pronounced something like ‘Ow Foochter’, I spend the rest of the day feeling like I’m swearing in a Birmingham accent. We manage to hire an industrial affugter and drag it home in a taxi. It makes our guest room feel like the engine room of the Titanic.

I saunter along the street, the front gardens filled with basement debris: boxes, paper, books, cot mattresses. Our neighbours are frolicking about the place in exactly the right wet weather gear (Danes always have the right clothing) and I’m feeling smug, like I belong, because I have wellies too and I managed to rent a dehumidifier from deepest Nørrebro.

I round the corner and they’re putting up a sign at the local hardware store: ‘Affugter til leje’. Yes, at the end of the street, no taxi required, no sticky wickets miming ambient humidity