When I first moved to Copenhagen six years ago, I had a pretty simple mental image that summed up cultural integration: me, cycling around on my own bike.
I wanted to reach that point where your bicycle becomes another appendage of your body – this was the pinnacle of Copenhagen living.
Turns out that was a pretty easy goal to achieve. The day I thought cycling more than 25 minutes somewhere was not worth leaving the house was the day I thought I’d reached self actualisation.
Since then, it has occurred to me that yes it’s important to have a bike in Copenhagen – it makes you feel part of the furniture – but it doesn’t make you feel part of the people.
I now know the true sign of cultural integration is to partake in the conjunct emotional rollercoaster that is the S-Train.
You see, I now live in Suburbia (technically I don’t live in Copenhagen at all.)
And so, no longer do I reside in the heart of Copenhagen, in one of its ventricles, like Vesterbro or Osterbro – or even in the aorta (Amager), where to venture somewhere is simply a jaunty journey on your saddle.
I now have to stand by one of the distance capillaries. That is to say, an S-Train station, to hop on to one of its multi-carriaged blood cells.
And I know we all have complaints about the S-Train.
It’s not always running, the information is often wrong, there’s endless track work.
But that’s not what I want to focus on. Because it takes a lot of work to keep an old heart beating.
And come 2024, this one has been ticking away for 90 years.
Yes we need the S-train to keep pumping us around in the civic sense, but it also brings us together in a much more communal way.
Never have I felt more at one with this city than sharing in the collective confusion on the platform of a busy Norreport station.
Or the being part of an audible sigh when a train disappears from the screen at Flintholm.
Or any other annoyance at any one of the 87 stations the S-train is pumped out to.
New York has the Subway, London has the Underground, we have the S-Train, and we should be proud of it. (I know there’s the metro, but that’s for another day).
So with this in mind, I would like to impart a few simple rules that I’ve picked up to help us all enjoy our journeys.
1. Check in with others
If you are one of the few who knows how to crack the code of how to check in a bike, a child or a friend on a card. Take the time to help those who can’t. Yes it is funny to see tourists and Danes alike, stare at this mini Indiana Jones puzzle. But as soon as you show someone how to do it, it’s one less stressed person to travel with.
2. Practice Tetris
While you’re at it, practice Operation too. It will give you the skills to manoeuvre on and off with your bike. Tetris because there is often limited space that you will need to make work. And Operation, because if you tip anyone or anything with your wheels you will get the social equivalent of buzzed (normally a stern look). Oh and for you adrenaline junkies out there, the last two spots on the bike racks are for mountain bikes.
3. Threes not a crowd
When the train is busy remember you can easily fit three people in a booth on the train. Honestly half a bum cheek on the end of your seat can make all the difference to someone on a long journey.
4. Enjoy the silence
Under no circumstance should you make noise in the Quiet Zone. Not only because it’s impolite. But because you never know when this silent sanctuary is the only bit of respite in someone’s day. After a busy day at work and before a busy evening at home.
It’s a wonderful oasis we all have the right to drink from.
5. Be patient
For all its faults the S-Train will get you to where you’re going. And when it’s too cold to cycle, too far to walk, too snowy to drive.
It will get you back again… eventually. So share a knowing smile with a stranger. Pull out a book or catch up on a podcast.
We’re all pissed off together.
And that’s what counts.
Owen O’Sullivan is an improv comedian, freelance audio producer from Ireland, and one third of the Coping in Copenhagen podcast team.