Eating and writing
Xinxin Ren Gudbjörnsson
My dear fellow Copenhagener,
As your new column writer, I would like to introduce myself to you.
I’m a Danish/Chinese writer living in Copenhagen. My life is mainly about eating and writing. In that order. My first thought when I wake up in the morning is breakfast. My second thought is typically lunch. I do most of my writing while I wait impatiently for my deliveries of farm-fresh meat and vegetables. The time slot is typically from 7AM to 7PM. Sometimes I do my writing while I wait impatiently for my stews to finish. Because I wait for a lot of deliveries and a lot of stews, I get a lot of writing done.
Before I was a writer in Copenhagen, I was a writer in China. If you have been a writer in China, I don’t have to explain anything to you. If you haven’t been a writer in China, I can try to explain but I will probably fail to make you truly understand. However, I can tell you what being a writer in Copenhagen is like. At least I can tell you how it is to be me and a writer in Copenhagen.
Being a writer in Copenhagen is wonderful. You will have a lot of focus and peace to write. Unlike in China, your agent/manager/editor/publisher/fellow writers won’t constantly push you to come out for hot pot, karaoke, spa, dim sum, calligraphy parties, massages, drinking trips, writing trips, rehab trips, orgies, weddings, and funerals.
The Danish writers who write well are going to be introverts with social phobia, anxiety and general fear and trembling, so you will never be able to pin them down for lunch. The Danish writers who will always come out and play do not write well, so there is little point to play with them.
Unlike in China, your agent/manager/editor/publisher will not be sending you gift baskets with mangos, muffins, and ribeye steaks to remind you that their kids’ tuitions depend on your output. And as you get closer to deadline the gift baskets intensifies and you are now a buffalo hooked up on a milking machine with people staring at you with greedy expectations.
I say buffalo and not cow because no one will dare start the milking machine on a buffalo before the buffalo is ready, as stressing a buffalo makes the milk less tasty. But the buffalo knows she better be ready soon because she already spent the advance on a shiny new car and there is no going back.
Being a writer in Copenhagen is terrible. You are alone, lonely, and longing. While writers in China worry about bad reviews, writers in Denmark worry about no reviews. You can punch a critic for a bad review but who do you punch when there is no review?
Your agent/manager/editor/publisher/fellow writers from Denmark are either sitting alone in their homes, summer homes or on their endless holidays with their families. Yes, Danes are always on holidays, even when they are working.
Your agent/manager/editor/publisher in Denmark will tell you to write whatever you like, think out of the box, do something truly unique. But don’t be fooled – they don’t mean it. Not one bit. When a Dane asks you to produce something out of the box, they expect you to know what is in the box and subsequently produce something only slightly different than the content of the box. You can even produce something of the exact color, as long as you give the color a new name.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m productive, because I have published four books in Denmark since 2015. One of them was on the bestseller list and all four received a fair amount of media attention. The fact is most of the books I write haven’t found a publisher yet.
My writing in Chinese is the exception, because my Chinese agent is genuinely aggressive and knows every publisher who has a strange taste for satirical, existential, social-surrealism thriller works with extensive food porn. My writing is definitely an acquired taste. My writing is kimchi. And in the west, kimchi is not for everyone.
I think you now know what to expect from my columns: everything is going to be just fine, as long as you remember you always deserve a truly great meal.
Xinxin Ren Gudbjörnsson
Xinxin Ren Gudbjörnsson is a newspaper columnist at Politiken and author of fiction and non-fiction in Danish, Chinese and English. She has a master’s degree in media & communication (Copenhagen Business School) and a master’s degree in theology (University of Copenhagen).