I don’t belong in Copenhagen. Or do I?

Finding connections besides romance and sex in Copenhagen, is that possible?

Photo: Xinxin Ren Gudbjörnsson

I grew up reading Jane Austen. Needless to say, I had some expectations to friendships. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley, Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas, Colonel Christopher Brandon and Edward Ferrars, Emma Woodhouse and Anne Taylor… 

I also grew up as an onlooker to my father’s friendships. His friends were always in our house in Tianjin, China.

As a publisher, almost all his friends are book people. Most of them writers. My father has long lunches with his friends, writes them emotional letters, travels with them. They are friends till death they part, and then some.

The word friend is not a casual one in my book.

“Just friends” is an expression of the West I simply don’t understand. You wouldn’t say “just love” or “just family” or “just soulmates”, would you? How can a relationship as rewarding and exhilarating as friendship warrant “just” in front of it?

For the same reason, I find friendships in Copenhagen a lot harder than for instance romantic relationships. In a romantic relationship, intensity and passion is expected. It’s perfectly socially acceptable to write long letters to your romantic partner and call them every few days or so.

Friends? No. Try write a long letter to a friend in Copenhagen, they will find you too intense, probably creepy.

I have lived 32 years in Copenhagen. In all that time, I have felt that my vibe doesn’t fit the city. I have refused and succeed in not assimilating. So I thought.

I recently discovered this wonderful Instagram account @modelstrangers. It showcases the surprisingly beautiful Belfast and its even more beautiful people.

Unlike other street photographers, this photographer actually has interesting conversations with the people he encounters. This whole concept is so unlike anything in Denmark, that I was instantly drawn to it and its creator Christopher Ward.

I reached out to him and we talked about talking to strangers and collecting stories, which is something we both do, just in different ways.

We wondered if people in Copenhagen would react as positively to him as the people of Belfast. We talked about how he approaches people and make them feel at ease. I told him how I see the Danes and he told me how he sees the Irish.

Christopher moved to Belfast from South Africa in his youth just like I moved to Copenhagen in my youth. In the conversation, I slowly realized that finding a special connection is a challenge anywhere in the world. Christopher makes it look easy and effortless. But of course it is not.

I realized that I changed a lot since I came to Copenhagen. My attitude towards people has changed; my fear of rejection and my fear of being perceived as ridiculous has prevailed.

When it comes to dating, I have always been brave enough to make the first, second and third move. But when it comes to friendship, I have been more and more of a coward as the years go by.

Many times, when I meet an interesting person, I’m reluctant to seek out the persons friendship, because I’m concerned that he/she/they might think my interest in them to be romantic, sexual, monetary or something else that might lead to an award situation.

But if I’m not to make the first, second and third move in order to seek out friendship, what is the likelihood that a valuable friend would fall into one’s life effortlessly and suddenly?

I realized that I do not need to change to a different city. The vibe of Copenhagen is not permanent, constant and never changing. In fact, it has changed drastically since I first came here in 1991. We change it every day with everything we do. We change it simply by being who we are.

I’m going to try being a braver version of myself. I’m going to insists that I too, belong in the city of Copenhagen.

I’m going to seek out friendships, likely and unlikely, even if it seems impossible. It is a rare and beautiful thing to meet a person you wish to see again, so I’m going to seize it next time.

I’m going to be more like Christopher.