Copenhagen: Speaking English, Free Metro Rides, and the Flat-Tax

Will Towers shared some of his mistakes and surprise points while starting his life in Copenhagen, Denmark on the Student Exchange Program attending Copenhagen Business School.

The land of vikings and legos is probably not as difficult to acclimate to as one may think. Although there’s very few signs in English, the population speaks it with fair ease. I’ve picked up on a few common phrases, the most used being what sounds like “tak fa day-a”, meaning “thank you for the day”, a way to say goodbye to someone you just spent quality time with. Other than that, speaking Danish would only benefit me in such specific circumstances like grocery shopping and reading my mails. The former is less daunting, as I’ve come to realize the groceries we buy often describe themselves in many ways on top of their names. The packaging, coloring and buzz words are similar to those in America. Also, it’s pretty easy to tell that “organisk” means “organic”, although some are less easy, like an “orange” being “appelsiner”. In this case, common sense goes a long way. Mail is slightly less obvious – I got a letter from the post office that I originally thought was a slip telling me I was in trouble for walking in a crosswalk illegally. Classic mix-up.

The crosswalk hasn’t been the only mistake I’ve made since being in Denmark. The metro system is a highly efficient one and its made my time here much easier to navigate. At first, however, I assumed it to be free as there were no tollbooths, no collect points at the entrances for money: simply a waist-high large blue circle that people seemed to press when entering the stations. In my mind this was a tracking system, so that those who ran the operation had a general idea of the traffic being accounted for. It took a not-so-friendly metro ticket patrol officer to inform me that these blue dots were where people scanned their metro cards, a small credit card solely used for boarding the metro. She let me off with a warning entirely based on the American charm I let off on her.

Not being ticketed by that metro officer was a blessing. The average cost of a metro ride is about $1.50 and the cost of the ticket for not paying is $125. When you put it like that I have no problem paying the blue circle. That extra $120 I saved will go a long way! But not too long – alas, Copenhagen has what is best described as a flat-tax. Everything, yes everything, is subject to what has been told to me is a 25% tax. Coffee and beer are the two commodities this strikes me the most in. An average beer will be upwards of 8$ and a cappuccino could run you the same. When it comes to this, I’ve learned I must adjust (obviously) my expectations. These things are meant to be enjoyed, not just consumed. The act of going out for a beer with friends actually becomes more revered in a strange way when you know a beverage this much. It’s not ideal, but it’s good in it’s own way.

One week into my courses and the differences are greatly welcomed. The classes here are much differently structured than those at Ohio State. My shortest class is 100 minutes long – however, each class will break for 10-15 minutes every 45 minutes or so which makes learning more digestible. I actually enjoy this structure more than jumping from brief class to brief class, as it allows me to focus-in on one subject at a time. The grading is also different. All of my courses have a final paper at the end, which is much more welcomed than the mass-scantron paranoia that I’ve grown accustomed to in Columbus. I’ve even gotten to have 1-on-1 time with professors during class! Quite a few firsts; if it weren’t illegal and impractical I’d be tempted to extend my stay.

Some things I’m looking forward to:

  • The weather has been constantly bleak and hovering around 30 degrees (F). According to every local I’ve gotten to know, Denmark’s springtime transformation more than makes up for the dreadful weather of the winter
  • Come April 1st, half of my classes will be finished. That means a lot less time spent reading and in-class and a lot more time spent exploring Scandinavia
  • I’ve gotten close with a yoga studio owner I’ve even been working with. I have the feeling our relationship will evolve and he can be a mentor for myself in my journey to becoming an instructor.
  • Finally, I look forward to what I can’t envision now! The most rewarding aspects of my trip have been getting lost, meeting strangers by coincidence and finding the hidden beauty in not having a plan!