Monthly Archives: December 2014

‘Hygge’ and December

Candle light is ubiquitous in Denmark at xmas. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Candle light is ubiquitous in Denmark at xmas, in window sills and on the tree. Photo: Lone. 2014.

I love December. It heralds time with family and ‘hygge’. ‘Hygge’ is that Danish concept that escapes English translation: ‘cosiness’ simply does not capture the feeling of warmth, friendship and good conversation associated with the Danish concept. From old Norse, its etymology denotes comfort and encouragement (as in comforting and encouraging someone). In my mind, ‘hygge’ conjures up images of candlelight against dark windows, a big pot of tea and rustic ceramic mugs, held tightly to warm the hands, while sitting with a friend in a deep soft couch, the legs drawn up under us, absorbed in gossip and secrets with laughter ringing. “Oh is that the time? I better go. It has been so ‘hyggeligt’!”

But hygge can also be outdoors, during long light summer nights, gathered with friends on a patio, the grill cold again after the slightly burned sausages and steaks have come off – dirty dishes still in front of us and plentiful red wine in our goblets. And the lark singing as the sun refuses to be completely overwhelmed by the night and the children have fallen asleep on the couch in front of the tv inside. “Thank you for the other night. We really enjoyed it. It was so ‘hyggeligt'”

The ‘hygge’ I associate with December is both indoors and out. The outdoor markets in Tivoli, plentiful with food stalls and merchendise, snow and darkness by 4 o’clock. Long walks in newly fallen snow and coming back inside with red cheeks and that fresh feeling in the entire body.

Making marzipan confectionary is part of 'hyggen'. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Making marzipan confectionary is part of ‘hyggen’. Photo: Mick. 2014.

But best are the indoor pursuits leading up to the evening of 24 December. Here in my brother’s house we have been drinking a lot of tea and coffee, while sitting around the long dining table making confectionary. With marzipan, nuts, melted chocolate and hazelnut nougat, hands sticky with the sweet almond mass, yet some amazing and delicious creations achieved. And with bellies full of nuts, figs and marzipan, we made decorations. The woven hearts and 3D stars are particular favourites, though both can be challenging for the smaller children, who prefer to just cut shapes and glue them together. With plenty of glue.

‘Lille juleaften’ – the 23 December – the old box with decorations was retrieved and its contents combined with newly made ones on the recently erected fir tree. Plus the live candles. Candles on a tree may seem foolish to firefighters, Australians with plastic trees and anyone else who fear a fast xmas fire. But here it is unthinkable not to have live candles everywhere, including on the tree. They add so much to ‘hyggen’ on ‘juleaften’ on 24 December.

The xmas tree comes in on 23 December, 'Lillejuleaften' and is decorated with home-made hearts and stars. The live candles may seem foolhardy, but there are very few serious xmas fires in spite of them. Photo: Lone. 2014

The xmas tree comes in on 23 December, ‘Lillejuleaften’ and is decorated with home-made hearts and stars. Photo: Lone. 2014

When I grew up, we almost always held ‘juleaften’ in my father’s childhood home, often with another clan of cousins. Our ritual was of piling presents and children into the station wagon in the afternoon, my father driving carefully on 20 kms of small, slippery roads to be welcomed by my grandmother – Farmor – at the farm. She had been busy in the kitchen with the feast to be devoured – roast pork, caramelised potatoes, red cabbage and ris-á-la-mande – before the tree would be lit.

After the feast my grandfather – Farfar – ushered everyone into the kitchen, while he and a chosen child lit all the candles on the tree, complete with hearts, angels, stars and fairy hair, glittering up and down the tree. When he finally opened the low kitchen door and let us into the living room, all of the electical lights were off and the tree lit up the room in warm golden light. We would link hands and walk – dance – around the tree, singing the familiar songs, with Farmor sitting in a seat with a small songbook to lead the singing, with her high voice which gradually degraded over the years. After the last loud and fast song that we knew all the words to, even my English speaking cousins – ‘Nu er det jul igen’ – the lights would come back on and the gift orgie commenced with its soundtrack of ripping paper and excited screams. Then, exhausted from the anxious wait and the adrenalin rush from singing and dancing and opening presents, we would pile back into the car, now with the presents in an unopened state and distributed to the right child, to drive back home through the dark night. It was nothing, if not ‘hyggeligt’.

In my childhood we often went to my father's childhood home for xmas. Plenty of children and presents - and of course the tree with plenty of live candles. Photo: Andreas. 2014.

In my childhood we often went to my father’s childhood home for xmas. Plenty of children and presents – and of course the tree with plenty of live candles. Photo: Andreas. 2014.

‘Juleaften’ on 24 December is the night of celebration in Denmark rather than xmas day. The following holidays are just that: days off with family and doing things together. ‘Hyggelige’ things, always involving too much food.

I love being with my Danish family during these days. And I love being in Denmark, where Christmas makes sense in ways that Australian marketeers could only dream of, what with their fake snow on shop windows, polar bears and warmly dressed Santa Claus, all in 30 degrees of humid, sweltering antipodian heat. The holiday season is still ‘hyggelig’ in Australia – and with my Australian family we have created our own traditions and rituals to make it so. Yet to me real xmas is what I recall from my childhood memories in cold wintery Denmark. Thank you to my family for making it happen this year.

Immigration and bureaucracy

Still not sorted, but at least for the time it takes to process my 'family reunification' application, I have permission to stay in my birth country. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Still not sorted, but at least for the time it takes to process my ‘family reunification’ application, I have permission to stay in my birth country. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Travelling half-way around the world and shifting 10 time zones in 24 hours turns day into night and night into day, playing serious havoc with sleep patterns. But possibly what has kept me awake in the middle of the night is the long list of things we need to achieve as quickly as possible so that we can become part of Danish society.

You see, Danish society is like a closed and exclusive club, nervously assessing the worthiness of potential new members. Denmark’s tracking of its members is streamlined across many public and private systems – a veritable dream for the Australian bureaucrat, whose cross-agency work is stymied by the absence of a single unique identity number and further complicated by privacy legislation. The key to Danish efficiency is the CPR number, a unique number made up of your birth date and four additional numbers, under which you are registered in the Central Person Register.

Admission into Club Denmark requires registration of your address with the local government of your residence, using your CPR number. Once you have this Open Sesame, an abundance of possibilities emerge, which are otherwise unattainable to the outsider. We quickly found out that without a registered address you cannot get a Danish mobile phone account; you cannot set up a bank account in a reasonable time period and you cannot get NemID, the digital identity system in Denmark required for online transactions, including buying the best value Rejsekort for discounted public transport. You cannot access services that Danes take for granted.

Luckily, we both have CPR numbers – I was allocated mine when born and my husband got his when we married in Denmark in 1991. But to register an address we also have to have lawful permission to stay in the country. As a citizen of the United Kingdom, all my husband needed to do was to register as a EU citizen wanting to reside in Denmark. Because I am no longer a Danish citizen, my situation was more complicated: I could apply for permission to stay based on my former Danish citizenship or apply for family reunification with my husband. I baulked at the latter: why should I, born and bred Dane, rely on a foreigner to get into my own country?

We followed the instructions online – We are both university educated and I have native command of Danish. Yet when we stood in Furesø local council service centre, we realised nothing is straight forward. Firstly, the take-a-number system we know in Australia from delicatessen counters are omnipresent in public administration and retail in Denmark. The lack of queue culture in other areas of Danish life is amply compensated for by these machines – provided you know about them. You can almost hear the snickering by people jumping in front of you in the queue, while you wait and wait for your turn which will never come until you discover the number system. Secondly, it turned out that we needed to go to a government department, Statsforvaltningen, rather than the local council to register as an EU citizen first.

Statsforvaltingen is out of the way and not particularly inviting, like they don't actually want your inquiries and applications.

Statsforvaltingen is out of the way and not particulary inviting, like they don’t actually want your inquiries and applications.

So the next day we travelled out to the department – a strangely out-of-the-way anonymous-looking building, with poor signage and an unwelcoming entry. Now wisened to the take-a-number culture, we quickly claimed our place in the queue with a diverse bunch of folk in a cacophony of different languages.

Unfortunately, our documentation to demonstrate Mick’s financial self-sufficiency was inadequate since the currency of our Australian bank holdings were not identified. I guess it could have been Indian Rupees or Russian Rubles. So we were sent away again to get acceptable documentation. They also clarified that I would be best off to apply for family reunification, rather than rely on my former Danish citizenship. In spite of my initial misgivings, I saw the sense: it saved us from dealing with yet another public service entity.

Third time lucky, by day 4 in Denmark, I got a stamp in my Australian passport that I have lodged my application for permission to stay, so I will not be deported when the three month holiday available to Australians expires. The application may take up to six months to process – while my UK husband will have his registration card in a couple of days.

All this anxiety and humiliation associated with reclaiming ones birth right will soon be a thing of the past. On Thursday 18 December 2014, Danish Parliament passed a law to permit dual citizenship. This law is expected to commence on 1 September 2015 and has transition provisions for people like me, who had to relinquish our judicial Danishness because we wanted to be part of the country we happened to live in. I will be first in the queue on 1 September 2015.

Citizenship seems a formality – a judicial technicality – but as my experience with returning to Denmark demonstrates, it has real and significant consequences not to belong to Club Denmark, quite aside from the emotional effect of feeling locked out of one’s birth country.

I love and belong in both Denmark and Australia and I look forward to being able to be formally recognised by both exclusive clubs. Then I can worry about other stuff in the middle of the night – like a cure for jetlag.

We have arrived in Copenhagen. Photo: Mick. 2014.

We have arrived in Copenhagen. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Home of part of the heart

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Passports – check, Credit card – check, Tickets – check, Place to stay – check, Dreams – check, Sense of adventure – check

This week, in the muggy Brisbane heat, we’ve put it all together and are very close to ready to leave for cold Copenhagen, Denmark.

At times, exhilarating, at others terrifying for the lack of a set plan. I am not particularly good at not knowing exactly what will happen next.

You see, I have planned for this for a long time. Since at least 2012, when finally I realised that the magic of sunny Queensland, Australia, could wear off. Experiencing the Brisbane floods at the beginning of the year did not at all help. It was bizarre to be in the middle of civilisation and feel so helpless against the rage of nature, the mass of water – water of life and water of destruction. And these last few week we have again seen the fury – hail the size of golf balls rained down on Brisbane inner city, and on level 16 in the office building, we felt how it shivered in fear of the furious winds that spun around like a washing machine on its final spin cycle. Cyclonic conditions in an area below the cyclone line. Nature cares little for bureaucrats’ convenient categorisations, for houses lost their rooves and windows exploded into splinters of tiny glass, spraying terrified occupants. At least no people lost their lives in the 2014 storm of Brisbane. But it is a sign of things to come, of that I am certain.

Though the real reason for the plans is nothing to do with the climate. It is simply: a part of my heart is somewhere else, back in my mother country, where people I love live. Like my sister, two brothers and their partners and children. Like university friends and school friends. Like aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. I want to reconnect with my culture and the Denmark that exists today. No doubt it is a very different Denmark from the country I left in 1991, but then I am a different person to the 24 year old that immigrated to Australia in 1991. I look forward to seeing how the me of today will fit into Denmark of today.

It helps that my most excellent man is excited and supportive of the venture, too. He has been admitted to study at Københavns Universitet and has applied to study Danish Cinema and European Art Film as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts he is working toward here in Brisbane. He will attend a three weeks Danish course and perhaps finally be able to converse in my language.

Will I miss Brisbane? Yes of course. Not just will I miss the climate and familiarity, I will miss my adorable, lovely, great boys, who will stay in our home while we are off. Thank heavens for skype and social media.

I hope to write about my experience, right here on this blog. A reverse migrant experience, I guess. I hope you will join me on the journey.

Stuff and memory

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

There is only so much you can fit into the luggage limit of airline carriers. When you are packing your bags for a year-long sabbatical in Denmark you have to make harsh choices. Luckily we’ve secured a furnished apartment just outside the lakes in Copenhagen. This does reduce the amount of stuff we need to bring or acquire.

For years we have been trying to get rid of stuff – to declutter our lives. Somehow stuff just seems to accumulate and fill every surface, like dust whirling up in the swoosh of movement or encouraged by south easterly winds – and settling in the corners and on the skirtingboards until it is disturbed again.

I find that I hang on to stuff because it has a meaning for me. It may be a present given to me by someone I love. It may be something someone was made especially for me. Or it may be something useful one of us bought. The best stuff is stuff that is designed well and used often. These are the objects that last and also bring lasting memories.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Each time I sit in one of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chairs I am thankful that these beautiful chairs ended up in our house in Brisbane. My parents bought these chairs in the 1970s when we moved to Gjellerup. They sat in the tiled lounge room in the middle of the brand new house, together with the clunky, soft and deep modular couch. Like a casual prop in photos of my grandmother comfortably sitting at a family party. When we moved to the next house in Gjellerup on top of the hill, the chairs were incorporated into the combined kitchen and tv room – much more frequently used, but less elegant because they could not sit side by side in the space. Finally in my father’s last house in Herning they sat in the corner of the swimming pool room together with the buffalo leather couches, inviting one to perch a cup of coffee on the wide arm rests and pick up a book from the overflowing coffee table while listening to music blaring from the Bang&Olufsen sound system installed to fill the large room.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

Now, in the early hours of the morning, the chairs let me catch the weak rays of morning sun before they gain power and blaze onto the solar panels on the roof. The chairs sit with the cedar coffee table that Mick created from the beams left-over when we built the house on the hill in Bunya in the early 2000s. Inspired by a large, rustic coffee table from my childhood home, it is a robust table that is both functional and beautiful. On the other side of the table is one of the green Natussi leather couches we bought, one at a time, as a present from my parents when our boys were born. Those couches have been tough enough for babies, toddlers and teenagers, finally giving in to the direct sunlight on the deck, causing the leather to crack.

Over the table hangs a PH lamp – the classic lamp that was a wedding present from my parents’ business partners. It was second hand then, surplus to requirements, when they decorated the ground floor flat of the home that also housed the publishing business and my family. On the table sits a small dish that Mick wove out of tie wire during his first year of the fine arts degree. It accumulates stuff: ear phones, coins, a card. On the wall hangs Mick’s Takemine guitar, so often picked up by our younger son to strum a few chords or pick a few Spanish notes. It hangs next to a painting by artist Joanna Underhill, ‘Cellular Intelligence’. Following a bout of cancer, she studied cancer cells during a residence at the Brain Institute. The result is a series of work that explores the structure of cells which provides inspiration for quite intricate imagery and colour.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

On the other side hangs a piece my older son did in Year 12 Visual Art, ‘Waiting for skating’. Three skate boards form the canvas and three faces in various states of patience adorn them. Clearly, my son is not particularly patient. One day he screwed the wheels back on to one of the boards: he wanted to skate. When I realised, I promptly bought him a fresh board and the piece was restored to the wall. He promised to touch up the scratched board. However, in the intervening period I have grown quite fond of the authenticity of the green and pink paint that shines through and the edges that are worn down to the timber core of the board. Besides, it is a good story.

None of this stuff will fit in my suitcase. And this is part of the point. These objects are integral to the life world I have created in Brisbane with my family. This life is part of me, but only one part. With the chairs and the lamp – and many other objects – I have integrated my Danishness into my Australianness in physical manifestations. I have invented a self that combines my experiences, language and memories. One reason for going back is to refresh and reconnect with the Danish part. Together we will find new inspiration and create new memories for the next period of our lives, which integrates more of my Danish heritage.

My self is indivisible and when we are away, there will no doubt be things that I miss from this sunny part of the world. Stuff that I have grown used to.