Monday, August 8, 2016

Denmark, Socialism and Public Toilets

Dear Readers,

After a long break, I'm back!

Many bad things happened since my last post. We had a global monster called ISIS, for example. How I missed summers when I could write about figs and Ramadan celebrations... Now its suicide bombs, military coups, corruption scandals, and terrible, I mean, terrible air travel...

I believe scholars of International Relations need extra compensation these days. Perks such as spa packages, alcoholic drinks or mini retreats would really help.

Most of us are depressed and borderline suicidal... Just look at any news site or Twitter, and you'd get all your spirits sucked out of you, as if you've encountered a Death Eater from the Harry Potter books...

In case you were wondering, I'm about to get to the topic of my blog entry: public toilets in Denmark!

So your humble author took a short vacation in Europe this summer.

It all started with collecting mountains of paperwork and a personal visit to the German Consulate in Chicago in April, for a tourist visa. The lady at the consulate was not convinced that my tenure-track job & salary in the US were strong enough credentials to visit her beloved Germany. (Hope my bosses read this before our pay raises.) So I had to have other folks in the group to vouch for me:
1 American and 2 Norwegian citizens. Only after receiving copies of their passports and written testimonies that I am who I am, and really, can afford the trip, I got a precious 14 day Schengen visa.

Fast forward, after a visit to the house where Karl Marx was born (in Trier), we moved up to Denmark.

During the 2016 election cycle in the US, Mr. Bernie Sanders had created a real hype about  the place. The way Sander's had described, Denmark was the golden standard of social democracy, wherein all your social needs were met by a generous state, and everyone was enlightened, affluent and above average...

So we drove from Holland to Denmark. Unlike all the other European countries where you just keep driving on the same highway and voila, you're in Belgium, France, or the Netherlands, the road sign says; in Denmark there was police check point on the highway. They look at every car, and waive you in.

In Denmark, we stopped at the first gas station we saw. Danes stick with their Kroner so you better remember your multiplication table really quick. My son had a hamburger. This precious Danish burger at the gas station cost us about $15. And, they charge extra for catchup... about $1. Yes, we learned the hard way.

We moved on, trying to get to the little "summer town" to meet our friends. In this town, we visited two big grocery stores, and neither had a bathroom for customers. Then, we started driving around, thinking that the haven of Mr. Sanders would surely have public bathrooms scattered around this little tourist town.

After quite a bit of driving, we saw ONE sign. Following the sign carefully, we arrived at the site. I jumped out, hoping to find maybe a fancy Toto (some models as much as $10,000), since we're in one of the most affluent nations on earth..

Alas, the bathroom door wouldn't open. But there was a ton of cryptic writing on the door. I tried couple of times, no, the door wouldn't budge.

Finally, I looked at the writing again. Amongst all the Nordic languages, there was a tiny line in English: To use the toilet, send an SMS to xxx123.

You've got to be kidding!!!

So in the social democratic haven, you need to first have a cell phone, and secondly, a plan that works in Denmark, to have access to a public toilet!

What about old people? My mom cannot send SMS messages... What about young kids? Why would everyone has to have a cell phone? What about the mother who's juggling a toddler, a baby and a stroller?

Say anything about the vicious capitalism in America, but at least the public bathrooms are available and accessible to ALL public, regardless of your cell phone coverage!

Back to Denmark:
So I did not want this horrid toilet experience cloud my judgement. But after a week in this "summer town" in Denmark, and a day in Copenhagen, here is my bottom line:

- the whole country is like an empty Ikea store: good, clean design & furnishings, no soul.
- outside Copenhagen, hardly anyone is on the streets or in their yards
- bicycles rule the roads, they're even used as family vehicles
- even in July, it is impossible to swim! way too cold
- most signs are in Danish & other Scandinavian languages
- life is hard for just English speakers
- mobile coverage is needed to use public bathrooms

In short, before you wholeheartedly endorse an ideology, make sure to see one place it is practiced:
Free trade neo-liberals, check out London and it's exorbitant housing market.
Libertarians, see Idaho.
Feel-the-Bernistas, see Denmark :)

May your airport lines be short, and flights uneventful.

Academic Mommy

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