Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 1
Hejsa! Hvordan går det?
For those of you who haven’t been pestered by my incessant Snapchats or Facebook messages/posts/pictures yet, greetings from Denmark! I am one month into my semester studying in Copenhagen, and am still thoroughly enjoying the culture and the Danish weather (though I have been warned many times that it is about to get wretchedly cold and rainy with no hope of sunlight until spring)..
I’ve spent the past few days pondering what I would write to you about this week, and while I have certainly received potential inspiration from many aspects of my life here, my surroundings as I write this post have firmly decided the topic for today: Danish public transportation.
As I type, I am slowly crawling my way out of Copenhagen north to the town of Hillerød, where I live. The majority of the journey I spend on an S-tog train on the A Line, and while all seats are certainly full on a normal day during afternoon rush hour, I have never seen a train as full as this one is today. We are all three to a bench (and the Danes tend to sit as far apart from each other as possible when the only available seats are next to strangers), and the aisles, bike cars, and loading areas between the enclosed seating cabins are all packed with people. No one has as much space as he or she would likely prefer, but we are all of us just trying to get home on a Friday afternoon, and this is what we’ve got. One of the S-tog lines is down due to signal failures, and the E Line, which runs parallel to the A from Copenhagen to Holte, is running on delays. Our train was easily forty-five minutes late getting into Vesterport Station in downtown Copenhagen, and unsurprisingly, when trains that usually run every ten minutes are suddenly every three-quarters of an hour during the peak travel time going into a weekend, there is very little room left for anyone.
Though it may not be discernable from my tone thus far, I love Danish transportation. It’s usually efficient (except on days like this when, as they say, things happen), and unnervingly clean all the time. And while you may have to do a bit of prior research into bus routes and train times to get from point A to point B, the transport system will get you there. My daily commute to school requires that I take a fifteen-minute bus ride and a forty-minute train ride before walking four blocks or so, but the only times I have ever been late were my own fault. When there’s a breakdown in the train line, the transport officials will inform you, and either you’ll take a different train or there will be replacement buses. And since I live so far out, my travel pass is good for all transport zones in the capital region, which gives me unfettered access to trains and towns in northeastern Zealand.
Unlike in America, where to get on most systems of transit (especially the subway) you must pass through a turnstile, which can only be done with a valid ticket, access to the Danish transport systems (train, bus, Metro) is based on the honor system. Most commuters travel with rejsekorter, or travel cards, that they use to check in and out via blue circle proximity readers at the stations on either end of their trip. There are security cameras at the stations for obvious reasons, but most days I ride the train and never have my pass checked (though there are always transit officials making the rounds on Tuesdays). Most of the time, I get on and off the S-tog and my transport pass never leaves my pocket.
This practice of expecting people to simply do the right thing is actually very indicative of an idea central to Danish culture: trust. And it’s also quite obviously a part of the other most popular mode of Danish transport: bicycling. While we in the US would never even think to leave our bikes sitting out untethered to an immovable object, the Danes do it regularly and never think twice. Sure, you would never let your bike sit out in Copenhagen without securing the wheel lock (especially because it’s actually illegal not to), but cable locks are relatively uncommon. The only reason why I have one is because bikes tend to go missing from major train stations; when I lock my bike at school, it sits in the bike rack with only the rear wheel immobilized. And though it still strikes me as strange, I’ve learned not to worry about it.
Just last night I was talking with a Dane about walking down city streets at night. Now, as a young woman of relatively small stature in a foreign country where I don’t speak the native tongue, most (including my mother, no doubt) would say that I should never even consider walking alone down a street at night without a companion. Well, sorry Mom, but I have done it, and inevitably I’m sure I’ll do it again. In most areas of Copenhagen, and certainly in Hillerød, people expect to be safe. And they are! After a certain point on a weeknight, there’s simply no one about, and so you can walk through the dark without too much concern for your own wellbeing. Even the Danes expect that. They trust in it.
As for me, today, like always, my trust in the system has paid off. I did worry a bit that an A train wouldn’t come, but it did, and now, forty-five minutes later, we are about three minutes out from Hillerød Station. Until next time, Brewers, and remember, even when the Hudson Line is late, crowded, and dirty, it’ll still get you where you want to go.
From Denmark, hej hej og vi ses!