Danes and Summer

Why you should run outside right now


I first arrived in Denmark during the summer - summer 2000, for those who are counting - and one of the things I immediately liked about it was that there was no air conditioning.


I had spent the past 10 years working in tower blocks in Manhattan, where you are hit by a blast of icy air as you enter on a sunny June day, and then hit again with an ovenlike blanket when you exit.

In Copenhagen, the summer air is the same inside as it is outside, perhaps a bit stuffier, Danish ventilation technology being somewhat less advanced than Danish heating technology.




That summer of 2000 was a good education in Danish summers, since it basically never turned up.

In June, it was rainy and cold, and people told me it would probably get better in July.

In July, the weather was also poor, but the Danes told me you could generally count on August.

August came, grey and drizzling, and people started extolling the general glory of September.

And so on. I believe there was some sunshine around Christmas of that year.




Despite the unreliability of summer, there are some well-worn Danish summer. One of them is "sommersild", which translates to 'summer herring.' There is indeed a lunchtime casserole called summer herring, but that's not what I'm referring to at present.

'Summer herring' is a Danish media term for a feature in which attractive young women on the beach or in a local park are photographed wearing not very much clothing as part of a news story.





The news story is generally pretty thin: this year, I have seen summer herring presented with the shocking news that ice cream bars cost more in convenience stores than in supermarkets, and asked to test the ice cream bars from both places to make sure they really are the same. Lots of close-up photos of the ice cream bars and bikini tops.

You could get angry and call this anti-feminist, but you've got to respect the frustration of men whose girl-watching is limited to parka and sweater-watching for 11 months of the year. (In 2000, all 12 months of the year)

Besides, there is a male version of 'summer herring.' It's called 'strandløver' or 'beach lions'. Beach lions don't appear in the media quite as much, and they don't test out ice cream bars, except maybe in publications directed at a certain special audience.




Anyway, even if the weather is bad during the summer, I still always enjoy a trip to Tivoli, the 150-year-old amusement park in downtown Copenhagen that has worked hard to earn its status as a non-disappointing tourist attraction. (Cough, cough, The Little Mermaid).

Tivoli has it all, rollercoasters, rock bands, pretty gardens and most of all great people watching.

If I'm still in Denmark as an old lady, I plan to get a season pass and watch the awkward teenager lovers, overcompensating divorced fathers, and pretty blond children with their parents' telephone numbers written on their arms in case they wander off.

The restaurants in Tivoli are madly overpriced, but you can bring your own food.




The fruit in Denmark is very good during the summer - fresh red strawberries in June, cherries in July, and wild blackberries in August.

Even in downtown Copenhagen, you can still sometimes pick blackberries off the bushes by the subway tracks.

Eat them with crème fraiche, or as a companion to koldskal, the curious buttermilk dish that appears next to the milk cartons in Danish supermarkets each the summer.



And, as always with Danish summer, I suggest you run outside as soon as you see the sun shining.

You never know how long it's going to last.

There's always the chance you might not see it until next year - or, in the case of the summer of 1999, not even then.