The Culture Crash

Article published on Oct. 8, 2011
Article published on Oct. 8, 2011
By Nereya Otieno Fotos: Line Gøttsche Dyrholm Reader warning: I am about to make an alarming statement that will reflect very poorly on my character. However I request that you not let it dismay you from reading the rest of this article – because I feel we can all learn from my tragedy. Now that that is out of the way, here we go.

I ran into a very old man with my bicycle

Let’s clear something up very quickly. I did not intentionally hit this man. The elderly do not upset me to the point of violence. It was, by all means, an accident. In addition, this was not my first time on a bicycle – I understand the workings of the machine and the necessity of both braking and steering. I’m from San Francisco and we cycle quite a bit there. I came to Copenhagen for a Master’s degree – my worries about travelling were centered around balancing play time and work time, not my transportation methods. Clearly, my naïve San Franciscan head should have braced itself; literally and figuratively.

"The Event"

Allow me to paint a picture for you of what I now refer to as “The Event.” I was biking at a rather quick speed on my way to a see a potential apartment and, as homelessness is not something I’m really in to, the prospect of finding an apartment was higher on my mental list than stopping for pedestrians. On my left was a man matching my pace, to my rear a woman who was steadily realizing our speed was not her taste.

I’m approaching a crosswalk and I see an old man walking, though not very steady on his feet, near it. I take note of this man and move slightly to the left to give him more room on the sidewalk thinking that this is all the preparation I need to take. This is when the elderly man decides that he needs to cross the street RIGHT THAT INSTANT, not one second later. The man to my left swerves into the street, I cannot because I would be swerving into the man so I tried yelling to get him out of the way but to no avail. Next thing I know the old man is on the ground a good meter and half from where he was a second before with blood on his hands and his glasses no longer resting on his nose.

People immediately came out of shops, apartments, the other side of the street, etc. to see if the man was alright (some people came just to give me a dirty look and shake their heads in disgust). One shop owner appeared with a chair, a woman suddenly had a bottle of water and bandages, and – this I am not making up – a man had the small tool necessary to fix the old man’s glasses. The crowd stayed and made sure the old man was alright until he decided he was fine and proceeded to walk home.

And then they all turned to me.

What was wrong with these people? Why wasn’t I being taken to the authorities for inadvertently attacking an old man?

Images of Danish insults and chastising were flooding my mind and I prepared myself for the worst; a potential deportation or something equally horrible. But what came out of their mouths was unexpected: “Are you okay?” Then the man who had been biking next to me said “I saw the whole thing happen, don’t worry it wasn’t your fault.” Not my fault?! Am I okay?! What was wrong with these people? Why wasn’t I being taken to the authorities for inadvertently attacking an old man? And then the shop owner even began joking with me about how much I must hate old men that I am taking them out one by one. You can imagine the dazed look I had when I finally left.Why have I shared this story with you? Because I feel it gives some great insight into life in Copenhagen and the values of it’s people. Cycling - An inevitable part of life here. The Danish really value the use of their legs because biking here is serious business. Sense of community - The people who stopped on the street or came out of their houses did not know this old man but they all felt it necessary to make sure he was alright. This is, I think, one of the greatest things I have experienced in my time here. You can genuinely expect people to help you here – without expecting anything in return. Sense of responsibility – While people were concerned for the old man’s health, it was not forgotten that he had acted irresponsibly. Copenhagen is a city that runs pretty smoothly, but that is due to the inhabitants knowing the rules and following them. Confidence in the health care system – An old man flew a meter and a half and everyone knew that if something were truly wrong he could get it fixed, no problem. Sense of humor – Despite the trauma, people found ways to laugh about it afterwards. The Danes realize life is short (though it was almost even shorter for that old man) and that trouble will occur but sometimes you have to sit back and laugh afterwards.

Cycling in Copenhagen is an interesting phenomenon and can make a quick errand feel like an adventure. “The Event” could have ended much worse than it did but I’m happy with what I learned from it. One request to the walkers of Copenhagen though, mind the crosswalks and stay alert.