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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Danish pastries and palm trees

Working abroad was on my life bucket list ever since studying abroad in college, an experience that gave me just a little taste of everyday life in another country.  It was a first course that left me hungry for more.  When I had the opportunity to return to Northern Europe to work for a Danish company on an almost year and a half contract, I had to seize it.

Expat life is full of rewards as well as peppered with hurdles, from small to big, and from humorous to frustrating.  There were days I felt enormous pride when I could get through an entire grocery store transaction in Danish without someone realizing I was a big American impostor.  


I practiced this nearly every day, and was usually found out on the rare occasion that a Danish store clerk broke the typical pattern of the exchange and started making random small talk.  Cue my very confused expression and a moment of "what did they say?" terror and it was all over, after which they would always graciously and seamlessly switch to perfect english.  True, there is little risk of real disaster in this situation, as so many Danes speak such impressive english, and are so forgiving with those of us who speak bad Danish.  But living out of a suitcase for over a year and adjusting to a new set of cultural norms can be alienating at times, a feeling perhaps heightened by the very dark and cold Danish winter.  Silly as it may seem, even small successes in your grocery store interactions (or getting through an entire yoga class in Danish) can feel like victories that offer you a sense of belonging.


Beyond my own efforts to live life among the Danes, I was particularly lucky that my employer made a very intentional effort to foster a strong workplace community: there were bike to work contests, wine tastings, beer socials featuring an aggressive amount of potato chips and Carlsberg, and even a few bonding trips to Sweden.  
  

Despite our access to flashy travel excursions, one of my favorite workplace initiatives was the weekly Wednesday morning breakfast.  Each week, the entire company would gather together to break bread, specifically bread and buttery Danish pastries from Sankt Peders Bageri (one of the oldest bakeries in Denmark.)  





The bread selection was an assortment that always featured rugbrød (dark Danish rye bread), french-style bread with seeds, and various rolls. Liberal amounts of butter, jam, and cheese were available to top off bread slices and rolls, and coffee and tea flowed as the perfect pastry accompaniments.  For me, these moments are at the heart of the experience of living abroad-- the everyday interactions that define living in a community, and the new routines you learn to love.  Wednesday breakfast was a chance to learn which pastries your bosses favor, which of your coworkers like rejeost (spreadable "shrimp cheese"!) on their morning bun, a chance to share bike commuting in the rain woes or flat tire disaster stories.  Plus, what is more charming than waking up for work and knowing that a feast of pastries and freshly baked bread awaits you upon your arrival?  Since I no longer have Wednesday morning breakfasts to look forward to, I can take solace in Culver City's Copenhagen Pastry, a shop in west Los Angeles operated by actual Danes that uses the fitting motto "pastries bring people together."  




Here, you can have your Danish treats, and your palm trees and sunny weather too, without any fears of your pastry orders getting lost in translation.
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