It was seven years ago when sitting on my computer in New Delhi I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go for my Master’s to a University in Copenhagen, Zurich, Stockholm, Paris, …. . Of course the rankings mattered, the scholarships mattered but also my fear of the unknown mattered. Here I was in India having never ventured out of the country trying to decide where to spend the next two years of my life.
And this is where I came across the blog of a student (which I cannot dig up despite trying for 5 long minutes) who used to narrate her experiences in Copenhagen infrequently. While there was no dearth of organized blogging advertising for Copenhagen, the self-motivated nature of the blog was endearing and real. It was my first connect with the city which I was going to call home for the next six years of my life. It was my first brush with Danish naivete, Danish hygge, the student life, the parks, the sea, the weather. It was my first date with Denmark from the eyes of another narrator.
The student blog was hosted on a blogging infrastructure which was part of an initiative from the Humanities department at the University of Copenhagen called KU student blogs which used to be hosted here (the link might be broken now). This service encouraged students to create a blog and to write what their heart desired. One of the best features was the blog feed so you could read in one place all the content from different KU blogs. It was a great window into the lives of other people without all the glam of social media. It was great for old-school, boring people like me. I blogged here (maybe a broken link) for five long years infrequently which kept the world was sane.
And then the storm clouds gathered. The KU student blogs became a platform to allow KU affiliated individuals to create websites and it was not a purely student blogging infrastructure anymore. It became a website creation tool which meant the feed feature was not desirable since depending on the reader, the feed contained a lot of uninteresting information. At this point the feed was taken off and KU blogs was rebranded as KU sites. While I have nothing against website creation infrastructure, better thought could have been given to its management to keep the student blogging feeds intact.
Since the blog feed feature was gone and KU site service was hosted using WordPress and I already had a free account on wordpress.com, I moved all my content to it. KU blogs also had a questionable security policy in its integration with the KU one identity authentication systems. The KU blog password was a special rewrite of the KU password (I am not going to detail it here) to account for incompatible password policies across systems which hastened my decision to move.
Overall, a dedicated student blog system with a blog feed feature to read about student experiences is an invaluable tool both for local and international students. Its something worth preserving and I wish it had been so. Thank you KU blogs for all the initiative and the help and for encouraging me to come and live in Denmark. Hopefully, you revive the initiative again.
It was a cold January morning in 2011. There was snow all around and I was trudging along with the trepidation of soldier treading a minefield. My destination was a hair salon to get a haircut. I looked at the board outside which said “studierabat” meaning student discount. I almost jumped for joy. The normal price for a men’s haircut boldly proclaimed 250 DKK. I went inside, was greeted by a beautiful girl in her mid 20s who went on to give me a great haircut. After the haircut, I paid 200 DKK (20% off as student discount) and that’s when the high prices of Copenhagen haircuts hit home. I had just experienced a hairy culture shock literally speaking. I had been living in Copenhagen for the past 5 months and I thought that I was immune to the price shock that outsiders felt when entering the Danish shops. I had never really factored in the haircut prices. I had chosen one of the cheapest places to get a haircut (after a great deal of internet searches) but I ended up parting with a week’s worth of grocery money.
That’s when someone told me about the Copenhagen hair cutting school where it costs 49 DKK for a haircut. The news thrilled me more than any of the groundbreaking discoveries my science books have drilled into me. It was almost like finding a hidden treasure. Sure, the people who cut your hair are students who are supervised by teachers but except on one occasion I have always got a great haircut there. On that one occasion, the hairdresser misunderstood what I wanted and ended up giving me a haircut which I had to bear for the next 2 months. Today I got another fantastic haircut and that too for free because it was my tenth haircut there which is free :-). Wednesday mornings could not be any better. I tried to ask out the beautiful brunette who cut my hair but she said she was married. I guess that was probably asking too much of a Wednesday.
It holds for Danish haircuts if you know where to look
Last Tuesday, the Dean of the Faculty of Science proposed a merger plan to merge the departments of computer science and math into one. The meeting invitation went out to the faculty and the students only a day ago in the midst of a busy teaching bloc. The merger was reported in the University Post. This has sparked a spate of opinions which all seem to point to the utter absurdity of the move especially since it was tried 2.5 years ago and failed, and nothing has changed since then other than the reasons against it. A lot of conspiracy theories are also doing the rounds. Whatever the real reasons behind the merger may be, what is clearly apparent is the fact that the move has not been thought out well by the Dean’s office and has not encapsulated the people it concerns and hence it just remains a tactless, non-visionary (contrary to the claim), damaging exercise just for the sake of it.
This probably sums it up
The other week I had gone to the Fotex store in Lyngby storcenter for my grocery trip. I came across a superb offer on Pancake mix. If you buy one you pay 22 kr. but if you buy 2 you only pay 26 kr. Given my love for pancakes buying 2 pancake mixes was just a no-brainer. I bought my stuff and came back home happier than ever. The next day I noticed I had only brought one pancake mix and the other must have got left behind in the shopping bag. I checked my bill to confirm and I saw that I had paid for 1 pancake mix for 22 kr.
That was not a happy feeling, but knowing how awesome the people in Fotex are I figured I could go the next day and pick another mix and pay just 4 kr. and be done with it. So I went. I went to the counter and explained the situation the girl at the counter and asked if its ok to pick up another and pay 4 kr. She rolled her eyes as she looked at another girl she was happily chatting with and asked me to explain it again. I did so dutifully taking all the pauses in the world and making sure I left no cryptic PhD talk in it. The girl at the counter again looked at the girl she was chatting with, rolled eyes, and said “No, that’s not possible. Its a new day”. Now that did not seem to make any sense.
I did not want to argue with her so I went over to another guy and asked whats the return policy. He told me if you have the bill and return the stuff within 30 days, we would accept it. So, I went to the counter again and politely asked the girl if I could return the pancake mix I bought. She said, “Yes”. I said, “Great, then please take it back”. I also told her that if this is so, isnt it exactly the same thing I suggested earlier ? That I return the stuff get 22 kr. back and then go buy 2 pancake mixes for 26 kr which is the same as paying 4 kr. for the other mix. The girl just made a weird face and said, “Please give the mix and the bill”.
That I did, she went to her computer and did some stuff and came back and told me that the mix I was returning was not on the bill. The bar code on the mix did not seem to match with what the computer showed for the mix purchased in the bill. I just stared incredulously. I told her that was the bill and I have not bought any other mixes and the mix must be on the bill as otherwise the machines which detect if you have paid for stuff you are taking out of the store would have beeped when I took it the other day. How am I supposed to know what bar codes get put on the bill or not ? Am I not supposed to trust people on the counter ? Am I supposed to go check bar codes on bill after every purchase ? Her reaction was, “I am sorry” and she walked off. It really felt insulting the way the entire episode panned out. I am not being stingy about the money, I had just gone to correct an honest mistake. Given my past brushes with people in the stores here I was more than certain that the solution would just be eked out in a matter of seconds. It did not matter if I would have got the other mix for 4 kr. if the whole situation was handled with more care and understanding than plain rude, insulting behavior. What actually panned out was an episode of rude nonsensical behavior which has made me a bit wary of what to expect in stores. Maybe I was just lucky so far and this was just a jolt to restore the normalcy of day to day life.
Looks like this is what they did to me as well
Just the other day, I got a package from my parents containing some stuff that I could not bring when I took the flight from India. Most of it was used personal stuff and a lot of cookies. I was actually surprised to see a letter asking me to pickup my 14 kg package instead of the customary yellow around the fringes slip from the post-office. I was shocked to see that I had to pay VAT on the goods of around 335 DKK of which around 150 DKK was the assessment charge (you have to pay for the work they did to put the VAT). It seemed a bit strange to me since the entire value of the goods in the package was less than 200 DKK. And I wanted to know how they had fixed up the charges. I searched frantically online but could not get anything about the rules for sending international non-commercial postage. I could dig up some rules and regulations on what one can send and how it can be assessed but it seemed fairly academic missing a lot of practical questions.
I did find a lot of posts saying how people found the postage system here ridiculous because of the international posting guidelines and how everyone in the post-office is apathetic about it. I had a 14 day window in which I had to pick up the package else it will be sent back. I talked to the customs department in the post-office and they told me that a student does not have to pay any taxes on his stuff if it does not have high commercial value. The problem with my package was they could not infer that it belonged to a student and my parents had not filled the customs declaration very clearly about the used stuff and its value. So, he raised a case for me and told me I have to wait until they free my package off taxes. 5 days went by and I had only 5 days remaining before the package was sent back. No news of my case. I called up and my case was assigned topmost priority. After furnishing a scan of my student card my package was freed of taxes and I could pickup the package next day.
Overall, my experiences with the Danish Postal system has always been topnotch. In this case, although I was perplexed over the taxation initially (I am not going into a debate of its fairness), but eventually everybody at the postal office was very helpful in resolving the case amicably. The next time I eat one of cookies which my mother sent I won’t crib about how costly it was. Yay to the sane and friendly Danish Postal system !! Don’t be afraid to poke the right people. More often than not you will have a satisfactory and sane resolution. We live in reasonable times, don’t we ? That’s a topic for another day.
And I received a happy mail
I so miss the free S train rides on the first Sunday of every month. They were the ideal opportunities for poor students like me to make those long forays into the Danish countryside. If you can, it would be nice even to have subsidized tickets on the first Sunday of every month if not completely free. After all, the best things in life are usually free.
Yours really really sincerely,
Just another student who loves to travel and explore
Hope it doesn’t come to this