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…in which Perl is Monged. Or something.

Continuing on my recent theme of international travel, I nipped over to sunny Copenhagen last week for YAPC::EU::2008, the first Perl conference I’ve managed to drag my sorry, barely-programming-these-days arse to outside of London. And it was good – I met a bunch of rather excellent people, saw some scary perly things and drank a good quantity of bowel-wrenchingly expensive beer (telling yourself that there are 10 kroner to the pound seems like a good idea until you get your credit card bill and you realise that you were spending an extra pound more than you thought on every beer…). As is normal, I wandered around a bit and took some photos of both town and conference. I even like some of them.

Tivoli 3

Copenhagen is a weird place, especially when your most recent comparison is to Sofia. Firstly, I didn’t need to speak any danish at all, with my britishness being espied from a far (well I say that but most danes seemed to speak english to each other, even when not surrounded by a gang of british-as-a-common-language perl mongers) leading to others using their incredibly excellent english to tell me what silly thing I was doing at that time, from trying to stick bank notes into the card slot on the metro ticket machine to being too polite by saying “please” to often. Secondly, everyone rode bikes. Not literally everyone, but pretty much so. Formation riding along the blue painted cycle lanes in groups that would make the most successful critical-mass ride jealous, not only for the number but also the skill and politeness. People chatting with the other riders as the moved as a single solid mass, making way for cars and pedestrians and signalling politely before trying to break out of the group. It was a bit of an inspiration and I did consider obtaining a bike to get over to the conference each day, only to find that the nearest “stick a coin in the slot to rent a bike” place was right next to the metro station that took me to the conference hall. They also seem to have no bike crime either, as almost every bike I saw was simply leaning against a wall, or on the ever present bike stand that I have barely seen attached to any bike in the UK since the 80s, with no lock on. The occasional lock was basically a bit of string holding the front wheel in place, but they were few and far between. With the London Freewheel coming up in a few weeks I am almost tempted to start riding my bike a bit more, but then my classic laziness kicks in and my tube pass comes out and I zip along underground trying not to make eye contact with anyone, just in case they turn out to be a drunk psycho who spits in my face, again.

Politeness in foreign climes is a strange thing. Being a typically british chap, dosed with a scarily high level of colonial guilt even in this day, I am not great at going to countries where I don’t speak the language. Every time I open my mouth I am certain that this is the day where my mangled pronunication of “hello” will cause the fine citizen of whatever place I am visiting to turn and gut my like the proverbial fish with the special tourist skinning knife that he carries for that very purpose. Sofia scared me for that reason, because on occasion there seemed to me to be a probably imagined undercurrent of mild danger (especially when being driven around in a taxi), although in the end the only time someone did take advantage of my touristness it was the bunny girls in the bar who quite heavily overcharged me for my drinks. So, having a native dane to talk to, I enquired as to how to properly say the important things – “Please”, “Thankyou”, “No, please. After you. I am barely worth opening a door for…” and the rest. Thankyou was easy – “Tak”. Please was slightly more complicated – “Veer so venlig”, but I remembered this and was promptly told to forget it. Having been told by a variety of people (mainly danes) that the danish are the rudest people in Europe, this was slightly tempered by Lars’s rather excellent explanation that went a bit like this:

It’s not that the danish are rude, but our default state is polite. The british seem to have a default state of rude, so you have to add politeness to make things acceptable. So in a way the danish are some of the politest people you will meet.

Which makes worryingly good sense to me, despite the number of danish people who told me that it was crap and they were just really rude. The exhortation to forget the word for please was because if you say please after asking for something it is almost a suggestion that the person should have realised they should have done thing you are asking for anyway, and the please is an emphasis to show this. A sarchastic please, as the default tone of voice. Or something. I like language.

I was also informed that in a similar manner to Chicken Tikka Masala being the national dish of the UK, that the shawarma kebab is the dish of Denmark. As such I was forced to try one, after a night starting out with a multinational group of perl mongers (from everywhere between Chicago and Zurich) in a chinese restaurant, moving on to a belgian bar staffed by a very knowledgeable australian barman called Jerry, and then on to an irish pub, staffed entirely by irish, where we were serendaded by a guy from Indiana, playing Oasis covers, while we we drank Brooklyn Lager (and occasional the good Carlsberg that they don’t let out of the country without a fight – the real stuff, not the rubbish export stuff that the adverts propagandised). That sort of sums up my visit to Copenhagen – a slightly international affair.


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