Denmark, Day Six: In Which I Am Alarmed

Thursday, June 9th 

Once I had worked out that I was in fact allowed to go to the mall on my own, I didn’t waste a lot of time doing so. Again having no excursions to go on, or even any class this time, I went off soon after breakfast. It was early enough that the whole place was quite empty and still, with many of the stores not even open yet, which is the way I like my malls. The Bilka was open, though, so I went to go spend my borrowed money on tea and snacks, and also soap because our bathroom didn’t have any. Still reserving a shred of hope, when I went to pay I at first attempted to use my card, but I had no more luck running it without a PIN than I had had before. So I was already feeling embarrassed and flustered when I went to go pick up my things and the security alarm went off.

I was so focused on gathering my stuff that I didn’t even realize it at first, and was quite surprised and thrown when the cashier asked to see my bag. As soon as I did realize what was going on I broke out in a cold sweat. Sure, rationally I knew that I hadn’t stolen anything so there really wasn’t much that could happen, but that shred of rationality was thoroughly buried under the tidal wave of panic screaming that OHMYGOD I’M GOING TO GET ARRESTED IN DENMARK. Not to mention there was a line behind me, and now they were all staring at me. I started quaking in my blistery boots.

The cashier, who was a lot less concerned than I was, searched my shoulder bag and found nothing more suspicious than a mini sketchbook and a water bottle, then asked me to try going past the scanner again without the bag. It still went off. She asked if I was carrying anything I’d bought in the store previously, but of course I hadn’t bought anything in the store before. So she called over another employee to investigate the matter further and started ringing up the next customers. Someone in the back of the line called out a remark, but since it was in Danish I had no idea if it was helpful advice or annoyed scorn at this ludicrous American, so that only made me feel worse.

The other employee came over, and we tried checking my shoes to see if anything had stuck to them, and then tried sending me past the scanner without my hat. This being the hat that has about a pound of metal attached to it, it seemed like a likely culprit, but that didn’t work either. Eventually she shrugged and said she had no idea what was setting it off but I was free to go. Evidently no one actually suspected me of any theft, which is not real surprising given that I’m sure I looked (and certainly felt) like I was about to burst into tears on the spot.

Like most stores in Denmark, the Bilka didn’t provide shopping bags; you were expected to bring your own or buy a semi-resuable plastic one at the register. Having been too flustered to do the latter, I was prepared to simply carry my loose items back, but as I was leaving for the second time, the cashier stopped me and gave me a plain plastic bag. When I looked at her with deer-in-the-headlights eyes, she said, “It’s free.” I don’t know if she was trying to help me out or if it was just commonplace at that Bilka to give bags to particularly inept customers, but either way I was immensely grateful. I shoveled my stuff into that bag and practically ran back to the hostel.

Once I’d eaten my sandwich and pear and calmed down a bit, I set off on the day’s second adventure: going back to the National Museum, this time by myself. It was the first time I’d gone into Copenhagen by myself. I was nervous. Never mind that it was an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar country, the fact that it was a city at all was pretty overwhelming. I grew up down a backroad seven miles from the nearest town, which only relatively recently upgraded from one to one and a half traffic lights. I went to college in a small town just about big enough to support a Wal-Mart. Cities are not my natural habitat. But I was determined. And I made it to the National Museum without significant problem.

Our second assignment was the same as the first, except this time we were to pick objects from the Viking Age section. I was surprised to find that this was actually pretty small—it actually had a definable end, unlike the section we’d visited the first time. But then, in retrospect, we saw so much Viking stuff throughout the rest of the trip that this made some sense; there could only be so much to go around, after all.


In any case, I was finished with my assignment pretty quickly, so I meandered up a floor or two and somehow found myself in an exhibit on Inuit culture. I was a bit startled, honestly, to walk into a room and find a case full of posed but uninhabited suits of clothing, all somehow, despite their lack of eyes, watching me. Then the door closed automatically behind me, just to add to the atmosphere. But I came to terms with this, at least enough to explore the rest of the exhibit.


Wandering out of that area, my eye was caught by signage indicating an exhibit on toys. Being the mature individual that I am, this immediately attracted me. I was hoping to see Legos, but I was disappointed. There were no Legos. There were, however, stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling, which seemed a tad morbid.


Then I turned a corner and saw an entire room full of dollhouses.

I immediately thought of my mom. Mom adores dolls, dollhouses, anything miniature. Throughout the entire trip, any time I saw a diorama or model in a museum, I made sure to take a picture of it for Mom. So when I saw that room filled with dollhouses, I knew what I had to do. Only one problem: it was dark. Too dark to see anything in a picture taken without flash.

I’d like to point out here that I generally know better than to use flash in museums. I was hesitant. But this…this was a mission. I couldn’t go back without that picture. I looked around to see if there were any signs specifically against flash photography in that area, but didn’t see any. Surely one couldn’t hurt, I thought, while simultaneously thinking that that was probably the justification everyone used.

So I took a deep breath and took the picture.

And an alarm went off.

As you might imagine, I panicked. Oh, god-this time I was definitely going to get arrested. I fled the room. The room’s only other inhabitants, an older couple, also left, rather slower than I. We all looked at each other. I shrugged helplessly. The alarm kept going off. I waited for museum staff to bust in and drag me away.

But nothing happened. After a minute or two, the alarm stopped. The couple wandered away. No staff ever showed up. I had no idea if I had actually caused the alarm or not, but I sure felt sufficiently chastened. I took a few more surreptitious pictures, but definitely not any with the flash on.


Then I crept out of the museum, still not entirely convinced that I wasn’t about to be stopped by grim faced security guards. Then I got lost on the way home.

Okay, only a little bit lost, I swear. I took a wrong turn trying to get back to the metro station, but at least never got too turned around to not know how to go back the way I came. I just had a few uncomfortable moments sitting by a canal, looking at a map and trying my level best not to look like a hopelessly lost tourist and, I am sure, failing utterly. Nobody mugged me, though, so it was all good.

On my way back-I did, in fact, make it to the metro station eventually-I rode one stop down from the hostel and went back to the mall. I had been mulling something over, and decided on a plan. Something had become clear: I needed tea, and I wasn’t going to get it without taking steps. So I went back to the Bilka, and bought myself a mug. Not a commemorative mug, mind, not a particularly special mug; just a plain blue ceramic mug, about two bucks or so. Then, to celebrate my more-or-less successful metropolitan adventures, I got some hazelnut ice cream at a mall kiosk (after about ten minutes sitting nearby with Google Translate trying to figure out the menu). It was a small serving-much as I wanted to, I couldn’t quite spring for the Belgian waffle-but my god it was good. Then I went back to the hostel and enacted my plan.

As I mentioned earlier, we were not allowed to use the guest kitchen, which meant that even when I had my box of Twinings, I had no way to make hot water. I did politely ask if I might be allowed to use the kitchen just to heat water, but I was rebuffed. I could make tea in the morning at breakfast, but only in the morning, and the mugs provided were tiny anyway. But…there were several vending machines in the lobby, including one that dispensed various hot drinks. I’d seen that the bottom option was labeled varm vand, but didn’t know what that meant. Until something clicked, and I thought, wait a minute, duh. Hot water.

(I’d actually had a brief moment when I’d remembered that ‘vand’ was ‘water’, but that only made me think, that’s no good, I want hot water, not warm water. It didn’t immediately occur to me that ‘varm’ might Danish for ‘hot’ instead of ‘warm’. Which is pretty ridiculous in retrospect. But hey, no one wants lukewarm tea.)

I wasn’t sure if the card would work. I hadn’t had any success with it so far, obviously, and in addition to the PIN problem I’d screwed it up that first morning at the ATM and it had to be re-enabled. But it was supposed to be working now. So I put my new mug under the dispenser, inserted my card, hit my selection, and held my breath.

Every card reader I had met in Denmark so far wanted a PIN, but this one didn’t. It gave me my water. About half a cup of water, as it turned out; I had to hit it twice to get a reasonable amount, which cost me three bucks total. The water was not very hot, and I had neither milk or sugar, as I prefer for my tea.

But dammit, I had tea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *