You haven’t had a real university experience until you’ve been to a Danish “Friday bar.”
This past Friday was the Største Fredagsbar: an all-day, all-night event of sports games, friendly competition, free concerts, and lots and lots and lots of alcohol. Now, this isn’t your typical fredagsbar. This annual event is put on by the Aarhus University Student Council (Studenterrådet) at the start of every fall term, and involves several other institutions of higher learning in Aarhus (the Danish School of Media and Journalism, for one). Before noon there were the sporting events and tournaments, and from about midday on the music started up at three different stages. All of this took place in the University Park on Aarhus University’s campus.
While some of my flatmates and friends began the day drinking around 10AM, my programme’s Friday class did not let out until nearly 4PM. Thankfully, though, the DMJX has its own fredagbar that we were able to start the festivities at: the Kurt Strandbar.
Most of you folks back in the States probably are wondering what a “fredagbar” is, exactly. First, “fredag” means Friday and “bar” is, well, bar. So, it’s a Friday bar. Every faculty here at Aarhus Uni (and presumably the other universities and colleges around here) has its own Friday bar, from theology to biology and everything in between. Bartended by volunteer students and serving some excellent (read: cheap) Danish pilsner, the fredagsbaren are open to any and all people. You don’t have to be a journalism student to drink at Kurt Standbar; you don’t need to recite Newtonian laws to join the physics kids.
Fredagsbar may just sound like your regular run-of-the-mill college students drinking on a Friday night (and for some of you, it is), but it goes beyond the basics. There is a word they use here in Denmark, “hyggelig.” There is no direct translation to english, but loosely it is comfort, coziness, a feeling of welcome. That is what you get at the fredagsbar, and in Aarhus and Denmark in general. You’re here, you’re family. Mostly. The first person to the bar buys the first round, and nobody bats an eye when it’s their go to grab some pints. Nobody thinks twice about sharing food, drink, weed (just kidding, Dad), cigarettes, bicycle seats. The sense of community and helping one another seems so ingrained into the culture; it’s the way of life. That is reflected in the politics here, in taxation and healthcare and free, higher education (drat you all).
Case in point: bicycles. I can’t ride one. I’ve never ridden one, never learned (collective gasp by the few of you who didn’t know that). But since I’ve gotten here, a few of my flatmates and colleagues have made it a sort of mission to get me on a bike and not careening off into a fence. Five of them got together last week and actually managed to get me on a bike, broom in the back at first, and for the first time in my life I managed to do enough peddling to go about 20 meters unassisted and not die. That was a real (sad) achievement for me, and every person was an amazingly good sport about the whole thing, offering encouragement, advice, and even some hands when I pretty much lost all sense of what I was doing.
I’ve been told by various people my whole life that they will teach me to ride a bike, that they will be the one to do it. I’ve come to just laugh and brush it off; it was just something people said to me, as natural as “good morning.” But here, they meant it. Actually meant it, and did it. I know it’s probably sort of silly, but the whole thing is kind of crazy to me: people following through and genuinely interested in helping out someone they barely know.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m living here in a rose-colored bubble. There are still some pretty shitty people out there, crime, selfishness, and other basic tenets that go hand in hand with being a human living on Earth. What I am saying is that I can see how Denmark gets the global reputation for being one of the happiest places on earth. It’s infectious, it’s in the people, the weird television commercials, the Carlsberg ads.
It’s a nice place to call “home” for a while.