Connected by Øresundsbron, ‘The Bridge’ (you may know it from the Scandinavian crime drama), Copenhagen and Lund are less than an hour apart. In fact, the Swedish coastline is visible from Denmark, and vice versa. Consequently, we have been lucky enough to cross the bridge multiple times and compare our Swedish and Danish exchange experiences.
Lund is a small city in Scania, the southernmost province of Sweden. With a population of around 80,000, and students accounting for approximately half of this number, it is well and truly a student city. As a result, on arrival in Lund you quickly became fully immersed into Swedish university life, particularly the social side! Unique to Lund, and only one other University, are the student nations. The 13 nations take their names from the Swedish provinces and are the centre of student social life offering cheap meals and drinks, hosting sports competitions, club and pub nights, and organising traditional festivities and formal events. The nations are run solely by students, and each has a nation house, where some of the members live. Everyone is encouraged to join in and volunteer, and over 90% of students are part of a nation, making it a great way to make Swedish friends.
Lund University Library
Historical traditions are notably important in Lund, with one example being the ‘academic quarter’. This custom stems back to when the church bell ringing on the hour was the main method of time-keeping and signalled to students that they had 15 minutes to get to class. As a result, all lectures start 15 minutes after they are scheduled on the timetable. Great when you are running late!
Another tradition embraced throughout Sweden is ‘fika’. This is basically a word for having a coffee, often accompanied by a cake or snack. Between classes there are scheduled fika breaks, you go for fika with friends, or you may even be asked out on a fika date. You won’t find a Starbucks in Lund, but you will find independent coffee shops on every street. Swedes like to drink proper coffee, strong and black, and fika is an obligatory part of everyday life. It is also a great excuse to sample some of the delicious cakes and pastries Sweden has to offer, in particular, kannelbullar and kladdkaka!
Something that both Scandinavian countries share is the noticeable efficiency of everything from recycling (you get money for recycling beer cans!), to the queueing systems, to transportation. The streets are clean, and there are far more bikes than cars.
The abundance of bikes is something that is distinctly obvious 60 kilometres over the water in Copenhagen. For the Danes cycling isn’t a sport, but rather a means of getting wherever you want to be. Be that work, university, supermarket or a club. Dedicated bike lanes, flat terrain and relatively small size for a capital are just a few reasons why every day 1.2 million km are cycled in Copenhagen. The facts speak for themselves. Almost as many people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen, as do those who cycle to work in the entire USA.
Not only does all this pedal power save the environment, (Copenhagen has been voted Europe’s Green Capital for 2014) it keeps the population healthy and in shape. A common stereotype is that all Danes are slim, tall and blonde and this isn’t far from the truth. The people are beautiful and they know how to dress. If you are a fan of black, beanies and WWII moustaches; you will love Copenhagen.
Cycling everywhere also saves money. This is particularly great for an exchange student living in one of the world’s most expensive countries. There is no getting away from it. Copenhagen isn’t cheap. However, you quickly get to know how to save your kroner. One way is to continuously drink beer. Unlike our Scandinavian neighbours who are so uptight when it comes to drinking (sorry Maeve), Denmark openly encourages it. Drinking beer whilst cycling is a personal favourite. Copenhagen alone produces both Tuborg and Carlsberg and you normally buy a case of 24 bottles in the supermarket for £9. Not bad in a city where you won’t find a decent coffee for under £3.
Beer can play a part in what is known as ‘hygge’ (hooga). Hygge is a cosy atmosphere created by getting together with friends and family and sharing food or drink. Candles score top hygge points in the long winter, as does picnics or street festivals like Distortion during the summer. Hygge goes a long way in explaining why the Danes are voted the happiest people in the world.
The clever Danes have also built buildings and planned neighbourhoods in accordance with the concept of hygge. Where I currently live, Tietgenkollegiet, is one such example. Its continuous circle shape means you can simply walk around the whole residence and never hit a dead end! This definitely encourages a community spirit. As a flat we have a food club (you only have to cook once every 2 weeks) and a beer fridge for which you get a monthly bill. There are cinemas and a gym, and lots of communal space for throwing infamous parties. It is a world away from Pollock Halls.
Be it enjoying ‘fika’ in Sweden, or getting ‘hygge’ with it in Denmark, we have both fully been caught up in Scandimania.