At a recent training seminar, we had to play a stupid game which involved trying to work out which country the other teams represented from a shortlist of about half a dozen possibilities. We asked one team which food items their country was famous for, and they replied “cheese”. Since, via a process of elimination, we had only Cyprus and Denmark left as possibilities, we opted for Cyprus, assuming that they produced a version of feta and maybe some other goats cheese.
But no, they were Denmark, and so we lost the game. “Danish cheese!” I ejaculated. “Whoever heard of Denmark being famous for cheese?!”
The member of the team who had supplied the answer was an Egyptian lady who patiently explained that everyone in Egypt knew Denmark because of a very popular cheese they produce called “Vita” (I can find no trace of it online – did she mean Velveeta?). I’m satisfied to report that everyone else in the room looked as nonplussed as me. Then again, when I was talking to some other members of the group later and suggested that it would have made more sense to answer “bacon“, they gave me that look again and said “Really? Denmark is famous for bacon?”
So, what is Denmark famous for? Danish pastry? The only other things which spring to my mind when I think of Denmark are Hans Christian Andersen and Lars von Trier.
Then again, when I first came to Brussels, while I had many products in mind (the chocolate, the beer, the frites), and a few famous artists, I had no visual ideas about the country itself. I couldn’t picture a specific building or monument (well, maybe Mannekin Pis, but I’d only ever seen the corkscrew version) in Brussels for the life of me. This actually worked in my favour, as I’ll always remember the first time I walked onto Grand Place, with no preconceived ideas about what it was or how it would look.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to travel to a foreign country and know nothing about it – not to have a prepared lists of sights to hit which, in fact, you’ve already seen a dozen times or more in books and on TV, not to know what you might see or eat, or what the people are like. That’s the holy grail of travel for me – to be surprised, to feel foreign.