Strøget is a shopping district in Copenhagen. One thing you should know about me is that I loathe shopping—all forms of shopping—with a passion. That was a silly thing to say. There is no reason that you should know this about me or that you should want to know this about me, apart from the fact that it’s relevant here. So, take the fact that I abhor shopping for what it’s worth, which is nothing.
My hate for shopping presents a problem when I return to my home country, Canada, after an out-of-country vacation. On my return, I always write zero for the value of the goods I’m bringing back into the country because, did I mention that I hate shopping? When I get to the Canada Customs person and present the form, he or she invariably says something to the effect of, “You didn’t buy anything?! You’ve been gone for a week (or whatever) and you didn’t buy any souvenirs?”
To stave off being sent for secondary inspection I explain how much I hate shopping. When the customs person sees the genuine look of disgust that washes over my face upon uttering the word “shopping” he or she waves me through.
Now that you do know that about me, you’re probably wondering what I was doing visiting a shopping district while on vacation, let alone writing about it. The truth is, I make it a rule to never go shopping while on vacation unless there is something I absolutely need while I’m there. And then I make it a quick hit. No meandering through a variety of stores. No browsing. No comparing. I just find what I need as quickly as possible, buy it, and get the hell back to a real vacation.
I went to the Strøget district because Strøget is special. It is a permanently pedestrianized zone. By that I mean it’s car-free. In Toronto, my lifelong hometown, the city sometimes shuts down a street or two for special occasions, but we don’t have any store- and restaurant-lined streets that are closed to cars all year round.
The Strøget shopping district, on the other hand, consists of one long street and another longish, but not quite as long cross-street. Because there is no cross-traffic on these streets except at two points—and even at those points the traffic is very light—the other streets that intersect the two long pedestrianized streets are also closed to traffic for one or a few blocks.
I can’t imagine what that does to the traffic that has to skirt around this district, but I haven’t seen any traffic jams so far in my visit to Copenhagen, so I guess it works.
You can walk through the Strøget district without breathing in car fumes billowing beside you and without worrying about getting run over as you saunter to the other side of the street. I love that. I’ve walked through the district two or three times already and I haven’t left Copenhagen yet.
The reason I love it is I am not a car person. I live in downtown Toronto and walk almost everywhere or take the subway to most other places back home. I own a car, but it is more like a safety blanket than a regular mode of transportation. When necessary, I can hop into my car to go to the few places I can’t get to by walking or subway or when I have to cart home something heavy or bulky. It’s not a great safety blanket because I use it so little that I occasionally find that the battery is dead and the car won’t start. By “so little” I mean that my car is now than more than 13 years old and it has less than 32,000 kilometres on it. (For the benefit of those of you who still measure distances in miles, 32,000 kilometers is 19,883 miles.)
In my strolls through Strøget I haven’t entered a single store (except an ice cream store) and I doubt I will if I go back. I simply stroll along, take in the architecture and the scene, and people watch. I also paused in one of the squares to sit with a happy hour-priced beer and watch the passing streams, not to mention the lolling gatherings of people.
Not Overly Globalized
The stores in the Strøget district include a couple of high-end stores, including Louis Vuitton, but most range from solid middle class stores (the majority) to a few schlocky, touristy stores.You’ll see a few of the same stores that populate just about every shopping district and mall around the developed world. However, most of the stores carried names that I didn’t recognize. I like that.
In general, I’m in favour of globalization. It brings us a wider variety of goods, at more affordable prices than would otherwise be possible. But one of the things I dislike about globalization is that it is leading toward the homogenization of the commercial culture (if that’s the appropriate term) of the world. I can go to malls in a variety of cities and not have a sense of where I am based on the stores.
That brings to mind a digression that I’ll end with. It doesn’t really belong here because it didn’t occur in the Strøget district. However, it won’t fit in any other post I’ll write about places in Copenhagen so I’ll mention it here because my mention of the homogenization of commercial culture brought it to mind.
While I was walking through Copenhagen I spotted what looked like a large Chinese tour group pouring out of a Chinese restaurant after lunch. Why do people do that? When I go to a foreign country I don’t want to eat the cuisine from back home. I want to try local delicacies. And if I find an outlet of a restaurant chain that exists back home I make a point of avoiding it.
I won’t, for example, eat poutine outside of Canada. Then again, I don’t eat it in Canada either. I’ve never tried it, despite it being one of the very few things that can be considered a uniquely Canadian (originally from the province of Quebec) food. Poutine is french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. It may taste good, maybe even great, I don’t know, but it has the appearance of something you might vomit after the food has mixed up in your gullet, but before it’s been digested in the least. And, because of its artery-clogging ingredients, before you eat it you have to sign a waiver agreeing that it’s not the purveyor’s fault if you experience cardiac arrest.
Wow. That digression went even farther than I intended. The point is, why would anyone travel half way around the world to experience cuisine that he or she can get at home? I don’t understand.