As I reach the halfway point in my program I have continued to love the city of Copenhagen. It is without a doubt a wonderful base camp from which to conduct my European adventures. With that being said, there is one cultural difference that I have not and likely will not be able to wrap my head around: You have to pay for water. I cannot complain that this is a unique issue, however, as brief research on my part has confirmed that this is commonplace across Europe.
What bothers me is this: Water is a necessity for human life, and the countries in Europe are developed enough to have it coming our of faucets for free. I understand that someone needs to fund the water system itself, but in my opinion it makes much more sense to do this through public taxation then through individual payment at restaurants. Clean water is, after all, nothing but a public works project. The end result is paying as much for a cup of water that is tapped from the sink as one would pay for a glass of soda that is produced, bottled, shipped, and unloaded. In other words, the cost structure makes no sense. At various times in my travels throughout Europe, I have decided to forgo drinking water because the minimum pitcher of water on offer adds too much to the cost of my meal.
Another issue that I haven’t been able to discard while abroad is the concept of coins being worth something. This may seems ridiculous, but in the U.S. it is debatable whether most people would stoop down to pick up a penny or a nickel. In reality, most would only pick up a dime or a quarter. In essence, half of our coins are only useful for vending machines and parking machines, and are worthless besides that. The euro, danish kroner, and other Scandinavian currencies are very different. The largest denominations of coin in these currencies have paper dollar values. For instance, the two euro coin is worth $2.10 right now. That is far from worthless. When I am traveling and sense coins in pocket, I am more careful than usual about not dropping these. They have real value, but are hard to keep track of and awkward to use whenever it gets dark out.
These are first world problems. I acknowledge that to see these problems as anything but trivial is ridiculous, especially when traveling the world and being exposed to how the rest of the world actually lives. Refugees wander Copenhagen, Berliners hop and off trains quickly with change jars so as not to get caught by police, and Czech street performers work as though there life depended on it (as it may). The cultural issues that linger with me are far from important. They are far from substantial enough to in any way limit my enjoyment of this semester. Though I must say, I do miss my change jar and bills only approach, and would love to thoughtlessly add, “no thanks, water is fine for me.”