I’m sitting in a hostel in Copenhagen after biding my three darling friends adieu. It is that time between our different flights back to our respective homes (France, Austria, England, Ireland – we are a culturally diverse bunch) and I have time to kill on my own for a few hours. Copenhagen is a small city and I feel like I’ve explored it quite well; it’s November and you name it, we’ve done it. The Christmas Markets, Tivloli Gardens (self-proclaimed ‘pleasure garden’), The Little Mermaid (anti-climatic but necessary), Christiansborg Palace, Freetown Christiania (completely free from the Copenhagen government and of taxes) and the Rundetaaren (the oldest functioning observatory in Europe – great views of the city from above). We’ve had our fill of brunches, mostly in Paludan Bogcafé which is a half library, half cafe with *hands down* the best brunch of my life (see left). This is obviously the exception of my own brunch speciality, poached eggs, which is hands down the best ever. We had beer and rye bread and Pølser (hot dogs) and Weinerbrød (funny enough, not hot dogs but pastries) and herring. All of this and more in quick four days. Now, I have 2 hours to spare before my flight so, like any good tourist, I sit in the hostel cafe/bar/restaurant with my earphones on.
I wanted to catch up on my correspondences (sounds better than ‘reply to my mates’ or ‘check my emails’) and do something I’ve decided to call The Swipe (trademarking this immediately) – instagramming and facebooking and twittering and anything you can do online with -ing. I had spent the four days relatively off the grid which meant now getting Repeatitive Strain Injury while swiping up and down on Instagram. Let me attempt to paint you a picture of what happened next, with my words.
A woman, looking in her late twenties, maybe 27/28 years old, asked if she could sit opposite me on my large, four person table. I was listening to music and engrossed with The Swipe and nodded ‘Yes’ without noticing her too much but deep down, I was happy that she asked. I always respect a person a lot more if they ask my permission to sit at the same table as me. It’s not really my permission to give but it’s always nice to be asked if I mind terribly if someone can sit beside me – perhaps it inflates my little ego for a brief second.
Some time passes, it’s hard to pin down a specific time frame as The Swipe creates a bubble in which you, the hunched over monkey human, are engrossed in other people’s lives, certainly not paying attention to the lives around you. My bubble was burst and I came back to life when this woman asked if I could look after her phone and her pint while she ordered food at the bar. ‘Yes, yes. No problem’ I said again, much like the earlier seat at my table request. I was being a pretty shit hostel guest at this point, not looking for much conversation with other solitary travellers. I thought I had my fill of conversation with the three darlings during my stay in Denmark. She comes back from the bar, her phone is untouched and her pint is untouched but losing foam by the minute. We both go about our respective businesses with a knowing nod to one another. A while later her food arrives and it’s my turn to make a request. I ask politely if she can look after my luggage while I go to the bathroom and she agrees, as I did. When I come back, I thank her. Now the universe has been realigned because we’ve both completed our duties to one another, stranger to stranger, solitary traveller to traveller. We can get on with our lives.
But… I get the feeling she would like to talk to me. You know the feeling, someone wants an outlet to unleash their thoughts, not particularly through me but anyone who will listen. I probably seemed like the best option after securing trust through the mutual minding of each other possessions. She isn’t as engrossed in her phone as I probably seem and looks around, bored, quite often. I take my earphones out, put my phone down and start up a conversation with her because I know the feeling of travelling alone and the look in her eyes which is compelling me to talk to her. I begin the conversation with the most boring conversation opener of all time: ‘How long are you staying in Copenhagen?’ Maybe its because I’m generally a nosey person but I just love to hear people’s stories: where are you from? Where are you going? Or the more left-wing questions: what is exciting you right now? What are you grateful for?
This marks the beginning of the sharing of our experiences: she just arrived in the city, travelling by herself, wanted to explore a new city, loves travelling, got cheap flights, had just visited Hong Kong a few months ago, from the north of England, did a French and Spanish degree (weird #1 – I also did French in uni), doing a seemingly boring office admin job (weird #2 – I also worked as an office manager but my job was much less boring in Camp Winaukee), the usual 9-5 with 20-25 days holidays (#3 – I worked this life recently, until I quit 3 weeks ago. Maybe it doesn’t count as this is hindsight?), using up her free time and weekends wisely by travelling (#4 but not really that weird, most people like to do this, right?) We talked about how she chose to do Erasmus on her year abroad in France (#5) while I chose to be a teacher (not in title of ‘English Language Assistant’ but in job duties – actually teaching a class of 20 French kids about English verbs and the likes). The conversation flowed easily, it was as if we were childhood friends catching up.
I marvelled at the amount of travelling she’d be able to do despite having a big boy job. She was not restricted by having no one to travel with or having a job which made her life pretty rigid with her time (travelling at the weekends/bank holidays is wildly more expensive than a mid-week break) and this was the thing that resonated with me: you can work a boring job but live a completely separate and fulfilling life at the weekends and during your 25 days of annual leave. She wasn’t particularly passionate about her job as she was when speaking about her extra-curricular work. As difficult as that is to write, this is true of a lot of people I know. They (me included) don’t have a predefined path to follow, they don’t have a career yet, they are doing boring or temp jobs, they are making money to maintain their lifestyles outside of work. They constantly have the Munday feeling but it’s OK for now as it allows them to travel vastly or eat interestingly or drink endlessly or socialise excessively. For me, a booooring job allowed me to follow my creative path (writing) without putting pressure on it, it doesn’t need to fund my lifestyle. Writing isn’t a source of income for me… yet. (Sponsors welcome… visualise smirky wink face emoji here).
Some time passes again and it’s hard to pin down a specific time frame for this period again. This time, I was in a bubble of real time conversation with the living human being opposite me. I was learning new things and giving away little snippets of my story. Much to my surprise, this bubble is much more rewarding than The Swipe bubble; I think it’s been called human interaction by scientists. It finally comes to the time when I had to bid my new acquaintance adieu. Gathering up my bags, I said I had to catch my flight and that it was nice to meet her and lovely to chat and I hope that she has a great time in Copenhagen.
I asked my final question as I got up: ‘What’s your name?’
“Siobhan”, she responded. (#6)