I recently moved to Copenhagen before Christmas. My first job here was as a temporary “Christmas assistance” hostess in Magasin, the capital’s oldest department store. Day in and day out for just under two months I rotated between the different entrances, greeting guests and appeasing those irritated by alarms left on their purchases. This seemingly mundane role was punctuated by spotting the likes of Anders Fogh Rasmussen or Danish comedian Hella Joof. However, it was not the familiar faces which interested me the most.
Firstly, the old man who came through the doors practically every single day to do his grocery shopping in the (rather expensive) subterranean food court. In contrast to his obvious cash flow, there was a large rip on the back of his coat for months. Being the closest family member and most regular visitor to my own grandmother with dementia, it broke my heart to think that this man was alone with no one to tell him, or perhaps the inability to remember the rip was there. I clearly recall the first time I opened the front doors for this man. Initially he appeared to be bewildered, but eventually a smile crept from his eyes to his lips and he insisted on shaking my hand. While I considered pointing out the rip, I, in a slightly cowardly manner, settled with the reasoning that I might embarrass him. For several weeks this particular dilemma plagued me, especially as the harsh Scandinavian winter set in and the afternoons got darker. To my immense relief, the gentleman brushed past me a few days before my last shift with a haggard stitched up lap in his coat. Given the state of his arthritic fingers, I was overjoyed to conclude that someone out there cared for him and took the time to fix it for him. In today’s technological climate, the older generation are often left behind social media and online communication, and their contemporaries slowly fade away. It’s comforting to me that the store acts as a daily focal point of social, human interaction for those who can no longer seek it out in their more immediate vicinity.
Secondly, the semi-elderly man who would walk through regularly, wearing an outfit my grandmother would once have worn. He would walk past me with tan nylon tights in kitten heels, accompanied by a pleated midi skirt and a beige coat which contrasted with the black patent leather handbag he so earnestly tucked in the crook of his elbow. Each encounter was fleeting and casual, a mere smile and a nod. Having moved here from a small conservative English village, I found the normality of this routine refreshing and joyful. I was not unique in this pattern, every sales assistant he passed on his errands would receive the same warmth. When I left Magasin, I was sad that I would no longer be there to greet these people who seemed to appreciate the additional time allocated to them by my role. However, a day or two ago the very same man elegantly cycled past me in his usual outfit. Our eyes briefly met and I feel sure he didn’t recognise me, but he still gifted me with the usual friendly smile.
It dawned on me that it doesn’t matter where I stand in this city, these eclectic people are all around me in this society so much more accepting of uniqueness and diversity than any other I have experienced. The trick is to notice it and acknowledge it. There are people who would appreciate being “seen” everywhere, sometimes they don’t even know it until you show them.