Do ‘it’ for Denmark

Kan sex redde Danmarks fremtid? That is, can sex save Denmark’s future?

According to government statistics, Denmark posted a birth rate of 10 per 1,000 residents in 2013 — its lowest in decades. The nation’s birthrate was  9.9 in 1983.

Denmark’s perennially low birth rate places it with Germany (8.33), Japan (8.39) and Singapore (7.72). And the downward trend has left people worried in Denmark. Most couples say they want two or three kids, according to the Copenhagen Post, but one in five couples wind up childless.

To counter this trend, a bold and hilarious campaign has emerged. For the salvation of the country, a Danish travel company called Spies has organized the movement Do it for Denmark!; it wants Danes to act and act now — without precautions.

“This is Denmark. We are Danes. We keep our distance. We do not pick a seat close to strangers if other seats are available. We do not talk to strangers in the trains.”
― Steen Langstrup, Metro

Studies show that Danes have 46 percent more sex on holiday, and because more sex increases the chances for more children, the travel company Spies has called for a romantic break to save the future of Denmark.

To get the campaign of the ground, Spies will give prizes to couples who get pregnant while on vacations purchased through them.

Afterwards, upon successful sex, the couple is to shoot off a positive pregnancy test and medical records to the company. Then they may win three years worth of free diapers.

Börn er vis sorg, men uvis gläede.
― Children are definitive sorrow, but undefinitive joy.

And just in case Danes are confused by this whole pregnancy thing, the company has offered a helpful how-to on its website:

  • Men, avoid tight pants. Even if you think they look good on you.
  • Remember to exercise and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Avoid stress. Take a massage or try some yoga.
  • Use Gravity. Lay down after sex for at least 15 minutes.
  • Don’t forget to have sex – without using protection.

On the Old Year

“As the old year draws to a close, one can’t help but reflect on what hasn’t been done and what can never be reclaimed. Say what you will about this year, it is lost, it is gone. And as I look around me, I can honestly say there is no group that I would rather be with, to face the grim spectre of death, racing with blinding speed, so inexorably towards us.”

– Richard Solomon

Second Language Acquisition

‘”Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One too may eat of the chocolate.”

“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.

I knew the word, so I raised my hand saying, “The rabbit of Easter. He brings the chocolate.”

“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wriggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have a basket and foods.”

The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned I had just explained everything that was wrong with my country. “No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome.”

I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”

“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”

Sedaris (2000)’

– Yule, G. 1985. The Study of Language Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press (2010) p. 186

Innocent Gestures

Different cultures can be tricky to handle. Sometimes, westerners can seem so ignorant, set in their ways, or even plain rude. Here is a short-list of things never to do, say or gesture whilst travelling abroad:

Extend your hand, palm outward in Greece

– What you think you are saying:
“That food was excellent.”

– What you are actually saying:
“That food was excellent. Now I’m pretending to rub excrement on you.”

– How come?
In Greece, the hand out gesture is known as the moutza. It dates back to the time of the Byzantine Empire, when criminals would be paraded through the streets on horseback, their faces blackened to indicate their shame. If they were lucky, the blackening agent would merely be charcoal. If they were unlucky, it would be a substance much, worse.

Give the thumbs-up in the Middle East

1753 Vaugondy Map of Persia, Arabia and Turkey...

1753 Vaugondy map of Persia, Turkey and Arabia

What you think you are saying:
“Hello, nice to meet you, we’re just passing – isn’t this a nice day.”

What you are actually saying:
“Hello, nice to meet you. I am going to have you killed.”

How come?
It’s not just in the Middle East. This seemingly universal gesture is also hideously offensive in West Africa and South America. The thumbs-up sign has been confusing people for thousands of years. Contrary to the Hollywood legend, Roman gladiators were not spared by a thumbs-up, but by a thumbs-down. A thumbs-up is still linked to the order of killing someone.

Say “Hi” to a member of the opposite sex in Saudi Arabia

What you think you are saying:
“Hi […]. How are you? Fancy getting a soft drink?”

What you are actually saying:
“Hi, […]. How are you? Fancy booking a hotel room so that I can do immoral sex acts on you?”

How come?
According to sharia religious laws, it is deeply immoral for a woman to greet a man in public, or associate with any man other than her husband without an escort.

Though, perhaps this is nitpicking considering women are not allowed to drive, vote, own shops, testify in court or ride bicycles in Saudi Arabia. Bizarrely, it’s perfectly fine for women to fly high-powered jet planes.

Give an even number of flowers in Russia

Flowers 1

A field of flowers

What you think you are saying:
“Darling, you have been so wonderful this week. These are for you.”

What you are actually saying:
“Darling, my condolences.”

How Come?
In Russia, even numbers of flowers are only ever given at funerals, and such a gift is seen as inviting death.

Choosing the right gift seems to be a minefield of morbidity everywhere you go. For instance, never give a clock to a Chinese person, as the word “clock” is almost identical to a Chinese word for “death”. Don’t wrap your present in white paper there either, as this suggests funerals. Don’t give white flowers to anyone in Bangladesh for the same reason.

Give a gift with your left hand in China

What you think you are saying:
“Please accept this gift.”

What you are actually saying:
“Please accept this rubbish. You are not worth anything more.”

How come?
Toilet paper may have been around in China since 589 AD, but for much of the world, it remains a prohibitively expensive luxury. In places such as India, Sri Lanka, Africa and the whole of the Middle East, doing anything with your left hand is seen as unclean, as it is – as least symbolically – the hand which is used for wiping. Do not even use your left hand for eating, this is considered vile as well and is awfully bad form.

Of course, this is not the only reason left-handedness is bad. According to the Qur’an, Satan himself was left-handed.

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St Valentine’s Day

Like many saints, actual details about Valentine’s life are hard to come by. There are at least three saints with that name, but the famous one was a Christian priest (or possibly a bishop) who lived in Rome in the third century. He appears to have been imprisoned, beaten with clubs and eventually beheaded on the orders of the Emperor Claudius II, all for being a Christian: not a terribly promising start for the saint of love.

Esther Howland Valentine's Card (circa 1850)

Luckily, his execution coincided with the pagan festival of Lupercalia, dedicated to Juno, the goddess of women and fertility, when boys were encouraged to draw from a jar the names of girls written on slips of paper.

After Pope Gelasius set aside the day to honour St Valentine in 496, the saint gradually became adopted as the patron saint of lovers.

Later his canonical responsibilities were extended to include epilepsy, fainting, greetings card manufacturers and plague. The casket containing the “remains” of St Valentine was lost in the cupboard of a Dublin church until its rediscovery in the Fifties.

The idea that Valentine’s Day is the date birds start to mate dates from the 14th century, and bird superstitions are common.

In Cornwall, young men would launch an early morning hunt with a net for an owl and two sparrows. If they could capture the birds without injury and get to the inn before the females of the house had risen, they were rewarded with three pots of ale laced with a shot of wormwood. No records are kept of what happened to the birds.

The first man to send a Valentine note was a Frenchman. Charles, Duke of Orleans, was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He remained there for 25 years and wrote 60 love poems addressed to his wife, which are claimed as the first formal “valentines”. One even refers to her as “Ma tres doulce Valentinée“.

Later, books of sentimental poems were published to help lovers express their feelings. Often these were practical how-to books: one published in 1797 was called The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. From this it was a short step to ready-printed cards with verses and sketches known as “mechanical verses”, often sent anonymously.

In the 1840s, a young American woman, Esther Howland (1828-1904), received an English Valentine and decided to introduce the tradition to the United States. She produced cards carrying messages like “Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no”. The cards fell out of fashion in Britain by the 1890s but more than a century later a billion cards are sent each year worldwide, with 85 per cent purchased by women.

The traditional Valentine’s heart shape might derive from the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as a herbal contraceptive. Early visual representations in religious art made the heart look more like a pine cone.

The characteristic indentation in the top first appeared in a book called Documenti d’Amore by the artist Francesco da Barbarino in 1347. Barbarino worked in Bologna, where human anatomy was all the rage, so it is likely he had seen human hearts at first hand. The idea of the heart having two sides echoed the biblical image of the two tablets of the law, written in the heart. The island of Galesnjak in Croatia (pictured, left) is a naturally formed heart shape.

The iconic hippy LOVE image (with the LO above the VE) was created by Robert Indiana, a leader of the New York pop art movement. Indiana claimed that his inspiration came from the inscription on the wall of a Christian Scientist church, which he had attended as a child.

In 1973, the US Post Office reproduced it on a Valentine’s Day stamp which sold more than 300 million units and made $25 million for the Post Office. Indiana had never copyrighted the design and so earned nothing. He recently emerged from his island retreat to create a matching red, white and blue sculpture of HOPE for the Obama campaign.

On A Caravan Camping Site

“You aren’t allowed to have a fire, you aren’t allowed to play ballgames, you aren’t allowed to play music, you have to be in bed by eleven, you have to park within two feet of a post, you have to keep quiet, you can’t have anything, this is not a holiday – this is a concentration camp.”

– Jeremy Clarkson