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DANISH (ISH)

“WHAT IS A GOOD KISS?”

Chef Bo Bech and I are sitting on the canal-side patio of his restaurant Geist talking about what makes a Dane a Dane. He’s greeted me with a steady gaze that makes me feel, too much so, seen. I’ve met him for drinks (lemon-thyme cocktails— he’s decided for us both) so he can help me understand what it is that makes his fellow countrypeople tick.

I travel a lot, but I keep coming back to Denmark. On each trip I’ve noted and envied the invincibly chill vibes of this fine city, and each time I’ve returned home with arms full of asymmetric T-shirts and cleanlined ceramics hoping to infuse my New York life with some semblance of Nordic order and ease.

This time, I explain to Bo, I want more. I’m back in town with the earnest, specific (and probably impossible) goal of going native, of turning myself into a Dane.

What this has to do with kissing I don’t know—but Bo is studying my face, waiting for a reply.

No teeth? Good breath?

“What is a good kiss?” Bo asks again, resolutely unmoved by my attempts to solve his riddle.

When you just know?

Bo nods. It’s thoughtless, organic. Natural. It’s his way of explaining the state of being Danish.

“To be Danish,” Bo says, “is to be present. To go with the flow. Go explore! When I go somewhere, I want an authentic, emotional, punishing experience. I want a fist in the face.”

I do not want a fist in my face, but I see his point. Lesson one: Have a wide open mind.

It’s worth noting that Bo is not a typical Dane (or human for that matter). People here are, stereotypically, humble to a fault. Bo starred in a reality cooking show that loosely translates as “Knife to the Throat.” He’s been called a Danish Gordon Ramsay. I’d liken him more to Oprah if Oprah were a fierce advocate for self-actualization and public urination. But he embodies the Scandinavian ethos of absolute candor—zero patience for idle chatter. He cuts to the chase with a directness that borders on violence.

“So, what have you planned to do this week?” Bo asks, stroking his beard, turning his attention to my concrete efforts.

“Well, to be honest—”

“No!” Bo was not Danish. We do not say ‘To be honest’ in Denmark! What you just told me is ‘Oh, now I will begin being honest.’ To be Danish is to not be afraid of saying exactly what is happening at any moment, with elegance and wit.”

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