Image by Angélique Sanossian
On 10th June 2017, I took part in an event hosted by Urban Explorer Copenhagen and Copenhagen Photo Festival
The advert for it had a brief description:
Would you like to discover the most photogenic spots of Copenhagen with an urban planner? Urban Explorer will take you to some hidden parts of Refshaleøen. This 2 hours walk will make you feel the essence of another Copenhagen.
It grabbed my attention and, funnily enough, I had recently been in the area for an event with work but didn’t actually get a chance to explore it on foot.
I registered without having any expectation … the only worry I had on the back of my head was, “what if the guide will speak in Danish and he will have to switch just for one participant” as my Danish is not perfect …
I went anyhow and to my surprise the guide was a French gentlemen. He waited to gather the 20 participants for the event that was SOLD OUT, and on the walk he gave us a detailed explanation about the rustic area, REFSHALEØEN. In a sense, when you listen to him you would think he has been living in this city for the last 10 years … all the information came straight from the heart. He managed to sell the area sooo well … his love and passion were admirable.
I had to ask for an interview with the man who followed his passion and started his company in Copenhagen.
You can read the interview below …
Image by Angélique Sanossian
Can you me tell about yourself in few words? What’s your passion in life, or in different words, what’s your story?
My name is Francois Debains, I am 32 and I come from the South of France.
I am a mix of an urban planner, a construction manager, an explorer, a guide and a photographer. And that’s pretty much all my passions (with concerts and sports when I can find the time) and I am currently trying to make them my profession.
How many years you have been in Denmark, and what inspires you in the Danish culture?
I have been in Copenhagen for four years now. My first year was spent between here and abroad because of some personal problems and difficulties in creating a new life in Denmark. I was not really sure whether or not to stay in my new country during this period.
But after a while, I learnt about the Danish way of life and about the amazing city of Copenhagen. I have simply started to learn the language and to explore the city by myself in order to understand this new culture, and this is how I became convinced about staying here for a couple of months.
Step by step, I discovered my building, then my street, my district and the whole city, and I met really interesting people. I felt an amazing potential and that was exactly what I needed in my life, another page with new living conditions. The Danes have helped me to see the positive in my everyday life, to be conscious of what we have and to simply enjoy it, such as a sunny day or a cold beer. The Danish culture made me complain much less, and I have to admit it was not that difficult!
How long it did it take you to feel integrated in the Danish culture? Do you speak the language well enough and do you believe that being able to speak fluent Danish is the key to integrating into Danish society? Or do you think that being an active citizen has nothing to do with the language and Copenhagen is more like a cosmopolitan city?
I am not proud of it, but my level in Danish is really low. I can manage to read and to write but don’t ask me to speak! It was difficult to find the motivation when I arrived because I was focused on improving my English skills and I was not sure about staying. But, I learned Danish until the moment that I was not able to manage all my activities. My goal is to free up some time this winter in order to finish my course and to practice it everyday.
As a Frenchman, I honestly think that it is not a problem to be integrated quickly within the Danish society even without a good knowledge of Danish. If you show your interest and your curiosity about their country, the Danes become really open and they kindly accept speaking in English. But you must show your respect for their culture.
However I can’t personally imagine staying more than five years in a country and not having the capacity to speak the local language.
Can you tell me more about your company urban explorer? How did it start? Why did you feel there was a need for such an initiative in the city of Copenhagen?
I was never really satisfied with my professional life so I had wanted to create my own concept for some time. I saw the potential to start something that could be a blend of the things I really like to do. Some friends opened my eyes to this opportunity and why not? I started officially URBAN EXPLORER COPENHAGEN on 29th March 2016, on my father’s birthday. The first tours were innovative in Copenhagen, but I must admit I didn’t feel that I was a very good alternative guide. Nevertheless I received positive feedback and the support of Politikken, Kulturhavn, bloggers, and photographers
The buzz and the positive word-of-mouth felt quite promising for the first few months. Convinced of this potential, I have continued to find new spots and to improve my tours during the winter months. And most of all I have become more confident. The trust of many institutions and associations at the beginning of 2017 and a photo exhibition in Nørrebro gave me more strength. And here am I today!
Image sourced from www.urbexplorer.dk
Can you say that Copenhagen is your home, or would you like to move back to Frnace, or explore new countries?
Yes I feel at home here and that’s why I do not feel the need to go back to France very often. My new life is in Copenhagen and I simply love it!
I stopped forecasting far ahead a couple of years ago – I learnt that it is a waste of time. So many things are so unpredictable. I have some ambitions for my life and Copenhagen is currently one of them. I have just started this Urban Explorer Copenhagen project and I have bought my apartment, so yes I will not leave tomorrow … but who knows where I will be next year.
However I am quite sure that I won’t move back to France. I see the expatriation as a permanent trip and I really love this adrenaline and this instability. I am definitely not looking for a comfortable, calm and relaxed life … that was actually one reason for my departure.
Do you think you know the culture well enough to be able to sell it the way you did during the tour?
I am still learning! But yes I really think I do when I see the reactions during the tours. And the feedback. The people, even the Danes, are always surprised to discover new parts of their city and to learn some interesting stories about its development! This is something I really like during (and after) the tours. When we talk all together about Copenhagen, it is a real dialogue where everyone is learning thanks to the others. It makes us culturally richer, and I guess this is what the people are expecting.
Unlike many of the people who take the tours, I manage to find the time to explore, to read, to meet many actors in the cultural and artistic life of Copenhagen. As an expat, I am probably more curious than a “normal” Dane and that’s fully understandable – I see it as a part of my integration. To sum up, I just try to be a communication gateway and to share what I am learning in my daily life. Without any pretention.
I refuse to publish any pictures of my face, not only because of the illegality of some of my photos, but simply because it is not essential. The city and our surroundings deserve more attention than we do. I think we are too focused on the people, but Copenhagen is much more important … Even in a photo!
Give me one last sentence about what the experience of living Danishly taught you.
My biggest “Danish” revelation is that I like biking everyday, it has changed my way of life positively, and makes me feel so stupid for having driven my car everyday for more than 12 years … and of course, you can’t imagine a better way to explore!
I leave you to enjoy some of my shots taken during the two hour walk …