Copenhagen - Before heading to Denmark, I discovered a program on the Web called Dine With The Danes, a service that helps visitors meet and eat with Danish families.
Dine With The Danes matches us with the Rouws, a couple in their mid-30s who live in downtown Copenhagen with their three daughters. Iben, the wife, works as a magazine editor, and Ton, the husband, with a parents' organization. I imagined them to be blond, healthy and living in a wonderland of Ikea chairs, tables and couches.
When the appointed night comes, we buzz their apartment in a three-storey brick building. Iben greets us.
Their digs do look like an Ikea catalogue spread: light wood, tidy and modern. The building has a large inner courtyard with a playground and communal barbecue pit.
Moments later, Ton shows up with baby in tow, and the Rouws' other daughters come out of their rooms. Iben motions for us to sit down in their sun-filled kitchen.
Dinner begins with an appetizer of prawns in a cucumber dill sauce served in martini glasses.
They ask us about our impressions of the city. We say we've noticed children everywhere.
"That's the way it is here, but it seems different in North America," says Ton. The Rouws vacationed in the U.S. the year before, and their flight landed in New York.
"We were a little afraid," Iben says. "Many years back, a Danish woman was detained there because she left her baby in the carriage outside a store. Social services said she was an unfit mother. In Denmark, it's not unusual to leave your baby outside while you go into a store."
Iben's on a year's maternity leave, and Ton has nearly two months of holidays every year, with an extra two days a year for each child under seven. Unbelievable.
"Yes, it's great, but things are changing here," says Iben.
By this time, she's served us two pork tenderloin dishes: a simple roast and one stuffed with prunes. We also have oven-fried potatoes, celery root and beets, and a green salad.
Iben and Ton describe the 2001 election and the current right-wing trend. A conservative party captured a majority of votes, and on top of that, 11 per cent of voters chose the extreme right-wing DF, the Danish People's party.
Since 2001, residency restrictions have been imposed on immigrants.
"Those politicians say we are not a multicultural country, but we are," says Ton, shaking his head. He tells us later that immigrants account for 5 per cent of the 5.4 million population - a far cry from Canada's 19 per cent.
After digging into a delicious ice-cream cake with a walnut base, we try out some phrases from our guidebook, which has a tongue-in-cheek section called How To Annoy Or Charm A Dane.
"Doesn't your queen have a dentist?"
Big laugh. They admit Queen Margrethe has yellowed teeth because she smokes like a steamroller, endearing her to the population. Iben says smoking is regarded as an inalienable right - 34 per cent of adult Danes are smokers.
I try one of the charming phrases: "Don't you think candles make a place cozier?" I ask.
Another winner. "We love candles," says Iben. "It's part of our way of life. We have a concept of 'hygge' (HOO-gah), which translates as 'cozy.' It's the ultimate compliment."
It's getting late, and we've been in their living room for a couple of hours. Coffee, cookies and a fuel-laced cold liqueur called acquavit have been dispensed. The girls and the baby are asleep.
"You know, you're the first Canadians we've befriended," remarks Ton, prompting us to ask what they think of us. They exchange a secret smile.
"We discussed what you might be like," says Iben. "We thought perhaps you might be thinner, more intelligent and more polite than Americans."
"Did we measure up?" I venture.
"Oh yes, definitely," they chime.