The Copenhagen airport welcomes international travelers with the requisite well-stocked duty free shop and scores of recognizable stores. Legos originated in Denmark and the flagship airport represents the brand well. Adjacent to the Legos store was Lingerie, a juxtaposition that delighted my children. "Legos and lingerie, Mom! Do we have any extra kronors?"
The title and visual stuck in my head, but what the stores embodied was the evolution of a Europe I saw as extremely different from the United States back in my first trip (1992) to one that maintains many striking similarities with this country in 2023. While the native citizens of the countries we traveled to could usually peg us as Americans within 5 seconds of our opening our mouths, we occasionally were greeted in Swedish or Danish by someone who couldn't tell we were tourists (yay! victory).
In Stockholm, an ironworker artist spoke to me in Swedish for several minutes while I smiled and nodded away. My daughter finally intervened and told him we only spoke English (well, Spanish too, but that was irrelevant); she asked me later why I didn't say anything and I explained that I was so delighted to be perceived as a native that I hadn't the heart to stop him. (In Iceland, they knew immediately who we were and never expected to communicate in Icelandic).
When I went around Europe as a college junior, our teeth and tennis shoes gave us away. Now everyone wears New Balance, Brooks, Nike, or Hoka, and good teeth flashed from smiles everywhere. For the true world traveler, Europe was never so different from the United States and it's quite possible that 30 years of experience has just given me new eyes to see and appreciate this, but I also believe the global community has grown more similar - whether due to capitalism and big brands, converging national interests or pressing global problems I couldn't say, exactly.
What I do know: traveling with our children tells them that the world is big and beautiful and that people have much in common wherever we go. They now know that they can move through most areas of the world with some degree of familiarity and are not afraid of embracing bigger and better travel adventures.
Personally, viewing the gorgeous coastline of Norway for the first time - with its fjords and inland mountains - made the ticket from Copenhagen to Reykjavik completely worthwhile. And then while traveling from Reykjavik to Denver, viewing the stark and extremely high mountains of Greenland emerging through scattered clouds into a deep blue sky made my heart soar. Seeing completely new vistas, learning new things, recognizing profound similarities and bonds with citizens of the world, all make travel the best adventure I know.