It is a cold Saturday in Silkeborg, Denmark, cold enough that it snowed for about 2 hours, big, wet flakes which melted upon hitting the ground. It is often rainy and grey here in wintertime, so the Danes become excited when it turns to snow. Snow, Danes, winter and me. Who am I, you may be starting to wonder by now, if you have been following my blog. Today I will tell you a little more.
I am an American woman living in Denmark. Not because of a fabulous job or something along those lines, but, as you might have guessed, because of a man. A combination of fate, karma, and an irresistibly fascinating man brought me here the first time in the summer of 2009. Nothing in my life has been the same since. Oh, but it is a long and complicated story, so I will give you the concise version today. First we met online, through some sort of complex maneuverings by those in the spiritual world. Then we met in person at Kastrup Lufthavn (otherwise known as Copenhagen’s airport). In Copenhagen we joined bodies, hearts and souls in a beautiful dance for two lovely and strange weeks, after which he and his child flew home to Wisconsin with me. They stayed for three months, until their visitor visa was up, and then returned to Denmark. It was a hard parting, and I had no idea if we would ever meet again. And yet. Neither of us were willing to let it go, the magnetic pull was too strong. Four months and uncountable emails later, I flew back to Denmark and we married in a simple civil ceremony. Two lovely weeks of being completely and joyously in love, and again I was back home in Wisconsin, with my own three daughters and a mess of explaining to do. Well, by now you get the picture.
Life can be by turns wonderful, simple and ordinary, and then messy and overwhelmingly complicated. At the end of June, 2010, I moved to Silkeborg, Denmark to begin married life with my new Danish husband. My daughters remained in Wisconsin, now to live with their father who had just moved a thousand miles from Colorado so that he could assume parental responsibilities. (None of them were interested in moving to Denmark with their mother.) Living outside of the USA for the first time in my life, in a small Scandinavian country at the top of Europe, where people speak a language as difficult and foreign to my American ears as any I have ever heard, was the shock of a lifetime. I must have walked around this city in a shocked daze for that whole first summer, only occasionally able to relax enough to try to simply enjoy it. Of course everybody has heard the term ‘cultureshock,’ but until one has actually taken themselves out of their own, familiar surroundings and landed in a foreign country, one cannot possibly understand the implications of that term. And for those of you who have had this experience, you know exactly what I am writing about.
Denmark. When I first began writing with my now husband, I wasn’t even exactly sure where it was, though I remembered from high school geography class that it was somewhere around Germany and the Netherlands. Sure enough, when I checked the map, there it was, a small peninsula of land at the top of Germany, not far from The Netherlands. Good memory, I thought. Then I began to do a bit of research. I found out that Denmark has the oldest monarchy in Europe, round about a thousand years ago the first king appeared, probably out of the Vikings’ grudging evolution towards Christianity. People have lived on this piece of land for thousands of years, and it has been worked and made tame long, long ago. Coming from a country which is not much over 200 years old, and living most of my adult life in western states where there is still plenty of untamed wilderness, this was quite a concept to try to take in. ‘One could never really get lost in Denmark,‘ he had once written to me. Now that I was living here, exploring the various walking and bike paths through the forests all around the town, I was beginning to see what he meant.
When August arrived, I enrolled in and began to learn Danish in the language school. The first few months were incredibly demanding. Here I was, 48 years old, trying to learn Danish. Danish has been compared with the most difficult languages in the world to learn. And there I was, among mostly young adults from all around the world, sitting together in a small classroom with an exceedingly patient and kind Danish teacher, to try to figure out what on earth they were saying to each other. My class was a kind of mini-United Nations gathering. That first year we had students from Thailand, Peru, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Bhutan, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, The Philipines, France, Romania, Lithuania, and England. And me. Students would come and go, but our core group stayed pretty consistent throughout the year. I learned a lot about world geography and about my fellow students’ homelands. I learned a lot about Denmark, its culture, political system, and about the Danes themselves. Slowly and painfully, my Danish began to take root and I started to learn how to speak and read Danish, little by little. It is a paradoxical language because of its similarity to, and differences from, English. I learned that many Danish words are the same as English words, probably from way back during the Viking days when they conquered England and lived among them for a while, mingling languages and cultures. From this, one may be tempted to think that it would not be so difficult to understand Danish. And yet. From my perspective, the really difficult thing about Danish is the way it is pronounced. Yeah, the word may look like an English word, but it definitely does not sound like one. Anyone who knows English and Danish will testify to this fact. That, combined with the Dane’s penchant for shortening certain words, so that they speak in a peculiar kind of spoken shorthand language, makes for a whole lot of frustration and incomprehensibility when listening to any typical Danish conversation. Maddening.
Fast forward to January, 2012. It has been over a year and a half since I have lived here among the Danes. I can speak and understand some Danish now, and when I am out among them, (for example in the city center along the walking streets) I can understand snippets of their conversations. When I look at a Danish newspaper now, I can read usually half, and sometimes more, of an article. I can go to language school now without utter dread of losing my Danish-English dictionary. But I would be hard-pressed to acknowledge that I can, in fact, really speak Danish. Coming to Denmark and attempting to live among the Danish has been the greatest challenge of my life thus far. But that is enough of the story for one blog……