‘And so it goes, and so it goes….’ wasn’t there a song with those lyrics a hundred years ago? I don’t remember the tune or artist, only that little bit. Describes my current life, I guess. Today was my last day at our old Danish language school, in the comfortable, roomy building with lots of windows, big hallways, open ceilings on the first floor, a nice big cantina where the students gathered to eat lunch and talk (in many different languages, including a little Danish), and a seven minutes’ walk from my home each day. For the past year and a half I have gone there dutifully, three days a week, gathered with my classmates from around the globe, and enjoyed the free Danish education which the State of Denmark has given me. I must apologize to Denmark for my painfully slow progress with your, er, interesting language, which I mostly mangle and abuse each time I attempt a real conversation with an actual Dane (aka danskerne). Here I have been in school for this long, coming in at the highest level for a beginner, thanks to the fact that I already knew English, the latin alphabet, and undertook higher education back in my homeland. I have passed three Danish language tests thus far, which puts me currently at level 3.4 on the ladder to Danish language success. If and when I pass two more tests, 3.4 and 3.5, I will be considered conversant and fluent enough in Danish to no longer need to attend Danish language school. Or so they say.
Next week begins a new chapter in MIDT Sprogskole’s life, in a newly renovated building on the outskirts of town. We in-town dwellers will need to take the bus, ride a bike, or drive a car to get there from now on. My easy lifestyle of 7 minutes’ walk to and from school will be a thing of the past. Not only that, but whereas up until now we have enjoyed 18 hours per week of teaching with our own personal and sweet Danish teachers, starting next week we will have maybe 6 hours a week with those selfsame teachers, and about 8 hours of ‘self-study center’ time, meaning we are on our own, baby. We are still obligated to be in the building for those hours each week, but now it is up to us to learn what we need to know by ourselves, ‘learning from one another,’ as our teachers cheerfully tried to convince us when they explained how the new school will work. ‘Learning from one another’ in reality means, us foreigners with bad accents and about the same level of understanding of this complicated, full-of-colloquialisms language, will attempt to help correct each other’s mistakes, figure out what on earth that newspaper article is really talking about, and try to have cohesive conversations with each other in Danish. I nod my head, as the teacher explains all of this. I think, ‘Are you out of your friggin’ mind? I cannot even understand what that Polish person over there is trying to say, her accent is so thick I can hardly understand her English, let alone Danish!’ Sure thing, no problem. Of course, we all know that we only have two choices: accept their new system, swallow our frustrations and keep showing up, or else give it up and find something else to do with our foreigner selves. Easier said than done.
Last year, many of our lunchtime and even in-class discussions revolved around the subject of Work. Work seems to really be a 4 letter word for foreigners in Denmark. They all want it, and nearly none can get it, at least not legitimate, good work at the things they went to university for back in their homelands and are good at. In our class we had three accountants, an engineer, a real estate assistant, a secretary or two, a retail sales buyer, a cake decorator, a couple of administrative assistants, a computer geek, and me, a former graphic designer and art teacher. But in Denmark the best that most anyone can do, at least the first few years, seems to be housecleaning or some other kind of cleaners. The Danish like to use us ‘udlændinger,’ for the jobs they are wont to do, like any other perfectly respectable white, first-world countries do. In the USA, a country made up of immigrants, it is pretty common to have a job where you may work alongside people of different ethnic backgrounds; White European, Black African, Central or South American Hispanic, Pacific Rim Asian, the list goes on and on. Not so in little Denmark. Walking down the street around here, you learn very quickly to spot the non-Danes in the crowd. It’s easy to do, anyone without light skin, blue eyes and fair hair, yup, chances are 10 to one they are not Danish by blood. And believe me, as open-minded and fair as the Danish like to think they are, the reality is that it matters. It really matters, as far as obtaining gainful employment goes.
There are few Americans hanging around here in Silkeborg, me being one of them. Most of the others I have met came here long ago, in the early 70’s when Denmark was a very cool destination, especially for free-thinking, artistic hippie types. But in the modern state there are some rather rotten things going on, and the undercurrent of prejudice and discrimination against those who are not of Danish-Nordic heritage is a main example. In their defense, the teachers at my language school are all basically wonderful, giving, loving human beings, who are in their own ways fighting their own society’s ingrained prejudices. They are shining examples of those fighting the good fight for equality and non-discrimination in their country, and I applaud them. But. They are, as far as I can tell, the small minority. There are many more who are only too glad to pay a foreigner considerably less than a real Danish salary in order to do their dirtywork for them,while thinking that they are actually doing them a favor. Well, that is one perspective, but not the highest or most noble-minded.
In the meantime, until I magically become gainfully employed or find something more exciting to do with my days, next week will find me hopping off the bus at 8 am to walk over to our new language school. As they say in Denmark, Why not?
- Still a stranger in a less strange land (clearskiesbluewater.wordpress.com)
p.s. After just reading another person’s blog about all the things wrong with Denmark, I wish to state very clearly here and now that, in my humble opinion, Denmark is a good place, a country with many good things about it, and us ‘udlændinger’ have many benefits to living here among the Danes. Don’t misunderstand me, it is neither all-good nor all-bad, but simply very different from my former life in the USA. just to set the record straight. –SB