12 EXPAT MOMENTS IN DENMARK
FOREWORD It is always interesting and inspiring to hear the stories internationals share about living in Denmark – both for us at International Community but also for other internationals, who often share the same challenges and experiences. So we decided to ask our members if they wanted to share “A Moment to Remember” in a writing contest. We expected to receive maybe 5-6 stories but ended up with 12 warm and inspiring stories about everything from language misunderstandings and helpful Danes to heartfelt hugs from an elderly bartender! Therefore, we decided that we could not just leave the stories untold. So here they are – unedited (except for a few typos) and ready to be enjoyed by everyone. Last but not least we would like to give a big thank you to everyone who shared their “moment to remember”. Your stories will without a doubt put a smile on other people’s faces. Enjoy!
Best wishes Tiny Maerschalk Head of International Community
MY RUNNING CLUB ADVENTURE I had been running for a year with this club and it seemed that my body had finally adapted to the pace and the training programme. I was able to understand the instructions: “Pas på, hold til højre, lige ud...” And I knew the Marselis forest like the back of my hand. It was one of these sunny summer days that make Aarhus feel like a paradise place. I had bought a small gift for the coach to thank him for his good advice and his kind support the weekend before at the Aarhus city half marathon. The coach had run alongside me the whole time, had cheered me up when my legs had started shaking and together we had improved my personal record by seven minutes! My intention was to give the gift to the coach at the end of the training. While we were running up and down the trails of Marselis forest, as we usually do on our Saturday workouts, the coach ran by me and told me to stay after the training. His tone sounded rough and I got a bit nervous. What did that mean? That was very unusual. As I was waiting for the coach after the training I realised that another girl of the club was also waiting for him: the coach came to us and explained that he wanted both of us to become trainers. He wanted to acknowledge our enthusiasm, constancy and motivation. Me? Really!? The foreign girl who used to need a week to restitute from a 3km-run! I felt overwhelmed with joy and honour. For the first time I felt truly integrated in the Danish society. I handed over the gift to the coach and it was his turn to look very surprised and emotional. I accepted the offer and I have been a trainer in this running club ever since. I keep making Danish friends, discovering new running routes around Aarhus and improving my race-times. And guess what? I even got engaged to a Danish runner.
Chloé, France Age 28 Moved to Denmark in 2011
THE KINDEST AND WARMEST HUG One of my most memorable moments in Denmark happens to be my very first one, in late November of 2000. I was in university back then, and studying in Oslo as an exchange student. Since it was my first time to actually live in Europe, I aimed to make the most of it with a Eurorail pass. On my way back from visiting friends in Paris, I decided on a whim to finally get off the train in Copenhagen (rather than pass through as I did before). I stepped onto the platform that morning and was greeted by the excitement that
comes with exploring a new city. My next train wasnâ€™t going to be until the evening, so I picked up a free map, and set out on my route to catch all the sights. By mid morning I saw that the battery on my MiniDisk player was running low. The thought of a long train ride without music wasnâ€™t appealing at all, so I stepped into what I thought was a cafe or restaurant to recharge it. The initial feeling was not unlike that scene in Back to the Future III, when Marty opens the cowboy doors to a bar and everything stops. Here I was, this Asian kid no older than 21, and everyone there clearly in their 60s or older,
with their faces on me. Not wanting to look foolish, I pretended that I had intentionally walked into a pub in the late morning, and took a seat at one of the booths. When one of the staff came to greet me, I ordered a coffee only to find out that they didn’t actually serve any, so I asked for a beer, because of course I’d want one. I then found a power outlet nearby, took out my sketchbook and cigarettes, and settled in. After a few minutes, one of the elderly patrons came by to see what I was up to. Since I didn’t speak any Danish, the older man quickly switched to very well spoken English (of course), and the questions came: Who are you, where are you from, and what are you doing here? After finding out that I was a student from Texas just passing through, he invited me to join him at the bar, where he introduced me to his friend (who was just as welcoming), and the owner (a very sweet lady in her 50s). The man then offered to buy me a drink, and although I refused, out came a half-liter of beer. Since I wasn’t one to leave kindness unreturned, I bought the next round for the three of us. After a few more rounds back and fourth (and some lamenting on my part about the recent election), they then asked if I had eaten. The kind owner was offering to make us something, although they didn’t serve any food there. Again I declined, but out came some fries and sausages. I had initially planned to see all the sights of Copenhagen, but the laughter-filled hours
just passed us by. Before I knew it, night had fallen and I only made it to the bar! I glanced at my watch, made the usual gestures associated with leaving, and asked for the way back to the station. They then discussed some things in Danish among themselves, and after consulting a little schedule book, they agreed the bus would work out best. With a smile, the woman put some money on the counter in front of me, and the man next to me told me to take it, as it would cover the bus fare. Stunned, my protests were quickly turned down again, and I reluctantly collected the coins she gave me and packed my things. On my way out the door, the owner stopped me, and told me to wait. She then grabbed her coat, and walked me out to the bus stop to wait with me in the rain. When the bus finally came, she sent me off with one of the kindest and warmest hugs anyone could ever give. I never knew it at the time, but that very same form of kindness would eventually lead my wife and I to move to Denmark, more than ten years later. Since then, we’ve made sure to do our part to return that feeling to others whenever possible!
Peter, United States
ALPHABET ACROBATICS Danish is a tough language for many reasons, especially because you encounter one of the challenges on day 1: the alphabet. There are 3 extra vowels that don’t exist in English, and I’m told there are over 45 vowel sounds you can make, including a “ew” sound by writing the letter y. “u”, “y”, “ø”, and “o” can sound similar to each other, so I asked a volunteer tutor at Lærdansk to pronounce the following letter pairs:“su”, “sy”, “sø”, and “so”. Confused, but willing to humor me, she pronounced each of them slowly so I could repeat after her. I would have to repeat the same word several times because I couldn’t get them right. Even when I thought I did, I didn’t seem to be able to reproduce them on my own. “Why those sounds?” she asked. “Oh, because I just moved to a street called Søgade, and I’ve had problems telling people my new address,” I answered. “Ok then. We’ll try again”. But after a few more minutes without much progress, the tutor, in the kindest way possible looked directly at me and said “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to move.” Yuka, Hawaii Age 45 Moved to Denmark in 2013 Occupation: Owner of Paideia Enterprises (US firm)
A LESSON IN Ø! IKEA is a life saver for new internationals in Aarhus: cheap furniture, online catalog you can study in English (check out the UK site!), and low-cost delivery. It was for us, too, until they forgot to deliver our bed. When I called their customer support, they wanted to verify our address. “We live on a street called Søgade,” I said. “Su…what?” “Sorry, I haven’t started my Danish lessons yet. Sogade?” “So..? Do you mean Sydgade? S-Y-D-…” “Um, no. It’s S-O with a slash-G…” “S-O-S?” (Yes, SOS, Save Our Ship, or bed, rather, but no!) “O with a slash? A letter that doesn’t exist in English?” “S-O-L-G…” “No, it’s just 6 letters. 2 letters and then g-a-d-e.” This went on for a while, a lot longer than you would think was possible for communicating just one letter. Somehow, we exhausted the possibilities and concluded it was Søgade, “Lake Street”, despite the fact that there is no lake to be found near by. “OK! Søgade, Copenhagen. It will be there on Tuesday.” “NO! Aarhus!” At that point, I was just thankful Aarhus had changed its spelling from Århus. Yuka, Hawaii Age 45 Moved to Denmark in 2013 Occupation: Owner of Paideia Enterprises (US firm)
WRONG DIRECTION It was Saturday morning and me and my best friend woke up, we had plane tickets to London on that day. We were extremely excited, especially because of the fact that everything was OK so far, we didn’t sleep in, everything was packed and even our driver was in front of the house on time. While driving I fell asleep on the back seat while listening music. After some time my friend woke me up, she looked at me with confused face and asked me to look outside of the window. I saw big sign:“ Aarhus Airport“. I was shocked, because our flight was supposed to take off from BILLUND. We said to the guy who was driving us that uhmm, it is kinda wrong airport. He didn’t really believe us, until we showed him the boarding passes. We were just laughing, but the driver was really shocked. I think he still couldn’t believe that this was happening. So we had 1,5 hours until the take-off and we were 140 km away. We decided to take the challenge. He was getting nervous, but we were just making jokes that it is all fine, we can take the next flight, but I guess for him it wasn’t really calming. But that wasn’t the end, after driving 10 km from Aarhus airport we discovered we need
to fuel up the car also. SOON. Like after 10 km, but we were on the highway, so we made it to the closest gas station, somehow, so that the fuel light was already on. After all that we had even less time, but we were still positive and making fun of everything. In the end, we arrived in the airport 10 minutes before take off. And just running in the airport and of course exactly then the security wanted to check my bag. I said to them like we are not in a hurry enough and then the guy just said fine, just go. Just running in the airport and of course our gate was in the end of the airport, running our breaths away, but we made it. Just before they closed the gate. The woman who was checking the tickets was just laughing. So no challenges are too big. Everything is possible. Helene, Estonia
A SHORT STORY ABOUT DANISH AND LATVIAN I am originally from Latvia, but I have been fascinated about the Danish language and culture since I was 16. As you all probably know, Latvian language is a Baltic language, but its grammar and vocabulary has been influenced by the German language, and it is considered to be one of the most perfect languages in the world as the spelling and pronunciation matches almost 100%. In short, most words are pronounced as they are written. Latvian language has the Latin alphabet and has lots of borrowed words from different languages, including Scandinavian, due to Latvia’s complicated history. There are many common words in Latvian and Danish/Swedish, e.g. DK: stork and LV: stārķis, DK: skrue and LV: skrūve, DK: skorsten and LV: skurstenis, DK: skole and LV: skola, DK: sild and LV: siļķe. I have been working with Danes in Latvia for many years, and I remember several stories about language issues. And here is one of them. Two Danish businessmen were travelling across Latvia and wanted to have breakfast somewhere on the Latvian countryside, where not many people are likely to be very fluent in English. The two Danish gentlemen tried to order orange juice and attempted to explain what they wanted to order in English, using the word “orange” - referring to the fruit and color even, but the only thing they had not considered was that in Latvian an orange is “apelsīns” corresponding to the Danish “appelsin”. When the waitress had heard the Danish word “appelsin”, she had no trouble getting the order right. Ilze, Latvia Age 31 Moved to Denmark in 1999 Occupation: Teaching Assistant Professor/PhD Fellow at Aalborg University, teaching English Business Communication and Grammar to Danish students
ET DEJLIG VARMT KYS (A LOVELY WARM KISS) Shortly after arriving in Denmark, another expat friend and I made plans to meet my Danish husband and her Irish/Danish boyfriend for a drink at a classy wine bar in town after our Danish language class. That week in class we had read our first short Danish-language book (maybe you know it?) telling the story of a young couple who were having troubles in their relationship but, at the end of the story, work things out and share “et dejligt varm kys” (a lovely warm kiss). Well, we were quite proud that we had managed to make it through the book and wanted to share our excitement about our blossoming language skills with our partners. So, while walking to meet them at the wine bar, we decided that we would tell them when we arrived that we also had some “dejlige varme kys” for them. We practiced saying it over and over on the way and were excited to demonstrate our efforts, so we confidently strode into the wine bar and publically announced our newly-learned Danish phrase for our partners. At first they looked shocked – then excited – and then they started to laugh hysterically, together with some of the other diners that had overheard us. It turns out that our pronunciation was a little bit off (as many of you can probably relate to!), and we had unintentionally just proudly and loudly announced that we had some lovely warm (insert: rude term for female private parts) for them!! At first, we couldn’t help but be hurt by the laughter as we didn’t understand what had happened, but once they gently pointed out our mistake and explained the subtle difference in the Danish pronunciation of ‘y’ and ‘u’, we couldn’t help but laugh as well and this story has now become legend in our circle of international friends. Moral of the story: watch out for those Danish pronunciations – and when it goes wrong (which it inevitably will at some stage), think of this story, laugh, and remember that it definitely could have been worse!! Sarah, Canada
DANISH TRUST “Undskyld. Jeg købte nogle bananer i mandags, men jeg har glemt dem i butikken. Må jeg tage en anden?” (Excuse me, I bought some bananas on Monday but I forgot them at the store. May I take another?) “Ja, selvfølgelig!” replied the clerk enthusiastically but with a puzzled look on her face when I tried to show her the receipt. I went to fetch the bananas only to discover that they were sold out. The clerk told me to come back on Friday when there will be another shipment. At this point, I didn’t care about the bananas anymore. It was only as penance that I had forced myself to go back to the store, to admit my error in Danish. But there was no turning back now. When I returned on Friday, I simply said I forgot to pack them. They waved me into the store. When it was time to pay for the groceries, I showed them the original receipt to make sure the bananas were excluded from the tally. Without even glancing at the receipt, the cashier motioned her hand to put it away. When I walked out of the store, I felt guilty, as if I had stolen the bananas, perhaps because I didn’t have to demonstrate that I was telling the truth. It made me realize that defending your integrity takes a lot of energy. With my bananas in hand, I now knew why the Danes claim trust is one of the fundamental building blocks of their culture. Yuka, Hawaii Age 45 Moved to Denmark in 2013 Occupation: Owner of Paideia Enterprises (US firm)
THE KINDNESS OF A STRANGER I never knew the kindness of strangers until I moved to Denmark 6 years ago. I experienced overwhelming kindness within one week of living in Aarhus. My journey began as a Master’s student at (the formerly known as) ASB, while getting my Master’s degree. Going back to school was a great decision – it was a personal goal of my own, and I received a wonderful offer to attend school in Denmark. But it felt like a step backwards in life, as I had been working full time in the US for 4 years, living on my own, owning a car – you name it. My life and career were on track. I came to Denmark not knowing anyone or anything, and quickly befriended another American. We bonded over our similar backgrounds, and both realized one major thing - we did not have places to live. I think we are all familiar with the housing scarcity, especially around August every year. I had been living in a hotel in Sabro for a week, until my Buddy from the Buddy Program at Studenterlauget offered her boyfriend’s vacant room to me. I jumped at the chance, and asked the other American to live with me until we found a place. Walking home to our ‘borrowed’ place after Festuge that first week, we wanted one more drink. We heard good music coming out of (what we later learned) was a ‘low-level’ bodega, known for the locals, regulars, and 10 DKK beer. We walked in and ordered a beer from the young bartender, who didn’t speak good English. Our intention was one beer, but that quickly became more. We exchanged phone numbers at some point in the evening with the bartender and said we would hang out again. We text her
the next day and never heard back - and we assumed we would never hear back again. About a week later, we were treating ourselves to a dinner out because we were depressed we had not found an apartment yet. All of a sudden, I got a text message from this bartender from the Bodega that said ‘Come to my work. I found place for you to live.’ We thought, what? But we went there, and through one of the regulars at the bar, an apartment had opened up, and we moved in the next day! She didn’t know us from anything more than that one night, but I was taught a lesson about going above and beyond to help others in need. We were in a bad situation with only temporary housing – and I am proud to say that my heart and mind has opened up more, because of what that bartender did for us that day. Elizabeth, USA
A MOMENT TO REMEMBER – COMMUNITY DINNER For my master studies I have moved to Denmark half a year ago. All my friends back home were curious about what life is like in Denmark so I invited them to visit me. About two month later they wrote me: We are coming to visit you, all 6 of us! I was very happy that they would come but also a little bit worried because I was just living in a small room in a dormitory. So where to fit 7 guys? I did not even have enough dishes for all of them. However, when they came it was no problem at all. Thanks to the helpful neighbors who provided us with missing items we had a very nice and interesting week together. On the last day we wanted to have big dinner together. Therefore, we prepared a big amount of lasagne and set up a long dining table in the hallway. Then my friends invited all the helpful neighbors over and we were having a spontaneous community dinner together. Soon, more people joined us and we were having a very “hyggelig” time together. Jan, Germany Moved to Denmark in 2014 Occupation: Studying M.Sc. in Economics
MY SUPERMARKET MOMENT TO REMEMBER I had a very funny Danish experience in the supermarket. I was waiting in line of the cashier and the man in front was about to pay. He talked to the cashier in Danish. When he reached for his back pocket to grab his wallet, a guitar plectrum fell on the floor. I picked it up and as I was not that confident in Danish I said to the man in English: “I think this is yours.” The man turned, looked at me in astonishment and replied: “Yes, thanks.” When he had paid his purchases he waited for me. “How did you know? How did you know I’m British?” he asked, “Do I still have such a strong accent?” First I did not understand what he wanted to say but then he explained. He had been living in Denmark for several years now and had been practicing his Danish. As I was asking him in English he thought that I had heard a British accent in his Danish. I clarified that I did not understand what he was saying because I did not know Danish. He looked very relieved and we both laughed. We continued talking a little bit and both of us went home with a smile on our faces. Christina, Germany Age 23 Moved to Denmark in 2014 Occupation: Student
MY FIRST DANISH MOMENT OF TRUTH Only a couple days after landing for the first time in Denmark, I was invited to dinner some friends of my (at the moment) boyfriend (today’s husband). After claiming a billion stairs and trying to assure myself in my head that my socks neither smelled nor had any holes … I arrived to their apartment. The sweet mother of my boyfriend’s friends welcome us and told that she was making Viking Pot (Vikingegryde). After talking and talking I realized that she stops checking the Viking and turn off the stuff pot as a sign that it was ready (I thought great!). Then she set the plates and put the pot on the table. Well, the following minutes after that were like hours in my hungry jetlagged stomach. I did not know if the resting of the meal was a part of the dish. Everyone was going short of possible conversation topics, while the most obvious one in our head “we are starving here”. Suddenly, my boyfriend looked at me with big eyes and almost screamed “I forgot it”. Yes, he forgot to mention that the guest here is the one who eats and serve him or herself. In my country it would be very rude that you serve yourself because it is not neither your house nor your food. Also, because we avoid the risk that someone serve himself too much and could left someone with less or not food at all. I learned with that first experience that Danes are willing to take that risk. Apolonia, Venezuela Age 36 Moved to Denmark in 2010 Occupation: Translator, Tourist guide and Tourism student
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12 warm and inspiring stories about everything from language misunderstandings to heartfelt hugs from an elderly bartender.
Published on Mar 31, 2015
12 warm and inspiring stories about everything from language misunderstandings to heartfelt hugs from an elderly bartender.