Our family is about to celebrate the two-year anniversary of our arrival in Denmark, known to the expat community here as a “Danniversary.” So here we are, two years into this Danish adventure, and I’m sorry to say that the following is the most successful unscripted conversation in Danish that I’ve had with a stranger yet (translation mine).
Cashier: Oh, I see your cats very well like to eat.
Me: Yes. Yes. That they do.
Cashier: I have a Russian Blue.
Me: Oh, are they big cats?
Cashier: No, they just look like this cat on the cat food bag.
Me: We have two cats we’re caring for since two years ago. (Note: I meant two weeks ago.)
Cashier: My cat just turned 13 years old. (Now I’m wondering if I accidentally said something about the cats’ age?)
Me: Oh, he is old! We have a mother cat and a daughter cat who are three years and ten years.
Cashier: So then, goodbye.
I walked away from that conversation feeling very proud at first. I had a conversation with a Dane that lasted longer than my usual 10 seconds without getting lost—not once! But later I became quite amused at myself, as I always seem to be in a position of playing the simpleton when talking with Danes.
As I come to grips with the fact that I may never master this language—or if I do, it will be a matter of years and not months, as I had originally anticipated—I have decided that the only way I will ever get through this and learn the language is to embrace the role of childlike simpleton and run with it.
So when a woman came to our door with religious literature one afternoon last spring, I zeroed in on a photo of a parrot on the pamphlet she handed me and exclaimed how blue and beautiful it was. “Hvor er det en smuk papegøje! Jeg ser han er meget blå!” (What a beautiful parrot! I see he is very blue!) And so on. She never returned. My older son witnessed the whole thing and thought it was hilarious that all I could talk about was the blue parrot.
Nowadays, when a stranger comes to our house, my older son likes to go to the door with me and be my interpreter. I do my best not to revert to English right away, so at some point I usually turn to him and whisper, “What? What did they just say?” He’ll either tell me what the person said or else cut to the chase and answer for me. It’s become a sort of bonding experience, and we have both come to look forward to these unexpected solicitors and package deliveries as a brief moment of “special time” together, trying to communicate with the Danes in Danish. It is a moment where my son is truly, truly more competent than I am.
My son is almost six years old now and his Danish is quite good. He prides himself on it. He also is quite frank with me about the state of my own Danish. “Mom, I’m getting pretty good at Danish but you’re not so good.” I tell him I appreciate his honesty, which I do. Because now I’ll know when he tells me someday that my Danish is good, he’s not just being polite. And it will be the highest of compliments.
I find I now want to impress him. If I make it through an interaction spoken in Danish, I look to him to see his reaction. Usually he is not impressed. And why should he be? I’ve only just recently become able to make it through the normal steps of a transaction at the grocery checkout line and understand most of everything that was said to me. (It was really helpful when I figured out they use two different words for “receipt” interchangeably.)
And just yesterday I figured out the meaning of the recorded message loop played on the phone while I’m on hold with the doctor’s office. I’ve only listened to it about five hundred times, over and over again. After two years in Denmark and one year of Danish classes under my belt, I now know what the heck she’s saying. “Din ny nummer: x, Din ventetid: x minutter. Tak for din tålmodighed. (Your new number: x. Your wait time: x minutes. Thanks for your patience.) These revelations are not exactly encouraging, but I’ll take any victory I can get, however small, however late. Still, my son is not impressed.
I continue to try to get beyond “My cat likes to eat; I am only taking care of a cat; she is very nice; she is ten years old.” Thankfully, I have my interpreter to help me.
About Kara Lochridge
Kara Lochridge is an American writer and musician living in rural Denmark with her husband and two young sons. Her work has been published on the parenting humor website Razed and at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and she is author of the blog, Freedom From Sushi. She is currently working on a series of three children’s books, and when she’s not busy learning Danish, she works as a flutist for hire and plays ukulele in the woods on a regular basis (seriously, she does). To put it simply, she wears about fifty different caps and enjoys almost every one of them. You can follow her on Twitter @KaraLochridge and check out her website at www.karalochridge.com.