Friday, May 08, 2009

Before and After

I stole this questionar from The Writer, who didn't *tag* me, but in her own way challenged me to give it a go.


Q: Before you knew you'd be coming to Denmark, for whatever reason you originally came to Denmark, truthfully how much did you know about the country?

A: I had read Number the Stars as a little girl, watched WAY to much Victor Borge and heard quite a lot about my father's parent's trip to Denmark. My grandfather was mostly Danish, my grandmother was Swedish, Norwegian (probably), and Danish.

Q: Did you learn about Denmark in school when you were growing up?

A: Only a little bit about the Vikings. My family used to go to Solvang in California fairly regularly.

Q: Do you have family who is Danish or Danish heritage?

A: Yup. See the first answer.

Q: Were you aware the language the Danes spoke was Danish and not German or any other language?

A: Yes.

Q: Had you ever lived outside of your home country for longer than one month prior to living in Denmark?

A: I spent 6 weeks digging in Israel... does that count? And I moved from the West Coast to the East Coast.  That was quite a culture shock in of itself.

Q: Had you learned to speak any other language than your own, even if only partially so, before coming to Denmark?

A: I took French, Spanish, Latin and German for reading before coming to Denmark. I sucked at all of them.

Q: When you learned you'd be coming to Denmark, did you feel it was important to learn Danish?

A: Yes, I really didn't want to be surrounded by people who could talk about me in front of my back! I also harbor dreams of raising brilliant multi-lingual children.

Q:Did anyone prepare you with information of any type before you came to live in Denmark, did you attempt to find information on your own, or did you come to Denmark without preparing?

A: I arrived the first time in Denmark without knowing much more than I already knew. But I did read my guide book cover to cover on the plane! Over the years, before I finally got a residency visa, I'd learned a lot more.

Q:How did your friends and family react when they learned you'd be moving to Denmark?

A: Everyone was pretty bummed. It's really far away from California and my best friend doesn't have the money or the health to come and visit. My family did make it out for the wedding. I think my mother would have been happier if I'd married a Brit. She's such an Anglophile! My dad was tickled pink to get to come to Denmark. But I'm a daddy's girl, so he misses me dreadfully.

Q: What did you think would be your biggest challenge living in a foreign country? Or did you feel you would face any big challenges?

A: I thought language would be the hardest because I suck at languages. I thought the rest of it would be fairly easy, since it was a western European country and I was prepared for some culture shock. HA!


Q: Upon arriving, can you remember the overall impression you had in the first 48 hours?

A: It was all just slightly different from America. Like walking across a slightly tilted floor. Everything is just off-balance but you can't really point to something and say, oh, this is completely different. My then-boyfriend-now-husband picked me up at the airport and we took the train across Denmark. I remember being excited to 1) be there with him and 2) take a train. I couldn't get enough of the train travel.  Still can't, it's my favorite means of transportation.

Q: Tell me about your bicycle, if you have one. Is it borrowed/rented or do you own it? And how often do you use it weekly? Have you ever had your bike stolen? Feel free to mention and elaborate about anything special concerning experiences you have/had with your bicycle.

A: I have a bike. It's in the basement. I *thought* I knew how to bicycle when I came to Denmark. But I keep looking at the rear reflectors and expecting them to light up when people brake. I had one bad accident when I ran into the bike in front of me and toppled into traffic. The car swerved and I jumped up with only some bruises, but I won't bike in the city any more.

Q: Name three of your favorite things about the Danish culture which first come to mind:

A: I like the history. The old buildings, the old graves, the old stuff in the museums that actually comes from here!

I like a lot the food. I would go crazy if I had to eat it all the time, but if we ever move away I will force my husband to make frikeddella (how do you spell that) and I'd miss the herring. I'd also really miss drinking beer and schnapps with lunch, especially now that I've learned how to do it without getting completely trashed.

I like how, when it's cold, all the bars and many of the restaurants provide heaters and blankets for outside drinking and dinning. I just think that's cool.

Q: Of the things you never knew before coming here, what have you learned about Denmark

A: OMG! Where do I start? It's a lot more conservative than I ever imagined. And by conservative I mean, disliking change and upsetting the status quo. It may have a more progressive social policy for welfare and health care, but it's very stagnent and even if it is broke, no one wants to change it... because change is bad.

Q: Culture shock. Does this ring a bell?

A: Oh yes. For a while there was the "honeymoon" period. And then it sort of came crashing down when I finally got residency and I realized, this is it, I could be living here for the rest of my life!! Things that I used to shrug off began to really bother me. But at least I no longer feel guilty about not always loving it here.

Q: How far have you come with learning Danish?

A: Passed my Danish 1 test. Continuing with Danish 2. I can read a lot of Danish and I understand quite a lot, but my speaking is still pretty random. I can chat with my husband now about simple things like what I did in class and what I did yesterday and what I'd like to do tomorrow. He's learned to not correct me and just let me chatter.

Q: Has your view on politics or world issues changed from how you previously viewed things before living in Denmark?

A: I joke that I've become much more conservative since I moved here. I see the problems with socialism and a welfare state and I find myself getting frustrated with the complacency of the Danish voters and the ineptitude of the Danish political system. The US may only have two parties, but we get shit done! Here it doesn't matter who's in charge, nothing ever changes!! And people here really lack a work ethic. I am all for working less and having more time for social things, but Danes take it to extremes.

Q: Since living here, have you learned anything new about yourself? Or perhaps have you learned anything else new? A new hobby or a new way of life?

A: I learned to cook! I learned to love cooking! I learned that I am not as career driven as I thought and that I'd rather be happy than successful (thank god I live here where that's okay, even if it sometimes pisses me off). I thought I was flexible and adaptable before... now I know I am.

Whew, that took a while! I'm now faint with hunger. Oh, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I hear your siren call! PB&J with sour cream and onion potato chips and an apple.... mmmmm. Tonight I make spicy mac and cheese.


  1. After 5 years I have finally perfected frikadeller! Peter is quite impressed. Even my 1-year-old nephew loves it.

    I feel the same way you do in your "after" questions. Danes just really hate change, and that drives me nuts! I am slowly converting Peter over to being more "American" and not be so complacent about things.

    I really had to coach him on being more assertive at work and to forget everything he ever knew about Janteloven. And it has worked. 5 years ago he was working for one company making $65,000 and now he is working at another company making $30,000 more. It took a lot of effort to get him to understand that he had to sell himself and to get out there and fight for what he was worth.

    It was really hard for him to understand that he is highly educated and thus should be making more than the status quo.

    Oh...and house-hunting really showed me the differences between Americans and Danes. Peter kept looking at older, smaller homes because his way of thinking was "that is all we need, we need no more room than that" but I was like "Dude, we can afford a big-ass house, so that is what I want!"

    And I have really instilled in Peter a sense of adventure. It still amazes me that Danes rarely explore their own country. I have taken Peter to things in Denmark that he (and even his parents!) have never seen before...and they are less than an hour away from where they live!

  2. Anonymous4:12 PM

    The Q&A is great. Thanks for the link too.

  3. Hi, first time commenter, occasional lurker (neither Danish nor American, just someone who thinks expat-blogs are interesting).

    I found one of your replies puzzling to say the least "I joke that I've become much more conservative since I moved here. I see the problems with socialism and a welfare state and I find myself getting frustrated with the complacency of the Danish voters and the ineptitude of the Danish political system. The US may only have two parties, but we get shit done! Here it doesn't matter who's in charge, nothing ever changes!!"

    I agree that Americans will face up to new realities and change their attitudes more quickly than most people in the industrialized world, but I haven't the faintest idea why one should believe that the American political system "gets shit done" faster than the Danish one in paticular (and the rest of the world in general). It seems to me that the opposite is true.

    Denmark has had (insufficient but significant) entitlement reform.

    They have enacted several policy measures to combat global warming by reducing carbon emissions.

    They have by and large balanced their budgets.

    They have severely restricted immiration (whether this is good or bad is another dicussion)

    These are all results of consensus politics and the seeking of broad compromises which gain the support of most parties. This is probably why many feel that things don't change (while they are actually changing gradually all the time), conflicts are much less clear, as bargaining takes the place of confrontation.

    In the US on the other hand, very little of substance has changed (on the topics mentioned above) since the middle of Reagan's first term (social security reform being the only exception that springs to mind). Medicare and medicaid (have you seen the cost projections?), immigration (nothing since the amnesty of 1986), climate/environment (waiting since the late 80s). Budgets/public debt (!!!)

    My point (if it's not clear already) is that Danish politics is more slow moving, but consensus- and compromise-oriented which makes change less noticeable but still quite achieveable.
    American politics on the other hand is more confrontation-oriented, but is institutionally stacked agains reform and thus requires something closer to a revolution in order for real change to be achieveable.
    This article gies a nice summary of some of these paradoxes

  4. Goddess: Please help me acquire this trick : "I'd also really miss drinking beer and schnapps with lunch, especially now that I've learned how to do it without getting completely trashed".

  5. @ Sigmund: I suppose you could say that the consensus and compromise system works, except in my opinion (and I am not a political scientist) is that with so many different parties, the decisions are made by everyone compromising so much I don't see much change. Also, the current government relies heavily on the extremely xenophobic Dansk Folkeparti, which is a minority party but makes up the final votes to create a "unity" government. The amount of power this small group has over the government is rather alarming, IMHO. You are probably right in that we don't see the slow gradual change in Denmark, but that it is occurring. I do see more change in America, not always for the good, but change anyway. In 100 days we've seen the end of secret prisons, the overturning of presidential directives allowing extreme interrogation techniques (that the CIA had stopped already is good, that they had official urging to torture is scary), tax reform, and bailouts with strings attached (whether or not people may agree with them is another issue).

    @ June: Don't actually drink the schnapps. When you "skål" just bring the cup to your lips and wet them. Or take a tiny sip. Follow up soon after with a drink of water.

  6. This was great reading! I don't know if I have the energy to do mine yet, but I think it's cool that everyone's doing them.

  7. Thank you for responding.

    You make a good point about the current Danish government, the reason I pay special attention to Denamrk these days is that I think (unfortunately) it is a bellwether for something that's happening all over Europe.

    With regards to the latest developments in America I think this supports my thesis in the sense that you have now just seen something like the Reagan-revolution, and this may make it possible to affect some large macro-issues (things that can't be handled with just an executive order) that have been more or unmoved since the last great convulsion (early 80s). It seems to me that the big moves in American politics require a shock (think: new deal, great society, Reagan revolution, Obama's new deal 2.0?) in order to get done.

  8. Wow, just found your blog!
    I have to say, I'm trying to teach myself a foreign language because I dream of multilingual children too!

  9. @ Sigmund: Thank heavens then that the world is such a shocking place. ;-D And don't tell the Danes that they're the bellwether, they might get an overinflated sense of self importance in Europe. *heh*

  10. Re: bellwether

    Indeed, after surveying the expat blogs for a while, one thing has become clear to me: THE DANES COME ACROSS AS RATHER HAUGHTY (blatantly and disdainfully proud).

    This reminds me of a quote from Rick Steves: "I would like travelers (...) to travel in a way that broadens their perspective (...) it's not just Americans, it's the big countries. It's the biggest countries that tend to be ethnocentric or ugly. There are ugly Russians, ugly Germans, ugly Japanese and ugly Americans. You don't find ugly Belgians or ugly Bulgarians, they're just too small to think the world is their norm"

    I think we can both agree that this is simply wrong, it's quite possible to find ugliness in small places. It's just ugliness of a different sort, maybe one should call it "littleness". In my life (and my family, I'm sorry to say) I have met countless "little Englanders" and "little Norwegians" who live with a firm conviction that their "community" (I guess this describes parts of Denmark too) has unraveled the mystery of perfect social bliss, and that any "alien" element is a "distubance/contamination" that is to be tolerated at best, and scorned at worst.


Keep it clean, don't be mean....