Aliens in Denmark

Everyone around you is speaking a foreign language. Normal looking people – living normal looking lives – just foreign. But wait, we are the foreign ones here. Alien. Officially we are aliens in Denmark. They gave me a card showing this – it has my “biometrics” on it – no really, not only does it show my official photo, but my fingerprints are stored on a chip held within that card. We had to fly on a plane from Portland, OR to Sacramento, CA to have our “biometrics” registered with the Danish Consulate in America before we could move here.

We were also granted the special CPR number that unlocks many aspects of Danish life. They gave it to us. Without it – you can do very little here. Can’t open a bank account without it (which means you can’t get your contractually agreed upon relocation funds without it.) Difficult to sign a lease without it. Can’t get a mobile phone without it. I can rent a car, but I can’t lease a car without it. But. What we can get is free medical care with that card. We can now go to the library with that card (and they do have some books in ENGLISH). My children could go to university for FREE with that card. It’s a good card. It was quite a process to get it. No one told us the process. We may or may not have done it correctly. But we have that darn card now.

Does it make me feel less like an alien? Maybe? Minutely. I will admit that when I am out and about, I don’t speak much. Everyone speaks English perfectly enough, but only if you do first. “Hej!” Traditional Danish greeting. It is pronounced exactly the same as an American “Hi!” Be wary of using it if you want to be understood. To immediately announce oneself as a non-Danish speaker upon entering a specific establishment when greeted – you say “Hello!” not “Hej!/Hi!” This is a sure-fire clue for the purveyor to use English to ask if you need any help or assistance. I feel a sense of sheepishness for employing this entrance and absolutely do not enjoy admitting that I have no idea what they are saying. Most of the time my deer in headlights expression is clear enough for them to switch over to English. Sometimes I muster an “Engelsk?” and they flip right over. Other times I just smile and nod, smile and nod and hope I am not agreeing to something ridiculous. This tactic usually horrifies my eldest who already feels quite conspicuous as an outsider that me feigning some sort of understanding is abhorrent to him. There is a claustrophobia in my muteness and not understanding. If you know me – muteness is not my natural state and is somewhat challenging. I like to talk. Talking is therapy to me. I work through things by talking. Everyone speaks perfect English, but only if you do first.

Looking at the cup half full – muteness does afford a heightening of alternate senses. I listen. And the sounds can be deafening. I live in the city again. I have not lived in the city for twenty years when I was living in a “garden level studio apartment” on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. It was nowhere near a garden. It WAS subterranean. My tiny kitchen looked out at the sidewalk and onto the bus stop. The city sounds (even the horrible brake squeals of the metro bus out my window) were my white noise. Those noises fill my window again. Fill my life again. The police cars sound different, like a European movie that I am suddenly living. The church bells tolling. Children laughing. There are not so charming sounds as well. The garbage trucks that seem to take an eternity to move down the street. The raucous young folk returning from a late evening whose peels of laughter and boisterous language seem to echo through the street bouncing between the buildings. I can’t even describe to you the level of noise on New Year’s Eve. Like Denmark had started another World War. I listen to it all. I hear.

I look. There is so much to see. My camera roll is filling up again with all the looking and seeing. This is bucket filling for me as I am very visual and love to take photographs. This is good. The light here is amazing. I will dedicate another post solely to the Nordic light alone. When there is light that is. It is winter in Denmark. I observe. I watch people. What they wear. What they buy at the grocery store. How they ride their bikes. In furs and heels and cute scarves. How they chat with their children in their cargo bikes – pedaling along. In the dark. In the rain. In the wind. In the SNOW. So much to see. I look at it all.

Riding bikes in the snow - I have seen little that stops the Danes
Riding bikes in the snow – I have seen little that stops the Danes

What I know is that I want to be a part of it all. I will use my special Alien card and sign up for those free Danish lessons. Will it help? I don’t know yet. Will time help? Probably. In the meantime – I will take my brother’s advice upon leaving Oregon – learn something every day. Get out there and experience it. I’m trying bro. I’m trying.

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New Year’s Eve in Copenhagen near the Lakes

13 thoughts on “Aliens in Denmark

  1. Martha McMillen

    You are succeeding! I would love to hear your Danish in two years. The weather doesn’t seem so much different than Oregon, think it’s the amount of daylight.
    Snuggling up to watch the championship game with a cup of hot tea. Sore throat and cough have taken over my body!

  2. Alien, this is what I was in the US as well before I became a citizen, an alien resident, it feels really weird to say it out loud, it feels straight out of some sci-fi movie 🙂 Your brother is right, learn something new everyday.

  3. Love this post! You’ve really captured the feeling of being in a foreign-language country (and for the record, you’re very brave! Both of my expat experiences have been in English-speaking countries… 🙂 I bet your Danish will take off in leaps and bounds – after all, you’re surrounded by it every day!

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