Winter in Denmark can feel long, dark and damp. When the little white lights of a perfect Dansk Jul are boxed up and put away ‘til next… October, the limited daylight of January and into February here can be challenging. But if you are lucky and like manna from heaven, the city becomes blanketed in fluffy white flaked goodness – watch out – Copenhagen’s charm shifts into overdrive. Snow. Snow. Snow! Sne in Danish.
Writing a blog about an expatriated family – our growing pains and exploits in a new local and as we travel is a fun, cathartic way to explore oneself while sharing our adventures. But when the world goes and throws crazy at you in every iteration – like organized terrorist attacks in the City of Lights; Stateside school shootings in your “from” and now NOT your from; bombs in Middle Eastern cities; or refugee babies dying on beaches next to their families trying to escape an unspeakable horrific only to encounter more horrific and unwelcome. It makes me stop. It cramps my fingers. I can’t write. It cramps my heart. It makes me sick. It wakes me up at night. I have to breathe through it all to survive.
From the minute we moved to Denmark in the depths of dark December, we were tempted with the dangling carrot of a beautiful Danish sommer. Just wait til summer, everyone said, it’s beautiful here. What no one told me and we are surely smack in the middle of discovering, is that despite the beauty beauty, everyone and their mother evacuates Denmark during summer. Or at least Copenhagen. Seriously. Where is everybody?
There are open parking spots in front of our building at all hours. Too bad I don’t have a car. Shops are closed with signs stating “Lukket uge 29, 30, 31.” Closed weeks 29 through 31. (I still have to look up dates on the Google for the numbered European week designations.) Everyone it seems, is on holiday. The Danes are on holiday, away at their summer hus near the water. It feels quiet around here. Everyone’s out, including my childrens’ new friends. Even our expat friends got the memo. Skip town during summer break.
And without friends around to engage kids on break, what it means for us is A LOT of familial togetherness. Great! How lucky for you! Um yeah. It is. Great. But as it turns out – we could each of us use a little break from all the togetherness. So while I will go ahead and post pretty pictures (because that is what fills my bucket) I wanted to share a wee bit of the reality behind them. The griping. The complaining. The picking on each other.The down right bitching. From afar it may seem grand and glorious and amazing this adventure we’re on. And it is. Or it should be. Or maybe it will be in retrospect. But right now, there are many things it is not.
It is not easy necessarily. Not easy to find things to engage disparately aged children. What your 9 year wants to do is seemingly abhorrent to a teenager. (What isn’t abhorrent to a teenager right now?) And vice versa. Without the ease of neighborhood friends at their beck and call, mom becomes the entertainer and ring leader. What interests me does not always interest them. And sometimes I feel like the whip-cracker rather than the clown. Do you know what I mean?
Feelings of guilt creep in – is the benefit of this experience worth the feelings of isolation in your children, especially the teenager? I know that other expatriated families have gone through similar scenarios, but it doesn’t always assuage the doubts. In my gut, I would make the decision to move again. And don’t worry. We will be fine. But I just wanted to balance the expectations of what this pretty expat life looks like with the reality. It isn’t always roses. But this is my circus and these are my monkeys. I love them. And this opportunity to try this Danish life. Even with all its thorns. Enjoy the pics (I enjoy taking them!) Cheers from Denmark – Erin
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
“Where are you from?” I’ve brought it up before. It’s an interesting question and one that I am as tempted to ask as be asked. I’m not off put or bent out of shape or annoyed in any way when I am posed this query. We’re different here. As Americans living in Denmark. It’s ok. Where we have lived shapes us. The cultures, norms and lifestyles play into who we are and how we approach things. What I have noticed is that the foreign perception of heritage may be different than that of an American’s. How many of my American friends and readers did a “roots report” of sorts in grade school? How many of us celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the like because of ancestral ties to the “old country?” My great-grandfather did emigrate from Ireland. We know this. Beyond that, we don’t know a ton about him because after moving to Kansas and marrying my great-grandmother, he left our family including my grandpa and his 3 siblings when they were quite young. But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that.) “You are not Irish. I know Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said
What I noticed fairly quickly moving here is that the foreign perception of heritage may be different than that of an American’s. How many of my American friends or readers did a “roots report” of sorts in grade school? How many of us celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the like because of ancestral ties to a specific “old country?” My great-grandfather did emigrate from Ireland. We know this. Beyond that, we don’t know a ton about him because after moving to Kansas and marrying my great-grandmother, he left our family including my grandpa and his three siblings when they were quite young. But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that.) “You are not Irish. I know Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said
But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that now living abroad.) “You are not Irish. I AM Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. YES, I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said I was Irish. And I do like corned beef and Guinness. So sue me. (Please note: I never actually have uttered the words “I am an Irish American”, but the topic has been discussed with my local international friends. And I know how very American the saying “so sue me” is as well and living here in Denmark I do appreciate their non-litigious leanings.)
On the other side of the coin – my husband’s “heritage” has Swedish roots as evidenced by our last name – Gustafson. Having the last name Gustafson in Scandinavia instantly makes you a Swede. King Gustav was big there. We saw him in Stockholm. Somehow – we are his sons. Not really. But it’s fun to say. And having a Scandinavian name in Scandinavia is not actually a boon as it bestows higher expectations on your knowledge of local language and customs. Like my son who was taller than his peers from an early age – the expectations of his early development a grave disappointment when his size didn’t match his language maturation. But he is only 14 months old! Whew, that indignation came back quickly – sorry. Back to our story. When they hear our name, people ask us if we’re Swedish. I have been asked that more than one time in Denmark and in Norway. Weirdly, no one asked us in Sweden. 😉
Heritage it seems – where we are from – an important question. Not only historically, but a serious question in our modern societies. The issue of immigration a hot bed topic the world around. It was intruiging to bear witness to the question during the recent Danish elections. It will clearly be a popular topic in the upcoming American Presidential election. Where are you from and how are you different from us. It is so very interesting a topic to me as the one who is currently part of “the different.”
But apparently we aren’t all that different and ancestry is messy according to an evolutionary geneticist, Mark Thomas, who wrote a piece in the Guardian a few years back in response to pay-for-ancestry genetic tests that could determine your heritage. Thomas shows that the science can’t definitively say. He states that…
you don’t have to look very far back before you have more ancestors than sections of DNA, and that means you have ancestors from whom you have inherited no DNA. Added to this, humans have an undeniable fondness for moving and mating – in spite of ethnic, religious or national boundaries – so looking back through time your many ancestors will be spread out over an increasingly wide area. This means we don’t have to look back much more than around 3,500 years before somebody lived who is the common ancestor of everybody alive today.” ¹
So what does that mean to you and me? We’re all descended from Vikings! Or Celts. Or Jews. Or Masai. Or Zulu. Or… you decide. Anyway. Around here – I’m a Viking. It’s fun to say. Vikings are fierce. Snap. And we’ve learned a lot about them lately. They are very popular. We have been to three different Viking Ship museets in Denmark and Norway. Comparing and contrasting for your reading pleasure in the next post. Stay tuned. Cheers from Viking land wherever you are from! – Erin
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Hej! I’m back! What? Didn’t realize that we were on break? Undskyld. Sorry. (A phrase I am hearing often lately out of my teen’s mouth. I guess I should be happy he is learning Danish? I digress.) But for the past three weeks, my mom and her husband have been visiting us here in Denmark and I haven’t been writing, just enjoying the time with them, sharing our new home and accumulating lots of great new experiences. We’ve been fjording in Norway and fishing in Fyn. I’ll share it all – don’t worry. There were brilliant glimpses of Danish sommer. It was hot! No really – for a couple of days – it was actually really very hot! (For Denmark. Everything is relative.) We’ve also had thunder storms and wind warnings and driving rain. It was a veritable cornucopia of Scandinavian meteorology and tourism.