I have a friend named Fran

Lost in Translations

WHEN a foreign language makes even simple tasks difficult

I have a friend named Fran. Fran and I have not been getting along lately. She is helpful, but only on her terms. She blurts out and interrupts me all the time and in an extremely whiny annoying voice. She will start a job and then stop right in the middle. I tolerate Fran because she is the only one who can help me with one specific task.

Fran is what I have named my clothes dryer. Meet Fran. Fran – these are my friends, friends – this is Fran.

Meet Fran
Meet Fran

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So Fran works hard enough. I am grateful for Fran – don’t get me wrong. There are many apartments in Copenhagen that don’t have a Fran. They hang their clothes to dry both inside and outside their apartments. I can even say there is a charm in watching neighbors from the adjacent building’s courtyard shake out their sheets carefully placing them on the communal drying racks. If I had to air dry my clothes – I would love one of these beautiful functional racks. (I am adoring Scandinavian design.)

Dryp from Skagerak
Dryp from Skagerak

But that’s Dryp, not Fran. Upon our initial arrival, we made use of several airbnb temporary apartments. Most had no Fran. Their towels were scratchy and almost hard from air-drying. If you are used to this, it’s not a big deal. I guess we’re wimps when it comes to our towels. Or just used to a softer fluff. It is what it is. When we moved in to our own place, I was quite pleased to meet Fran. Initially. There she was. New, shiny, clean and mine. Our towels would be soft. Isk (that’s Danish for “ish”).

Three children exude much laundry. I use Fran often. She is difficult to understand. Maybe because she is German. She is Bosch. Bosch is a popular brand here. There are many great neon signs that decorate the Copenhagen skyline attesting to this.

Bosch neon lights up Copenhagen night sky
Bosch neon lights up Copenhagen night sky

I know this is a German company. But I know what German looks like and Fran’s words are not German. So when I set Fran to what seems a middle-isk setting and she calls to me with an insistent BEEEP, I assume that she has completed her task. And my clothes should be dry. That is her task. WRONG. What? What are you BEEEP’ing for? Lint? No. Cleared that. Oh. In these washing machines – you have to empty the water. Did you know that? Luckily one of the former airbnb hosts showed this to me. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetOk Fran. Water emptied. Start. Again. 5 minutes in. BEEEEP. WHY Fran WHY? I don’t know. In attempt to move forward in my relationship with Fran, I call in help. Google Translate. Moving abroad? Engelsk is not the primary language? Google Translate. Life saver. Don’t know what the parking sign says? Google Translate. Don’t know what that meat is at the grocery store? Google Translate. Don’t know which is the mens room or the womens room? Google Translate. Get it immediately. So I bring G.T. in to assist with Fran.

The app is very user friendly – just type in the Dansk word and it translates for you to Engelsk. Only this is what G.T. tells me.

My own private translator in my pocket - meet G.T.
My own private translator in my pocket – meet G.T.

Hunh. So syntet was probably the only word that I could have figured out myself. Yep. Thanks. What the heck is “synthetic mycket torrt?” Meanwhile. BEEEEP. Dryer stopped again. Clothes not yet dry. Fait no accompli. Boo. Come on Fran. I have other things to do. Like visit a slot or a museet or a kunst galleri. (art gallery.) Many days go by. BEEEEP. Check. Restart. BEEEEP. Check. Restart. Feeling like I am being hung out to dry. Pun intended.

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Unknown foreign word in bold, below English translation. Hunh?

So G.T. has another function that had yet to make itself aware to me. Detect language. Why would I need to detect language? I’m in Denmark. Isn’t it in Danish? No, as a matter of fact. Fran is not Danish at all. Born to German and SWEDISH parents. Fran speaks SWEDISH! Is this what you have been trying to tell me Fran? Its been a misunderstanding the entire time! BEEEEEP. Clothes dry. Mama is happy. BEEEEP. Sigh. Restart. At least she isn’t as mean as my oven who calls me names.

Being called out by your oven is so not cool.
Being called out by your oven is so not cool.

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