If anyone ever actually said Danish was easy, they would be lying through their teeth… But there’s a reason you’ve never heard anyone just decide to pick up Danish one day, and that’s because it’s really *#^%*^# hard! Add an extra sound here, but this letter’s silent, oh and that “r” is actually pronounces “el” and that “j” should sound more like the “i” in “hi”… reading it isn’t that hard but jeez trying to transform these weird underwater sounds into audible speech is WAY beyond my already limited language ability.
While living in Copenhagen, though, I’ve learned that I’m incredibly good at Spanish. Some people say that when you start dreaming in a second language you’re fluent. No. When you start filling awkward silence in Danish class with Spanish phrases, THAT’S when you know you’re onto something. It only took me 6 years of Professora’s songs about singing animals in elementary school, 3 years of Profe’s iconic Argentinian screams in high school, one year of 8:00 ams in college, and 3 weeks of Danish class in Copenhagen, but I have finally proven to myself that can speak conversational Spanish.
See, the difficulty of the Danish language is a sense of pride for the Danes. In the early years of the Vikings, Denmark owned all of Norway, Sweden, northern Germany, Iceland, and parts of the Caribbean but after many wars (all losses) up until the late 1800s, all that was left of Denmark were some small islands in the Baltic Sea nestled right in the middle of all of the land they used to call their own. Language quickly became a defining characteristic of Danish culture and belonging and acceptance. My politics professor even goes as far as to describe Denmark as a tribe, rather than a country. If you are a part of the tribe, Danes are extremely tolerant: liberal in their ideologies (gay marriage, abortion, women’s rights, etc) and offering free health care to all its members. But it you not part of the tribe, Danes are a very intolerant people on issues surrounding immigration, scarce resources, etc. [For the sake of length and saving you from a total Tarah nerd-out, instead of going into great detail here, if anyone wants to talk more about Denmark’s stance on immigration or other policies, please message me.] The visible tensions between tolerance and intolerance are incredibly interesting especially in the “happiest country on Earth.” But back to language… Danish is spoken only in Denmark. So while it’s frustrating to sit in Danish class twice a week, learning a language that both my professor and I know I will likely never speak again after the end of my semester, context provides some much-needed clarity.
There is, though, a particular Danish word that will stick with me long after the end of my time in Denmark. “Hygge” (pronounced something like the “hu” in “huge” + “guh.” My host sister says I say it like an American, with too much energy, and that you have to say it like you’re bored haha) roughly translates to coziness and comfort, but does not have a direct translation, making it uniquely and exclusively Danish. Hygge for my host family means sitting in the sun with your feet up drinking some rosé, a night at the cinema, candlelit Friday dinner, and after-dinner coffee while sitting together in the living room watching a movie. It’s this wholesome feeling of belonging and enjoying where you are at the exact moment. I think often Americans can’t fully understand it because we are so busy thinking ahead and planning our next move, hygge is a kind of beautiful thing that not only makes me slow down but reminds me to appreciate my time here.
The apple tree in the back yard –
Our trip to Helsingør, and the castle where Hamlet was based –
And Holger Dansk, the protector of Denmark who will reawaken to protect the Danes if there ever is another war, who sits in the underground tunnels of the castle –
Girls’ Night at the cinema: cake, champagne, goodie bags, and an early European premiere of Bridget Jones’ Baby! –