When I have traveled to Mexico and Nicaragua, I feel slightly less guilty because I at least know enough Spanish that I can navigate, ask for a bathroom, and understand and communicate in very basic terms. The longer I am in Mexico, the more Spanish I remember and the more comfortable I become. Except when it comes to conversion rates for money.
So, of course, money and language were my two biggest concerns about Denmark. And public transportation, but that’s another topic all together.
I have been surprised at my ability to navigate money. I have actually found it quite easy to understand how much money I am spending, what a decent price is, and how much I am spending compared to the U.S. dollar. It is still not easy to tell the coins apart, or to remember which coin is worth how much (and they are so pretty that I get distracted sometimes!), but I have a bank card now, which makes things a lot easier.
Language, on the other hand, is far from easy. For over a month now I have been completing daily lessons with the Duolingo app and doing some other self-study. I can tell that I am learning and I can read food packages and some basic signs. However, the vocabulary on Duolingo is not the most pertinent to my life… or anyone’s life. Knowing how to talk about apples, animals, clothing, and ninjas, along with boys and girls and men and women is rarely helpful. The words for foods and beer, at least, have been helpful.
And then there’s the pronunciation. I stumble over pronunciation in my native language on a regular basis.
Early in my stay, a young woman said something as she held out a bag to me that had some kind of pastry. I had absolutely no idea what she said. When I apologized and said I only speak English, she paused and said, “Would you like a croissant?” I felt pretty darn stupid. I should at least recognize the word croissant!
I also struggle with a few names, in particular one of my colleagues’ names, which has that tricky ø and a student who doesn’t even recognize that I am talking to him when I try to say his name. Most of the time no one bothers to correct me, and many students often say they are fine being called whatever. But I don’t like to struggle with names; they are important to me.
The worst incident happened when I was telling a Dane that one of the first words I learned was the word for sorry, which is not an easy word (undskyld). I said the word and he made me repeat it. He said, yes, but you can’t say it like that. You have to say it like you mean it. Otherwise the person will think you are not very sorry. Not saying I have given up on ever being able to pronounce Danish words, but this was a pretty big bow to my confidence.
Further, I have learned that the Danes don’t really apologize, at least not in the way that Americans do. And especially not in the way that American women are conditioned to apologize, even when there is nothing to apologize for. “I’m sorry” comes out of my mouth far too automatically. Luckily, “sorry” is also used by the Danes in familiar settings.
And, yes “everyone” here speaks English, but not really everyone (but better than most mono-lingual Americans would speak another language). I often get correspondence from my university and other places that does not have an English translation. So, again, Google (translate) to the rescue.
And I have been told that Danish is “impossible” to learn and that the Danes really appreciate it when you try to speak their language. The impossible part has been my experience, but so far I’m not feeling the appreciation. I do, however, try to use terms for hello (hej) and sincerely (venlig hilsen) in my written correspondence. There is some appreciation there.