The Danes are a laid-back people: In Maine (and certainly elsewhere), we have a saying: “It is what it is.” This is basically a kind of acceptance of those things we cannot change. When my wonderful, kind landlord showed me around the apartment (with a long list of all of the cleaning quirks I need to try to remember!) and then walked me to the internet office, she repeated several times: “So it is.” I am not sure if this is a Danish saying or just something she says because she has run out of words in English. I guess I will find out!
Fitting in: Apparently my blond (grey-white) hair and blue (green-grey) eyes help me to fit in well here. Many people have spoken Danish to me expecting me to answer back, and some have even shown shock when I speak English back to them. (My pronunciation is so horrible that I have barely tried to speak more than a few basic words at a time.) One day I let an older woman with a plant get off the bus in front of me and she thanked me profusely for, what my colleague told me after, was my immense kindness. I just smiled.
Learning the language: They say that the language is impossible to learn. It is even more impossible to speak. But I have been practicing (on Duolingo and by pronouncing words and street names in my head) and I can recognize words and am feeling more comfortable. And then someone asks me something simple like: “Good morning, would you like a croissant,” (while holding out a bag with a croissant in it) and I understand not a single syllable!
The amount of litter. I really expected the streets of Denmark to be much cleaner! There are beautiful cobblestones and bricks of many designs and varieties everywhere and the streets are well-paved and smooth. I feel like getting one of those trash wands and picking up trash everywhere I go!
The amount of racial and ethnic diversity. In my pre-reading and some of my orientation, I learned about the changing demographics of Denmark (like everywhere) and controversies around immigration and what it means to be (ethnic) Danish, and while these issues still exist, I have been surprised at the visible ethnic diversity around me.
Some totally new things:
I live on an island, a very flat island. It is not so flat when riding a bike, but it is a new place in this way. When I bought my bike, the man who sold it to me told a story about the people of this island. He said: If there was a nuclear war all around them, the people of Funen (or Fyn, in Danish) would make some coffee and sit around and wait. If, when they were done with their coffee, the war was still going on, they would make some more coffee and wait. The Danes aren’t going to be starting any wars anytime soon, he assured me.
I live in a relatively large city compared to the college towns and small cities where I have lived. Navigating has been frustrating and confusing, and I am lucky to have a friend, Kirby, who is more familiar with the area and good at navigation. I have now gotten to campus twice without getting lost. So, that is a major improvement! But when I tried to show Kirby the grocery store I found on my route, my first turn would have taken us into the city center, far away from where I was trying to go.
Further, my campus is also very confusing with long, maze-like hallways where every wall and door is white, several floors with stairs in multiple locations, buildings that are connected, doors that lock after you exit them, doors that lock at 4 pm so that you have to swipe your ID card and use a passcode (my card does not currently work since it “locked” after three failed passcode tries), classrooms that are within another classroom, etc. (Oh, and did I mention that more than 95% of all signage is only in Danish?) I was doing great finding my way to my office, my classroom, IT, etc. … until Kirby and I tried to meet up and ended up looking for each other for over a half an hour!
Some not surprises:
Bureaucracy is just as convoluted and frustrating as anywhere else. Despite doing the needed things far ahead of time (which was frustrating, confusing, and expensive), two weeks later I still cannot access my grant money through my Danish bank account (luckily the Fulbright Commission gave me cash!), but I do have my CPR card (like a social security card) which makes me a “real person.” I also have a NemID, which allows me secure online access and a residency card, which I was not expecting to receive.
No one knows what a Fulbright is. In this way, Denmark is not unlike anywhere else, though the Americans I have randomly met, are super-impressed when I tell them why I am here. And, when I return I will be pestering all the people I know in academia to apply for one!