I arrived in 1980 with the advantage of being British and blonde. Nevertheless, when my husband called the ‘Foreign Police’ (as they were then called) and said that he was planning to live in Denmark with his English wife, they asked if she was a “natural English person”. Realising what they meant, he said: “Yes, she is white.”
I was full of enthusiasm to begin my new life in my new country. The key to ‘fitting in’ is language, so I rushed to attend Danish language classes and spent the next two years struggling with glottal stops and guttural sounds. The fastest course in those days was called KISS (Københavns Intensive Sprogskole), which favoured a technique created to teach Korean to US Marines. It was strictly regimented. We had to learn 14 sentences a week and be able to write and repeat them without any mistakes in the weekly exam. By level four, I was a gibbering wreck (and the gibberish didn’t even sound vaguely Danish), so I saluted my commanding officer, marched out and discovered Studieskolen around the corner.
Meanwhile, I’d started training young would-be actors in comedy technique at the Theatre School. As part of my attempt to ‘fit in’, I quickly abandoned my ‘80s London look and adopted the Danish fashion of the time: jeans, sneakers, Arab scarves, long loose hair and no make-up. In Denmark, there was only one TV channel, no internet and lots of Women’s Lib. None of the girls I taught had ever tried to wear high-heeled shoes. I wondered what roles they hoped to play when they became professionals!
Back in Britain, the goal was to look like Alexis or Crystal from ‘Dynasty’ and wear tight skirts, lots of make-up and very high heels. By the end of the first term, I had my girl students fluttering false eyelashes, tottering on towering heels and gyrating to ‘Big Spender’, much to the delight of the guys, who were only invited to watch if they came dressed in elegant dinner jackets. Many years later some of the girls became well-known Danish film and TV stars and thanked me for these basic tips.
But I was still trying to ‘fit in’. By chance, I found myself onstage at the Royal Theatre playing small roles with my atrocious Danish accent. This was a wonderful job because Danish actors only rehearse for four hours a day and I could rush back to my mother-in-law‘s flat and collect my baby. Except in the summer months of course, when Danes retreat to their summerhouses to ‘let their hair down and relax’. I could not see what was stressing them in cute little Copenhagen and they all seem to have their hair down anyway – but nevertheless I wanted to ‘fit in’ so we did the same. We didn’t own a summerhouse on the Danish coast, but my husband had part-ownership of a farmhouse in Sweden. So we packed our little car and drove for hours to a small wooden house in the middle of a Swedish forest with an outside toilet and no running water to ‘relax’ at weekends.
One day the Cafe Teater director called to ask me if I would put on a show in English at Christmas because they suddenly had a gap in their season. I hastily found a name for my theatre company on the side of a loaf of bread, ‘London Toast’, and invited three English actor friends to come over to do a mini musical comedy based on the English panto, which I called the ‘Crazy Christmas Cabaret’. Invited to appear on a peak-time Danish TV show, we encouraged the studio audience to join in. Apparently no performers had ever done this before and, as there was only one TV channel in the whole country, we became an overnight success. Suddenly the tickets sold like hotcakes!
And I was still trying to ‘fit in’. I had mastered the art of making madpakker for my husband and child so that the open sandwiches didn’t squash together. I had learned to eat marinated raw herring and drink snaps in one gulp. I had learned not to drop in on Danish friends without warning. I had learned that bare wooden floors were a mark of good taste and not lack of money. I had even learned to like the PH Lamp (having returned the one I got as a wedding present saying that I didn’t want a flying saucer over my dining table).
But after all these years, have I truly managed to ‘fit in’? Well – to be honest – not really, but I am still having fun trying.