I had an epiphany the other day that has reduced my stress levels no end. I am no longer going to feel guilty about not speaking Danish. I’m going to let it go.
People tell me I should speak Danish. Just like that. Like it’s a quick, easy task. Like it’s not a hard language to learn. Well it is. It really is. I mean, there’s a reason it never caught on, globally speaking. And I’m raising two tiny kids. I’m not going to dedicate what precious little down time I have to sitting in a classroom in an evening learning Danish. I’m too tired.
People have said that the fact I don’t speak Danish is disrespectful. Almost as disrespectful as guilt-tripping me into doing something that I don’t have the time, money or inclination to do – just so you can feel a little less uncomfortable. Relax. Me not speaking Danish is not going to undermine Danish culture, tradition and heritage. I’m polite and courteous, I work hard, I obey the law, I pay my taxes. I’m just trying to get through the damn day. Leave me alone.
You always speak twice
And if you’re not comfortable speaking English? That’s fine. I’ll meet you halfway. We can still converse. Because I guarantee your English will always be better than my Danish. And speaking Danish to Danes is a gruelling, demoralising ordeal. Why? Because Danes are just not used to hearing their language spoken with a foreign accent, so there’s no cognitive elasticity. That’s why, if you mispronounce a Danish word, even slightly, they often won’t understand you.They won’t meet you halfway. It’s exhausting.
People have told me I’m arrogant. How dare I come over here and not speak the language. I’m not arrogant. I’m just honest and realistic. I do understand why some expats feel they should learn Danish. They see themselves as guests in this country. Well, I’ve got news for you. You’re not a guest. You came here legally and pay your taxes. You’ve got as much right to be here as any Dane. And if you think being born here gives you the right to tell a foreigner how they should conduct themselves, and if they contribute equally to society and the economy, then you’re just a big old racist.
Live and let live
People have said to me that by not fully integrating I risk ghettoising myself in the expat community. Well here’s the thing. I fucking love the expat community. I’m proud to be part of it. Because here, we represent people from all over the world, bringing with us a veritable multiverse of culture, history, customs and experience. Denmark is a monoculture. We expats bring the diversity. We bring vibrancy. When I host comedy or improv nights and speak to the crowd, I don’t see a ghetto. I see a wonderful rainbow of inclusivity, splattering colour over all this Danish grey.
I’m not patriotic. As you can tell. Take my own country. There are things I love about Britain. There are things I hate about Britain – especially right now. But the pub culture is best in class. Bottom line. I loathe nationalism. It’s dangerous, divisive and destructive. I don’t care where you’re from. Just be kind, be generous, and be open to others’ differences. That’s enough surely? We don’t need to be waving a flag all the time. Even if there’s cake. Okay – maybe if there’s cake.