Brick by brick | Cornflake-fuelled language lessons
Practice makes perfect, they say. But unfortunately one of the many problems associated with learning Danish is that you don’t get any practice, which makes it hard to get perfect.
“The guy in the bicycle shop down the street doesn’t speak English,” I excitedly told my classmates at Danish lessons the other day. “No really, all he can say is kvickly kvickly when he points at bicycles.” Mr Kvickly is probably wondering at this very moment why he’s had so many people in who speak dreadful Danish and never actually buy bicycles.
Opportunities to speak Danish with Danes are as rare as hen’s teeth. As a result, successful purchases effected in Danish are a source of great celebration for me, although regarded with relative scorn by my daughter, who has picked up Danish like a wee sponge.
Glowing with pride having bought a snow shovel and some shower curtain hooks in the hardware store recently, entirely in Danish, I asked my daughter how she thought I was doing. Was I hard to understand?
“No,” she said with a pause for effect. “You’re just not very good.”
For a while I thought my daughter’s friends could be a good opportunity, being as they’re too young to speak English. That was before I realised they were actually trying to come up with ways to make me say rugbrød because they thought it was so funny.
The saving grace has been older people. They take the time to listen to you, they are patient, they generally speak more clearly and they’re genuinely pleased that you’re learning Danish. It was just such an older lady I bumped into in Irma the other day – note well, Irma in the afternoon comes highly recommended as a place to find older people with whom to practice your Danish.
“Is this pure butter?” She asked me, holding out a tub. I read her the text on the tub with my best soft Ds.
“Where are you from?” she asked. “How lovely that you’re learning Danish …”
We had that conversation: the one about where you’re from, the one you get good at because you get to say it quite often. Bolstered with new confidence, I wandered over to the luxury olives that cost a month’s mortgage.
But the best was yet to come. As I rounded the corner, the same lady stopped me again with a question about her cornflakes. I felt we were like old friends as I read her the ingredients, until she said once again: “Where are you from? How lovely that you’re learning Danish …” And, thanks to my new, old friend’s lack of short-term memory we had that conversation all over again.
However pointless it may seem to learn Danish, you never know when it might prove useful. Although it’s hard to imagine a critical situation that would require it, I recently came close.
I have a totally irrational, longstanding fear of flying. It’s at its worst during takeoff and I find it calming to talk to whoever is next to me. To be honest, I probably seem slightly manic, but just as they’re thinking: “Lord help me, I have to get through seven hours with this woman prattling away,” there’s the moment the flight crew come round with drinks and peanuts and I realise we’ll probably live. At that point I shut up and don’t speak for the rest of the flight.
On a recent long-haul flight from the US to Amsterdam, the guy next to me apologised in broken English when I tried to strike up a conversation. “Sorry,” he said, keeping a grip of the novel he was probably hoping to read. “I only speaking Kurdish and Danish …”
“Nå!” I said. “Hvor er det sjovt!”