The Danish woman with the French body
Stephanie Surrugue, 35, is a journalist and the editor of TV2 News programme Kulturen. Her father is French and her mother is Danish. The Copenhagen Post spoke with her as part of our article on growing up half-Danish.
CPHPOST: What’s the difference between a French and Danish education?
SS: “French schools were very different to the Danish ones. In France, teachers would assume you were stupid if you asked questions, and would just force feed you information.”
Why were you put in a Catholic school?
“I was put into a Catholic school by my parents. Not for religious purposes, but for cultural ones instead. It was my father’s choice.
“He felt that a Catholic education would help me develop and appreciate French values, such as tradition, culture and discipline. Which played a massive factor in Catholic education.”
What was it like moving from a Catholic school to a Danish 'gymnasium'?
“Gymnasium was very different. There was nowhere near the same amount of discipline that was instilled as in the Catholic school. But there was also a difference of intellectual perception.
“Beforehand, my education would have focused on travel, culture and discipline. The Danish gymnasium on the other hand, was more about enjoying the fruits of life.”
What other obvious differences did you encounter?
“I think that my Catholic schooling has a large part of my focus on culture today. There were hardly any ‘whole’ Danes in that school that I can remember. Which meant I was very used to international and diverse lifestyles, as opposed to the traditional lives people generally lead in Denmark.
I was once asked by a local kid whether my Catholic background meant that I prayed to Allah while kneeling on a carpet.”
Did coming from a mixed background ever affect you?
“At a point in my childhood I was embarrassed of my Dad’s Danish. To the point I didn’t want him to come to school because he spoke Danish with a ‘Prince Henrik’ accent.
“I once yelled ‘speak Danish!’ to him at home. To which my parents sat me down and explained to me that such an attitude was unacceptable.”
CEPOS director of legal affairs Jacob Mchangama feels that there are invisible social standards that Danes expect of foreigners in Denmark. Have you ever encountered that?
“I’m surprised at how Danes have a unique sensitivity to accents here. Whereas in France, my mother will be praised for the French she speaks, here in Denmark the first thing a Dane would say to a foreigner speaking their language is: ‘What a weird accent you have!’ And that hasn’t changed. Whereas in France you’re praised for speaking their language. In Denmark you’re criticised for not speaking it perfectly.”
Do you feel more French or Danish?
“I feel perfectly Danish and French at the same time. But to what level is completely dependent in the country I am in.”
How is that?
“There are certain aspects that I just can’t adhere to. I feel much more attracted to southern Europe than I do to the north. For example, a Dane might be traveling in India and especially look out for other traveling Scandinavians for company. I wouldn’t do that necessarily.”
Does that southern Europe attraction have something to do with the fact you look more French than stereotypically Scandinavian?
“Maybe. I looked different in gymnasium, which is something I was very aware of. But not just in terms of appearance, but in terms of physical maturity too. I felt like a woman much earlier than Danish girls around me did. And boys would notice that as well. Being 16 in France means you’re a woman, but that’s not really the case in Denmark.”
So you do feel French?
“Well, then there are French attitudes I don’t adhere to in the least. A Frenchman would expect me to spend my time in the kitchen, and there’s no way I’d do that. In that sense, I’m definitely more Danish. And I have to thank my mother for that. She was a bit of a feminist, and definitely ran the household when I was growing up. She is also a strong female figure. It was her who always told me to get an education, and not to a slave to a man’s credit card.”
Would you settle down with a French man?
“I’d never marry a French man. Independence frightens many French men. I would have to be far less adventurous and dim my strong personality if I were to settle with one.”
How would you define yourself then?
“I very much feel like a Danish woman in a French body.”
But Denmark is your home?
“Being a modern woman, and with my temper, I’d be better suited to living in Denmark than France. I just wouldn’t be able to mold myself to suit the French social attitude towards women.”
What about any children you might have? How would they be brought up?
“Any kids I have would need to speak both English and French. I’d also be that evil mum that would put them through a private French school in Copenhagen. They’d hate it I’m sure. But it’s my French background that has allowed me to pursue the career that I have now.”
How did a mixed background lead you to journalism?
“I was always so fascinated by my parents’ friends who would come and visit. Their stories were so diverse and different. I also managed to use my French background to cover the 2002 French elections for Politiken during an internship. I also covered the Tour de France and the US elections. My family’s French influence has also, in effect, helped me shape the Kulturen programme on TV2 News.”