Under the Raydar | The joys of the Danish language

This being an English publication, we assiduously avoid speaking Danish at every opportunity. Most of us can mumble a few phrases, at various levels of competence, but it really does make your head hurt after a while.

The language class took the hangover to DEFCON 5

Choking on pork rind
Let’s face it. Danish is virtually unpronounceable to anyone not born here. I think there is a chemical reaction that happens when leverpostej is smeared on rugbrød that renders a Danish child’s tongue able to say these words. Extra letters. Why? Really. Why? So you have a written version of something that sounds like you are choking on a pork rind?

And of course, no matter how many times our Danish friends and significant others rail at us that we should “snak dansk for helvede!”, as soon as we do, they switch to English. Their delicate ears are simply not accustomed to hearing their musical, mellifluous language spoken with an ugly coarse, foreign accent. Heaven forfend!

Can I borrow your kok?
But, there is fun to be had whilst we wade through Danskland.

As a musician, I learned early on not to ask a Danish guitarist if I could borrow his pi(c)k.

My elderly mother required smelling salts and a whisky after my Danish wife told her she was very pleased that I was such a great kok in the kitchen. And my microwave calls me a slut every time my Thai box has finished heating properly.

And I’m betting that many of those reading this column have snapped a photo of at least one ‘Turistfart’ sign. I know I have. (If you are not sure why any of the above are funny, it’s your Danish assignment this week to find out why.)

Meat stuck in my tooth meat
One of the first things any expat learns to love is the literalness of Danish translations. How can you not love a language in which the word for gums literally translates as ‘tooth meat’, a vacuum cleaner is a ‘dust sucker’ and a refrigerator is a ‘cold closet’. It’s brilliant!

Although Danes are loathe to hear expats butcher their syntax, they are quite proud of their ability to speak English, and regale us with it at every opportunity. Unfortunately, much of their knowledge comes from teachers. I was bemused – and a little pissed off – the first time I had a parent/teacher conference with my son’s English teacher and he told me, right up front: “I don’t speak English.”

I learnt it on DR Ultra
Many Danes get much of their English from films and, of course, there is no filter as to who is watching what when.

One of my first encounters with Danes speaking my language was in the company of a father and his two blonde-haired, blue-eyed young children on a windswept Bornholm beach. Twenty years ago, Yanks on Bornholm were a bit of a novelty, so the dad was excited to introduce me to the kids.

“This is Ray. He comes from America. He speaks English.” While I was puzzling why Daddy had not introduced me – a grown man – as Mr Weaver, I could see the blue-eyed boy struggling shyly for a suitable English phrase.

“Fuck you!” he squeaked happily. “You fucking motherfucker!” his sister joyfully exclaimed. Their dad beamed.