My brusebad is in the køkkenet

This has been a pretty good week or so.

First off, I got most of my immigration stuff sorted. I don’t know why, but Denmark chose to split its immigration service.  They have the official one called “The Danish Immigration Service” and another one called “The Danish Agency for Labour[sic] Retention and International Recruitment”.  The former is in charge of figuring out why your stay in Denmark might be illegal, and the latter is in charge of keeping talent and skilled labor inside the country.

For sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to these as Slytherin and Gryffindor, respectively.

I’d been talking with Syltherin house and they’d been telling me how many horrible things that would happen to me if I stay past my visa, and various actions they might take against me, including the dreaded deportiamus curse. It seemed like my application to stay was in limbo and I might have to just go home.

Then, out of desperation I started searching around and found an office building surrounded by bright, shiny reasonableness. I walked in and found Gryffindor hall. I got all my questions answered and found out that, had I brought in my passport that day, I could’ve gotten an extension from the sheer power of sensibility. Instead, I opted for a full-on work permit.

Oh yeah, I have a job here now too.  I’m going to be working on a Wikipedia-esque online community, except specifically dealing with educators, education researchers and related partners (like NGOs). We officially launch in September, and I’m genuinely excited about it…I think Scandinavia and the Free, Open-Source culture are perfect for each other.

Anyways, I got a “Denmark can’t kick me out for a while” permit which, if the name is any indication, should let me enjoy some level of stability.

I also found an apartment. Well, I say ‘apartment’ but it’s probably closer to ‘closet’. It’s 44 m2. I still haven’t learned the metric system yet, but that appears to be the size of a nice table, or maybe a spacious SUV trunk. It’s fully furnished though, and there’s a bedroom and living room, which means I can finally have guests and show them around, which I’m also excited about.

The weirdest part, and I’m not making this up, is that the shower is in the kitchen. Think about that for a minute. It’s utterly ridiculous. My shower is in the kitchen. Mit brusebad ligger i køkkenet. It doesn’t look or sound any more normal in Danish. Oh yes, there will be pictures later.

The major redeeming part is that it’s in the middle of Vesterbro, which is the part of the city I most wanted to live in. As the ‘vest’ and ‘bro’ in the name might indicate, it’s full of hipsters, but also has lots of cool restaurants and bars in it, and is relatively central to the city so will give me plenty of opportunities to explore.

So, overall, a pretty good week. All the things I’d been most worried about seem pretty close to being resolved. I kinda wish Danish immigration wasn’t run by he-who-must-not-be-named, but at least I was able to eventually navigate their system. I got a place to live, got a job working on something that I enjoy, and most importantly can peel potatoes and wash my nads in the same place. Who’s coming over for the housewarming dinner?

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Suck it, your majesty

I got to go back to the US for a week or so for my sister’s wedding, which was pretty incredible.  They decided to go all-out Nepali for it, which made it even more fun with the pageantry involved.

Thing is, with Nepali ceremonies, all the actions you perform in the ceremony carry the consequence of having actually done what the ceremony says.  So, for instance, there’s a part where the bride and groom put garlands around each other to choose the one they want to marry. If my sister suddenly decided to go rogue and throw it around a random parking attendant, I could’ve gotten free parking for life in the greater Boston area. Way to ruin that.

It was still really fun going through all the ceremonies and learning what all of it signified, though. It’s weird because it all seemed so natural to the members of my family that grew up in Nepal. Towards the end of the ceremony, there was a tug-of-war between the bride’s side and the groom’s side. My relatives all went “oh goody, the tug-of-war!” because they’d done it before. It took some of us by surprise though.  At the end of it, the priest asked “Who won?”  We responded “the groom’s side.”  “Oh good,” he said. “That means he can marry you.”

I think he was joking, but it’s not really clear when you’re not familiar with the ceremony. If it went the other way, is it like accidentally saying “Why not?” instead of “I do” (not super consequential) or is it like filling out the marriage certificate in crayon with fake names (slightly more consequential)?

I’d been thinking a lot about how traditions define a culture when I got back over here, especially since it’s highschool graduation time out here now. They get all their students super drunk, load them up unharnessed onto the back of a truck that drives all over town, give them sailor hats and let them loose on the city for a week. It’s funny because several people I’ve met here saw one of those trucks go by and said “Oh, it’s that time of year again.”  It’s just weird how blasé people were about it. “Yep. It’s drunk sailor kids in trucks season. Just between the time the fireflies return and the first snow.”

Thing is, if I grew up here, that would be totally normal too. As would all the ceremonies in the Nepali wedding if I grew up there.

So the other day was the 4th of July and I started thinking about that a little bit. We went to the beach and had a few beers, had a little barbecue, played some games and roasted marshmallows. American children who’ve grown up here would assume this is the general thing one does on the 4th. And it is. But then if they ever went to the US they’d probably be taken aback by the whole fireworks aspect of it and the scale of celebrations that couldn’t be delivered out here.

“Why are they shooting off fireworks?” “To tell the British monarchy to suck it!” “…what?!” “Isn’t it awesome?”

I think it’s kind of cool seeing these aspects of culture, really seeing the random things people take for granted and basking in the strangeness for a while. I like it because it highlights how arbitrary and random some of my own thoughts, beliefs, and habits are.

I had a choice a little while ago as to whether or not I wanted to keep trying to immigrate, or just call it a day and head home. These kinds of little insights totally make it worthwhile to stick it out, so I’ve decided to do what I can to stay. I’ve been doing more immigration research and am ready to fight for my independence, win the tug of war, and um…release my inner drunk child.

Genesis

It’s kind of strange how some things we attribute to a culture can easily be explained by public policy.

One of the first questions I wanted to learn how to ask in Danish was “do you need help?”  As much as I’d like to believe that’s because I’m just such a sweet and caring person, it’s really because I found myself wanting to say it all the time, especially on public transport.

In the US, about 30% of the people on the bus are absolutely insane. Like, bath-salts eat-your-face insane. We ignore them. Everyone else is just a person trying to get home and not get their face eaten. Those of us in this category are generally pretty nice and cordial towards eachother. Once in a while, due to circumstance or poor planning, one of these people decides to take the bus or subway carrying a giant suitcase or something. Usually someone sees them struggle, and decides to help.

This is why I wanted to learn that phrase here. I’d see someone that seems mostly sane struggling in some way and I’d want to lend them a helping hand. Then, I realized something.  I’ve see someone struggling that way every time I’ve taken public transport. Every. Single. Time.

Basically, you can’t take the bus here without running into some lady trying to bring 40 children on board, or carrying 20 bags of groceries or an aquarium or something home. Even excluding bicycles and strollers, there’s just constantly someone in need of assistance on public transport here every time you take it. Yes, some of them are disabled, but most of them are just trying to jam a sofa or into the entrance of the bus by themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the busses and trains are particularly crowded, it’s just that there’s always a person on there who’s doing something strange and intrusive with a space otherwise meant for sitting. It’s weird because you can’t even just try and be in your own place unassumingly because you know you might get your the area by your feet taken away by a very grateful lady and her extra grocery bag.

I thought about why that is. I think it’s because Denmark has made it prohibitively expensive to own a car or to take a taxi. Both of these are ‘luxuries’.  This means people engaging in activities that would normally require a car or other special vehicle (such as grocery shopping, moving things from apartment to apartment or even taking a classroom worth of children on an outing) are now encouraged to try and use public transportation for their needs.

After a couple of weeks of this, I’ve stopped offering to help, just because it gets too taxing. Now, I just want to ride from class to the apartment without getting an aquarium to the head. Everyone else can just deal with themselves and I’ll deal with my stuff.  I’ve stopped being the helpful American guy and I’ve become… another member of the Danish public transport crowd.

So it begins.

For a good time call…

So, Danish people are really weird about contact information. Really, really weird.

Normally, if you meet someone randomly and you both realize you don’t hate eachother, you seal that special bond of mutual tolerance with some self-disclosure. A name, a favorite color, whatever.  Then, if you find you actually enjoy hanging out and would like to not leave the next encounter to pure chance, you exchange contact information of some sort.

Apparently this isn’t how it works in Denmark. As best as I can tell, each Dane is born with a limited number of times they can give out contact information. If they use it up, they get kicked out of the country and have to live in Finland. (To the Danes whose contact information I already have, thank you and sorry in advance about your imminent deportation) This is the only logical explanation I have with how weird they get when it gets to that point of the interaction.

Ryan and I went out a few weeks ago and met some Danes. We hung out with them all night, they came out with us to get breakfast, watched out for us to be sure we didn’t get lost, bought us some drinks, and generally had a good time.   Everyone seemed to enjoy hanging out. Come morning, asking for contact information for anyone in the group was like pulling teeth. I think the first attempt was Ryan saying “So, you guys have our contact info, right?” followed by a “nope” and crickets sounding off in the distance.
“Well…should we fix that?”  “Hm, fix what? What’re we talking about again?”

Eventually, Ryan’s ability to out-wait any awkward situation won over and one of the guys in the group reluctantly gave us his phone number, with that look of despair knowing he’d never see his friends and family again.

I’ve talked with other foreigners about this, and they’ve witnessed the same thing out here. I thought it was a European thing at first, or maybe I’m just super pushy, but, again, Denmark seems to be special in this regard. I never saw this in Germany, and didn’t see it when I went back a few weeks ago.

I have about a dozen more stories from myself and other foreigners here of this same odd behavior.  As far as I can tell, it’s nothing impolite and it’s not a sign they don’t like you. Maybe I just don’t appreciate the sacred covenant of trust I’m given when I get ability to make a person’s phone vibrate from a distance.

As of a few days ago, I decided I’ll try specifically finding non-Danes and see what that’s like.  I’ve already found tons of really fun people from all over Europe (and US expats too) who are totally normal about contact info.  And, I have to say, I’m enjoying it!

So, I guess I’ll have to wait longer to figure out why the Danes are like this. Until I understand it better, I’m just gonna go with my strict deportation theory and let people continue being strange.

On the planet Jorden

I don’t know how many of you have read War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, but if you haven’t, I’m about to spoil the ending for you now. You’ve been warned.

Basically, Earth is attacked by Martians who are technologically superior, but in the end all die from disease.  I like the 2005 movie’s interpretation of this ending; despite people thinking of ourselves as something outside and separate from nature, we’re actually a part of it. We’ve earned a place in the world and our immune systems are one of many tributes to that fact.

I started thinking about this when I went to Germany the other week. It brought back memories of living in there in 2006. Back then, the city I lived in didn’t really have a huge English speaking population (outside the university), so I forced myself to learn German. The process was hard and painful, but by the end of it, it was amazing.  When they spoke English, they might say “stay on the train,” but in German it would be “Sir, would you mind staying on the train? We’re actually about to perform some maintenance at the next stop, wouldn’t want you to get stuck out there.”

Obviously, I’m not German, but despite that I feel incredibly connected and at ease with the German people. It was only this time while visiting that I realized it was because I’d earned it. I spent the better part of a year discovering the language and customs and my reward was this sense of familiarity and comfort I had while being there; it was my immune system.

I’ve been taking intensive Danish courses here: 3½ hours a day, 3 days a week, with about 3 hours of homework/studying per session.  I have some fun and interesting classmates, some of whom have been helping to show me the ropes as a foreigner. It also turns out that if/when my immigration stuff gets settled, the government might pay for the courses. Even though it’s currently out-of-pocket, and insanely expensive, I can’t help but think it’s worth it. If I’m really going to be living out here, I want to get to that point where I can understand people. Not just their language, but their culture and thoughts and all the little wonderful nuances that go with it.

I also know it won’t be easy compared to German. This language is littered with false cognates, glottal stops, and seemingly random vocabulary (compare the German word for “the Earth” die Erde with the Danish Jorden) but I like to think that the deeper cultural insights I’ll get will be worthwhile and make me better and a more well-rounded “global citizen”.

Awkward Silence

Generally Europeans always comment about how loud Americans are. And I guess we are.  You go to the subway or metro of any European city and the one group of voices you hear that are almost shouting in comparison to the others are American voices.  Europeans aren’t like that, and I didn’t realize the implications of that until recently.

If you see a group of Americans sitting around not talking to each other, they’re probably all feeling something close to dread and trying desperately to think of the next topic of conversation. We even have a phrase for this: “awkward silence”.

If we see a whole group of people doing this, but not feeling the awkward bit (a bunch of people standing there complacently in silence), the thought is “wow, they really don’t want to be around each other” or “wow they’re not having any fun at all”.  Here, it means… well, I haven’t quite figured that out yet, but here it doesn’t mean the above.  I’ve seen groups of long-time friends as well as new acquaintances just stand around there and not talk for amazingly unbearable stretches of time. I don’t mean like a break in conversation; I mean like 5 minutes of just sitting there, staring at each other.

As a new person trying to mingle with groups and make friends, this definitely weirded me out at first, until I saw this was the same thing everyone else does. Not that I don’t still feel weird, I just know it’s not me.

I guess we also have a less-common “comfortable silence” in the US as well. It usually doesn’t occur in large groups, and it’s that feeling where you’re just so comfortable with someone that you don’t even need to say anything. It’s rare and noteworthy for us.  I don’t know if that’s what the Europeans feel, it might be some combination of both.

I just realized how ambiguous this makes our behavior. If an American is silent with you, it means either they don’t want to be around you, they do want to be around you and you’re making them uncomfortable, or they feel super-close to you.  Take that, confusing Europeans!

Haha, Slut!

This happened a week or two ago, and was too hilarious to not share.

In an effort to learn the Danish language, I set my phone to Danish. My friend was visiting and needed to borrow my phone. I dialed for him and he called up the girl he was staying with. Now, the Danish word for “end” (as in ending a phone call) is, unfortunately, “slut.”

So, at the end of the phone conversation, he remarked on the sillyness of the word before he hit the button and ended the call. Unfortunately, from the other end, the girl heard:

“OK great, I’ll see you soon. Bye. (pause) Haha, slut!” Click.