When they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish

Walking down the street with a toddler is a sure-fire way to get attention. People love kids, and the Danes are a particularly child-friendly people. The English language is very widely spoken here, but the biggest exception to this rule appears to be elderly women (not the men, which tells me the much praised gender equalities here are quite recent). It leads to many awkward ‘conversations’ where someone begins talking to me, or my son M, and I then have to attempt to say ‘Jeg forstår ikke Dansk’ or ‘taler du Engelsk?’ and hope we get somewhere, or not, in which case we usually both smile awkwardly and move on. Although, yesterday I had a nice encounter on a bus, where the woman continued to talk to M about his ‘blomst’ (the dandelion he was clutching); both M and I could at least understand what she was talking about, and he was quite happy to have his flower admired.

The strangest thing is getting used to not understanding the general hubbub of conversation around me. I sometimes worry that the person shouting in the street is actually trying to get my attention while I wander by obliviously. I wonder whether I’ve mistakenly called people rude in the past, when really they just had no idea what I was saying. M’s presence is often a sneaky lifeline. It isn’t hard to find an excuse to say something to a toddler. Loudly. In English. Passing by the awkward conversation when I finally get to the front of the queue, or need to get past people on the bus.

Next week my husband, R, begins his Danish lessons. I’m missing out as we need M in vuggestue (day-care, see I’m learning) first. Once M does start in July he’ll pick up Danish pretty quickly. We’ll struggle to understand the events of his day if we don’t make the effort. Many migrants on short-term contracts don’t learn Danish, but I think having children necessitates more contact with authorities and services. So far the health services have been great about speaking English. But it would be advantageous if I could speak some Danish. When we needed to see an emergency doctor after M fell off a chair (he’s fine, if slightly more wonky toothed) I had to ask a stranger to read his CPR (Social Security) number over the phone for me, as they expect this before you arrive.

We did online lessons before we came, but that only taught us just enough to get through until someone replies in English. Our written comprehension has definitely improved since we arrived. The trouble is actually trying to say anything. Being surrounded by Danish language doesn’t help either, it just reinforces how far off our attempts at pronunciation are. The other night I flipped the TV over to the Norwegian news. I don’t think I could’ve told the two languages apart when I first arrived, but now it definitely sounds different. We’ve come a long way since we’ve arrived, but holding a conversation in Danish still feels a long way off.

2 thoughts on “When they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish”

  1. Dad always said when he went to lve in ITaly during the war,he always thought they were talking about something terribly important, only to find out that they were discussing the colour of their socks!( probably was important to them)

    1. The Danes are so civilised I think I might have the opposite problem: I think it is polite chit-chat but actually it is vital information. No sock related conversations yet (that I know of)!

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