Essays and Observations on Danish Existence
— from an expat who knows nothing—
Last weekend at a garden goulash party, I had the chance to sit down with one of my few Danish friends, who also happens to be my coworker (it can be difficult to make a Danish friend unless they’re forced to interact with you daily: so most of my Danish friends are colleagues, classmates, and former roommates).
Concerned by her somewhat distant composure, I asked in Danish, “are you doing alright?” because a party filled with drunken Romanians and Americans can be a bit jarring for some. She nodded, but I didn’t really trust her Danish stonefaced silence, so I followed up, “er du sikker?” — literally translating to “are you sure?”
“…Hvad?” She posited back to me. I repeated my little phrase, not receiving any more understanding, and switched back over to English. “Ahhh.” She said, now understanding.
“How would you say that in Danish?” I asked.
She thought, and after a moment said, “I don’t know…it’s stupid to even need to say that in the first place. We don’t really ever need to say that, we always just trust that the other person is telling us the truth the first time.”
This idea absolutely blew my North American happy-masked mind. The truth? From the start? How can that humanly be possible? In the US, it feels that one really needs to dig down into a conversation before actually getting to the emotional meat of the situation. Even in a call with my mother the other day, when she asked how I was I replied: “fine,” even though after 20 minutes into the conversation I revealed how tired I am at work and how tired the societal climate is making me.
So why don’t we just say what’s on our minds from the start? This topic has been on my mind for a good five years now, as my North American desire to hide the truth continually affects my relationships.
Or perhaps more directly, our ever-expanding egos.
The North American mind desires to have a presence, which is something most of the world does not desire to the same degree. In the US, we are told we can be astronauts or senators or actors when in cold reality only a good .01% of us will actually achieve those desires. To become part of that .01%, we’ll throw our life savings into an expensive degree or a shining white smile. Much of the rest of the world is comfortable with just having a house, a Netflix subscription, and a job to pay for these.
They strive for functionality.
I’m not saying it’s bad to dream big, I’m just saying it’s bad to pass through life only striving for superficial gains. Getting back to emotions, we North Americans don’t reveal our emotions right off the bat because we want to appear stronger, happier, smarter, and more composed than we actually are in reality. We are taught to suffer in silence rather than open up, to keep our true selves hidden so that our desired self can stay preserved on the surface like a calm pond.
Of course, I also think this has something to do with our past as a nation. In a country with so many nationalities and so many different cultural backgrounds all melting in the same hot pot, it’s a lot easier to smile and say “I’m doin’ good” than it is to tell the truth and scare away a someone you may need to depend on in the future. We’ve been taught for generations to just smile rather than show our true selves.
In an old European village, you’ve known everyone since you were born and will only ever know these people, so there is no reason to lie to them over something as trivial as “How are you?” There are more important things to attend to, and worrying about keeping up a manufactured appearance is certainly not one.
So regardless of our melting pot of beautiful teeth and high ambitions, let’s work to be a bit more upfront in the future, and prevent our friends from having to pry the juicy details out from us with stupid questions like “Are you sure?”
What’ve you learned as an expat?