I recently wrote something for The Copenhagen Post which I knew would cause a bit of a ruffle. But I stand by it. Here it is in full.
I had an epiphany the other day that reduced my stress levels no end: I am no longer going to feel guilty about not speaking Danish.
I’m going to let it go.
Some people say to me I should speak Danish. Like it’s an easy task. Like it’s not a hard language to learn. Well it is. It really is. I mean, there’s a reason it never caught on. And I’m raising two tiny kids. I’m not going to dedicate what precious little down time I have to sitting in a classroom of an evening learning Danish. I’m too tired.
Some people have said that the fact I don’t speak Danish is disrespectful. I’ll tell you what else is disrespectful. Trying to make me do something I don’t have the time, money or inclination to do, just so you can feel a little less uncomfortable. Me not speaking Danish is not going to undermine Danish culture, tradition and heritage. I’m polite and courteous, I work hard, I obey the law. I pay my taxes. I’m just trying to get through the damn day. Leave me alone.
And if you’re not comfortable speaking English? That’s fine. I’ll meet you half way. We can still converse. Because I guarantee your English will always be better than my Danish. And speaking Danish to Danes is a grueling, demoralizing ordeal. Why? Because Danes are just not used to hearing their language spoken with a foreign accent, so there’s no cognitive elasticity. That’s why, if you mispronounce a Danish word, even slightly, they often won’t understand you. They won’t meet you half way.
Some people have told me I’m arrogant. How dare I come over here and not speak the language. I’m not arrogant. I’m just honest and realistic. I do understand why some ex pats feel they should learn Danish. They see themselves as guests in this country. Well I’ve got news for you. You’re not a guest. You come here legally and pay your taxes? You’ve got as much right to be here as any Dane. And if you think being born here gives you the right to tell a foreigner how they should conduct themselves, if they contribute equally to society, then you’re just a big old racist.
I’m not patriotic. As you can tell. Take my own country. There are things I love about Britain. There are things I hate about Britain – especially right now. But it has great pubs! I loathe nationalism. It’s dangerous, it’s divisive and it’s destructive. I don’t care where you’re from. Just be kind, be generous of spirit, be open to others’ differences. That’s enough surely?
I love the ex pat community. Because here, we interact with people from all over the world, bringing with us a veritable multiverse of culture, history, customs and experience. Denmark is a monoculture. The ex pats bring the diversity. They bring vibrancy. This is not a ghetto, it’s a wonderful rainbow of inclusivity, splattering colour over all this Danish grey. I’m proud to call myself an ex pat. We don’t all need to be waving a flag all the time.