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Monday, October 7, 2013

Danish Rubbing off. By John von Daler

                 Let's get this straight: Danish sounds like the coughing teenagers used to do in math class to camouflage their swear words. Hugga hugga hugga Fug ga You ga! It's that glottal stop.
               When I got to Denmark I enrolled in a three year Danish course. Quickly all the grammar fell into place and I could even say good morning to a happy farmer in his field. In the streets of Copenhagen, though, I was not doing all that well. Everybody speaks English here and they want to practice on you.
                Then I got a chance to take a trip to Norway with a group of Danes. We were going to do some cross-country skiing. In my mind the term "cross-country" opens visions of snow-covered plains, long, straight ski-tracks through the trees and sun-tanned skin in a parka.
                Norway does not really have plains. It has mountains.
                So every day I found myself sweating up those mountains and v-skiing down the other side very, very slowly. I also found the sauna, the buffet and the bar. This brings me back to Danish.
                Danish is a little bit like Norwegian. Norway used to be "owned" by Denmark. Norwegians used to come to Copenhagen to study. The two countries have some kind of rapport with each other, even though the Norwegian language warbles while Danish wallows. You can sort of talk to each other without really having to study the other language.
                This brings me back to the bar. Behind it a beautiful, dark-haired, brown-eyed lady in a patterned woolen sweater and tight ski pants poured out beers and whiskys for the tired skiers. I found out that she and I could talk together in Norwegian and Danish. After that it took me all of ten minutes to learn Danish.
                When I speak these days, people say they cannot hear I was born in the U.S. But if I get mad or scared or nervous some of my early habits return. Some say I sound like someone from the Faroe Islands. Others say I sound Norwegian. Could be something rubbed off.

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