After more than a year of being kind of self-isolated from Danish culture and life in Denmark and Copenhagen generally, I’ve now taken two kind of useful steps toward my own form of integration. Specifically, learning the language and watching television – at the heart of any culture, after all.
Language-wise it’s as simple as it sounds, I’ve starting learning Danish. It’s a deeply challenging language because of the way the the spoken language doesn’t feel like it matches much at all with the written language – they feel like two separate things much of the time. Nonetheless, I’m progressing with my beginners lessons and now feel like I catch the occasional word in others’ conversations, or understand tiny fragments of signs around town and so on.
Learning Danish reminds me all the more thoroughly of how weird an experience it is to live and work somewhere you don’t speak the language. You don’t overhear conversations, you basically don’t “see” advertisements or texts of any kind. You live in a weird kind of “basic semiotic deprivation”. In some ways I suppose it’s liberating not being assaulted by information non-stop, but mostly it’s eerie and you learn to live life as if there’s no reality external to your paths through the world to your job and the supermarket. Which is not so great.
What is great, though, is the television show Forbrydelsen, a Danish crime drama (called “The Killing” in English). We’ve been watching it with subtitles and it’s really very good. They handle relationships between people extremely well, whether it’s the main two cops, bereaved parents, or politicians – people seem, at base, to have genuine fondness for each other, despite the dog-eat-dog world they all seem to exist in. It’s a good thing to see.
Other than improving (while simultaneously overloading) my fledgling Danish, watching Forbrydelsen has also really humanised Denmark, Danes, and Copenhagen specifically. Seeing Danes are “regular folk” who, despite speaking Danish, go about daily lives that are remarkable similar to any other is comforting. It probably shouldn’t be so affecting, but it really has made a difference to feeling more integrated and in touch with life here. Even elevated shots where you see Copenhagen streets from new perspectives is somehow liberating and familiarising (“they have rooftops here!” “the streets look like streets!”). Thus, despite the very gritty nature of the drama itself, Forbrydelsen has been, presumably unintentionally, warm and fuzzy too.
So, about a year or so delayed, starting to live in Denmark.