Thursday, February 25, 2010

Frustratizations and turns in the weather

There are some things about Danes that are really getting to me, even though I know they shouldn't. I have always been one to accept cultural differences, at least in theory, but now I think in practice I'm finding it harder and harder to deal with the public demeanor of other peoples. None of the following is universal, but we'll just say that I've experienced it enough for it to really tick me off.

The first and least severe of the etiquette infractions I've experienced is that most Danes are not that helpful. There have certainly been some that were a great help, but people don't even seem to know or care about even the areas where they live, let alone seem willing to help you find whatever it is you're looking for. Danes don't like talking to strangers at all, especially not when they haven't been spoken to first. I can understand that this is just how things work in Denmark. However, there are two things that I absolutely cannot understand.

The gangsta aesthetic here is impossibly prevalent amongst Danish youths. It isn't difficult to see the appeal of hip-hop music and raiment to juveniles of any country. What is difficult to understand is the attitude that seems to come along with it. I guess sweeping disrespect for authority is universal, rough childhood or not, but this is a welfare state for christ's sake. These kids will literally never want for anything in their entire lives, yet they dress like assholes, disrespect people and violate their privacy in public spaces -- in a manner most atypical to the vast majority of Danes. They love American hip-hop music, yet I couldn't really think of a place outside of Asia that is culturally further from the environment in which the genre arose. This might stem from my tendency to listen to music that I understand and identify with, emotionally or otherwise.

The last thing, and the thing that makes me want to lash out in fury every agonizing instance of its existence, is that nobody here can understand a single fucking word of my Danish. Yes, you're saying, I can see how that might be frustrating, but I don't get how that experience could be as downright purgatorial as you make it out to be. Well, dear reader, let me tell you the rest of the story. I have a good accent. I know very few phrases, but the phrases I do know I have practiced again, and again, and again and again. I listen to native speakers say them on a regular basis and spend hours emulating the noises. There is no way on god's mostly-blue earth that I'm as bad at Danish as one would gather from the looks I get when I try to speak it. I don't even know how to describe this properly, so I will do so with the most ridiculous literary devices I can think of:

Yesterday a woman on the train wanted to tell me that this was the last stop on the line we were on, and as I was to later find out she said as much, very clearly in Danish. This would have been obvious to me already if I hadn't been dead asleep for the past 1/2 hour of the ride, but the bottom line is that the scene opens with some lady saying something to me in Danish that I clearly don't understand. The most helpful phrase I've learned here so far is "I don't speak Danish," or "Jeg taler ikke Dansk." This is not a long phrase. The pronunciation isn't even that strange as Danish phrases go. I said it out loud, in a manner of appropriate volume and enunciation, looking straight at her. From the look on her face, I seriously thought that in my sleep I had accidentally done grievous bodily harm to somebody very dear to her. She looked not just confused, but actually disgusted at my utterance of that simple yet essential phrase. Her reply was "What?!?" as if I had just insinuated that by night she sells her body to fat Swedes on the ferry.

I was literally livid with frustration. I know that Danes have a hard time with accents, but I simply WILL NOT accept that the level of mis- or total incomprehension I have been subjected to in this country is tolerable or even rational. I'm trying so hard and it feels like getting slapped in the face every time somebody asks me if I'm speaking German. I'm telling you guys, my accent is really pretty spot-on. It's obvious that I'm not a native, because to achieve that kind of proficiency in this language involves growing extra folds in your soft palette or fucking gills or something.

On top of this, today marks the first day of the rains and, in all likelihood, the last day of snow in any serious capacity. Most would rejoice at this painfully lackluster display of warmth, but I am more depressed by far. Aside from my freakish affinity for the cold, I really fucking hate rain, especially clouds. My only way of dealing with the weather here has been to avoid thinking about it as much as humanly possible. I can count two days where it has been sunny for even a majority of the day, let alone the whole thing. If I didn't have such a burning hatred of numbers, I would calculate a percentage of sunny days out of my total days here. The result, we shall say, would be mind-shattering.

So, am I going a little crazy over here? Yes. I haven't been getting out quite as much, I've been up later and spending more time recovering from said late nights than I usually would. I have a really long day ahead of me, tacking on to my already 5 hours of wakefulness at 11:12 am, but with any luck or vague sense of cosmic consistency it will end well. My plan for today is to get through classes and a Danish quiz, over at 5:45, and then grab drinks with the interns and staff of the IT helpdesk here. I have hit it off with them really well the few times I've been in with friends' computer problems or those of my own, and if nothing else we will have ridiculous customer service stories to swap over a few brews. Then, it's back to Mojo again to see their house jam band tear it up. My goal from now until that begins at 9:30 is to get as many people as I can to come along with me. I think pretty much everyone I live with is busy with work or other plans, but I can't spend another night sitting around on this infernal machine upon which I now chisel this cursed tome.

One light in the bleak and never-ending sea of greyscale of this country is that we are close enough to Sweden to get their major sports networks, which means Olympic hockey! Naturally, Denmark is terrible at just about every sport -- known or as of yet undiscovered -- so nobody here cares about the Olympics, and thus very little of it is broadcast. The up/downside to having to watch on Swedish networks is I've had the distinct (dis)pleasure of listening to Swedish commentary. I am in such a habit of tuning out the banal blatherings of whatever once-almost-famous stiffs they can resuscitate for long enough to draw Xs and Os on whatever hideous technological holdover from the 1980s they can rig up before going on air, that even in languages I understand, I get about the same value out of it. As much as I'm filled with xenophobic rage at the perceived rudeness I have suffered at the hands of the Danes, I don't think anyone can help but find the Swedish language anything short of hilarious. Listening to the Swedes, especially the old ones who have the real Nordic Lilt in their voice where our deepest caricatures of their language originate from, turn names like "Jack Johnson" into "Yak Yawnsoon" could make a hanged man grin. That being said, the prevailing inferiority complex that the Danes have in regards to Sweden leads me to believe that I shouldn't be happy about having to watch things in Swedish.

I will now take a moment to pay tribute to the United States of America's Men's Olympic Ice Hockey team, who are kicking ass and taking names in the true likeness of Uncle Sam and the rag-tag bunch of kung-fu hustlin' superdelegates that founded our great country. After brutally burgling the Canadians of the only thing their nation had (very intentionally past tense) to be proud of with the defeat of their supersquad of Canuck Puckslingers, the American team has done us proud as a nation and, it is my firm belief, will continue to do so until the halcyon wings of freedom have vaulted them to highest position on the winner's podium. Oh, say, I can already see that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the lands of the Canadians as we slowly but inexorably subsume their culture and territory into ours.

I myself tried to go ice skating for about the 6th time yesterday, figuring it would be nice to finally use the skates I had shipped over here, and after weeks of asking around (not surprisingly nobody had any even remote idea of where to find an ice skating rink) and searching frantically on the interwebs I finally thought I had found a place. I got the address, printed out explicit and detailed instructions on how to get there, had my watch synchronized with the atomic clock and my skates ready to go. I even called ahead to make sure they were open for public skating. The detail that I missed was that this ice rink was closed two years ago for renovations, and a temporary rink in a completely different part of town was opened and given the same number. So while I did call ahead and confirm, after almost 4 hours of stumbling around the public transportation system to the far reaches of Osterbro and back, all I came back with was an unpleasantly intimate knowledge of a dilapidated building that once held the object of my dreams and desires, where now only regret and shame remain. I did have a bitchin' chicken and jalapeno sandwich across the street, though, and I got to know that area better. So, as usual, all is not lost. Just a little disappointing.

Last night I got to take another crack at singing The Balcony with Jeppe, and besides the fact that we both keep switching the lyrical order in different ways (it's been a while since our last rehearsal), the piece is really coming together. We got some preliminary informal recordings of it, you can expect a video of the finished piece by mid-March after I get back from my long study tour. I love singing songs, especially ones that sound good, especially ones that sound good that have harmonies (which is all of them). Slowly I will master this craft of harmonizing, until I can harmonize with everyday speech and just totally destroy peoples minds when they talk to me. The song, which is realllllly good and should be thoroughly investigated by anybody who has remotely similar music tastes to me, is by a Danish band called The Rumour Said Fire as I have probably mentioned a dozen times before. Jeppe and I will be performing it for a showcase night on March 20th at my folkehojskole, and hopefully again at other venues after that.

Even in a land of dank, cloudy frustration and brusque natives, there remains opportunity and promise for an enterprising young fool like me. The question will slowly but surely come to be about how this will translate to my life at home, around which I have constructed convenient and very cloistering barricades that prevent new things from entering or exiting. I'm not sure how to answer that, nor do I think I will be until I can see first-hand how it plays out, but I have some idea of where to start.

1 comment:

  1. german? pffft.

    can't wait to harmonize with youuuuu.

    ReplyDelete