People assume that it’s the big issues about living abroad that throw you for a loop: language barriers, cultural differences, whether or not to take your shoes off upon entering someone’s house. More often than not though, it’s the little things that get under your skin and niggle away until they fester and sore and threaten to undermine your life. For me, it’s a general disregard for lining up in an orderly fashion and the intrusion upon my personal space. What my sister calls ‘the bubble’.
I come from the land of plenty. We have things big-sky country, The Grand Canyon, grilled meat the size of Texas; McMansions and all you can eat buffets. Big hair, big teeth, big bucks. We like our space, supersized if you please. Here in this land of vikings and Hamlet, however, it seems that I am always in someone’s way.
Now, in case you’ve forgotten, I am a New Yorker. I have 2 decades of city walking under my belt. 20 years of not stopping to smell the roses, head-down-I-have-someplace-to-be-don’t-bother-me experience. I know which door to use on the train, how to move to the rear, how to exit. I didn’t just fall off the majroe** truck. So it came as a bit of a surprise that in Denmark I seem to be, at all times, in the way. At first I chalked it up to having no clue where I was. I thought perhaps I just need to get used to living in another country. Sometimes I have to stop while attempting to sound out a 17 letter street name, that could do it. But after nearly a year I now think it’s just a different view on personal space…and a general dislike of lining up in an orderly fashion.
This is difficult for me. Even living in New York City, where you were often pressed nose to armpit during the morning rush, there was a sense of space. You know those young men on the subway that sit with legs spread wide enough to birth a calf? They are protecting their space. Sure, there are always those that ignore the unspoken rules of living in a small space with millions of people, but they are vilified and on the receiving end of many a pre-caffinated evil eye. Then there are the English. I have always admired the English for their public reservedness and apologetic air of being, as well as their joy in queuing, a skill which has been elevated to a national pastime. As the quote goes, “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.” Bliss. After the laissez-faire, easy-peasy attitude toward rules and order in Cyprus, I had high expectations for Denmark. And while the Danes are great at forms and signaling in the bike lane, I continue, much to my dismay, to have people UP MY ASS.
I admit to indulging in more than my fair share of treats since our arrival (did you wonder where danishes actually come from?), and to having put on a few extra pounds. Still….with 2 kids and a husband, even with the extra padding, there is no room up there for anyone else. On the street, in the bike lane, on the train, in the line for immigration, in the supermarket. Whichever way I turn, there is someone right there, thisclose.
Earlier this year a blog post called How to Piss off a Dane made the rounds. Ironically, it talks about how much the Danes revere their privacy in the public sphere. In my experience, this protection of privacy doesn’t translate into not feeling up the person in front of you, merely not acknowledging their existence while you do so. But what really stuck with me was the quote that a Dane “would climb inside your asshole if only to be a few inches closer to the front of the line.” I laughed. I thought it was a stereotypical exaggeration. But I was wrong. No matter where I turn, there’s a Dane. Thisclose. I can’t get out of the way fast enough.
I love it here. I love the life-style, the work-family balance, the city, the culture, the design. I enjoy the Danes I have met. But man, I could use a bit of space. Until then I shall sharpen my elbows and enter the scrum.
**majroe is the Danish word for turnip. I thought I was being a bit clever there, but it occurred to me that no one was going to know what the hell I was talking about.