Is This Seat Taken?

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.


9 thoughts on “Is This Seat Taken?

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  1. I wish I’d read this, or the How to Piss Off a Dane blog, before I started visiting Aarhus for work 4 times a year. My first offense was putting a toe in the bike lane when I was running, to avoid a mommy and stroller who stepped in front of me. Ouch, the verbal abuse was like nothing else I’ve been subjected to…and I spent 20 years living in New Jersey! After that, I think I managed to hit all but 2 of the 6 ways to piss off a Dane.And that was in the first day. Now, I live in Panama, where attempts to speak the language are appreciated, but wearing sweatpants in public is still frowned upon. You’re a fabulous writer, so glad I found your blog.


    1. I laughed out loud at your description of having to make the Sophie’s Choice between getting mowed down by an Humvee size stroller or getting mowed down by Lance Armstrong in the bike lane. Unless you’ve lived in Denmark, you can’t quite appreciate the scene. I’m so glad you came by, and hope I can continue to make you laugh here and there. Enjoy Panama!


  2. Very entertaining, still in love with your quirky phrase construction company. Danish climbing skills are impressive, but no match for Germans. Any ass will do in any queue.


    1. Funny you say that about the Germans, I just had a friend move from here to Germany and she says the ass climbing in the supermarket queue is just as bad as here. This is an older one, am reposting old ones this month as I am trying to do the 50K word novel challenge–another example of ass, as in ass in chair for the next month. Glad to have you back in the comments 🙂


  3. Have you noticed “Danishes” aren’t actually referred to as “Danishes”. Just being pedantic as usual. Great start to Friday morning though, thanks for re-posting. Worryingly, I think I’m starting to be here too long, in the airport security queue the other day I almost started undressing the guy in front he was so slow (at least in my head). Good luck on the 50K challenge.


    1. Just didn’t seem the same to say ‘wienabrød’ (or however it is spelled). Thanks for the luck and I understand your pain re the slow security line–the last time I was there the gentleman in front had to be instructed to take off his belt. Then his watch. Then empty his pockets, etc. etc. I wanted to scream “Have you not flown since 1982!!??”. I refrained. This time…


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D.E. Haggerty

Writer, Blogger, Book Addict

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