I view speaking Danish as a massive border that I have crossed. Although I carry a Danish passport, have a mom whose mother tongue is Danish, and have a deep personal affection towards Denmark itself, I never felt like I truly belonged here until I could communicate with fluency and ease in Danish. Perhaps for some this may seem unjustified. The easy answer to my quandary is to simply ignore other people’s perceptions and focus on oneself. This is easier said than done, and when you’ve got a chip on your shoulder and something to prove, that can seem like a Sisyphean task.
The notions of ease and comfort are quintessential to everyday life. The boringly monotonous routine that one follows when living in their ‘home’ country is taken for granted when language is not an issue. For a perfectionist like myself, it was not enough to be able to order a coffee or ask where the restroom was in Danish. As long as I could still feel the gears churning when attempting a conversation, I simply did not feel Danish.
In essence, language and identity are thoroughly intertwined. To me, this means that language can be the key to truly having a Danish identity. However, it is significant to acknowledge that identity is a deeply personal issue. Identity is a construct, it is fluid, and my perceptions of my identity and what constitutes my own Danish-ness are not meant to be used as a universal template for others undergoing similar experiences in Denmark. Once I was actually able to understand a whole night’s worth of conversation at a dinner party, or able to go on a date and only speak Danish, it was like something just clicked, and I’d crossed a milestone in the vast wall that was the Danish language. I’d opened up a whole new world of opportunities for myself. I could read the posters at my university, I could understand passers-by, I could listen to the Queen’s speech at New Years (albeit the Danish sense of humour still slips under my radar occasionally). In my own way, I’d truly crossed a border.
By Maya Schwartz
You can read part one [here]
2 thoughts on “Between Two Worlds: crossing borders in language and identity (part two)”
I really appreciated reading this article. I just returned to the US after 18 months in Denmark. I loved the country, but I never learned the language with any fluency and it really affected my experience. I was never able to enjoy group interactions. Now that I’m home, that’s the greatest experience. I was so lonely in Denmark. I’m not lonely anymore.
With thanks! Valuable information!