A New Way of Thinking

Now that I am accustomed to the Danish lifestyle and I know how to interact with people here in Copenhagen I don’t notice the differences as much. However, a weekend trip to the Cotswolds in England showed me just how much I have adjusted, and also made me realize what I miss about American culture.

There are some bits of Danish culture that are quite opposite from American culture. A main one that infiltrates much of life here is how aloof people are. I am not saying that people aren’t nice, but they very much mind their own business unless they are approached first. The people in Denmark do not go out of their way to be open or warm. For example, it is customary on the bus or train to say nothing, and when it is time to get past somebody the maximum that is said is a muttered “unskyld”. Usually some simple shuffling and packing up will say this for you though.

Copenhagen Central Train Station
Copenhagen Central Train Station

When we arrived in England we immediately began to see similarities with American culture, and realized some of the qualities we missed. First, our taxi driver was incredibly chatty and informative. Of course, since he is a taxi driver this might just be part of his job description. It isn’t part of his job, however, to walk us into the hotel and wait until we were checked in and certain that it was the right place until he left. Such concern and warmth is hard to come by in Copenhagen! Another example of the more open warmth of the English (and American) people was when Anna and I were in a store looking at cheeses and jams. We were wondering out loud where we could find miniature jellies that we could take home (since airplane regulations would limit the size), when an older man interjected and suggested that we look for them down the street at the local art fair. He described where to find them and wished us good luck. We were very surprised and grateful for his impromptu advice, since this sort of help must be asked for in Copenhagen.

Another difference that sticks out in my mind is the language. It is amazing how fast my mind has shifted to thinking in a multi-lingual way. When I look at signs I automatically assume I will have to translate or guess what they mean. And even though everybody here speaks amazing English, I feel guilty when I talk to people and force them to speak in anything but Danish. I also have stopped eavesdropping on people because I can’t understand them (oh come on, I can’t turn off my ears!). It was liberating to talk to people in England and not feel bad about making them talk in English, and I could understand people when I overheard them talking!

This new mindset I have developed helps me survive in Copenhagen, but until I went to England, where people are more openly friendly and where I have more in common with them culturally, I never knew how much I really changed my ways. It takes a lot of concentration and energy that I didn’t realize I was spending every day to live in a place that is so different. Even though I feel more adjusted now, it is difficult to relax when I constantly have to worry about how to communicate with people.

So, a weekend in the English countryside was even more relaxing than we had anticipated. Anna, Jackie, Mia and I stayed in a lovely flat in a quaint town called Chipping Camden. We drank lots of tea, ate lots of scones and took a long countryside walk Pride and Prejudice style(!). We were even welcomed at a church service where the old lady in front of us helped us follow along and introduced us to many of the other elderly parishioners during the post-service coffee.

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A long walk in the countryside ended at Broadway Tower, which was actually a lot shorter than we thought it would be! It still offered wonderful views of the surrounding land.
A long walk in the countryside ended at Broadway Tower, which was actually a lot shorter than we thought it would be! It still offered wonderful views of the surrounding land.
Me, Anna and Jackie at the top of Broadway Tower.
Me, Anna and Jackie at the top of Broadway Tower.

 

Back in Copenhagen I got right back into the groove of translating and not interacting with strangers, becoming more like a Dane again and trying not to stand out. Getting a taste of my own American ways through England was a wonderful break, but I’m glad I am challenging myself more by studying in a country that is farther removed from American culture. All of these challenges automatically come with living and studying in a country that speaks in a different language, and any study abroad experience will contain unexpected cultural lifestyle differences. These are what I am studying abroad for, after all! J

Here are some more pictures of our weekend in the Cotswolds – cheers!

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