Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting Old. And Danish.

I’ve decided to try to learn Danish. Mostly because I am an idiot. My Swedish isn’t even that impressive. I can trick people for a decent amount of time, but sooner or later I slip up and suddenly I sound like a five year old unable to decide between en or ett. So what better way to mess that up even more than to learn another Scandinavian language? And one that sounds like there may be a handful of potatoes shoved down the throat of its speakers.

But here I am. In Denmark. Trying to learn Danish. And I feel old. I’m 27. I’m losing my hair on my head and growing hair everywhere else. I have a bad hip. I am nearly blind without my contacts in. If I drink for more than one night in a row I feel like I was trampled by a small herd of elephants. It’s not a pretty sight really. But my boyish charm usually makes up for the outward appearance. But suddenly I am taking classes with a bunch of people that are no older than 21. Most of whom are still teenagers. Some of whom are still in high school. And I feel old. The 18 year old British kid referring to me as “old man” doesn’t help.

The other day a 19 year old British girl (damn those British) asked me how old I was. I answered. Truthfully. She responded by saying that she was surprised and that’s he thought I was only 22. Max. I couldn’t decide if I should be happy that I was mistaken for that age, or sad that I even considered taking that as a compliment. Despite the loss of hair and bad hip, there may be no more definite sign of old age than feeling complimented by someone mistaking you for a younger person. And here I was doing just that.

Worst of all though is not the age difference, it is the inability to make my mouth, tongue, and head do what the Danish language wants me to do. I feel like it’s stuck in Swedish. Which is enough of a challenge what with the sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju skönsjungande sjuksköterskor på det sjunkande skeppet Shanghai and the Knut knöt en knut bakom knuten, och när Knut hade knutit knuten så var knuten knuten.

I have never really learned a language. I took four years of French in high school, but that was a while ago and I could only just get by in France. Because I speak Swedish and English well, it is assumed that I am good at languages. People tend to forget that I got those for free. I didn’t have to learn Swedish. Or English. They came with my mom speaking English to me and my dad speaking Swedish. Essentially, I cheated. So suddenly I find myself struggling to make glottal stops. And remembering that Danes love apocope. Or tongue tapping certain letters. It’s exhausting. And a challenge. And a great way to spend the summer.

It also gives me a newfound appreciation for the multi-lingual friends I have made over the years in Europe. And a newfound appreciation for all those students who put up with my teaching this summer. And for my mom and her willingness (and badass-ness) in learning Swedish damn near 30 years ago.

Welcome to Denmark. And rødgrød med fløde.

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  1. Good luck Young Man. You can do it. I had to learn Swedish (my 5th language) when I was con-si-de-ra-bly older than you. OK, I only get by, but all it takes it practice when you're as young as you are!

  2. This is madness if you ask me. Why would anyone want to learn Danish? If this state of insanity doesn't leave your mind, and you decide to continue with Danish, please write about their counting system. 'Cus I don't get it, at all.

  3. I tried to learn German when I was in college and it was impossible because it was just similar enough to Swedish to confuse me. I suspect the same will happen with you & Danish. Incidentally, Swedes? When I am in Sweden speaking to you in my non-perfect Swedish, DO NOT RESPOND TO ME IN ENGLISH. I take it as an insult. My Swedish may not be perfect, but it is fine.

  4. I am sorry you are so old. I guess I am ancient then...
    I am flattered I am a badass. Always wanted to be a badass, never thought I was. What about pappa is he a badass for learning English?
    Swedish was hard for me to learn, I had studied Spanish all through school and when I started to learn Swedish it was so totally different. I was lost! Worst part though was once I learned Swedish, my Spanish disappeared! Whenever I try to say something in Spanish now it comes out in Swedish! My brain can only handle one extra language besides English I guess. I know your brain is much better and bigger than mine so you should be fine!! Have you started having snaps for breakfast yet? Isn't that what they do in Denmark!!??
    Good luck! Don't let those younsters intimidate you!! Take charge old man.

  5. this might make you feel better
    (you don't know me but I like both your blog and languages)

  6. Floridian in FinlandJuly 14, 2011 at 6:25 AM

    Hi Hairy, I'm glad to see some recent posts from you. Hope you are well and enjoying your travels in Scandinavia. Don't a only a few more years you'll start to feel so old that you'll start to embrace your "old" age. ;)

  7. 27 is not old, H, especially for a guy!!! You haven't even reached your peak :o) Kudos for trying to learn Danish!

  8. ^ Oops, forgot to sign my name :P

  9. Uh, Hairy...
    Could you take the marbles out of your mouth and speak more slowly? You know how old my ears are.

  10. I'm impressed, but the sooner you do it the better. I am a Brit, and speak french and german. I have been attempting to learn swedish for a year now and as I am much, much older then you (my eldest daughter is your age) I am finding it much harder now, although contrary to the above commentator I find that the german helps.

    Age is a strange thing - I met a bald 22 year old the other week, but still thought that he was only about 25.

  11. So now I feel badly about pointing out that I was 27 when I was your junior high teacher. I didn't realize that it would be the first in a series of age related smacks to the psyche. I just wish that my children had learned Swedish for free! They had the same parental set-up but...

  12. I'm 30 now and still don't speak Danish. But I understand it and that's a win in my book.