Friday, October 02, 2009
We have been back in Seattle for nearly a month now, living in temporary housing in an apartment complex close to Microsoft. Everything so far is going well and according to plan - we've found a house, Tom is working hard at his new job, Cavan has started afternoon preschool, and me....I've become a stay-at-home-mom-driver-of-an-SUV. With Cavan's new preschool a good half hour from our apartment (though it will be 3 minutes from our new house) I am literally out and about all afternoon, running errands with Devon, going for walks, basically killing time from 12:30 when I drop him off until 3:00 when I pick him up. Back in Denmark, when I envisioned my return to the States, I anticipated much less driving than we are actually doing now. Hopefully that will change once we move and are reunited with our bikes and trailer again. Then, of course, it will start raining and getting dark at 5:00, so maybe we will opt for the comfort of the SUV after all....
I've been feeling the need to blog today, because I think I have finally reached a moment of clarity in my transition from being an "American-Living-In-Denmark" to a "More-Danish-Than-Your-Average-American-American-Living-In-The-U.S." This entry, my friends, is all about identity, and how contextual it is. (I want to say 'situated' but that would just be me using my educational jargon).
In choosing to live in another country, and to learn another language more specifically, you are choosing, in a sense, to begin a new life, to open a new door and walk through it. Many people travel and "eavesdrop" in a sense on the languages and cultures of others, but to really put yourself into that culture and language requires the creation of a new persona, a new you. When you choose to be brave and do this, you must quickly come to terms with the fact that you will become a stuttering, sputtering, incomprehensible idiot (okay, that's a bit harsh, but that's often how it feels). You mispronounce your own street name, you respond inappropriately when someone gives you a compliment, you watch to see how other people are behaving in social situations so that you don't look like a bafoon eating your pizza or your burger with your hands. So in these early days, the identity of "bungler" is born.
Later comes confidence, routine, assimilation. The daily life of bungling through a new language and culture slowly gives way to an identity of one who perserveres. The wins begin to edge out the losses. The successes overshadow the failures. People stop treating you so much like a foreigner, and converse with you as they would any other person. You become a "master foreigner".
So here is where the trouble begins again. You move back to your own country. Suddenly you are walking down the street (or driving your SUV) just like everyone else again. There are no external markings to show where you have been, who you have become, or what you have gained. You have mastered being a foreigner, but suddenly that job title has no meaning. Even for yourself, the persona you have created starts to slip away. Your hard-earned identity no longer has a context. You must pick up some of the pieces of who you once used to be, before you ever moved, and try to start forging some new ones.
For me, there has been less culture shock in coming back to the States, as there has been this "life shock" as I like to now call it. It doesn't help that at the same time that I'm floating between two countries, I am also floating between graduate school and a career. The experience has been so jarring for me, that I quickly sought out a Danish-speaking playgroup as soon as we got to Seattle. I have met twice now with some Danish mothers and their kids. And today it makes sense to me why I felt so compelled to join this group - to have a context to validate the Danish-speaking-Lindsay identity that I have been crafting over the past 2 1/2 years. I say that I want to keep up the language (and I do) but I think I am also afraid that that part of who I am will disappear if I don't actively pursue it.
I worry about this for Cavan too, as he became a user of language and aware of himself as a person in a bilingual context. It both surprised and saddened me on Wednesday during our playgroup when I found that after just 6 weeks of being out of Denmark, Cavan could not find the voice to speak to anyone in Danish. Of course he understands still (and maybe he's just temporarily feeling weird about speaking Danish with strangers) but his confidence was gone. He, like everyone else who moves to another country with a different culture and language, is adapting himself to the present context. As a child, however, he is reacting in a less nostalgic, more pragmatic manner. The friendly and nurturing Danish of his teachers and peers at day care are gone. The familiar and powerful English of his family life is now all around him. As he told me himself when I tried to speak Danish to him one day, "I'm not a day care boy anymore. I'm a preschool boy." Context. That identity is no longer relevant for him.
He and I are taking different paths in our return to the States, but these experiences are shaped by our surroundings, and how we are choosing to identify ourselves in relation to them. I hope that by continuing contact with Danish speakers here in Seattle we can preserve at least some part of who we were...are...becoming.
Monday, August 10, 2009
It seems that this blog is about to reach its end. In just eight days, I will be flying out with the boys (and since I haven't updated in forever, boys = Cavan + Devon, now 3 months old) and Tom will follow a few days behind. Moving back to Seattle. When we left, we weren't sure if we'd ever live there again, but as it turns out, we get to come full circle in this adventure. We are right now in the midst of all the usual stress of moving, though the emotions this time are a bit different. Instead of looking forward to an adventure into the unknown, we are craving the comforts of home. Instead of sightseeing, getting lost and being misunderstood, we will be visiting our old favorite hangouts and getting together with friends we haven't seen for years.
The thing that makes me most sad about leaving Denmark is missing out on the opportunity for the boys to grow up here. It has just been a joy to watch as Cavan has begun to explore his identity as an American living in Denmark, as a speaker of two languages. It is both exciting to think of what it will be like for him to interact with more kids in his first language, and sad to know that all that he has learned in the past 2 years will blur and then fade and then someday be forgotten - even though I know that these experiences have shaped him profoundly and will continue to effect how he thinks and learns for the rest of his life. I feel the same for myself in a way. Somewhere along the way, I developed my own identity as a foreigner and have grown used to the tension of trying to piece together the right things to say, of saying nothing when I couldn't find the words. I have both loved the challenge, and regretted that my true self has been inhibited in many of my personal interactions. It has been in some ways painful being different, but I think it has helped me to find out what I am and what I am not. Or will it all change again once we are back on familiar ground?
Two things stand out to me as "souvenirs" that I would like to take home from Denmark. The first, I want me and my boys to continue learning foreign languages and for that to become a part of who we are as a family. And second, to keep biking! As I look online for houses in Seattle, I find myself examining neighborhoods for bike-ability to shopping, trails, etc. I will be happy to drive my Honda again, but I am reluctant to move back into the car culture. If only we could take the bicycle lanes home with us.
We will likely update a few more times as we re-enter the atmosphere, as we discover what those eight degrees of separation feel like all over again. Stay tuned!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
We are soon coming up on the two year mark of living in Denmark. While there are a mountain of things that we have come to miss about being in the States (and can't wait to go back to), I personally feel like I have adjusted to living here. Being able to speak the language, having a job to go to, seeing people that I know at the grocery store, and of course having a car, have helped life to settle into a new normal.
Every once in awhile, however, homesickness hits me out of the blue and makes me realize just how far away my life has drifted from the familiar. Last weekend, I was out by myself shopping at the grocery store, when I heard some country music playing over the store's radio. This may not seem so remarkable, but virtually no one listens to country music here - it's not on the radio, and I don't think you can buy much in stores. So while I was picking out avocados, I was pulled back through time to "You Picked A Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille" and was discussing with my sister whether there were four hungry children or four hundred children. In the frozen food aisle, it was "Blue" and I was suddenly transported to a warm summer night, rocking with the waves on Mom and Dad's boat at the Lake. And it just brought tears to my eyes, missing the warmth, my family, and the familiarity of all those country songs.
Today, Cavan and I went to see the new Disney cartoon "Bolt". The movie was dubbed into Danish, as children are typically not good at reading subtitles. Believe it or not, after nearly two years of living in Denmark, this is the first time I've seen a movie in the theater that was not in English. I had no problems understanding, and I assume Cavan didn't either - another sign of how far we've come and how much we've learned since living here. And then came the scene, of Bolt and his road companions working their way West across the United States to find Penny in California. And the homesickness hit me again, as they crossed state lines into Missouri and Kansas. The road trip, the never ending highway, the waffle houses....we have taken a car trip or two since living in Europe, but it's not quite the same.
I like living in Europe for many reasons, and I feel that we as a family have done a good job at integrating ourselves into many of the lifestyles changes that go along with being here. But I am in my heart a proud American, and there are a great many things I miss about my culture, which I don't even realize on a daily basis. These little moments, however, break into my consciousness and call me back home. I'm not ready to go just yet - as I know that once we leave, this time in our lives will become something like a dream itself - but I do look forward to our homecoming, with all the small surprises of the things we didn't even know we'd missed for so long.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Welcome friends and family to the darkest day of the year. According to weather.com, the sun will rise today at 8:37am and set again at 3:39pm. It's 8:25 in the morning as I sit here and type, and I can verify that I first saw some light in the sky about 15 minutes ago. The cloud cover looks a little lighter than usual, so we may even possibly see a few rays of sunshine today. A few weeks ago, when the sun came out for a few minutes on a Saturday outing, Cavan was absolutely blinded by the light - it was as if we'd just crawled out of a cave. You would never believe how pale we all are right now!
Despite the dark and cold, we do have a reason to celebrate this weekend. Yesterday, after weeks of relentless pursuit on car-buying websites, we finally found one to call our own. We bought privately, so got a little bit newer car for the money - it's a white '99 Ford Escort with a hatchback. The space is incredible for a European car. We will easily be able to transport two kids, the dog and a barnevogn (pram) when we finally get around to buying one.
As much as I hate to sound like a spoiled American, I couldn't be more relieved right now. I will actually be able to run quickly and get groceries after getting off work and picking up Cavan from day care. We can drop off our recycling materials at the recycling center without encountering 20 minutes of blustery bike-riding there and then back again. The biggest relief, however, comes from being able to retire my bicycle for the time being. As much as I have enjoyed the exercise and the forced exposure to the elements, I have discovered that 20 weeks of pregnancy and winter weather are not the most ideal conditions for such a lifestyle. While I have no problems riding my bike at the moment, I have found that getting on and off requires more intense effort and concentration. The laws of physics were bound to catch up with me, as I rode down a wet street with a 20 pound belly, a 30 pound child and 10 pounds of groceries balanced on the top of my two wheels.
Looking forward, there are only brighter days to come. More mobility, and hopefully more fun activities. Right now we're looking into local swim halls, so that Cavan and I can get some good old-fashioned indoors exercise. Here's to living a more normal life !
Monday, October 27, 2008
We have survived over 1 1/2 years without a car to drive, and for the most part we are used to the challenges and can plan effectively around them. However, with Baby #2 on the way (due in May) our transportation options are quickly dwindling. We're hoping to make it a few more months with me on my bike, and in the meantime we're considering our options for either buying or leasing a car for the duration of the pregnancy and through the newborn months.
But let me tell you, this is not an easy decision to make, nor a fun process to go through. Through the searching I've done so far online, here are the Top 6 reasons that I've come up with why buying a car in Denmark sucks:
- Unit conversion - odometers are in kilometers, gas mileage is in liters, and prices are in kroners. Sure, I can use my calculator, but it takes a long time to figure out what kind of car you can get for the money.
- This is the kind of car you can buy for the equivalent of $5000 - depressing. (that is a 1997 Fiat Cinquecento 1,1 Sporting with 185,000km, by the way)
- Tax on said yellow car is 25% - an extra $1250.
- Have you ever heard of these makes/models: Citroen Xantia, Fiat Brava, Opel Astra, Renault Clio???? This is mostly what a search in our price range yields. How am I supposed to know which car will likely not break down on the motorvej?
- $7-ish per gallon for gas. Once we do find a car, we're still likely looking at heavy operating expenses. If gas costs this much, what about regular maintenance? What do we do if the old clunker does break down?
- We've been in Denmark long enough to settle into a comfort zone, where we have safely excluded life dealings that we're unfamiliar with. Buying a car takes us into uncharted waters - getting a Danish driver's license, buying insurance, reselling the car when we leave, etc.
On the bright side, once we get past this stage of figuring out what in the heck we're going to do, I have the feeling that owning a car in Denmark is going to open up a whole new world of possibilities for us, and make life unbelievably easier. No more waiting an hour for the next bus for a Sunday day trip, no more looking at the sky to see if a trip to the store is in the question. And we can start taking Sasha out on more adventures with us again. Not to mention, easier access to McDonalds and the grocery store that sells American items - two things that are guaranteed to make a pregnant woman happy.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
My command of the Danish language is very shaky, yet somehow I manage to get through each day at my new job as assistant teacher in a vuggestue (day care for children up to 2 1/2 years). It helps that children I work with have a average working vocabulary of about 4-5 words. Of course, there are many things I have to negotiate and communicate with my co-workers on a daily - scratch that - minute-by-minute basis: So and so needs to be changed. Who's going to get the food cart from the kitchen? What time do you leave today? So and so just woke up. We can't rinse the hard-boiled eggs because the water has been shut off while they're fixing the washing machine down in the basement. Little things like that, over and over again all day long.
So to say the least, I'm getting in some good practice. My co-workers assure me that it is not too irritating working with me, my American accent, and my limited comprehension. I get what they say for the most part. By the second time for sure. They understand me for the most part, by the second time I repeat something usually. It's a little trickier talking with parents because I never know what they're going to pull out of the air to talk about. Mysterious illnesses or rashes that I have never heard of, references to lost articles of clothing, specific instructions for what so and so can eat because his tooth is loose after a fall. And then there are lunch breaks in the staff room, which surprisingly haven't been too hard for me to follow. We talk about vacation, other day care institutions, the weather, how long I've been in Denmark and how long I plan to stay.
All in all, I like going to work. Being with small children, there's rarely a dull moment, and it's nice to have a real experience observing learning in an institution after so many years of studying learning in institutions. After just three weeks, most of the kids have grown fond of me, and sometimes fight over my lap. It's a good feeling to give and receive so many hugs in the course of the day. Certainly more tangible rewards than sitting and writing a dissertation alone in my house. Throw in the free snacks of rye bread and banana slices, hot lunches of beef stew and rice, and an income to support our traveling habit, and I figure I've got a pretty sweet job (for now).
Saturday, August 02, 2008
One of the most interesting aspects of our move to Denmark has been our transition from having a car to biking and taking public transportation. Jumping on our bikes to head to the train station, the grocery store, or to take a ride for fun out in the forest is second nature to us now. It has been fun seeing how Cavan has experienced this as well.
In early May, a couple of weeks after we returned from our trip to the States, we noticed that Cavan was spending a lot of time at his day care on these orange bikes that they have, which have no pedals. They sit low enough for kids to push along on the ground with their feet and are amazing at helping them to learn to balance on their own. One day when I picked Cavan up, I watched as he picked up his feet and began to coast down the sidewalk there on the playground. I talked to his lead teacher a few days later, and she told me how much Cavan loved to ride that bicycle all day, and how it would be great if he had one of his own that he could bring (apparently because he just stood watching when another kid was using one of the orange ones). So we ordered one on the internet and surprised Cavan with it a few days later. In Danish, it is called a løbecykle which translates to "running bicycle."
Ever since getting his own bike, Cavan has learned so much about bicycle safety and the rules of the road. Every day, on the way to day care, we both ride our bikes together through the "Skovly" - a collection of small houses and gardens in a relatively closed off area. He has learned to listen for cars (which drive very slowly) and to pull off to the side to let them pass. We also bike around in our neighborhood, where he has learned to ride beside me on my right side, on the street. He has learned to stop at intersections and to look both ways for cars. A few times, I have even let him ride on the bicycle lane with me on a busier street near our home. One day, he even managed to keep up while we went for a ride on a path through the forest, near our home. We were out riding for over 40 minutes! He's had a few small crashes, but for the most part, he rides very under control.
In the U.S., it seems that we get bicycles as toys. While Cavan certainly plays around on his and enjoys riding, his has been a very different experience. Already at 2 1/2, he uses it for transportation and understands that he is a part of traffic when he rides. And all of this on a bike that has no pedals! So here are a few pictures and a short video of Cavan riding, in case you're reading and wondering what in the heck I'm talking about:
This is a picture of our ride home through the Skovly:
There is a place there in the middle for him to rest his feet while he's coasting. Definitely a great feature that this particular bike has, which I haven't seen on other models.
And here's a short vid of Cavan riding, about a week and a half after he got his bike. I don't have anything more recent, but this is still cute, I think: