7 Things I Didn’t Know I Was Missing About the States

Coming back to the States this time, had a different feel than it ever has before.  It’s the second time I’ve been back since I moved abroad, but considering that last time, I was somewhere deep inside a having-a-newborn-haze, I noticed many more things this time around.  These are some things I didn’t realize I was missing about the good ol’ USA

1. Being Polite:  Not to say that people are not polite in Denmark, or that I’m not polite in Denmark, but I forgot how easy it is to be polite in your mother tongue.  No wondering if I was saying the right thing, in the right way.  I knew exactly how to respond to any small-talk venture, and could very my “yes, thank you”s with some “absolutely!”s and “definitely!”s.  I do all my communicating in Danish here, with the exception of Andreas, Theo, and friends of mine that aren’t from here.  I am just so used to dealing with the daily frustrations or insecurities of communicating in Danish, that I totally forgot that sometimes, trips to the shop are actually super easy, and not intimidating at all.

2. Friendliness:  This is kind of an add-on to number one, but the friendliness was refreshing!  I had a full, easy conversation with another mom at the park, and even got to know a few people on our plane trip.  While I do actually appreciate the Danish anonymity on public transport, and the lack of expectation to make small talk, it is really nice once in a while to go back to the Midwest way of living, and for the three weeks that we were there, I found it really easy and comfortable to talk to strangers.

3. Variety:  We were looking forward to shopping in the US (we even came over with a suitcase packed into a bigger, empty suitcase so we’d have more room to bring our goodies home).  But I was focused on the cheaper prices (and the knowledge of which stores carry what for what price), and had completely forgotten about the sheer amount of choice in the shops.  While it was fantastic while we were shopping for clothing, and I could get whatever caught my fancy, I was struck with a bit of green jealousy, when I saw the homewares that were much too big to bring home.  If only I had that kind of selection at those prices here in Denmark, we would have the most beautiful home!

4. Food:  Okay, I did know that I missed the food.  But I really missed it, so I think it deserves a spot on the list anyways.  Topping the list are: Vegetarian Italian sausage (and just all of the vegetarian options in general!), crackers, cheese curds, and donuts (I didn’t actually even get any donuts while we were there, so I might just have to make some myself soon!).  I would probably be embarrassed if anyone saw the size of the sack of candy I brought home with me.

5. Amazon:  It’s been so long since we could use Amazon, that I rather forgot how awesome it is!  We mostly did one big Amazon haul, but it was fantastic to find almost every special thing we needed in one place, with free two-day shipping.  It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have it here, because I’m sure our budget would spout a little leak, but it was fantastic while it lasted!

6. Animals;  Yes, okay, there are animals in Denmark.  But this is more of a going-back-home sort of thing.  My parents’ house is filled with animals.  At present, they have: a canary, a parakeet, two guinea pigs, a cat, and a dog (with an additional cat and her four kittens living on the front porch).  Theo loved each and every one of them, and they tolerated him with varying degrees of caution.  It’s really fun to have animals around, and since we’re not at a point in life where pets are a great idea, it’s an exciting bonus when we visit my family.

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7. Cars:  I do love being a bike family in Denmark.  It works well for our life here, it’s cheaper, environmentally friendly, etc. etc.  But in the US, people have cars–and for good reason!  No one wants to bike thirty miles to get to the grocery store.  We went on a few trips to town, and my parents were good enough to loan us their family car, and it was great!  I did not have to think about how I was going to bike home with everything I was buying.  I didn’t have to carry ALL the things we were buying into every store we were going to.  It was a welcome break.

I’ll never be sorry that I made the swift and absolute decision to live in Denmark, but the longer I’m away from my homeland, the lovelier I find my visits, and I rather like it that way.

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How to Creat Life–the Danish Way

The first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant was hop online and start Googling.  I took a test first thing in the morning, freaked out (in a good way), and resolved not to tell Andreas until he got home.  I finished knitting him a pair of socks, knitted a tiny baby sock to go with them (my way of telling him the news), and then it was about noon and I had four and a half hours until I could tell anyone.  So I Googled.  I googled “pregnancy tips,” “pregnancy week-by-week,” and “early pregnancy symptoms.”  And then I googled “graviditet.”  A lot of the advice was common sense, and overlapped: Eat a varied diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t take lots of medicine.  But a lot of it differed, albeit perhaps slightly.  The American advice said not to drink coffee, or eat sushi, soft serve ice cream, lunchmeat, soft cheeses, sprouts, soft boiled eggs, smoked fish, or even anything at a potluck.

Well, I ate soft serve ice cream,  sprouts, smoked salmon, brie, goat cheese, and soft boiled eggs.  Oops.  But really only “oops” if I was Googling in English, because the Danish advice never mentioned sprouts, or ice cream.  And as far as most other things on the list goes, the official advice is to eat as fresh of food as possible–keep raw things cold, and pay attention to hygiene when you prepare food.  They also say outright that pregnant women can eat sushi.

I joined the August due-date birth board on Babycenter.com, so throughout my pregnancy, I would check the forum.  The American women went to their doctor every month until the third trimester.  After that it was every two weeks until nearer to the end when it was every week.  I saw my doctor four times during my pregnancy (one visit was an “extra” to do a quick blood pressure check), and my midwife about the same number of times.  I went two weeks overdue, so I had another midwife visit, and a couple days before my induction, a hospital visit.  To be honest, I don’t know what these women talked about or did at all these appointments.  I could barely think of questions to ask at my few appointments.

I saw enormously pregnant women biking happily down the street (well, at least they looked as happy as anyone biking in Danish weather ever looks).  I saw them walking, running, lingering over lattes, and putting away that out-loud-allowed sushi.  Andreas and I attended a sort of parent-prep class, which wasn’t quite like anything I’d read about anyone else’s prenatal classes.  We talked about our relationship as a couple, and how to best sustain that under the stress of a new baby.  We talked about the birthing process and nursing, and I have to say, there wasn’t this sense of anxiety that I often get when I talk to American women or read American forums.  It was “here are pain relief options–which ones do you think you prefer?” not “here are pain relief options–and there’s no medal for women who don’t use them–but there are definitely risks to some of them–and these decisions you’re making will impact your birth experience, your baby’s alertness, your breastfeeding process, and pretty much the rest of your baby’s life.”

After Theo was born, it as more of the same, to my great relief!  But I’ll write about that a different day, or this post will *never* leave my drafts!

Christmas!

Christmas is around the corner, guys, and I’m excited.  I honestly don’t think I’ve been this excited for Christmas since I had the Christmas Concert to look forward to in elementary school.  This probably has something to do with the way that the Danes approach Christmas.

Now, we don’t have a TV (haha, I like saying that in a hoity-toity voice in my head, but really, we don’t have a TV because we didn’t buy one yet.) so I haven’t seen any of the Christmas commercials, and we haven’t really been to any mall or shopping area, so I haven’t really noticed that aspect of Christmas (the buying lots of things aspect).  But as far as I’ve noticed during previous Christmases in Denmark, it’s not all-consuming like it can be in the states.  They don’t have crazy ridiculous sales (which is a slight bummer for a couple trying to furnish and decorate their apartment at Copenhagen prices), or anything akin to Black Friday.

There’s also not a big religious debate about neutralizing Christmas and calling it The Holidays or calling it Christmas and leaving out a bunch of other traditions.  Basically, Christmas here is a time for the famous Danish “hygge.”  A time to put candles in the windows, decorate with white, sparkly, and red things, and huddle up with warm drinks and people you love as you watch the sun set at 2 pm.  I like that.  I have always been drawn towards Christmas, but felt like I couldn’t really celebrate because we weren’t even Christian.  Here, it doesn’t matter.  Most people don’t follow a religion, but Christmas is still a big deal.  It’s very much a cultural holiday now, and one I am definitely willing to participate in.  Once I get me some candlesticks and red yarn…

My First Danish Thanksgiving

So this year was the first year that I wasn’t home with my family in Central Wisconsin for Thanksgiving.  I anticipated the homesickness, especially since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I decided to make everything exactly how my family makes it back home.  And it was awesome.

The menu included:

Chicken (not a turkey, since there were only four meat-eaters, and turkeys are ridiculously expensive in Denmark anyways)

Mashed potatoes with gravy (and mushroom gravy for me!  Usually I don’t get any gravy at Thanksgiving, so this was a huge improvement)

Sweet potatoes- These fell flat.  I didn’t cook them quite long enough or add enough butter or something, so they were pretty bad, but I’ll do it better next year.

Stuffing/Dressing- This caused a whole lot of controversy (“it’s not dressing!” “Well, it’s not stuffing, you don’t stuff it into anything” etc.) but was well-received.  I think it was the thing we were all most skeptical about, but it turned out great!  I almost always end up cutting the bread into too large of chunks (even when I try really hard not to) but I think I got it just right this year.  I even put mushrooms in (in an attempt to make it as Moserish as possible) and I thought it was fantastic!  I think I’m slowly winning the battle in willing myself to like mushrooms.

Fresh veggies and dip-This is fairly self-expanatory, but was also well-received, especially the dip which I had to improvise

Applesauce/Cranberry sauce- I don’t think most of the Danish family cared much about this, but I love it, and I’m kind of glad they didn’t eat so much of it because there’s more left for meeeee!

Pumpkin Pan Rolls- there was so much other food, that not a lot of these were eaten, but they work better for breakfast anyway, so we’ll see how they’re received tomorrow.

Celery with Cream cheese- This is something that my family does at Thanksgiving, and it’s one of my mom’s favorites, so I had to have it!  Usually the youngest in the family makes them, but I had Andreas make them, and he did a stunner job 😉  Anyway, we used garlic cream cheese, and they tasted even more fantastic than usual.  I was pretty sure the Danes would think it was pretty weird, but they really liked them!

Pumpkin Pie- my family usually eats pumpkin pie for breakfast on Thanksgiving day, but I knew I couldn’t convince the whole family here to do so, so we had it for afternoon coffee, and it went well!  They liked it for the most part, even though it looked pretty weird, and I was glad since pumpkin pie is one of my favorite things to eat!

The thing that was on the menu, but not on the table, was a tray of assorted pickles and olives.  I bought them…but…you know, forgot to put them on the table.  No big deal!  We might have leftovers tomorrow, and we can add them then, otherwise I just get to eat a lot of pickles and olives over the next several weeks, and that’s fine with me, too…

The day was perfect, we all made dinner together and hung out and teased, and the actual food went over better than I thought it would, so I’m happy.  I was so happy I almost cried during dinner…(shh, don’t tell!)  It’s definitely a holiday I’ll be stubbornly celebrating every year in the wrong country!

I LOVE THANKSGIVING!

EDIT: We also had fruit salad, a staple of Moser Thanksgivings, but we were too full to eat it, so it became a nighttime snack, and it was great.  Note to self: fruit salad with whipped cream is awesome.

College–what was it good for?

The title, though it sounds cynical, is actual genuine.  I’m coming to the close of my first year in the “real world” and I’ve been recently thinking a lot about how much of what I learned in college has really stuck with me for the year.

Let’s start with my “general education” classes that were supposed to give me a well-rounded backdrop for my degree. One requirement was that I had to take four science classes, which I thought was a bit much.  The biology class I took was basically what I’d already learned in high school.  However, I spent the hours in the enormous auditorium classroom doing dictionary.com’s crossword puzzle of the day so…I probably ended up increasing my brain power more in that class than I did in environmental science during which a classmate and I had a running list of all the Beatles’ songs we could remember.  However, the nutrition class I got into was definitely helpful in providing me with concrete facts to present to people who tell me that I’m going to die because I’m a vegetarian.  The rest of the gen-eds I took didn’t do much for me.  I took “humanities” one and two and never even learned what “humanities” are.  I did, however, learn how to pronounce the word “baroque” so…maybe it was worth it after all.

It’s fun to talk about all the things I didn’t learn in college, and everything that I’ve definitely left behind in those halls, but there are things that I’ve taken with me from Wisconsin to Illinois, to Denmark to Sweden.  I took a seminar class called “Culture of Food” my freshman year (which is also when I became a vegetarian).  It stuck with me through a couple years later, when they offered it as a higher-level class which I took instead of an upper-level Spanish class I needed for my minor (oh well), and after loving that one twice as much, I had the opportunity to be a TA for the freshman level class again.  Considering that most of the classes I took, I would have gladly never taken, voluntarily participating in the same class  three times is proof enough that it was one of the most amazing classes I took in college.  I was obviously interested in food enough to take the class in the first place, but afterwards, I think about food almost every moment of the day.  I think about the food industry, I think about food prices, varieties, food movements (organic, the slow food movement, vegetarian and vegan diets, etc.).  I think about all things food.  Everything I’ve learned in that class, I use on an almost daily basis.  This awakening of a passion in me alone might’ve made college “worth it” but there was something more.

It wasn’t until my senior year, when I was almost “over” college that we had a new professor join the English department.  I took an intermediate-level creative writing class, for my major, and when I walked into that classroom, the first thing our professor told us that it was going to be an all-poetry class, which was greeted by silent groans (yes, there is such a thing as a silent groan).  At this point, I was mostly done with my English major, and had been a bit discouraged about it.  I had taken an advanced writing class that was focused on short stories and you know what?  I am not very good at writing short stories.  It made me wonder if I really liked writing at all, if I should’ve majored in Biology (or crossword puzzles).  Having an all-poetry class made me realize that Ido like writing, I’m just no good at short stories for adults.  My professor made me realize that I have a love for words.  I may not have a love for characters or plots, but goodness gracious do I love words.  I love metaphors and the mouthfeel of poetry.  To me, poetry is somewhere between a song and delicious food.  I love being able to ponder over commas, shuffle lines and stanzas.  To me, it’s a bit like knitting, but with words and pages in lieu of yarn and needles.   After the intermediate class, I took advanced poetry workshop, where a group of about 12 of us met with our professor for three hours every Thursday.  We ended up writing a chapbook, which is just a small collection of correlating poetry, and I feel more proud of this than my bachelor’s degree.  This little collection was worth all of the classes I sat through because I had to sit through them.  It was worth any professor that made my blood boil. It was worth any wasted hours, or projects I deemed pointless.

I think some of the most important things I learned in college, I didn’t learn during my classes (and no, I didn’t learn them during crazy parties either).  I learned how good it could feel to not procrastinate.  Balancing two jobs and school helped me learn what I wanted to do most in my limited free time.  I learned to put the things I care the most about first, and take some failures in stride.  I learned what my passions are, and how wonderful it feels to pursue them.

The four years I spent on my bachelor’s degree were definitely “worth it” for me personally.  I experienced so much growth, but I’m still not convinced that my actual degree is an appropriate reward for the work I put into it.  It’s a very good thing I got so much else out of my college experience, otherwise I feel like I would be one disappointed alumnus.

A Warm Chair

First of all…one of the days I’ve been waiting for has arrived!  I am proud to announce that I’ve noticed in the past few days that I’m effortlessly understanding Danish (whether it be spoken to me, or if I overhear a conversation) without even trying!  For the longest time, I’d always translate in my head, slowly at first, then a lot more quickly.  Now, it’s finally as if Danish is burrowing in and making its own little home in my brain.  I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m really excited about how naturally it’s coming to me recently!  I hope that by the time I’m settled here and have a real home and a life, I’ll be able to entertain myself on the bus by eavesdropping again.  Haha, just kidding.  I don’t do that……

Also, I was watching a bit of the news with Andreas the other day and they were talking about…well, they were talking about something and the title of the piece was “Varm stolen” which really translates to “hot seat.”  Hot seat means the same thing here as it does in the states, and as Andreas just hypothesized, maybe it’s named for how hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable you feel when you “sit” in it.  Anyway, while “varm” means “hot” in Danish, it will never stop meaning “warm” to me, and this particular headline reminded me more of the uncomfortableness of coming to class and sitting in a seat that has been pre-warmed by someone else’s butt (thank you.).  Just another wee difference that keeps me appreciating that I am, indeed, an American in Denmark.