Friday, February 18, 2011

#10 Dropping Bombs

M.C. Escher's Tower of Babel
On Monday I start taking my free government-subsidized Danish classes. All "I-can't-believe-they're-paying-for-this" absurdity aside, I expect this to be a life-changing experience in many ways. Perhaps one element of my new life I admit I might miss a little is the other-worldiness of being surrounded by and immersed in a language that is completely foreign to my ear. Before moving to Denmark I had never traveled to a place where I was not at least somewhat familiar with the language.

Sure, I felt decidedly American when I spent a few weeks as an exchange student in France, but I was never completely out of touch with those around me. I could understand snippets of conversation here and there and make appropriate apologies for my American gaffes (is there a plural of faux pas?). My grade school French was passable enough for me to ask for directions and buy Nutella crepes and came in super-handy when my host family accidentally ran over my foot with their Audi.

Denmark, on the other hand, is like a linguistic broken refrigerator. There is this constant humming, droning noise that probably means something but I haven't yet figured it out. For the first week or so it gave me a slight headache but my brain has become comfortably numb  to it by now. Which makes the English that creeps into my auditory stupor that much more startling. Sometimes it's a conversation between a couple of university students or an expat parent speaking to their kids.

But more often it's Danes dropping bombs. And boy do they drop them. Mostly of the F-bomb variety. I don't think I would notice it as much if I were back in the States however here it's like linguistic Tourette's. Blah blah blah F*#!ing blah blah blah S!@$ blah blah F%#$!.

Let me qualify this a little by saying it is mostly young Danes. That said, American curses appear more frequently than I would expect in public instances so I can only assume it is culturally accepted on some level. Which, when I stop to think about it, makes sense. I don't think I would even recognize a Danish swear word if I saw one right now so of course I can't be offended if I don't even know what I'm looking at. Even if I did, it loses some of its taboo in translation. Here's an example. Raise your hand if you're offended by, "Ma voiture est foutu!" See, I told you. So much funnier when your car is f-ed up in French.

 Jimmy Kimmel illustrating that context is everything 

So I guess I shouldn't have really been suprised when I came across the cover of this month's Eurowoman magazine on the Danish newstands.

Holy s--t!
Is this just another example of me being an American prude? Am I the only one trying to cover my son's ears as they play the full, unedited versions of American rap tunes in the mall's stores? [Answer: yes] 

And yet, I find myself more homesick than offended. It's a sad state of affairs when you're so starved for English conversation that even an overheard curse on the street feels a little like home. With any luck, in a few more weeks, the droning will give way to conversation and meaning. And who knows, maybe the average Dane swears like a Danish sailor? Maybe I'll find the linguistic oasis I imagined is saltier than I expected?