Speaking of Danish
Updated: Jan 12, 2019
When planning a solo visit to Copenhagen, I decided to learn Danish. I knew I wouldn’t become fluent but would feel more confident in getting around if I knew the basics. Not to mention, that learning a bit of a destination language seems to enrich the visit.
I studied diligently via DuoLingo for months, “passing” the course with courtesy phrases, transportation, and destination terms so I could read signs, menu items, numbers, and know a kvinde (woman) from a man (man) and order something I recognized like kylling ( chicken.)
My pronunciation left a lot to be desired so I was eager to hear those curious vowel combinations pronounced by a real, live Dane.
First stop: Kastrup airport's information desk, prepped to say "hej" to be followed by "hvor er metro?" (Hello. Where is the metro?) Instead the young black man asked if he could help me. In American. He was married to a Dane. Dang.
The charming Vintage Coffee café across from my exchange apartment became a regular hang-out. It was easy to pronounce “kaffe” and “cappuchino” but the young server always responded in English. I assumed she didn't want to struggle with my poor Danish. Several days later though, I held out my Danish transport card—a “rejser kort”—and asked how to properly pronounce it. She smiled and shrugged, “I don’t know. I’m Bulgarian.” Double dang.
Days later, I asked another young clerk behind the counter how to pronounce an item on the menu board. She smiled and shrugged, “I don’t know. I’m French.” I brazenly asked how they could work here without knowing Danish? “Everyone speaks English,” she said. Which explained why all those customers speaking what sounded like Danish or Norwegian, Swedish or even German, had immediately switched to English in the middle of ordering.
The young servers did want to learn Danish though, so instead of teaching me, I showed them Duolingo on my tablet. And told them about the Mundo Lingo meet-up group in Copenhagen where they could socialize and practice their language skills at the same time.
I never did get to practice Danish. But I discovered that people in Copenhagen—wherever they originated—are as welcoming and warm as the cappuccinos.