As a foreigner in Denmark I know loads of other foreigners. Many of them came to Denmark because they fell in love with a Dane. I didn’t, I fell in love with a Dutchman. Not to say that the result is very different: I ended up in Denmark as well! One thing is different though: many of the challenges that my friends in intercultural marriages are facing are unknown to me. My Dutchman and I share a common language to fight and make love in. We grew up in the same country and our parents taught us the same cultural values.
Sharing a culture and language does not necessarily mean that we always understand each other (after all, he is still a man and I’m a woman), but it definitely helps. When it comes to integration however, both of us being Dutch becomes an obstacle. It can be very comfortable to stay on your own little island and make friends in your own little circle. But when you want to get to know your new country and understand the way others live, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Cultural immersion is really just a matter of getting out of your expat environment and into the world around you. It is my experience that cultural immersion is only possible when you’re actively participating.
Now I might not have a Danish kæreste to provide me with a Danish family in law or to help me find Danish friends, but I do have something else that eases the integration process for me: I have children.Thanks to them it is fairly easy for me to get in contact with Danish culture. If it weren’t for them, I would have never fully understood the meaning of Fastelavn or Sankt Hans – cultural celebrations that were unknown to me until I moved to Denmark.
During our first half-year in Denmark we lived in a university apartment. Surrounded by other internationals, we managed to completely ignore the first cultural celebration we encountered, Fastelavn(and I will ignore it here as well, but I promise to write more about Fastelavn when we get to that time of year again!). When we moved to a residential area, our children quickly became friends with many of the other children in our street. From that moment on ignoring the cultural habits in our new home country was no longer possible. Only a few weeks after the move we had our first cultural immersion experience. It was Sankt Hans and all neighbors gathered around a bonfire, to sing songs and burn a witch. A witch? Yes a witch! A straw witch, to be more precise. Somehow in Denmark the celebration of Midsummer is infused with customs that date from more superstitious times in the country’s history.
Over the past four years, we have gotten more experienced in celebrating typical Danish festivities. We have learned for example, that it is a good idea to bring snobrødsdej to a Sankt Hansparty to bake ‘twisted bread’ over the remains of the fire after the witch has been burned.
I am delighted that it’s almost Christmas: in Denmark much more of a cultural experience than in The Netherlands! At Christmas time I gladly immerse myself in the cultural habits of my new home country. At our house we will eat æbleskiver, drink gløg, dance around the tree and sing “nu er det Jul igen”, just as if we were real Danes 🙂