I usually have a reason for posting stuff to my blog – sometimes I want people to read it, sometimes it’s just something I don’t want to forget and occasionally I just need an outlet to rant.
This post is just to capture a snapshot of where things are, because I’m really hoping I’ll be able to come back to this in few months and laugh at it, or at least put it into some bigger context that makes things ok. Since I don’t maintain a private journal, I’m putting it here. However, this will probably sound like one big whinge, so I’m not going to suggest you read it – and if you do so, it’s at your own peril.
Moving to Denmark has been difficult, but mostly because my expectations were high and have repeatedly been dashed to pieces. Where I didn’t have expectations, I think everything has gone along quite well, but what I really needed before coming was a reality check: You will have to start your entire life over again when moving to a new country.
I think our biggest problem was that we saw some of the city during the summer, enjoyed it, and thought we’d be able to enjoy it. We had expectations that we’d be able to walk around in the streets, visit shops, and participate in the atmosphere of the city. The reality is that the only house that was available to us was WAY out in the suburbs, leaving us in a tiny residential hamlet where everyone commutes. Worst still, Canadians can’t get drivers licences in Denmark without a major struggle, leaving us without a reasonable access to transportation. The bus system here runs once an hour for most of the day, and it’s a half hour bus ride to downtown. Thus, we find ourselves limited to walking out for groceries in the evenings for something to do. (I walk home from work every day at a competitive walking pace, and I’ve gotten it down to 33 minutes – downtown is about 20 minutes further.)
The house itself is also not what we expected – in addition to it’s location in a hamlet, it’s also expensive, leaving us with a lot less disposable income than we’d expected, meaning that we’re still living in grad student mode, but with a big house. I have expectations that this will change in the future, but that won’t be for at least another month or so. A lot of our cash reserves have gone to buying things that we just can’t live without, like lights for the house, food for the cat and dog and such, which has made things somewhat tight, as well. No eating out in Denmark for us, yet.
Our stuff also hasn’t arrived, although I just received word that it is expected to arrive in the city on January 19th, which is only a few weeks away. That, at least, is encouraging. But, that means we still have 3 more weeks of sitting in a nearly empty house – we’ve shut off three of the four rooms so it echoes a little less when we talk. (I would like to again emphasize that I am not ungrateful for what we have been given by the company to help us until our stuff arrives – but it’s minimal, and a far cry from having your own possessions. A little bit of furniture is a huge help, but doesn’t really fill a house.)
And then, there was Christmas. This year’s christmas was a disaster for us – again, because of unmet expectations. We had been told before we moved that we’d been invited for christmas by some other expats and that we’d have some company over the holidays, however that never occurred, leaving us on our own. Added to that, I also found out I’d have to work over the holiday break and that no time off would be given in exchange for Christmas eve and Christmas day falling on a weekend, which made this past week pretty miserable. Thus, every hour that things were open for the past week, I was at work, and any time I had to go exploring in the city fell on the three days where the entire city shuts down. (And I mean entire city – even the convenience stores shut down for the three days of Christmas.)
Needless to say, we didn’t get out much (although we did find the art gallery was open), and so we mostly spent our holiday weekend at home in an empty house, desperately trying to come up with stuff to do.
To compound the expectation problem, I’d also been told, upon arrival, that the wonderful holidays that Danish employers give (nearly 6 weeks of holiday per year) actually don’t apply to employees in their first year. I have 48 more weeks of slogging through before I can get my first vacation.
Furthermore, what we’d been told about Denmark and Christmas turned out to be absolutely correct: Danish people are all into cozy-ness (hygge), which I had interpreted to be about friends and family: the equivalent to a Newfoundland kitchen party. Unfortunately, what I missed was that it’s mainly about family and close friends – and we just haven’t been here long enough to make any of those. We haven’t earned our hygge yet.
Part of that stems from the language barrier. My expectation was that it wouldn’t be a problem to communicate in English here – and for the most part it’s not. 94% of Danes (or some equally high number) can speak English, which means you can get away with not speaking Danish for a while. However, asking people to speak in English all the time seems to be too much. The work environment, despite promises that it would be in English, devolves into Danish much of the time, whenever I’m not being addressed directly or not in an official meeting. Again, expectations dashed.
I hardly expect a whole country to shift languages to accommodate me, but it’s difficult – and I now fully appreciate what other people have said in their blogs: I appreciate when other people make the effort to chat with me in English, but I recognize that it is an effort… conversations are slower, people don’t make jokes in English, and I consequently find myself just shutting everything out and ignoring whatever is going on around me because it’s futile to try learning a language by osmosis while trying to be productive at the same time.
Worse still, there are times when English just isn’t available. If you call the doctors office, you get a recorded message in Danish. (It says “just stay on the line and we’ll get to you as soon as possible”, but I had to ask a Dane to translate it for me.) If you call a store, you get a menu of options – in Danish. (“Press 4 for the animal food department”) Simple tasks become inordinately difficult, and I find myself dreading some of the simple chores.
And, of course, all of those chores are being done in in the dark, because lets not forget that sunrise and sunset in Aarhus in December are about 9am and 3:30pm – which has been accompanied by frequent (several times daily) wind and rain storms.
Add that to the steep learning curves of starting a new job and trying to finish my thesis remotely, and this has become a recipe for depression and despair.
I don’t really expect the arrival of my stuff to make a big dent in the difficulty of moving to a new country, but it will change the feeling that I’m living in a hotel in the suburbs. At least I’ll be able to pull out my camera and take pictures, or to hop on my bike and ride out to pick something up from the store, or even just to have my kitchen supplies so I can cook something decent.
Yes, I know, I’ve only given the bad, and not the good. There are things working out in my favour: I have a cool phone to play with, I’ve met some interesting people, I love the projects I’ll be working on at work, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve been able to make in written Danish on my own. And, google translate’s existence has saved my life a few times. Not everything here is bad… but the struggle goes on, and sometimes that’s just what you need to rant about.
Hindsight is 20/20… but as they say, I’ve made my bed, and now I’ve got to lie in it.