One of the more interesting things about living in a foreign country is that you have an opportunity to gain a new perspective on your environment. Living outside your comfort zone either drives you nuts, or into a completely new way of looking at things. That is, you adapt or you run.
In the first few months, you spend so much of your time just trying to get your bearings that you don’t really see past the challenges. Learning a new language, figuring out how the bank works, dealing with the little details of life. All of that occupies all of your brain power.
Somewhere along the line, you start to see past the frustrations and start to get into a routine. You know what to buy at the store, how to take the bus and maybe know a few of the customs – what to say and what not to say to your colleagues.
Eventually, you start to gain an understanding of the people… well, maybe not, but you get a sense of what’s important to them – and you can contrast that with what’s important to you: finally, a sense of perspective.
Most curiously, after all this time, what I find interesting, at this phase of insight, is that Danes don’t share the same sense of progress as North Americans. The goal of “getting ahead” just doesn’t seem to be a driving force. In Canada, we spend a lot of time saving up for retirement, planning our future, looking for ways to get ahead in our respective careers and all that jazz. In Denmark, people are happy with where they are, they look for a comfortable job, a nice (ridiculously expensive) car, and probably 3 kids.
Most likely it’s because income equality is so flat – you’re not going to make a whole lot more by climbing the corporate ladder (unless you’re really high up in the company, I suspect).
And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just different. It leads to a workforce that works well together – and has surprisingly few of the “office politics” you see in North America. Teams really ARE teams. But when discussing the future, it’s very likely that Danes just don’t understand what it is that’s driving the foreigners. Truly, a case of “lost in translation”.
Then there’s the whole Jante law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante) thing, which factors into it… but that’s another discussion for another day.
Anyhow, I’m sure there are many further insights coming. Being able to work out the local newspaper – and slowly understanding a bit of what my colleagues are saying is helping out a lot in understanding Danes… but it’s a slow, frustrating process. A few more months, and maybe I’ll finally understand what makes people here tick.