When they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish

Walking down the street with a toddler is a sure-fire way to get attention. People love kids, and the Danes are a particularly child-friendly people. The English language is very widely spoken here, but the biggest exception to this rule appears to be elderly women (not the men, which tells me the much praised gender equalities here are quite recent). It leads to many awkward ‘conversations’ where someone begins talking to me, or my son M, and I then have to attempt to say ‘Jeg forstår ikke Dansk’ or ‘taler du Engelsk?’ and hope we get somewhere, or not, in which case we usually both smile awkwardly and move on. Although, yesterday I had a nice encounter on a bus, where the woman continued to talk to M about his ‘blomst’ (the dandelion he was clutching); both M and I could at least understand what she was talking about, and he was quite happy to have his flower admired.

The strangest thing is getting used to not understanding the general hubbub of conversation around me. I sometimes worry that the person shouting in the street is actually trying to get my attention while I wander by obliviously. I wonder whether I’ve mistakenly called people rude in the past, when really they just had no idea what I was saying. M’s presence is often a sneaky lifeline. It isn’t hard to find an excuse to say something to a toddler. Loudly. In English. Passing by the awkward conversation when I finally get to the front of the queue, or need to get past people on the bus.

Next week my husband, R, begins his Danish lessons. I’m missing out as we need M in vuggestue (day-care, see I’m learning) first. Once M does start in July he’ll pick up Danish pretty quickly. We’ll struggle to understand the events of his day if we don’t make the effort. Many migrants on short-term contracts don’t learn Danish, but I think having children necessitates more contact with authorities and services. So far the health services have been great about speaking English. But it would be advantageous if I could speak some Danish. When we needed to see an emergency doctor after M fell off a chair (he’s fine, if slightly more wonky toothed) I had to ask a stranger to read his CPR (Social Security) number over the phone for me, as they expect this before you arrive.

We did online lessons before we came, but that only taught us just enough to get through until someone replies in English. Our written comprehension has definitely improved since we arrived. The trouble is actually trying to say anything. Being surrounded by Danish language doesn’t help either, it just reinforces how far off our attempts at pronunciation are. The other night I flipped the TV over to the Norwegian news. I don’t think I could’ve told the two languages apart when I first arrived, but now it definitely sounds different. We’ve come a long way since we’ve arrived, but holding a conversation in Danish still feels a long way off.

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Down, down. Prices are down.

Pretty much the first thing we had to in Denmark was go to a supermarket. With a toddler in tow take-away wasn’t an easy option, and there were only so many nappies we could fit in our hand luggage. After we waited longer for the bus than it would have taken for us to walk, we missed the bus stop (luckily the bus looped back). An inauspicious start.

Despite having read some briefs of what the shops are like, having to locate them, work out where in the aisles items are, and what the hell the packaging meant, was exhausting. I don’t think I’ve entirely come to grips with them yet. I could tie myself up in knots trying to work out where is the ‘best’ place to shop; milk is cheaper at Netto, but Føtex sells a better range, and the vegetables at Netto aren’t worth buying. But Kvickly is closer… The trouble is once you have settled in somewhere habit makes most of the decisions for you. It makes life a lot easier. I’m beginning to see why brand loyalty matters so much, and why supermarkets advertise so heavily in the hope of breaking a habit and attracting just a few more shoppers.

Budget does have to be a consideration living here, but I don’t like to just buy cheap. I like food. I like to cook. I like to eat. I like to know that I’m buying a fair product. Canberra had a fabulous Farmer’s Market which we loved. I miss our Saturday morning shop and coffee. It was lovely to wander through the market, pick up fresh, local product and plan a menu for the week. Arriving in a Northern European winter a similar approach to shopping would have meant eating potatoes, cabbage, potatoes, and apples. And pork. Lots of pork. All perfectly good ingredients, just not the diet that I’m used to.

We are making progress though. We’ve worked out where to buy fresh fish, and it was reasonably good. We’ve also discovered where we can go to buy obscure ingredients – like rice vinegar and mirin. I’ve always thought my cooking had a heavy Italian influence. Moving here made me realise how many Asian ingredients I take for granted, and I’ve been craving that fresh, salty, spicy taste hit.

I’m also beginning to realise that obsessing over a few kroner, trying to decide where ‘best’ to shop isn’t worth it in terms of the mental health cost. Perhaps it was an element of trying to control what I can control. We can still be mindful of our budget without splitting our weekly shop between three supermarkets. Dragging a toddler to one is enough! Time to just get the shopping done, and enjoy the cooking afterwards.