The Girl wrote a great post yesterday about being foreign in Denmark. She has come here with ambitions of becoming as Danish as possible; she is hoping to learn to speak completely accent-free, something that's nearly impossible for Americans.
She has learned to speak almost perfect Danish. There is an accent that some people mistake for Faroese or Icelandic, but only rarely do they guess that she is American. Even more impressively, she is writing Danish better than many Danes. Danish grammar is hard, especially punctuation, and she has learned to master it.
I notice how she has failed to become Danish in other ways, however. Everything is so hurried here; the slow pace of everything that exists in the US is still in her bones, and it causes problems. The example that always comes up is when she is at the register at the grocery store. Danes expect you to get our stuff off the belt very quickly, so you don't slow down the next person. The Girl is famous for forgetting her bags and fumbling to get her wallet. If looks could kill, she would have been buried a long time ago.
She is getting better at driving, but she is still annoying the Danes. On the freeway, the passing lane is not a place to linger like it is in America. The Girl passes a car, sings along with the radio, slows down a little (while still in the passing lane). Someone is forced to pass her on the inside and glances over with an icy look.
That look. She writes about the way people look at her, when her behavior slows down the frantic Danish pace. It's the look someone gets when they stop to look at a store window, and the person behind them is slowed down, perhaps a fraction of a second. It's that exasparated look. I know the look; hell, I give that look sometimes.
Natali, on the other hand, has become 100% Danish. It's been wonderful to see her grow here. Not like a foreign exhange student might pick up a new fashion sense or a new taste in music. It's truly 100%. She hasn't forgotten her American side, but her frame of reference is Danish now.
She is moving back this summer, 6 months before we are, to stay with her mom. I tell myself she will do fine, but I wonder how fast she will become more American than Danish. I am curious to see what she will miss the most; my guess is the freedom she enjoys here. She has a white bike with three gears and a basket that she takes to school and to town. Going up hills, she stands up to pump, just because is feels good. She parks her bike and walks around the old downtown, browsing for new clothes; sometimes buying a hotdog or cathcing a movie with her friends. She could do that in La Crosse, but she won't. I would worry about her biking there, anyway. She lives close enough to walk downtown, but it's not in the culture to do so there. The sidewalks stop at one point, and she would have to cross a busy street to pick up another sidewalk.
But a 9-(soon 10-)year old doesn't sit down to complain about car culture or the lack of bike lanes. She will get a ride to the mall with her step-sisters - and she'll have a great time. Because Natali is a child of both countries and she will be happy in either place - or both. Right now, she wants to move to Africa to help people, and then open a restaurant in Næstved with her friend. We shall see. The whole world is her oyster.
As readers of this blog know, I feel guilty about leaving my son, Andreas, for 3 whole years. Had I known how that would feel, I wouldn't have done it. But for the Girl and Natali (and the Lorax) to be able to live here for a while, for them both to grow and learn, and for me to witness it, has been wonderful. It's an experience we'll all take with us, and I am very thankful for that.