November 18, 2013. Yesterday at my open house I met some people I’d never met before, as some of my guests brought friends and spouses. I loved all the conversations. One Danish friend asked if we have any other Danish friends. I think he expected that, being an expat, I must live in an expat ghetto where we just get together, drink cappuccinos and sitesee. Hmmm. Just then some more Danish guests arrived. Throughout the day there was a lovely mixture of nationalities (and always some Danish being spoken in the room!) – British, Canadian, Danish, Estonian, Argentinian, Thai…. And oh yes! American (definitely the minority.) I love this colorful international pool I swim in. One thing it teaches you is to never assume you understand the way others think. It teaches you to appreciate a lot of differences, but also to notice a lot of commonalities, because we’re all human beings and many of us are kindred hearts to the core.
I’d like to share with you some of the experiences and conversations from yesterday. One thing I love about Denmark is how when people come to your home, they always bring a gift… usually some flowers. I received so many beautiful bouquets of flowers yesterday to help me celebrate the occasion. The downside of this is that there tends to be a culture of obligation around entertaining. You must bring a gift; and if someone has invited you over for dinner (or done something especially kind), there is an unspoken expectation that it’s now your turn to do the same. Oh well, I’m one who loves gifts – both the giving and the receiving. So I do well with this. But I really disdain obligation – I feel that it saps genuineness from healthy relationships.
A group of Danes came through the door carrying bags of towels. We live on the harbor, and after my open house they were ready to go down to Svanemøllen Harbor to do some “winter bathing”. I suppose this time of year the harbor temperature is getting close to freezing, but many Danes love this custom of stripping down, dipping in the frigid waters, then sitting in the nearby hot sauna. They explain to me that it really stimulates the endorphins and creates a wonderful, natural high. I’m almost tempted.
One friend brought her spouse, who is a Danish cultural expert. I’m not quite sure what this means, but it seems he makes a living studying world cultures, and in particular, Scandinavian cultures. He said that it was obvious to him that I am not from Denmark. I asked him why, and he replied, “Your paintings are too bright and peaceful. They’re content and happy. You have never lived in a place that is dark and cold, where you need to stock up food for the winter .” Hmmm…what was I saying about cultures and not assuming you understand another person? I don’t think I know any Danes that stock up their fish for the winter months, but I do know a few Alaskans, including myself! He looked at my painting of a sidewalk flower shop in Copenhagen with walls that are the traditional “Raw Sienna” deep orangey-yellow that you see on so many of the older buildings throughout Denmark. I commented that I thought it was brilliant that Denmark chose this color to offset the long, gray winters. And he taught me that it was all a matter of practicality and cost: this color is what the chalk (which is very plentiful here) turns to as it is boiled down. Very interesting! I asked him about the traditional brick red color of all the Swedish farmhouses, and he said that the Swedish red color comes from the soil of Sweden. Again, a matter of practicality. I found him fascinating. (Even if he did get it totally wrong about where I was from!)