Embracing Cross-Cultural Experiences

“Hey America. You going to join us in the shower?”

— Gale

This past weekend marks three weeks since leaving home for a new country. I have felt overjoyed, overwhelmed, peaceful, lonely, and of course, hyggeligt (which means homely, snug, cozy). However, although my emotions have been all over the place, my host family has been indescribably consistent. They have been generous and accommodating at every turn, and I can’t express how grateful I am for them.

Classes are now in full swing and I’ve started to accumulate stories about cross cultural interactions. I’m excited to use this platform as an opportunity to reflect and share my stories with ya’ll. As you come along on the journey, feel free to contact me with reactions, questions, and ideas for future content!

The first thing that I’ve come to realize about Danes (and as you may have heard) is that punctuality is key. Which is a struggle for me as an American and as a member of my home family. We are typically 5-10 minutes late out the door, and more often than not, that’s because I’m in the bathroom.

In Denmark, if you are early, you are “on time”. If you arrive on time, you are considered late. And if you are late, you shouldn’t bother showing up. I learned this lesson the hard way a couple of days ago. My class had an early visit to a church so I made sure to arrive at the metro station with plenty of time to spare. But when I arrived, the signs were showing that one train was out of service and the other wouldn’t show up for another 20-40 minutes. I stood confused among a group of 100 other commuters until a woman came over the loud speaker and said something in Danish. Someone behind me said the F-word as the entire crowd of people ran out of the station. I was left behind confused.

I hurriedly checked my Google Maps app (the real lifesaver of the story) and realized that I could make it with a couple of minutes to spare if I biked. So I jumped on my bike. However, I hadn’t accounted for the heavy rain boots I was wearing and how far 12 km actually is. I arrived at the church 15 minutes late, sweaty and breathing heavy. I tried to compose myself, but at that moment my professor opened the doors, having just finished the tour for the class. He looked over at me and said, “Better late than never I suppose.” We ended up laughing later about my confusion at the metro station, but I have vowed to always be early because of how important it is to the Danes.

I have also come to understand that family is still family, even after break ups or divorces. This one still blows my mind. In America, divorce usually means the end of a relationship. But not in Denmark. My host family brought me along to an extended family reunion and my host mom’s ex-husband was there, along with several other people’s exes. I steeled myself for a tense gathering with bitter exchanges and was prepared to back my family no matter what. But what I walked into couldn’t have been more than the opposite. The atmosphere was warm and full of laughter, and I distinctly remember watching my host dad clap the ex-husband on the back and hand him a beer. I was mystified.

I pulled my host mom aside later in the party and asked, “So who do we not like here? Because I am loyal to your family and your family alone! No matter what.” She laughed and told me to calm down, explaining that “These people are still my family and I’ll keep a place for them in my lives and at these gatherings.” I was floored. This was more than an amicable break-up. They were still family and continued to reunite for children and grandchildren. We Americans could learn a thing or two!

One of the most challenging, but also most enjoyable, experiences has been playing with a local football (soccer) club. Challenging because physically they are better than me, but also everything is in danish. The coach will explain a drill, and then I will play catch up, attempting to understand as I go. However, when we line up to play a regular match, any language barrier disappears and I truly enjoy myself among people who have a different background from me.

That said, this one of the environments where I most have to play cultural sleuth. And there was no more cross cultural experience than the locker room after practice. Allow me to set the scene. I walk into the room after a long practice and they hand me a bag for the dirty clothes I’m wearing. Now, in an American locker room, we’d change our shoes and head home sweaty to shower. But apparently in Denmark, children start showering together at a young age after exercising. It’s not just appropriate, it’s expected. So, I’m holding my bag and taking off my shirt as the other men strip naked, grab a towel and head into the showers. And it’s a party. They’re pushing each other and laughing and sharing soap. Who’s the only one who is still standing fully dressed? Yours truly.

So Gale, one of the players notices and asks loudly, “Hey America. You going to join us in the shower?” I turn bright red, mumble something about needing to be home for dinner and wave goodbye as I grab my stuff and go! As I walked away, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to step out of my comfort zone into the cross cultural experience. I plan to. But as of yet, I’m still developing the courage to step there! Stay tuned for the story of when I do!

https://www.instagram.com/mark__shark/

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3 Comments

  1. Great post!! Gives me such vivid pictures of what you are experiencing. So happy for all that you’re learning. I love that they don’t allow divorces to be destructive to future relating. Lovely part of their culture.

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  2. Ha ha ha….that’s awesome, Mark! Just so you know, you’re having a communal shower experience that was normative for Americans of the former generation like your dad and me. I told my kids this–who are now in middle school–that starting in 7th grade, we had to shower, naked, communally–we’re talking 10 shower spigots from around the room–EVERY DAY starting in 7th grade. You get used to it. 🙂

    Great stories. Great story-telling. Keep it up.

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