Heather and I started our Danish classes tonight. Aside from taking place in a Spanish classroom at Minneapolis Southwest High School, which was terrifyingly reminiscent of both of our formative years, the class was actually quite helpful. We learned the alphabet, some numbers, and basic greetings.
Thomas: Taler du dansk, Heather?
Heather: Ja, jeg taler lidt dansk.
You can google translate that. We learned a few other things, but the most striking element of the class was not the content, location, or the instructor (a Scandinavian Studies major from the U, perhaps the only one we’ll ever meet). Instead, the course caught my attention as each of the students went around the room, introduced themselves, and explained why they wanted to learn Danish.
First off, I was the only male in the class, aside from one reddish man (coloration presumably due to a mix of Scandinavian genome, excess sun exposure, and frequent alcohol consumption), who openly admitted that his only reason for taking the course was to be able to spy on coworkers at his Danish-owned company.
Second, among the remaining (female) students, there was a striking range of experiences and motivations. Among them, several middle-aged women reported a recent Danish ancestry that left them longing for the language their parents or perhaps grandparents had never been taught by their immigrant forebears. Their narratives resonated with the story my father tells of my great-grandfather Fred, who came to Minnesota and promptly abandoned his native Norwegian tongue, and late in life even refused to speak anything but English.
Third, I was pleasantly surprised to see a young student (perhaps in high school) who had agreed to take the course with her mother (one of the women longing to have some grasp of a heritage she never knew).
Finally, one of our fellow classmates beat us out on having the most interesting reason for learning an incredibly obscure language. (I would bet that the fifteen students in this class probably constitute a full 10-20% of the interested population in the Twin Cities.) Indeed, this classmate said that her reason for wanting to learn Danish was to aid her in a novel she was currently completed. One of her characters is Danish and, in order to write the character, she needed to know the language. I guess I’d hoped that actually moving to Denmark and thus learning the language for purely instrumental reasons would make Heather and I stand out among the classmates, but this woman has won the prize for boldest use of a foreign language: avoiding the risk of looking like an idiot in print.
With that, we’ve begun our language instruction, which we will continue in Denmark at government expense. Ah socialism! But, for now, we will learn some Danish one night a week in a mid-century brick building in southwest Minneapolis, which smells faintly of chlorine, dust, and the dreams of thousands of one-time 14-18 year olds long since grown, and hopefully pick up enough to make a start for ourselves in 56 9′ N, 10 12′ E.