Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Little Bit Danish

When I was 8 or 9 years old I went to summer camp for the first time. I spent a week in a tree house at the Santa Fe Tree House Camp. It was a remarkable week for many reasons including my newfound independence, my love of nature, the beginning of my love of summer camp, etc. But what I remember most about that week is that I forgot what I looked like. Completely forgot. And at that point where I could no longer remember what I looked like I created a face in my imagination. I suppose this dreamed up image of myself was an accurate reflection of how I thought of myself. The little girl I imagined had my curly frizzy hair and someone else's light brown skin. I remember being shocked when I finally looked in one of the little camp mirrors (apparently my hygiene suffered when away from my parents for the first time) and saw that my skin was creamy white.

This incident stayed with me and I often think of it as a way to describe how I internalized the culture of Northern New Mexico and the Hispanic people who have lived there for hundreds of years. In college I met a friend who had a Hispanic father and a Jewish mother. We had some interesting conversations about identifying with two cultures. I remember thinking that my new friend was a more understandable embodiment of the cultural identity that I adopted as a child in New Mexico. I am ethnically a Jew with family from Russia and Germany, but I internalized the culture of Northern New Mexico and have carried it with me. 

In this same way, I feel that I became a little bit Danish during our 2.5 years in Denmark. No, I did not learn to fluently speak the language and I am not descended for Vikings, but I am longing for the hygge of this time of year. I miss the red hearts and white lights that go up all over Copenhagen to symbolize Christmas. I miss the dark seed-filled rugbrod. I miss biking and walking everywhere and I better understand the Danes' socialized medical system than I do our confusing healthcare. In short, I feel uncomfortable in my own country. The reverse culture shock is worse than the culture shock was. Perhaps I didn't completely fit in in Copenhagen. There I was so clearly An American. But here, I don't feel American enough. 

If it has been hard for me to adjust, it has been even more difficult for my 3.5 year old son to adjust in many ways. He has easily fit into school and loves it, but he still hums the theme song from Rasmus Klump and sleeps with a photo of himself and his daddy standing at the top of the Round Tower to remind himself of Denmark. 

While discussing synonyms with Riley the other day, Riley listed the Danish word as a synonym for something which was both accurate and a little bit heartbreaking. I didn't know that particular word and I told him as much. He said, "That's because you and Daddy are not Danish, right?" 

"Right," I said.

"But I am a little bit Danish, right?" Riley asked.

I thought about myself at summer camp when I forgot what I looked like, and all the little facets of identity I have picked up here and there. I thought about how my son lived in Denmark much longer than he has yet lived in the United States, how he was learning the language in school, how I would prefer a world where we can all be multinational citizens. I thought about how maybe the responsible answer was to say that he was Ameircan, but Riley knows he's American and he knows he is Jewish and apparently, just like I did as a child, he also viewed the culture he grew up in as his own in some way. So I said, "Right, Riley, you are Danish a little bit." 

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