Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Traveling through Denmark with Laughter as a Guide

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Traveling through Denmark with Laughter as a Guide

Article excerpt

Patchy brown and white fields receded from view in a rhythmic motion; bare trees and an occasional snow-covered farmhouse rushed past. I shivered in my seat as the train rattled through remote, frozen countryside. I could not begin to pronounce the name of my destination, but was fairly confident that I was on the right train. How fascinating this all was, albeit much colder than I had anticipated.

I was totally unprepared for the local weather. I should not have been surprised to visit Denmark in the throes of springtime, only to find it in an advanced state of refrigeration, but somehow, with an optimism that betrayed my youth, I was. I coped by wearing literally all of the clothes I had packed, every day. My canvas shoes bulged with three socks and a foot in each; my thin wool coat accommodated a cardigan, a pullover, and four T-shirts. The unexpected but welcome side effect of this situation was the extra space in my small backpack, which enabled me to bring home a small viking doll (complete with horned helmet and fur coat) and a postcard.

Two portly old women entered the car, greeted me, and sat facing me in the opposite seat. Dressed all in black, they appeared to be wearing as many layers of clothing as I was. They carried several large handbags and shopping bags and mounded them up casually about their feet.

This appeared to be a pleasure outing. They chatted amiably between themselves, joking and laughing, and soon addressed me in Danish. I told them I didn't understand a single word they said, but they apparently knew no English. One of them pawed through an ancient satchel and produced a tiny tin of hard candies. She opened it and held it out to me.

This I understood perfectly. I hungrily snatched up two teeny lemon balls, stuffing them in my mouth with a nod and a smile. Lunch had been a disaster, and I was grateful for even these minute contributions.

It seemed that few Danes, even of the younger generation, spoke English, and I knew not one word of Danish. Buying a train or bus ticket inevitably involved much pointing and gesticulating, and even the use of a little German or Spanish, in hopes that a common third language might facilitate matters. …

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