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Building bridges in Denmark

Life can throw you many curve balls - one of them being social life in Denmark. Conrad takes

a comedic look at building a bro (bridge) and finding your forever Danish venner (friends).

Photograph: Visit Denmark

Text: Conrad Molden

Danes. They're everywhere. These beautiful, mysterious people, sitting in groups and speaking Danish. Choosing to speak Danish. Actually wanting to speak Danish.

I have a joke that a friend of mine not only studies advanced Mathematics but that he does it in Danish. Making it extra tricky. To me, it is like doing a Rubik's Cube… in a mirror. Adding another layer of difficulty to an already impossible task.

I have been in Aarhus since 2012 and still can't come to terms with the native passion for this language.

And that's the biggest chasm to making new friends: their terrifying fluency in Danish. And, on the other side of that Grand Canyon: our total inability to learn it.

“My friendship group is increasingly like the Olympics opening ceremony if Central Jutland Region hosted it during the pandemic.”

Nine years ago, my friendship group in Aarhus better resembled the opening ceremony at the Olympics than anything representative of Denmark. On my Master's degree, we had students from all over: Uganda, Nepal, Germany, Estonia, Russia, the USA… And so those mysterious, beautiful Danes stayed in the background. Just beautiful decoration to our multinational enclave. They were the Italy to our Vatican, the Spain to our San Marino (football club).

We didn't want to impose. We didn't want people to have to speak English because of us. But we struggled like butterfingers with the Danish Rubik's Cube. And they knew it! Danes switching to English because all we know is: tak, tusind tak and rejsekort.

In early 2013 I started performing at a comedy club in my new city and was thrust from my microstate bubble into the mysterious groups. Suddenly I was surrounded by Danish comedians, listening to their strange language and discovering some hard truths: nearly all Danes speak English, many want to, but some absolutely do not.

I performed in my native tongue for audiences who had come to see stand up på Dansk. Many loved it, but I could not shake the feeling that some did not.

The British Empire, Americanisation and a few other things mean that people like me can force locals to listen to comedy in a second language, but it does not feel right.

With help from the esteemed Jacob Taarnhøj, we established English Stand Up Comedy Aarhus, a weekly free stand up comedy open mic in the heart of the city. This was not to be a Gibraltar but a regular event to tap the English-speaking community. It is where those comfortable enough to listen to English can come down and see two hours of free stand up from a whole host of nationals. And we found that many of those were Danes.

And it made me friends. Lifelong friends. Friends who wanted to make friendships in English. I built bridges and introduced myself to a whole host of colourful and wonderful characters. My friendship group is increasingly like the Olympics opening ceremony if Central Jutland Region hosted it during the pandemic.

I found my place within the English-speaking-Dane community and managed to suck in a fair few internationals for the ride.

And now, nine years later, I'm even beginning to snakke some Dansk myself. Lovely beautiful Danish people are not so mysterious anymore. They are fellow comedians, friends of comedians, friends of friends, a friend of a friend who is selling a bike, and, oh! Guy who actually used to own that bike! Hey man, nice to see you! Damn, Aarhus is a small place!

It can be tough to step outside your lovely Vatican bubble. However, building bridges with the Danes that are happy to snake Engelsk is definitely a positive first step.

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