One household, two cultures, three languages.
As internationals trying to fit in, it is easy to feel that we’re expected to blend in and disappear into the homogeneous Danish masses. We explore how to keep in touch with who you are and where you came from when trying to build a life in Denmark.
Text: Natalia E.L. Madsen
Living in a new country can make you feel like you’re being pulled in opposite directions. Fortunately, an exhausting game of tug-of-war can sometimes turn into a beautiful tango.
Let’s see if this sounds familiar: You get to Denmark, and after a little while, all you want to do is become ‘more Danish’. You learn the language to the best of your ability, start bicycling everywhere and pack rugbrød (rye bread) for lunch. That gives you the sense of belonging that we as humans naturally crave – and makes it easier to fit with the locals.
That is exactly how my story began. As years went by, though, I realised I was so good at adopting ‘the Danish way’ that I’d started to lose my own sense of self.
Bringing it back
Having a Danish partner means being inevitably pulled into a lot of Danish traditions and celebrations. Living in a small town makes exposure to anything other than Danish a challenge, as well as a global pandemic restricting international travelling. All these are less-than-ideal when it comes to preserving one’s culture. I personally knew I’d gone too far when I realised 95 percent of the items in my wardrobe were dark blue, grey or black.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to merge the Danish culture with your own. The first one is to stop forcing yourself to choose one of the two and embrace the best bits of both. You could, for example, make a year plan that also includes some of your own traditional holidays – and aim at celebrating them as you would back home. Joining groups of internationals with whom you share a language and culture is really helpful and a great source of both inspiration and motivation. You can bring your own culture into your daily life by cooking a typical meal from your home country once a week. Even doing something as simple as adding some colour to your wardrobe can make you feel more like yourself!
Children as catalysts
After having children, it might become more evident than ever that you are not the typical Danish family. You may worry that your kids won’t be ‘Danish enough’ – or that they will be ‘too Danish’.
If I may give you a piece of advice: speak your language to them. Denmark works hard on helping bilingual kids, so you can, in good conscience, use your mother tongue as much as you want – the Danish will evolve naturally.
Good knowledge of your language will build a strong foundation for a bicultural identity, allowing you to celebrate your culture with your children.
Once in a while, Danes will hear me speaking to my daughters and ask: “Is that Spanish you are speaking? That is such a wonderful gift you’re giving them”.
Multiculturality is a gift
Balancing two cultures in a place like Denmark can, at times, be challenging – and during these times, the right mindset is everything. Once in a while, Danes will hear me speaking to my daughters and ask:
“Is that Spanish you are speaking? That is such a wonderful gift you’re giving them”.
And you know what? It truly is.
Embrace it. If you’ve lost touch with your roots, find them again. Gather whatever you like the most of two (or three!) cultures and build a life around it. And if you ever feel rejected due to your cultural heritage, find support. Multiculturality is a gift – don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.