Strangers in a Strange Land: Communication, Pt. 2, by L.C.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. HUMBLE YOURSELF.

We took Danish lessons. It is a very difficult language that has 6 extra vowels that I can’t even hear the differences. After living on our small street for several months, we received an official-looking post card. Using our Danish-to-English dictionary made no sense of the phrases on the card. We had met our neighbors but had not developed friendships. We had learned that all Danes are taught English from 3rd grade onward. If we spoke Danish, they would answer in English. So I humbly walked over to the neighbor and knocked on the door, asked what the card meant. The neighbors were great, explaining that the post office wanted us to shovel snow off our driveway so they could deliver the mail, but don’t worry they said, the temperatures would be in the 50s tomorrow and the snow would melt. Smiles all around.

Then we received three letters from the health department. I had surmised that it was about me getting a pap smear and since our annual health care concerns were taken care of when we traveled back to Ohio yearly, I threw out the first two letters. The third letter was in bold and red type! Did the Danes have a gynecological police? So off to the neighbors again. This time a different neighbor. I humbly knocked on the door, and she (thankfully a female) answered and I showed her the letter and asked questions. She assured me I was fine as I went to the USA for yearly exams.

HINT #9: USE HUMOR. Another time I walked to a different neighbor, knocked on the door, and asked for help. I explained that we had bought an answering machine but didn’t know if we had set it up correctly. I asked them to phone us, we wouldn’t answer and hopefully the machine would record their call. Then would they walk to our house, and they could show us how to get the message and we would all enjoy a glass of wine. After going over this twice, ‘you want us to call you but you aren’t going to answer?’, they agreed and we did enjoy the wine.

HINT #10: SHARE YOUR CUSTOMS WITH THEM, AS YOU LEARN THEIRS. After coming home from church one Sunday in December, we decided to go Christmas caroling to our neighbors. We thought we would sing one or two carols and move on to the next neighbor. Wrong! At the first house, we knocked on the door, waited till they opened and then started “Jingle Bells” followed with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” They insisted we come in for a glass of wine. As we talked, they asked, “Did Americans really go Christmas Caroling? We see it in American movies, but did we actually do this?” Well at least in our area of Ohio we did. It all took all of December to get to all the neighbors and a lot of shared bottles of wine. We learned that if Danes do not invite the person inside at Christmas, then their Christmas would be stolen from them.

Another Christmas, we decided to host a caroling party at our home with the church youth. As our neighbors didn’t church often, and not our English speaking church, we decided we would carol to all our neighbors then go back to our house for party. Not wanting ‘to steal Christmas’ from anyone, I walked to each neighbor and told them we would come caroling next Sunday and did not need to be invited in as we would have refreshments at our house for all. Foiled again! We went caroling but each and every home insisted we come in as each and every home had invited guests from everywhere (Sweden, or Germany, or Poland) to come to hear the ‘crazy Americans’ carol to them. A long evening, lots of glogg and wine, and great memories.

HINT #11: BRING GIFTS. Whenever asked to a Danish home, bring gifts. Flowers and wine. Just do it. Everything in Denmark is very expensive and taxed. Everything except flowers and wine. Normal income tax rate is 62% with an added 25% sales tax on everything.

When we would return from a visit to the States, we would bring a suitcase full of “Press and Seal’ (cling wrap) and Baggies. Both are illegal to sell in Denmark at that time. Danes believe “You don’t need that!” and are eager to tell you that you don’t need something. However, they loved getting the Press and Seal and Baggies.

HINT #12: LEARN LOCAL CUSTOMS. ASK. At the first formal dinner that we were invited to, there were 5 different style of glasses across the top of the place setting. Yikes! A before dinner aperitif, white wine (with the salad), red wine (with the dinner entre), water goblet, and dessert wine. And you were worried which fork to use!

Also arrive appropriately on time. In Denmark, that means not early by even one minute, and not more than 6 minutes late. If more than 6 minutes late, then the host may not speak to you for the first hour.

Dress locally. Which in Denmark means, wear black: black tennis shoes, black clothes, black coats, gloves, hats, etc. Bright colors stand out—alien!!

Learn local holidays and customs.

An American missionary hoping to start a church nearby, (incidentally Denmark is considered post-Christian), decorated the Christmas tree in the front church window with all bright colored lights and decorations. He thought beautiful for the church Sunday service coming up that week. As he was walking home, following two Danes who were slightly ahead, he heard them question each other, “When did that turn into a home of prostitution? Look at those lights!” He ran in and told his wife, “Quick, let’s get these lights off. Danes only use little white lights.”

Also we learned when to toast: The male host will raise a glass of wine, speaking a few words of welcome within the first three minutes of the meal, to be returned by the female of the guests raising a glass of wine and speaking a few words within the next three minutes. Never sip any glass before the toast. Always look all the people toasting in the eyes, and never let your glass go empty. An empty glass toast is an insult.

HINT #13: HOST PARTIES. HAVE FUN. Late June one year, I walked to each neighbor and invited them to join us this coming Sunday afternoon, for a 4th of July party. Their reply was, ”But that is the second of July. Why not say a second of July party?” Then it dawned on me, they don’t celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day. They all accepted, we had the party. They brought wine and flowers. We served hot dogs, and potato salad, and baked beans. They wanted the recipe for baked beans. We played kubb.

CONCLUSION:

After 5-½ years, my husband was offered head of international sales, so we moved back to Ohio. Before we did, our Danish friends hosted a going away party for us, with caterers and presents, and all our neighbors. Before hand they all got to together and had a photographer take a group shot of them and had it framed, for us to remember them. They also had a 5 foot tall wooden Danish royal guardsman made for us. (It stands on our Ohio porch.) The party stated at 4 in the afternoon, and went till 3am.

My husband and I supplied the wine. We did so because before we moved to Denmark we didn’t drink wine. But now we had been given so many bottles, and I had planned on taking the 112 bottles back to the States with us. But then some crazy person had tried to blow up an airplane using liquids and no longer could we bring them back nor ship them for fear of explosions. So we supplied great wines to the party and to every friend and acquaintance.

The next afternoon, just before we got into the taxi to finally leave, our Danish friends left work to be with us, and we also fired off fireworks (typically Danish), saying our final goodbyes. Our Danish friends said we were more European than most people they knew. Through our efforts to fit in, know customs, having parties, our neighborhood which had fences between every house, had been brought together. They said if they ever won the lottery they would all come over to Ohio for a 4th of July Party. And since then four of the families have visited us here in Ohio. And one family’s daughter twice came over as an exchange student.

I hope and I believe these hints will help anyone to move into an unknown, strange, area and then fit in, and make long lasting friends. Good Luck, God Bless.

JWR Adds: Again, I hope that SurvivalBlog readers do not dismiss the preceding article as just a collection of slightly-dated reminiscences. The mindset described has great applicability to preppers, moving to rural areas here in the United States. Whether you are moving from North to South, from Urban to Rural, or simply from farming country to ranching country, there will always be at least a little culture shock. As the author stated, humility is the key. Be humble, Don’t try to change things in your new community.  You need to adapt to your neighbors and their customs. Not vice versa!




21 Comments

  1. L.C.,
    That was one of the most enjoyable articles I have read on Survivalblog. Interesting, entertaining and plenty of good “take-aways”. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  2. This was a interesting and entertaining read. However, I can not get over 62% income tax. I literally read that 5 times and then went back and rechecked once more that I read it right. My mind couldn’t comprehend that tax rate.

    Last year I read a book on hygge, a Danish term for comfort and such. No wonder they focus on the natural; it’s one of the few things they don’t have to pay a huge tax on. I would like to believe that us Americans would be up in arms over that tax rate but lately I have realized that the majority will accept anything.

  3. My wife and recently moved to a small farming community. Every morning at 7am I have my breakfast at a local restaurant and sit at the counter. If someone else sat at the counter I would engage them in conversation. Slowly some of the locals would sit at the counter and talk with me a while until their friends showed up. Nine months into my routine they started to invite me to join them at their table. Over time I’m being integrated into the community. I’ve joined the Rod and Gun Club, I go to Veterans coffees, and I put in my application to the Volunteer Fire Department. I also use the local businesses whenever possible. On the way home I stop and give treats to a rescue donkey, 3 mules and two dogs but first I stopped and ask permission from the land owners. Turns out the the donkey is owned by the local pharmacist and the mules and dogs are owned by a 75 year old local whose father homesteaded the area. Everybody, and I mean everybody, talks to everybody and I am no longer a stranger in my new community.

    1. New Guy, it sounds to me like your approach is one to be adopted by those considering relocation.

      I have read numerous comments over time about the trouble with trying to fit in when they move to new communities. It is the “human condition” for those in stable areas without much influx of newcomers to be somewhat standoffish with newcomers. In larger metropolitan areas where so many people are recent arrivals, that attitude is more rare.

      Lawyers from elsewhere who lose cases often blame the results on being “home towned.” The story goes that a young lawyer came to a small town and began a trial by asking if the potential jurors knew him, his clients, certain witnesses, etc. The judge interrupted him and said, “Son, everybody here knows everybody else–except you. Now would you just get on with it.”

      I remember reading about the funeral decades ago of a man in Martha’s Vineyard. He died in his 70s after being born on the boat that was sailing to Martha’s Vineyard. At his funeral, the minister referred to him has “this stranger to our shore.”

      A California acquaintance who worked as a minister in the Eastern Kentucky mountains for a few years told me that he was regarded as an outsider and was having trouble getting connected with the locals until he attended a barbecue. An influential person introduced him to others, saying, “Everybody, this is ____. He’s all right.” Then everything changed.

      The last thing someone relocating to a new area should ever do is to refer to “how we did it in (fill in the location).” That kind of comment, whether made in good faith or not, will often result in resentment if the listener thinks that the speaker perceives himself as bringing enlightenment to the poor, beknighted locals.

  4. An excellent article. I have worked and visited in many US states and a few countries and every “Hint” that I have read here I learned the hard way. I just wish I had this info a few decades ago. This is a must have, must learn knowledge if we ever want to work and live together now and especially if the big one happens.

  5. I am glad that adventure worked for the author of this article.
    However there details on how to blend in just blew me away.

    One must wear black, you do not wave to anyone, you are considered not just an outsider but an alien.

    There is zero gun rights. The cost of living is very high and salaries even if a good one, the government takes anywhere from 55-60%. (Government theft by any definition).

    Maybe I am too much American and have enjoyed our God giving rights for so long that I could not be subject to such a society and it’s unique norms.

    But thanks for the information.

  6. When I bought my bug-out location several years ago, the first thing I did was write a letter to the neighbors, identifying myself, giving them our contact information, describing our vehicles, etc. and inviting them to contact me and introduce themselves, and put it in their mailboxes. By the time I got back home I already had a text from one of them thanking me for doing so. We met the rest of them the next time we went up there. They keep an eye on the place for us when we’re not there, and are our most valuable asset.

  7. A very heart warming story which I enjoyed very much. I wish some yanks would emulate it when moving to Alabama. We would really like to be given a chance to be a good neighbor.

  8. That was an awesome article i love to hear about other cultures and customs. Loved how you adapted so quickly and thought to ask questions of the neighbors to solve your problems.

  9. LC; I enjoyed your article, having visiting this country I found your posting of the rules:
    THE LAW OF JANTE

    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU ARE ANYTHING SPECIAL.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU ARE AS GOOD AS US.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU ARE SMARTER THAN US.
    YOU’RE NOT TO CONVINCE YOURSELF THAT YOU ARE BETTER THAN US.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU KNOW MORE THAN US.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN US.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU ARE GOOD AT ANYTHING.
    YOU’RE NOT TO LAUGH AT US.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK ANYONE CARES ABOUT YOU.
    YOU’RE NOT TO THINK YOU CAN TEACH US ANYTHING.
    quite telling and funny, my wife & I chuckled as the guides would remind us, of at least a couple of these every day. Can you tell us more about the taxes of buying and driving a car there? Most of these democratic socialist countries have very expensive taxes on autos. Please expand on what you experienced. Thanks

  10. While looking at several different bugout/investment properties I decided to look closer at one with acreage that was on the edge of a small town (vs out in the boonies)…it felt almost sinful to be considering a normal house with rural water, sewer and natural gas. Then the realtor pointed out that the neighbor lady was the town pitbull, and watched over the place for the previous owners. Since we would not be living there I decided this was a big bonus and we bought the place. Since then we leased out hunting/grazing rights to her boss and they are introducing to everyone in town. And yes, eating at the town diner is where it all starts.

  11. Florida would be much more pleasant if the snow birds and transplants who move down here from NY, NJ etc would follow the guidelines in these two articles. I have told more than a few new commers that they could return to where they came from when they begin to tell me how they did things back home and how wrong the locals were in how they were doing things. “The weather is so nice, but you need to change your gun laws”. Go back to the garbage can you came from. We do not need your help.

  12. From L.C.: Although not the intent of my article for SB, cars are taxed at 150% to 170% or more, cars are usually provided by your workplace with published stratifications on the type of car, engine size etc, determined by your position or title within the company. So much so that you can determine when the car pulls into the parking area what position he/she has, salesman or Vice President, etc. A lesser tax can be paid by having a yellow license plate, which then signifies a ‘delivery’ vehicle, but it must have the back seats removed. These high tax rates are ‘governmentally justified’ because there is no car manufacturing within Denmark. Even if one brings a used car into Denmark, it is still highly taxed. No wonder everyone bikes everywhere.
    Homes are also sometimes purchased by the company. The worker/resident then has the income tax (totally) calculated by the government, to include the house and all utilities as income. Our home/ farm in Ohio was also taxed by Denmark at 1% of its value as worldwide income. We bought it for $150 K, but we’re told by Danish tax authorities, “ no house in USA is worth so little.” We kept our home in Ohio because we were told we would only be gone a year and a half. It extended to 5+ because of worker’s deaths. (Heart attacks from constant smoking).
    Thank you everyone, for all your kind, thoughtful comments. My hope is this article helps when moving to any new locale. I believe these hints can be timeless, and beneficial for all.

  13. In different small towns I’ve lived in, the locals are Very Curious but shy about approaching and are reluctant to make the first move, however when out shopping or picking up my mail I always initiated the conversations and after that they all wanted to know where I lived, what I did for a living, which church I attended etc, trying to “place” me in their strata. Once they knew I was no threat nor an oddball kook, they were eager to offer local gossip and help and warn me about certain people. I have found that the one person to puppydog all over you eager to be your new best friend is exactly the person you should avoid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.