I am not used to being surrounded by people with whom I cannot easily converse. In social situations, I pride myself on my ability to carry on a conversation with almost anyone, no matter how uninteresting he or she may be.
This skill serves me well… until the people I am with do not speak my language. I found myself in this awkward situation on my second night in Denmark, when my host parents took me to a family dinner to celebrate their twin granddaughters’ 10th birthdays.
I was all excited and ready to meet some Danes and talk to them in English, because of course they would all switch from their native language just to include me, right? Wrong. Sitting in a room with almost fifteen Danes, I was at a loss for words and very uncomfortable.
Luckily, children do not require as many words as do adults. Therefore, I found myself sitting at the kid’s table with my young Danish companions: three 10-year-old girls and two boys, ages 12 and 14. We had a good time, talking about all things American, which to young Danes means Justin Bieber and One Direction, topics I unfortunately know next to nothing about.
I took the opportunity to use their limited English to drop some knowledge. I described to them how Denmark is different than America, and talked about the places they had visited in the USA, like Los Angeles and New York. When one of the girls started absentmindedly clinking her glass, I decided it was time to teach them a little more about American culture. I started to explain how, in America, when two people were having their wedding and their guests clinked their glasses, the couple had to kiss. The kids looked confused, so I decided to act it out.
I overeagerly banged my knife against my empty beer glass, unintentionally producing a clear ringing sound that was much louder than I intended it to be. I looked up to see fifteen Danes staring back at me, looking like they were waiting for a toast. I now had to explain my reasoning to my newly enlarged audience, and suffice it to say, I don’t think they understood that I had called so much attention to myself purely by accident.
For the rest of night, I kept as quiet as possible, and restricted myself to speaking with the children. I was glad I could make such a good impression on my host family’s extended family, and was also able to perpetuate the stereotype of the loud, obnoxious American.