Archive for November, 2010

Fulbright Thanksgiving Dinner
On the 18, the Fulbright Office hosted our Mid-Term Seminar and Thanksgiving Dinner. We began with a discussion about our academic/research goals, cultural observations, and feedback to improve the Fulbright program. I really enjoyed this part of the night, as all the Fulbrighters had the chance to update everyone on their experiences with Denmark. I think all the Fulbrighters seemed to enjoy their time here so far. I won’t bore you with all the details. After that we had a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner. I think they did an excellent job, trying to imitate the American tradition. We had turkey, sweet potatoes, corn bread, green beans with corn, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. It was definitely a delightful evening as we also shared the dinner with U.S. Embassy members, who were REALLY cool people. We spent the time cracking jokes with each other and some actually pretty good deeper discussions on things such politics, which I am finding to be dinner appropriate with Danes.

International Dinner at Levende Kirke
So I also, attend a church here, called Levende Kirke (Church Alive). It is considered a free church because it isn’t Lutheran, but more in the Pentecostal-Evangelical tradition. I really enjoy this church because they view church time as a family gathering where people get to sing, fellowship, and develop a relationship with God. So last night, they had their annual International Dinner with soo much food! We had Iranian, Indonesian, Polish, Russian, Mexican, Danish and many other cultural dishes! It was such a delightful evening just meeting and eating with people from different cultures. We also, played two games later on in the night. For one game we were given 3 cards and you had to go around and ask someone a question, if you replied ”Yes” or ”No”, then you had to give them one of your cards. The trick was to be as deceitful as possible. Whoever had the most cards at the end was given a prize. The winner was the Pastor of the church, very ironic that the pastor was the most deceitful.  😀

Next, we played a Trivia game where there was a map on the wall and I think 5 different teams with a different culture’s flag as their marker. We were given a question about a usually obscure geographical location and each team had to place their marker pointing to the geographical location. After each team has chosen the location, a bullseye was displayed and teams were given a point by who was the closest to the bullseye. Well, my team, Team USA won, which had people from 8 different nationalities. After that we had  a very Danish dessert, Æbleskiver, served with powered sugar and jelly. We also had other desserts like brownies, a banana chocolate dish and other delicious goodies. Of course this was all served with coffee and tea. Overall, it was a great night and a nice way to meet different people.

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Coming to Denmark has been both an inspirational and sometimes challenging experience. When applying to come to Denmark, I wrote my personal statement on my philosophical analysis of racial dynamics in my life, something I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting about. It was necessary, seeing as my research project is focusing on the ethnic identity of Muslim immigrants (Denmark’s minority) as it pertains to the healthcare sector. My belief is that we are only as different as we make ourselves. It’s my own personal way of trying to avoid the excuse of “you’ll never understand unless you are in my shoes”, when it comes to cross-cultural or cross-racial interactions. I think sometimes culture is used as an excuse, which then halts successful and productive cross-cultural or cross-racial communication.

A couple of days ago, Danish person called me a nigger to describe me to another person and the message was then told to me on this Sunday by a Danish friend. Upon hearing that I was called a nigger, I literally went numb. It’s like this feeling where you have a massive emotional response but you’re trying to figure out how to express it. You don’t want to come off as being overly-sensitive but at the same time I’ve been socialized in such a way that I know the term is so pejorative. It’s this feeling of being offended but wanting to vocalize your hurt in a rational manner that doesn’t cause you to be completely driven by your emotions. I kept thinking maybe this was a way to laugh about the term because Danish humor is very dry and full of sarcasm. At the same time I felt like, well maybe I could just brush it off and act like nothing happened. But then looking back at the U.S. and how so many Blacks use the term to describe each other but get offended when a white person uses it, creates a very interesting paradox or politically correct quandary. Once what the Danish person had said about me was described, one of my Danish friends said that it wasn’t that bad and that the Danish person probably didn’t mean it in a negative way. While I know my Danish friend probably tried to make me feel better, I must admit it felt like throwing salt on a fresh wound.

Although, Danish people don’t have the same Trans-Atlantic slavery history as the North-Western European Whites in the States, is it still justifiable for them to use the term? Can you take such a term and in a different cultural context,and let it lose all of its pejorative or negative connotations? A couple of years ago, I made up in my mind to never immediately jump to conclusions and instantly label the perpetrator a bigot of any kind, unless I have at least some understanding of their background. I think that really no one wants to be labeled a racist, a being of hatred and possibly ignorance. At the same time no one really wants to be called nigger, a term that labels them as a disenfranchised or inferior person. However, with the increase of politically correctness in the U.S., people are so quick to label someone a bigot (i.e. – racist) without any real reflection of what it truly means. People are also really quick to allow being offended to put up a barrier that could possibly be the perfect chance to maybe discuss or rationalize one’s emotional response to bigotry based terms.

At first, I really wanted to remain silent and I kept thinking maybe this will all blow over but then again one can’t help how one feels. Sometimes people say bigotry based terms out or mere ignorance, not realizing the impact the term or phrase might have. Also, Danes pride themselves on their almost absolute forms of democratic ideals, especially freedom of speech. So I felt that I might be infringing on their democratic ideals. However, freedoms are only free until they infringe on someone else’s freedoms.

I chose to withdraw myself for a bit and formulate how I would describe my feelings about the term being used to describe me. So after a couple of hours, I decided to approach my Danish friends and explain to them that even though “nigger” has a less pejorative meaning in Denmark, it’s a term that still to a degree offends me. I must point out I wasn’t offended by one of my Danish friends telling me that another Danish person used the term to describe me, I was more so shocked that the term was used to describe me, in Denmark! I also wanted to address the issue of what happens when a term that is offensive in the U.S. isn’t that offensive in Denmark. The question was how do we discuss this incident in such a way that adds my own cultural perspective to the term within the framework of Danish cultural interpretations of the term. I think my friends might have been a bit alarmed that I might perceive of Danish culture as culturally insensitive or even racist. However, I explained to them that this incident of what the person said wouldn’t shade my whole view of Danish culture because I try my best to critically analyze bigotry based terms and to never place blame on one group without some sort of meaningful reflection.

We entered into a dialogue about the differences in cultural meanings of the term nigger. Apparently in Denmark, I learned that the term “nigger”, which is neger (nee-er) in Danish is sometimes used to describe black people. It is also used by younger kids, but with the intent of ONLY describing the person as a black person and not the pejorative sense of the term. However, they still sort of shy away at saying the term when they are older, which might possibly be the fact that although they intend to use it as a means of ONLY describing a black person, there is still some awareness of the pejorative aspect of the term. It could also be the largely homogenous population of Danes that mostly interacts with African immigrants and rarely African-American immigrants which might affect their overall impact of the term. Who knows?

It was definitely a powerful discussion because no one pointed the finger at each other and we all conducted ourselves in a manner that we have this offensive term, why is it offensive and how can we make sense of this term coming from our different cultural backgrounds?  Better yet, I think we reached a better understanding of the impact of using the term “nigger” or maybe even other racially infused terms.  We are all socialized differently based on our cultural, maybe racial or whatever differences and often times these differences in social background make it easy to put up a barrier or easy for one to say, “You’ll never understand unless you were in my shoes…” But then, we never get to the point of actually rationalizing our reactions to bigotry based terms.

Moral of this experience:
This experience helped me not only reaffirm my personal philosophy described above but to understand the power of discussion. I know that because something works for one person it might not work for everyone or for every situation. However, if more discussions were to occur between racial and cultural groups, we might be able to understand how racial or cultural tensions are perceived by ourselves and the person accused of being a bigot. Not all race based remarks are maliciously inclined. The way in which we perceive ourselves affects our interactions in society and the way we perceive of our identity in comparison to people of other identities affects the way we begin to use terms such as “racist”. Bigoted thinking does exist but not all of it is intentional. I might never know if the Danish person that called me a nigger used it in a pejorative manner or just said it out of his own ignorance about what the term means. I could choose to call him a racist, but in the end what will I have really accomplished? What will I have really learned? I am here to gain a deeper understanding of Danish culture, even if I don’t agree with everything. I don’t have to agree with every cultural practices or beliefs but I do believe in respecting them. I must NOTE that I am not condoning the Danish person’s use of the term but I am focusing on how I choose to express my reaction to bigotry. It’s okay to feel angry or hurt, but I learned a long time ago not to stay in that state of emotions.

I do know that with the casual usage of bigoted terms, deciphering what is mere ignorance or actual bigoted thinking has become a very difficult process. Through a highly critical approach to notions of bigotry, maybe we can break down or understand racial or cultural dynamics, without placing blame on one particular group. I know it sounds so mentally exhausting but if people are to ever transcend notions of racism or any form of bigotry, we must be willing to introspect on our own biases. Discussing racism or bigotry is very difficult because of the personal feelings attached but fighting through those emotional responses to bigotry are even more important. Overall, it will require a collective effort to understand that we are only as different as we make ourselves.

On November 12th, I celebrated the Danish version of Thanksgiving called, Mortensaften.

Background:

“Goose or duck is on the menu on November 10, when the Danes celebrate Saint Martin. Martin – or as it has become in Danish: Morten – was inaugurated bishop in Tours, France, on November 11 in 371. It is said that the pious Martin out of obsequiousness hid among the geese because he did not want to become a bishop. The geese however let him down by quacking, and it is said that in return Martin decided to punish the geese by slaughtering and eating them every November 10. Nowadays, goose is often replaced by duck on the menu Mortensaften (Morten’s Eve), probably because the size of a duck is more appropriate for the appetite of an average Danish familiy.”

So for Mortensaften we had duck served with brown sauce, white potatoes, candied white potatoes, and red cabbage all with copious amounts of red wine. Dessert was Abemad or “Monkey’s Food” which consisted of chopped apples, pear, banana, and pineapple topped with råcreme, which is vanilla cream.

This is very traditional food and the same thing is usually served at every Mortensaften. It is a time of family gathering and eating good food. To me it was very reminiscent of Thanksgiving, just with a different bird as the main dish.

After dinner and dessert, we all sat around and had tea and other types of chocolate desserts. I was very honored that the family decided to invite me to be a part of their Mortensaftens.   I’ve experienced so many family gatherings and Danish birthday parties and each of them just have this strong traditional feeling.  They all usually have a three course meal with very delectable appetizers, main entrees and desserts.  It has just been a blessing for my Danish roommates to include me in their family gatherings and they each help me gain a deeper appreciation of Danish culture.

Dining room area before the food finished cooking.

I apologize for being MIA. Even though I’m on break, I’ve been very busy. However, I have A LOT of stuff to blog about, so expect a lot of blog posts in the next couple of days.  So, from Nov. 9th to Nov. 11th, I decided to take a trip to Stockholm. According to the tourist website, Stockholm is classified as the Capital of Scandinavia, even though Copenhagen gets the most tourist visits, annually.

Nov. 9th
So on Tuesday, November 9th, I left Copenhagen around 10:19am and arrived in Stockholm about 3:40pm. I must admit I was a bit shocked at all the snow that I saw accumulating as the train pulled into Stockholm, because all the weather reports I had checked out, said Stockholm was supposed to be sunny. However, when I arrived Stockholm had just been hit with a snowstorm which basically turned into sleet! Not only that, the Metro Station was PACKED with people, trying to get home and avoid the slush-filled roads. After about 3 train attempts, I finally made my way onto a packed train and didn’t get to my hostel until about 4:30pm. The hostel was VERY nice and hotel quality. They provided cooking and eating utensils along with free pasta. Well after finally settling in, I decided to pull out my tourist map and plan out some of the things I wanted to see/experience in Stockholm.

Since the weather was so crappy, I decided to just check out the area around my hostel, which was by the metro station, Skanstrull. This area had lots of restaurants! Other than that, I couldn’t really find anything spectacular. So I ended up having dinner at a restaurant with a Swedish-Greek influence. I then finished off my night meeting up with a Grinnell alum from the class of ’07 and having hot chocolate in a small cafe where we discussed the trajectory of our lives, post-Grinnell College.

Nov. 10th
After compiling a list of things I wanted to see, today was packed with things I wanted to see in Stockholm. I basically woke up around 7:30am and made my way to Gamla Stan, which is the old, Medieval looking city of Stockholm, which attracts lots of tourists. Unfortunately, I was an early bird and arrived there about an hour before most shops actually opened, but it was still a great chance to check out the city before it was flooded with tourists. Gamla Stan was very beautiful it was like walking through a blast from the past. Around noon, I experienced the rather popular, Royal changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace. Next, I stopped to have hot white chocolate at, Chokladkoppen, known for their famous hot chocolate. For a change of scenery, I hopped on the next metro train all the way to Rådmansgatan to purchase chocolate at Pralinhuset! Please check this chocolate shop out because it was definitely worth it. They had over 200 types of chocolate candies around 7SEK (1USD) per piece. I won’t say how much I spent but after eating one piece I was almost ready to buy one of each piece.

For the rest of the day, I just wandered around the Northern part of Stockholm being a typical tourist checking out all the beautiful churches, statues, and buildings. I really liked the location of the City Hall which was right by the water and had an amazing view of the other islands of the Stockholm area. I also, checked out some of the major shopping areas, Åhlens City and Gallerian, typical mall areas, which didn’t really fascinate me that much. Also, a great place to visit is the Culture House, it’s a great tourist attraction and it’s full of state of the art design and exhibitions. Since it was so cold and it kept snowing in Stockholm, I spent some time here to just relax and explore the different cultural aspects of Stockholm. Lastly, I ended the night off with meeting up with my Grinnell friend from class of ’07. After walking around and trying to avoid high prices, we eventually ate some very good Swedish Persian food.

If you want to travel to Stockholm try to consider the weather as a factor. I felt like I got a pretty good view of Stockholm, since I basically walked around/took the metro throughout almost all of the City Center in one day. My first impressions: Stockholm is very metro accessible and is definitely internalizing itself for tourists. Compared to Copenhagen, Stockholm was very multi-ethnic! I just saw so many different types of people and I thought it was maybe because I was in the tourist areas but even outside those areas, I had a bit of difficult trying to figure out what a Swedish person actually looks like, which isn’t really a bad thing. I did want to visit some of the museums, particularly the Multicultural Center and the Museum of Ethnography. However, they were kind of far out and since I was only in Stockholm for 2 days or 1 full day, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything else. Next time I’m in Stockholm I would love to check out the night life and more of the distant islands by a boat tour. Although, Stockholm is bigger than Copenhagen, I think it might be labeled the Capital of Scandinavia because of it’s central location in Scandinavia. I still like the small feel of Copenhagen and relatively fun night life. Maybe, I’m biased but I think Copenhagen is the Capital of Scandinavia.