Danish and English isn’t similar.
You’ll be listening to Danish people speaking English – fair, good, or excellent as they may be. Danish and English is different, so you can occasionally observe some “persistent incorrect” English syntax use. Here are a few examples with a leading context and examples of “blunders in the manner of speaking”:
The Danish word “ikke” and the English word “not”
You are hanging out with a friend listening to music. Your Danish friend says: “You like John Lennon lyric – not”, you wondering whether it’s a statement (foregone conclusion of your friend on your behalf – from previously exchanged remarks about the music topic) or a question to you. Your friend likely meant to ask the following question: “Do you like the lyrics of John Lennon or not?”
Danish is simpler
You’re at a formal dinner party having had a welcome drink and finished the main course with wine. The hostess says: “We are about to have dessert and you have two choices: ice or cake”. You would probably choose cake because you’d likely wonder about the ice dessert choice nature (cube or crushed ice – perhaps with a fruit flavour?) What the hostess really meant to say was “you have the choices of ice cream and cake”. Danish is a simpler, shorter-spoken language with less vocabulary than English (commonly used word of is used for both of the English words of ice and ice cream. Flødeis is used for ice cream in commercial advertising, but most often in daily lingo Danes just refer to it as is because in the context of dessert it could only mean ice cream).
Yet again, having just finished all courses at a formal or informal dinner party and about to leave the table, you would receive special Danish respect and attention by saying tak for god mad (thank you for the good/excellent meal). It’s a cultural thing of etiquette – perhaps related to the Danish historic fact that Danes have occasionally experienced starvation (like the Irish during the “potato famine”).
How are you vs. how are things going
You are in a high rise office elevator going up with a colleague that you know, but not a close friend. You’d never casually ask “how are you? (hvordan har du det?)” That’s too personal of a casual greeting/question to somebody, who’s not a close friend. You should rather ask “hvordan går det?” (How are things going?). However, if it is a close friend, you should certainly take the liberty to ask hvordan har du det? to reinforce and show your genuine interest in the wellbeing of your close friend.
Your Danish friend and you are debating which flat to rent in terms of pros and cons. Your Danish friend uses the colloquial Danish-to-English statement and supposedly convincing argument of “let’s smack both flies with one swatter and let’s rent that advertised flat!”. Your Danish friend really meant to state “ Let’s kill two birds with one stone, etc.”. Rarely are English and Danish sayings the same when directly translated, including jokes and the like (e.g., “that’s the way the cookie crumbles!” does not work into Danish direct translation – most Danes would not have a clue to what you really mean, and ditto for Danish “smid ikke med sten hvis du bor i et glashus!” (don’t throw stones if you live in glass house! – likely not instantly understood as to its true subtle general meaning by an English speaking person).
Danish and English abbreviations
Your Danish friend tells you (when you are looking for a book on a shelf, a spice bottle on a cupboard shelf, etc.): “it’s standing on whatever shelf, table or other place”. Your friend probably meant to state that “it’s sitting on whatever shelf, table or other place”.
Most things in Danish lingo are standing (står) rather than sitting (side). Also try to avoid the many English abbreviations in your English lingo, because Danes are far from familiar with most of them, just like you would not be familiar with the Danish lingo abbreviations of A-kasse, ATP, CPR, FDM & MOMS to mention a few (EI, CPP, SIN, CMA & GST being the equivalent English abbreviations in Canada).
Whether you are speaking in English or Danish, neither party really grasps what is being talked about about when everybody amply sprinkles their statements with abbreviations. They rapidly lose conversation interest or move onto a new related topic in the hope of a few conversation participants eventually speaking plain Danish or English.
A special thanks to Kurt Hansen, who felt like writing this piece with and for us.
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