Danish-American Ties That Bind: Coffee with Else

When I watch war movies or the wars on the television news..and the other acts of conflict and violence that we see, hear and read about between cultures and countries, I think, “Why don’t they just talk to one another?”.

It seems simple, I know, but I think it works. Building bridges between people and across cultures is my personal mission in life and that, for me means making a difference in the world through personal contact. I have never been hesitant about talking to anyone who is different than me, whether by ethnicity, religion, creed, culture or any other reason. I believe by making 1-1 contacts, you bring the world closer. One of the person’s I do that with is my Danish friend, Else.

Back in California, I was a member of a large Danish cultural group in San Diego. Through it I began taking Danish lessons before I came to Denmark and I became friends with someone in the group who is Danish-American. I became quite friendly with him and his husband. One day he buttered me up with a huge lunch at Red Lobster (I will do anything if you give me lots of lobster and hot melted butter) and asked  me  if I would take a list he had prepared of all his relatives in Denmark and he asked me if I could visit one in particular in greater Copenhagen.

Since then I have visited 95-year old Else several times at her home, southwest of Copenhagen, bridging the gap between Denmark and the USA over cups of coffee and sweet cakes.

We have a ritual in which I call her and using my best Danish, remind her that my friend, her relative, says hello and I ask if I might come visit sometime in the coming week. Sometimes, I write her a letter suggesting a visit, and she calls me to let me know which day and time is good for her. It is not that Else has such a busy schedule. It is just that it is proper to make an agreed appointment.

I always look forward to the train trip and the walk. Recently I was able to do it on a sunny day – for the first time. As I neared her house, Else emerged from the door on her way to get the mail from the box along the sidewalk.

“Else!!, I said loudly.

Photo Copyright: Barrett Clemmensen Powell. All Rights Reserved

It melted my heart to see the smile that lit up her face. I was also happy to see her still walking under her own power, without any assistance and in good spirits. We had a warm, long hug, then she got the mail and we went inside. A few moments later I had carried out the spread she made for us — hot coffee with plenty of sugar, pastry, a bowl of assorted peaches, plums and nectarines as well as one separate bowl of fresh strawberries. As always we drank out coffee from beautiful,  delicate porcelain cups.

We sat in the shade of the back porch overlooking her garden, talking and laughing for more than two hours. Sometimes my Danish language skills would fail me and she would ask me when I was going to take Danish lessons at school (even though I already have!). We fooled around with my camera and smartphone, taking photos and stuffing ourselves with strawberries. I showed her how a smartphone works, although I do not think she understood it so well or thought it was so important. We discussed everything from her family’s migration to the United States of America to her neighbors, the opera, Olsen Banden (The Olsen Gang films), running, Bornholm, San Diego, my family, love, marriage and children. She said I have a sweet nature and a good body for being a mother.

Danish men, take note: Else says I will make a good wife to a proper Danish man (“en rigtig danskmand”)

Photo Copyright: Barrett Clemmensen Powell. All Rights ReservedWhen we were finished with everything, Else insisted we also share a bottle of Cabernet Syrah in the late afternoon.

“Skål!” she said, raising her glass.

“Skål!”

We had a great discussion about how inexpensively one can buy wine at Aldi and how it is comparable to able to get “Two Buck Chuck” wine at Trader Joe’s in the USA (a decent wine with Charles in the name that sells for only $2). Being able to get a good deal on food and drink is a universal desire.

I promised to tell her relative back in San Diego that she sends “mange hilsener” as I walked out into the sunshine of the late spring evening and waved goodbye from the sidewalk. I know I won’t have many more afternoons of coffee with Else because of her advancing age, but I think in our small way, Else and I have built yet another bridge across the cultural divide.

By Barrett Clemmensen Powell • June 16, 2014
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American Dream, Danish Dream

Barrett Clemmensen Powell