The first thing I did when I got to Denmark was break out in hives.
It took me a while to figure out what happened, both because I was not personally familiar with hives and because I have a tendency to put faith in elaborate conspiracy theories (intelligent viral strains, engineered hybrid insects).
I went to my first class at the University of Copenhagen anyway, rocking lots of foundation, a turtleneck and that ever-attractive accessory — terror. I didn’t make it very long before I had to leave. It took two minutes for my teacher to explain that I probably had hives, and two additional hours for me to find the pharmacy located two blocks away. Clearly, I was allergic to life outside the bubble.
One can imagine the classic case of Beauty and the Geek disparity that resulted as I stood facing the pharmacist. She was Danish, which means she was: blonder than me, taller than me, skinnier, prettier, and most likely happier. To make matters worse, a mosquito landed on my forehead as I told her my troubles. She stared in horror at the bug for a while before deciding to alert me as to its existence. “I think the bug just bit you,” she said, apparently amazed at this Energizer mosquito’s ability to create 30 welts instantaneously.
I’ve never been very worldly. The culture I know and love revolves around horse farms and Billy’s Bar-B-Q Shack. I didn’t realize I had a Kentucky accent until I started taking Spanish. My first venture outside the comfortable U. S. of A. landed me in Denmark, taking courses at the University of Copenhagen and generally being a disaster. I spent a total of five weeks abroad, and when I add up the hours, that was comprised of one week in class, one week riding buses, one week lost and one week trying to be cool.
As a language incompetent, communication was an issue. While the Danes mostly knew English, they were surprised whenever you initiated conversation with it. I had always been an anti-language requirement lobbyist. I would claim that learning other languages was largely irrelevant, because soon enough wearable voice recognition translators would be invented, similar to those belts that scroll red messages like “pimp” or “do not enter.”
I think these technological fantasies were largely an excuse for the struggles I had in all language classes. (In fact, a concerned administrator once suggested that I get tested for a learning disability). Finally leaving the country was really the only cure for my anti-other-language sentiments. Because seriously, Danish is freaking cool. They can whip out vowels you didn’t even know existed, all while biking in stilettos. I hope that one day I can impress someone by speaking English while riding in a car.
My dorm was located near a 200-foot tower, which my dad had found on Google Earth. He calculated its height using its shadow, and suggested it be used as a kind of North Star to guide my way home. Ultimately, though, I preferred taking a bus to following a giant phallus.
Fortunately, the public transportation system in Denmark is pristine and timely, essentially the anti-New York. Riding the buses reminded me of freshman year when my roommate shared with me the guidebook Yale had given all the international students, called something like “Dealing with Americans: Fuck.”
One segment explained that when an American’s personal bubble is violated, they will “stiffen visibly.” I never forgot that, probably because it included the word “stiffen.” But it turns out the idiots’ handbook was right — and when I found myself stiffening visibly in reaction to personal space violations on the bus, I also found myself using one of my priceless international texts to tell my roommate. At least on the New York subway when some guy has his balls on your leg, he usually feels bad about it.
My guidebook warned me that the Danes ‘abhor’ small talk and prefer small, intimate groups of friends over many acquaintances. This particular guidebook, rather than prepare us Americans, terrified us into ignoring most blondes. The closest pal I made was Casper, one of my teachers, who memorably described transsexuals as having both “tits and a cock!” (Political correctness does not exist there.) He also, by way of a compliment, described me as “one sick f-ck.” Apparently my sense of humor was dark enough for me to pass as Danish. In the dark, that is. While I may have the right wit, I am not attractive in Denmark.
Especially not with hives. Those hives, symbolic of my bumbling nature when it comes to international travel, so delighted my parents that they demanded pictures. And considering that they gave me life (and airfare) — I obliged. Unfortunately, the pics (more shocking than even Kim Kardashian’s bare buttocks) were shown to my grandparents, neighbors, and an ex. So apparently, unlike in Cabo, as they say in Laguna Beach, whatever happens in Denmark does not stay in Denmark.
Molly Green no longer has hives. Thank @#$*!