Posted in Reflections & Lessons

The Fine Art of Trying & Failing to Speak Danish

If I had to pick one conversation in Danish that I feel most comfortable with, It would be the exchange of ordering a coffee. You see, I order a lot of coffee. I’ll admit it, I order too much coffee. So, I’ve used practicing my Danish as a sort of justification for this unhealthy habit. The point being, I am excellent at ordering coffee in Danish.

So, last Saturday, I was at one of my favorite spots- the Espresso House in Vanløse. I am fond of this particular location because it has an upper floor that is almost all windows, so I get to enjoy the sun’s rays as I do my homework. But, I digress.

I walked into the cafe and strode up to the counter. Like second nature, I ordered my favorite, an oat milk chai latte. Confidently, I spoke: Jeg vil gerne have en chai latte med havremælk. The cashier asked if I wanted anything else, told me the total and asked if I wanted a receipt. These were all words and phrases I knew, and the conversation went just as I had expected

After a few minutes, the barista called out my order and I approached. I was ready to take the steaming mug of the delicious beverage, but before I could reach for it, the. barista spoke: Vil du have kanel på set?

Immediately, I panicked. What had she asked? What should I say? I was not prepared for this. My head reeled and I blurt out, “sorry?” She calmly responded, in English, “would you like cinnamon on that?” “Oh, no, thanks, sorry,” I muttered these words, still frazzled, as I took my chai.

As the internal panic settled, I realized that the situation, in reality, was probably not as dramatic as my head had made it out to be. Sipping my chai, I realized that the barista had heard me order, and that my pronunciation was so good she thought I was fluent. That, at least, was something to be happy about.

As I finished the chai, I thought, damn, this would have been good with some cinnamon. So, the next day when I ordered a chai, now knowing the word, I asked for some.

Trying to speak the language in a foreign country inevitably means failing from time to time. However, in these failures, there are opportunities to learn, and that is surely a fine art.

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