Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Language Ninja

As anyone who has been near me in the last year can attest, I like Denmark.

And Danish.

And not just the pastries. (Which aren’t called Danishes in Denmark at all: they’re called “wienerbrød”, which translates as “Viennese bread”.)

After much searching, I found a Danish course in London – a mere two tube stops from my home, conveniently enough.

The best part about learning Danish is that I quite literally had a secret little language. (Well, it’s obviously not secret in Denmark, or wherever the country you’re learning is spoken, but elsewhere…) All of my childhood dreams of being a spy came true, because I got to be a language ninja! You know how ninjas are quiet and unobtrusive until BAM you have a shuriken in your face? I’m like that, but…umm…but with words.

Okay, not so deadly, but the point is, MY SKILLS ARE HIDDEN.

I was once dancing with some Swedes in a London nightclub. We popped outside, and they were chatting in Swedish. (I notice Scandinavians tend to do this. If you don’t aggressively manipulate the conversation and keep it in English, they will slip back into their own tongue.) Swedish and Danish have similarities waiting to be EXPLOITED by a language ninja such as myself.

They were talking about me, and I managed to decode a few words: “Aww, you think I’m sweet?”Just like a ninja can slit open your gut with his little fingernail (or so I assume), my tiny linguistic movement had a stunning effect.

“How did you know what we were saying?”

“I WILL NEVER REVEAL MY SECRETS…okay, so I know a little Danish.”

My new Scandinavian friends were suitably impressed.

Also, baffled.

“Umm, do you have Danish family?”

“No.”

“Did you live in Denmark?”

“No.”

“Do you…WHY WOULD YOU LEARN DANISH?”

As if BEING A LANGUAGE NINJA wasn’t reason enough.

I also got to feel a bit smug as a language ninja in Norway. I spent a couple of days in Oslo (surely the world’s most expensive city) and, as I traversed the city’s public transport system, realised I could understand most of the advertising. Danish was the official language of Norway for about 300 years in between the 16th and 19th centuries, so there are many similarities. The sounds are quite different (Norwegian sounds like a language; Danish sounds like a giraffe gargling woodchips), but on paper, the relationship between words is obvious even to a beginner like me. Keep in mind that at this point, I had had just 20 hours of formal instruction in Danish, and I could understand all these advertising campaigns. If a functionally illiterate foreigner can understand it, they mustn’t think their target audiences are very intelligent.

Anyway, I didn’t get to harm humans with my DEVASTATING LINGUISTIC ABILITIES, but as Akira tells Bart in the episode of The Simpsons when Flanders opens the Leftorium, “We learn karate so that we need never use it”. The citizens of Oslo should count themselves lucky that I chose not to unleash my FEROCIOUS VOCABULARY upon them.

So I guess the moral of the story is that learning things is more fun if you pretend the knowledge can maim people.

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