Yesterday, I befriended a young man out walking a dog. I didn’t notice his accent at first but then he said that he was from Denmark and I could just detect it. He came here several years ago as an exchange student and stayed with a host family on South Hill. Now he’s back, walking their dog and escorting their daughters to their second to last day of school. He sat on the bench for a long time yesterday, gazing out at the blue Bay. He plans to swim in it every day; when I wondered out loud how he could stand the chilly temperature, he said, “We’re Vikings, you know, we’re used to the cold.” He has the classic Nordic features, blond and blue eyed, wiry build. He loves Bellingham and feels that Pacific Northwesterners are spiritual, connected to each other and the earth. Today he dropped off his host sister and then sat on the bench again. He said that the bench has become a landmark for him since we talked yesterday, helping him navigate his way home instead of getting lost in his jet-lagged state. “It’s like walking underwater.” He taught me a new Danish word “hygge” which roughly means cozy, but it encompasses many things from a feeling of well-being to friendship, candlelit warmth and contentment with your surroundings. I felt honored when he said that sitting on the bench was hygge. (The word is pronounced ‘hooga.’)
I learned some of his story…he had completed high school which goes up to 13th or 14th grade there, and had enlisted in the military. He stayed on an extra four months serving as a guard for the Queen of Denmark. Now he’s working in a sheet metal factory which allowed him to save enough money to come here for a month. He showed me a scar that ran down this thigh to just above his knee. A huge piece of sheet metal had slipped out of his grasp, just missing the “family jewels” and grazing his thigh instead. He could have easily broken a bone, and feels lucky to have avoided a worse injury. He’s much more cautious now. He told me about Danish culture. The legal drinking age is 16, while the driving age is 18. This allows young people to learn their limits and moderate their drinking before they start driving. They also get paid to attend university…Even though he thinks it’s a good idea, he can see how this privilege gets abused when young people live with their parents and spend their stipends on alcohol instead of living expenses. He wants to attend university soon and hopes to become an EMT or a nurse, saving lives as his line of work instead of a soul-sucking sales job. He told me that he only lasted a few shifts as a telemarketer–he literally felt pain in his chest, the work was so meaningless to him.
A monster truck roared by, floating high on jacked-up tires. “He’s compensating for something…” he said. “We should be using our energy looking for solutions…Tires are made from oil, and those huge tires are a waste.”
I asked him if they used solar panels in Denmark but he said it’s too dark there all the time so they harness the wind instead.
After my knit, I walked uphill for my first day back teaching at the university, hoping I could bring some hygge to my new students.