Just A Crazy Person With A Taxi Full of Pets
Moving In Day
I had flown over about a month before my moving date in order to find the house where we would be living. I went to a bunch of locations but was surprised how constrained inventory appeared to be in Odense. It seemed like a lot of apartments that were out there had a hard no dog policy which was a huge bummer. Eventually i did find one though and booked it. The process of getting the apartment was, frankly, pretty straight forward and I left feeling quite proud of myself.
The process of moving into the house was less successful. My friend called a cab and it showed up with a nice driver who spoke almost no English, which is somewhat rare in Denmark. I loaded his car with my million bags, cat and dog. Since I figured he didn’t want the dog to just wander around his cab I kept my bud up front with me, having to place him in a somewhat uncomfortable position of sort of holding him up underneath his legs. It wasn’t the optimal situation for sure but I didn’t really know what else to do. So we slowly drove to the new house, dog breath smells filling the car with the cat loudly protesting in the back and we pulled up.
Years ago I prided myself on being the kind of person who could just travel with a duffel bag. It was this mental image of myself as a nomad, a guy on the go. This is a fantasy a lot of young men delude themselves with and I was unfortunately no exception. In reality I didn’t shower enough and the number of items I had were missing some key things like “cleaning supplies” and “enough soap”. However in my deenfense it was somewhat true that everything I needed at the time fit into this old soviet green duffel bag because of course it was a military bag. College aged me is intolerable to even think about.
Showing up at a new house in a new country with everything I could think to bring from the US you realize just how much stuff a modern house needs. Not being able to read the language doesn’t help. I thought I was buying toilet paper only to end up with paper towels which, to be fair, do look similar when they are in their packaging. I went to the local shops and bought everything I could carry, slowly stumbling my way through the checkout process and assuming they were asking me if I needed a bag or my receipt. This process of not really understanding a language but simply copying what the people in front of you say is both effective and extremely brittle. One wrong question or just a clarification and the entire thing collapses. It also fills you with paranoia. Am I going to make a mistake, am I going to say the wrong thing? You are reassured by the knowledge that you are certainly going to say the wrong thing so maybe obsessing on it right now isn’t the best idea.
I had arranged for Ikea delivery that first day just so I had somewhere to sleep. In the US I find Ikea to be overwhelming. There are a million items and frankly the layout doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. You always feel a little lost and trapped, like a ride you want to get off but you can’t. Some of the worst relationship fights of my life have happened inside of Ikea and I don’t think of the place fondly. Now take all of that, make the Ikea physically much larger and then remove all the English. You now have the store I find myself in.
I’m so overwhelmed just trying to figure out where I am and what to do that I quickly break down and ask a kid who looks young enough to be skilled in English for help. When in doubt in Denmark and you need to switch to English, always go for someone young. They seem much more confident with their English skills and more willing to go back and forth with you a bit to figure things out. Older Danes will try but if you hit a word they don’t know or a situation they are unclear about they tend to shut down a little. He got the list of items I had written down ordered and I was somewhat pleased with myself, so much so that I went to the cafe and had a piece of cake.
The problem is with not being able to read is that you miss a million warnings. For instance, I ordered the right bed and the right mattress but forgot the wooden slates that go into the bedframe. I ordered the right light fixtures but forgot the light bulbs. You don’t realize how dependent you are on written clues until you can’t read them anymore. As I started to go through the process of assembly I felt deep depression setting in for a bit. It’s hard to work so hard for things that come so easily back home. I would never have needed to ask a 19 year old how to order things or missed that I needed more parts for something. The problem is the speed of reading.
When you are reading a foreign language you aren’t familiar with you need to go slowly. For people like me who are used to skimming to get the important information quickly you get into a habit that is hard to break. You have to slow down and use all of the clues at your disposal. Are there pictures or arrows, where do they go and then you slowly start the process of translation. It isn’t fast or particulally elegant but it does work. Google Translate and other tools can help you get there but ideally you want to go as far as you can before you turn to those crutches.
I ran into the same problem when I went out after the assembly to get some celebretaory beer. I missed that the six pack I had ordered was non+alcholic and the thing I had grabbed thinking it was chicken was actually fish. Had I taken a second I would have realized it but of course I was still in the habit of quickly glancing over things. When you find the process of checking out stressful it definitely encourages you to try and go as fast as possible through the line, like you might lose your nerve if you wait for too long.
So my first night in my house was spent on a mattress on the floor, a dog eating cat food, with a non-alcoholic beer in one hand and a fork full of fish in the other. The whole scene was lit with the light from my ipad as I sat there watching Stranger Things as all my lamps lacked bulbs. Not exactly the most glamourous start to living abroad but at least I was home and safely gotten all the animals across the ocean and to a warm and safe house. Gotta take the wins where you can I guess.