December 13, 2006 in City

From Denmark to chronicler of Spokane life

Pia K. Hansen The Spokesman-Review
 

I just wanted a hamburger and some fries, and what’s it called? Pop? Cola? No, wait, no one calls it cola over here, it’s Coke.

Petrified, I stared at the menu the size of a hockey arena scoreboard, white letters waltzing around on a black background, between huge pictures of food I had never tasted before.

Small? Medium? Dr. Who? Dr Pepper?

Where did it say “hamburger”? Is a sandwich the same as a hamburger?

The young man behind the counter at the burger joint on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., was losing his patience.

“Hey, what’s it gonna be?” he barked in my direction. “Y’all not saying anything. Am I standing here alone?”

Now he was staring right at me, and I stuttered my way through a lunch order I probably paid twice as much for as I should have because I didn’t realize I was ordering a meal.

At the time I was 25 years old and had followed my brand new spouse to this brand new country. Not harboring any American dreams myself, chances are I would have never set foot on American soil if I hadn’t married another Dane who was hell-bent on living and working here.

There were many things I didn’t understand when I first moved to the United States in the burning hot summer of ‘91, one of them being the language.

I had some English skills, but I was a far cry from being fluent. I grew up in Denmark, mostly on a small farm in the middle of nowhere, but also in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, moving smoothly between showing my ponies in 4-H, driving tractors, wearing heels and watching the Royal Ballet.

A colleague here at the paper says that yesterday’s weird high school kids are today’s journalists. I guess I fit that model: I was never one of the “it girls.” I was kind of a loner, I read a lot, I got excellent grades, refused to take computer classes (this was the mid-80s; I figured, who’d need computer skills?) worked on the school paper and ended up on the science track.

The University of Copenhagen enjoyed two years of my more-or-less intense biology studies before I dropped out to take a job selling small computer networks (luckily, I pick up computer skills really fast).

When I arrived here, most of what I knew of this country was based on McDonald’s, “Rocky” movies and the TV show “Dallas.”

Sorry. But it’s the truth. I was clueless, but hey, at least I realized it.

Being the practical sort I read books to learn American history. I toured the Washington, D.C., monuments and museums. Watching the Weather Channel I learned where the states are located.

Between the summer of ‘91 and the fall of ‘93, I had gotten married, left my home country, moved halfway around the planet, had a baby, and then – in pursuit of my spouse’s academic career – I moved again from the East Coast to Spokane.

My life has a way of doing that to me, you know, a lot of change at the same time.

In D.C., I was often the only white person on a bus crammed full of black people. I’d quickly learned to navigate beltways and interstates with five lanes going each way.

Because of the proximity to the White House, local news in D.C. was often national or international news. I stopped watching the crime reports because the frequent carjackings scared me too much – and I assumed all of America was just like that.

Of course I was wrong.

Renting a house on the corner of Illinois and Greene Street in Spokane, I headed straight for my second culture shock in a little more than two years.

The smelter trucks from Kaiser Aluminum rumbled past my house like clockwork.

So did the huge cattle trucks heading for the stockyards just down the street. And the train came around the back.

Immigration rules were such that I couldn’t work, so I found myself mostly housebound. I was lonely. I spent a lot of time with my toddler son at the playground in NorthTown Mall. I ran my first Bloomsday.

And I grew to like Spokane. Looking back at 13 years, this place has been very good to me.

In ‘98 I graduated from Eastern Washington University and went to work for the Inlander.

My career started, and my marriage ended.

The past two and a half years I’ve worked here at The Spokesman-Review, holding down a day job as features editor and another job as Home editor. In the Home section, I’ve written about my progress on the big old scary house I work on by myself, with help from a son who’s now a teenager and under the excellent supervisory skills of my cat.

I’ve just returned from a life-changing trip to Lesotho – a tiny country within South Africa – where I volunteered for a newspaper for a month and learned how to blog.

And now I’m a metro columnist. Loosely defined, this column is going to be about living in Spokane. You can expect a mix of people and profiles, of news commentary and the occasional ramblings about how I feel about something. I’ve never been short on opinions and my friends know that I share them freely, without taking myself too seriously.

Summarizing a 40-year-long life is a little difficult, and now I’m thinking I could have saved you all this reading.

All you really need to know about me is what my bumper sticker reads.

Sun-bleached and worn by snow scrapers, it simply says, “Danes are more fun.”


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