Every term all students at IPC are invited to local homes in and around Elsinore for dinner at the event “Dining with a Dane”. 2-3 students go together and meet up with local Danes to learn about Denmark and see Danish homes, while the local hosts learn about other parts of the world. It is a cultural exchange during a cozy dinner. Here Viet Tran, current student at IPC, writes about his experience at “Dining with a Dane” on the 18th of September 2019.
By Viet Tran, student at IPC
“I met the world in Denmark”, that’s the line spoken throughout years at IPC, the only Danish folk high school which has a fully international student body. Around a hundred students from various parts across the globe have been living and studying this autumn in Helsingør; they share meals, daily conversations and classes into understanding each other’s region. This week, they went out to meet local Danes.
“Dining with a Dane”
This Wednesday (18thof September 2019), Denmark was cold, windy and cloudy, even some heavy rain. It hailed in the afternoon. For many at IPC, the Danish weather that day made them reluctant to go outside. But as it approached evening, they all picked up their coats and set out eagerly for “Dining with a Dane”, an IPC program taking place in and around Helsingør which offers cultural exchanges between international IPC’ers and the local community. Via meals, students, in groups of three, take chance to have genuine answers to questions about their experiences in Denmark. And Danish hosts encounter people of cultures that are different from their own.
At the house of Ole Pedersen and Marianne Egedal, a retired trade union worker and a former social science expert, the 40-year-married couple would expect Tyra Sondergaard from USA, Pema Lhanzom from India and Viet Tran, a Vietnamese, as dining guests.
“We didn’t know anything about them before they come here. And they didn’t know us, either. So this experience, it’s really about being open-minded”, said Marianne later at dinner’s table. She and her husband have hosted “Dining with Danes” through years. Having never been to the East, the couple had two Asians at their table. Their foreign visitors might have been the most considerate (and nervous) among IPC students regarding this event. They took a cab, brought with them daisies, a bottle of wine, but also a handmade greeting card to show manners. The three students dared not to knock on the door early.
“It’s a normal thing to do in the US”, said Tyra, explaining the gifts. She is from Los Angeles, but actually born with a dual citizenship, American and Danish. Her mother’s origin justifies her choice to study here. “I’ve been a Dane my entire life”.
Denmark – an organized country
Viet is from the much dynamic city of Hanoi, so sometimes he’d felt intimidated by how everything was so organized in Denmark, in-house or public. “I was told here, red is red, green is green”, he said.
Viet had reasons for tiptoeing into a house of Danes. Just in time, he and the other two were invited straight to the already-made Wednesday dining table. Everything had been set. Marianne arranged it while her husband was busy cooking all in the kitchen. The guests had a brief moment of shaking hands and looking around rooms. Warm lights, white walls, carved ceilings, rows of paintings… all organized in tidy manners into the not-too-spacious apartment left Viet just another time wondering about all that Danish design. Over the first course of some Ole’s recipe and a salad, Marianne, silver-haired and wearing glasses, introduced a fact on Danish designated system, something that the Vietnamese’d be keen to hear. “We pay taxes, about 30 to 70 percent of our personal incomes, and many are happy to do so”, she said while her Asian guest was clumsily maneuvering his fork and knife. “Because then we can have and maintain a system of free education, free health care and so on”.
It is contrary to Pema’s situation. The Tibetan refugee said she paid “1 lakh rupee annually to learn to become a nurse in India”. That’s more than a thousand euros a year.
As the meal went on, students were kept amazed at being well-fed, one after another, by the man of the house. Ole brought them lasagna which he joked “now the national Danish dish because everyone can cook”, wienerbrød as dessert, then coffee and apple juice. Yet, his wife considered it normal.“It’s been this way throughout our marriage and was passed down to our children. Plus, Ole loves cooking”, said Marianne while her husband was busy behind kitchen’s door. Viet had asked her about the family’s cooking habit, since he’s from a dominant culture that spares more loads of chores for females. His host seemed to be keen to discuss gender equality. Marianne questioned further Tyra whether the US should have more men cheerleading women.“We should”, Tyra replied. “But we consider it a sport. We girls take pride in being cheerleaders. And we compete”.
All those ways, differences were something now and then encountered at the international dining table. But Marianne shared her tip of welcoming foreigners not just to her family meal, but to her country as well. “I’ve grown up learning to be tolerant. It’s something I teach my children. And we should teach our children to be tolerant”, she told near the end of what she described “a night that we enjoyed very much”. Three students agreed.
While Tyra hugged her to say goodbye, two Asians chose more indirect way to express warmth. One of them said he would remember this experience for long. All were driven home safe by Ole.