Saturday, 26 April 2014

Mange Tak!

My first words in a foreign language were not any of the ones learned at school, but Danish. About school: Starting in grade 6 in those years all Dutch children except the ones in trade school routinely learned English, French and German. I was in a class for future academic nobs who started with French, everyone else did English first. In retrospect one wonders at the snobbery.

But at age 4 I was instructed to say Mange Tak. You see, my paternal grandparents belonged to this choir, De Stem des Volks. The Voice of the People had fellow choirs in other cities and countries, and somehow Opa and Oma had befriended this couple from Denmark, Sonja and whatever.
The living room had a small green statue of the little mermaid on a shelf. Brother Jaap has it now.
In the guest bedroom with the yellow curtains was a blackboard with phrases in both languages. They must have been serious. 

I was turning 4 during that vacation. A present from the Danish visitors had been announced, and I was instructed to say thank you in Danish. I remember hiding under the table when they came in. I was not crazy about strangers in those days. There was some apologizing and demurring among the adults, and then a flat package was handed over to me under the table. Mange Tak was dutifully said. And the package contained.......underwear. Boring underwear in an ugly colour between beige and pink. 
I was dumbfounded. I don't remember what I did or said next, just this mix of puzzlement and disappointment. We did not get clothing as presents. Ever. Presents were toys.
My mother explained a lifetime later that textiles were still rationed in 1947, and they had requested this practical contribution. 

And that, Debbie Jensen, is how my first foreign words were Danish!