This week, I found myself running from Sølvtoret, where I mistakenly got off the bus, to Søtorvet, where my business meeting was. Sølvtoret and Søtorvet were about fifteen minutes apart by foot, and it was ten minutes before I had to be there, so I was moving pretty quickly.
It made me think about all the times I still get confused about Danish place names. A lot of names sound very similar to foreigners, although I’m sure to Danes they’re quite distinct. For example, the Copenhagen metro has a stop called Ørestad, and one in another direction called Øresund.
Ørestad, Øresund. If you don’t speak Danish well, two letters’ difference is enough to get you very, very lost.
As a matter of fact, I’ve met and helped a lot of lost tourists, because Ørestad is a bit of a tourist attraction, with several examples of exciting modern architecture there. Another tourist attraction is a lovely garden called Ørsteds Park. Yes, that’s right, folks – the difference is Ørestad or Ørsteds. And don’t get frustrated and jump in the Øresund, which is the large body of water between Denmark and Sweden. The bridge between the two countries is the Øresund Bridge. Ørestad, Ørsteds, Øresund. Got it now?
I still get lost
I still haven’t gotten it, because I still get lost. I missed a party recently because I went to Nørregade when I was supposed to go to Nørre Allé. I could have also gone to Nørreport or Nørrebro, all of which are within walking distance of each other in Copenhagen.
It’s not just place names, it’s people’s names as well. Denmark having once been a very Christian nation, there are people with the last names Christensen, Christiansen, and Christianson. All of these people will be miffed if you get their name wrong.
First names can also be tricky. I got in trouble this week for calling a lady named Jytte ‘Jette’ by mistake. She corrected me sharply. I still mess up the first names Lene and Line, and Tina and Tine. When it comes to men, it’s easy to confuse Jørgen and Jørn, or Mikeal and Mikkel. And I do confuse them. All the time.
Troubles with my own name
I even have problems with my own name in Danish. My name, Kay, which I pronounce to rhyme with ‘day,’ is spelled the same as a Danish man’s name, Kay, which rhymes with ‘pie.’
Kay-rhymes-with-pie was a big name during the 1920s, so now it’s associated with very old men, sort of like, say, Elmer in English. There are no young Elmers.
Anyway, when I first got here, I tried to make an email appointment with a gynecologist, and was told, “Sorry, Kay! This doctor is only for women.”
When Danish people do realize I’m a woman, they often call me not Kay, but Kate.
I was helping some other parents paint my daughter’s school recently, when I noticed that one of the fathers who was ordering all the mothers around kept calling me Kate. I corrected him – he’s known me for years – and he immediately apologized.
“Sorry,” he said. “There’s an English lady named Kate where I work. All those English names sound alike.”
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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2023