Style differences #2

May 27, 2011 § 2 Comments

1) I had to get some medicine from the pharmacy that, in the US, would be sold over the counter (meaning you could just go walk over to a shelf and pick it up). Of course, I remembered that I had to get some around 7:30pm, which is after just about everything in the Copenhagen closes. So, first I stopped at a Netto, which is a grocery store chain. They had some vitamins but that was it. I asked, and was told to go to 7-11. At 7-11, they had a small assortment of a few things (Benadryl, cold sore medicine), but everything was behind the counter and you had to ask the store keeper for assistance. They didn’t have what I needed, so the cashier directed me to what is apparently *the only* twenty-four hour pharmacy in Copenhagen (which also translates as the only pharmacy open past like 5pm). Upon arriving there, I was surprised to see that ALL the medication, apart from sunscreen, was in the back and inaccessible. Instead of going up to the shelf and picking out what you needed, you had to get a number, wait for a pharmacist, and then tell them what you needed, and they would get it for you. Even for medication that doesn’t need a prescription. So you want Advil (ibuprofen)? Have to ask. Want Tylenol (acetaminophen)? Have to ask. Want something more embarrassing like a stool softener? Have to ask! (Lucky you!)

For those of you from outside of the US, this is how it works in the US. Let’s say I needed some ibuprofen and it’s midnight. First, you can get nonprescription medication at a variety of different stores: grocery stores, convenience stores, even gas stations. Second, no stores in the US close before 9pm, and for grocery stores and convenience stores, the majority are open 24 hours. So, I could go to anyone of the dozens of stores around where I live. Third, all nonprescription medications are available “over the counter,” which, as I said before, means they are just sitting on the shelf. Hence, you can just go up to the shelf, pick out whatever you want, then go up to the counter and pay for it.

2) The more I learn about the Danish language, the more confused and amused I feel. For instance, Danish has 4 different words for think. Here is a funny post I found on a random blog about this very subject:

I think my Danish is getting better, but I’m not sure how to say that in Danish. That’s because they have all these different words for “think,” depending on how confident you are that what you’re saying is true—or whether it would even matter. (They also have words for “feel” and “believe” and so on, so it’s more than just that.)

If you’re expressing something that’s purely your opinion you would say jeg synes. But if you’re expressing an opinion or belief that might be mistaken, you would say jeg tror. (For example, “I synes this cheese smells like used diapers,” but “I tror the sun will rise at about 3:30 tomorrow morning.”)

I think this is interesting because, for example, I wouldn’t quite know how to translate this very sentence.

Here’s why: when I say that I think something is interesting, I realize that it’s only my opinion—but it wouldn’t be my opinion if I didn’t think it was true. I’m no good at believing in things that I myself think are untrue. (If I was, I’d already be in Congress.)

On the other hand, I acknowledge that other people might not find this as interesting as I do (and have therefore probably already stopped reading and will miss all the upcoming stuff about bikinis), so I would probably use synes to say that I think this stuff is interesting.

But that’s sort of a trap. By saying synes instead of tror I’ve pretty much acknowledged that what I’m saying is up for debate. If I’m in the Danish army and my commanding officer tells me that he synes we need to take that hill, hasn’t he invited me to contradict him?

Okay, so they just issue orders in the military. Forget about the military. Think about realms where opinions about the possible and the probable come up against the need to curry favor. Restaurant work, for example—or Congress.

If you ask your waiter how the steak is tonight and he replies that he synes it’s good, wouldn’t you be a little less likely to order it? After all, he’s admitting he could be wrong. On the other hand, if he tror it’s delicious but it tastes like shoe leather, you’d probably be justified in at least a word of reproach.

I thought (in American English, thank God) that I might have misunderstood all this, so I asked the DMB. She said she synes I’ve got it all wrong. That just confused me further—was she implying some other Dane might think I was correct? She said she tror I was an idiot. I asked if that meant she doubted I was an idiot. She left the room.

A (Danish) friend also supplied me with this handy but confusing chart. As you can see, it is not even straight forward because it appears that tro and mene are interchangeable when talking about assumption, but then synes and mene are interchaneable when talking about opinion.

  1. Tænke – to think (the ‘thought-process’ to think)
  2. Tænke sig om (idiomatic –consider/reflect) – Ex. I must have time to think. He did it without thinking
  3. About assumption
    a) Tro – Ex. He thinks I don’t like him
    b) Mene – Ex. He thought he had seen her before
  4. About opinion
    a) Synes – Ex. I think it was a good film; I thought him a nice man (syntes at han var)
    b) Mene – Ex. John thinks we ought to stay

Also, when I was looking up some more detailed explanations, I found this cool study that basically says Danish children talk more about their mental state than Canadian children, perhaps due to the fact that there are more ways to express words like “think” and “want” in Danish than in English

Anyway, I synes I should move on. (Correct usage? Who knows!)

3) In my last post I talked about how Danes take their vacation time vary seriously. I did some more research on this phenomenon and it turns out the US is one of the only OECD countries that doesn’t have a law about vacation time! Again, for those of you not in the US, this means that employers can give as little or as much vacation time as they want. I have friends where they didn’t get ANY vacation for the first year they were working, and only a week after that. Additionally, in the US, there is no law that says you have to be paid extra on holidays, although most businesses pay a 50% bonus. (I worked at a job though where I got nothing extra; I worked on independence day for 7 dollars an hour before taxes were taken out, which roughly translates to 35dkk an hour. Minimum wage in the US varies by state; in IL right now it is around 37dkk an hour before taxes are taken out. When I had the aforementioned job, it was around 27dkk before taxes). The Danish law states:

“Danish law guarantees employees 30 days of annual leave per year worked, prorated at 2.5 days per month worked between May 2 and April 30. Under the now-common 5-day workweek, this translates to 25 workdays of paid leave. Employees may take their annual leave during the year after it is earned, and may not carry it over from one year to the next. […] Finally, employees are guaranteed bonus pay of 100 percent for work on any of nine public holidays…” (read more here).

Um, no wonder Danes are so happy! I also learned in my Scandinavian model of welfare class that, in Sweden, at any one time, 20% of the workforce is not working (they are on parental leave, doing volunteer work, in training, etc). I imagine the statistics are very similar for Denmark. And a little factoid for my fellow science geeks out there:

“Scientists in Denmark – compared to their colleagues in 15 other countries – are the most satisfied with their jobs, finds the first-ever salary and career survey conducted by the journal Nature. This conclusion is based on survey responses from more than 10,500 scientists from countries across the globe.

The survey finds that scientists in Denmark are particularly happy with the regulation of maternity and paternity leave (0.937 on a scale from 0 to 1.0, with 1.0 representing complete satisfaction). They also appreciate their holiday entitlement (0.87) and the degree of independence they experience in their work (0.841). Their satisfaction is in line with the findings of the World Database of Happiness, according to which subjective levels of happiness in the general population in Denmark are extremely high, too” (read more here).


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§ 2 Responses to Style differences #2

  • KA says:

    do they ever hire non-Danes? are the benefits the same?

    • Hannah says:

      Yes, and actually if you have a PhD you basically have it guaranteed that you will get a green card approved if you apply for it.
      Additionally, there is a list of jobs called the positive list which lists “profession currently experiencing a shortage of qualified professionals.” On the list is professor of natural sciences as well as medical consultant and psychologist. Additionally, another page says “Researchers have particularly easy access to the Danish labour market.”

      Also, I learned that scientists get a tax break in Denmark.

      *hint hint move here hint hint*

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