I don’t have a lot of friends. I can count those I have on one hand, two at most, and three of those are immediate family.
A fourth I married.
I was a bit of an anomaly upon arrival in Denmark. I wore boot-cut jeans, was darker complected than the average Dane, and spoke with such a thick accent that it probably would have been easier for me to walk around with a whiteboard and a dry-erase marker. Still, my spelling was so atrocious, I don’t know if it would have helped, and on my first day I was introduced to my entire class as the exchange student.
On my first day of school, a classmate pointed him out to me. “His name’s Nickolai and he lives in the same town as you. Follow him, and you’ll get home.” All my classmates spoke English to me, so that marked me as an outlier, too. I was petrified to talk to him as he got on the bus and I followed suit. My Danish vocabulary was about fifteen words, and it seemed rude to just run up to someone and start babbling in English. So I didn’t speak to him. I just followed him instead.
When he got off the bus, I got off the bus, and a quick survey let me know that I had absolutely no idea where I was, and the only other person in sight was Nickolai. With a tremble in my throat and shivering hands, it was almost like the words had a life of their own when I finally spoke.
“Do you know where I live?” I asked, before wanting to shove my hand in my mouth out of mortification. This is it, I thought. Deport me now. It cannot possibly get worse than this. The Norse gods have seen and forsaken me and now I have to live eight months in this town where this boy lives. This is the worst day ever.
“I’m sorry?” The question was for clarification, but the heat that rushed to my cheeks was more humiliating than anything I had experienced before.
“My classmate told me that you lived in the same town as me and to follow you home. He didn’t tell you that I was following you?” The word vomit was spilling out of my mouth, and any native English speaker would have caught the implications of follow you home. Thankfully, Nickolai was not a native speaker, and simply shook his head slowly, with eyes so wide I could almost have stuck my whole fist into them. “Do you know the Soerensen family?” I pressed, at this point just wanting the encounter to be over so I could bury it in a bag of candy and maybe some ice cream.
Nickolai lit up. “Oh, Martin?” Martin was my host brother’s name. “Martin’s family lives right next to my best friend.” Nickolai’s best friend was named, of course, Nicolaj.
The walk wasn’t more than ten minutes, and I was trying very hard to focus on anything but Nickolai. My blush was still fighting its way away, so my gaze was firmly on the ground. Nickolai did more than enough talking for the both of us and finally we were in front of my host family’s house. Just as I was getting ready to make the great escape with a mumbled thanks, Nickolai asked, “So, do you speak any Danish yet?”
“What can you say?”
The only sentence I could string together was, “Er du gift?”
Nickolai burst into peals of laughter. “All you can ask is if I’m married? Did you know the word for ‘married’ is also the word for ‘poison?’”
A little under two years later, we actually were married, and neither of us are poisoned yet.