First day of classes, second year in Denmark, I’m the only parent carrying a coffee cup as we walk our two youngest daughters to their now-familiar school.
“I’m the only one,” I say, gesturing with my cup.
“It’s just not done here,” Martin says.
I know. And I’m okay with it—because how much and how often I reveal that I’m a foreigner is, these days, a little more up to me.
Years before we moved here, my mother-in-law, now retired from teaching at a Danish language school for immigrants, told me that there was a running joke among her colleagues:
“I got a new student in my class today.”
“What’s she like?”
“Brown hair and brown eyes.”
I have light skin, green eyes, and hair of various mid-brownish shades. On my first day as a student at Danish language school, as I was told later by some classmates who had become friends, they thought I was one of the teachers.
All of them: dark hair, dark eyes, skin in various lighter and darker shades of warm brown. They have lovely names, professions, and many of them, advanced degrees, but no matter how well they learn to speak Danish, they will never look Scandinavian.
I guess I’d felt something akin to that distinction already, walking down the hall during breaks. Maybe it’s that I have, in fact, been an educator for many years and carry myself that way. Maybe it’s an American thing to make eye contact as part of being aware of others. But whatever the reason, the instructors at the school greeted me with nods or verbal greetings when we passed—even the ones I hadn’t met. It took quite a while for me to notice that they passed most of the other students without doing so.
So I guess I get the brown hair joke now, but I’m not entirely sure how funny it is.
In town, at parent meetings, on the train, I still feel like a foreigner, but until I open my mouth, I don’t have to seem like one.
Nevertheless, that’s what I am.
Every morning in America, for all our years of raising children there, standing clusters and creeping car rows of parents dropped their children off for school. We were a diverse mix , some dressed for an office, some dressed just enough to be covered before returning home to work, some on their way to or from a gym, some probably with nowhere in particular to go.
We were also a mash-up of all different shapes and shades, our ancestry as diverse as the melting-pot trope, but almost all carried travel mugs or cups with various motivational or promotional messages. It was a unifying habit. We often toasted “Good morning” to each other from a distance or while we made small talk and waved goodbye to our kids.
Crossing the street this morning and walking up the school drive among zipping bicycles and happy chatter in a language I’m getting mostly used to, we see Martin’s older daughter and son-in-law dropping off their two young girls. Our girls, ponytails swinging, run to meet them and are wrapped in hugs and their second mother tongue.
The coffee in my cup has cooled some, but the familiar, smooth ceramic is still quite warm against my knuckles. Joining the others, I raise my cup in the air as a greeting and they smile back at their foreigner mom.