Category Archives: SERVAS the organization

You speak English?


Yesterday my two youngest were invited to visit two siblings that are friends of theirs from kindergarten. A twoyearold girl and her fiveyearold brother. And I came with them. SInce it was the first time, and my son isn´t used to visiting alone a lot yet.

It´s always nice to see someone´s home, it shows one of their skins. (As Hundertwasser calls it, see my post called Clothes for more info).
I also invited them back to ours in the weekend. They are lovely people whome I really would like to get to know. They come from Burma. I think the parents are in their twenties, maybe early thirties. They have been here quite a while, but they don´t speak much Danish, although they both go to school to learn the language. It´s just not that easy. First, Danish is actually a very hard language to learn. Second, there are many people in the class, she told me, and from many different countries. So it´s difficult for the teacher to reach each one on their level.
Third, they sail from the island 07.30 in the morning, sit at school for 5 hours, then sail home, pick up kids and groceries, cook, eat and sleep. They don´t get a lot of Danish language practice in a tight schedule like that, do they?

I have met them many times before, on the ferry and in the kindergarten, so I knew there was a language barrier. But I find that fascinating, not annoying or scary. How can we understand eachother when we lack words? It can easily become quite funny, in my experience.

It took me an hour or so to realize how much they did and did not understand. Then, at one point, I stopped thinking about words and started using my feelings instead.
What do I mean?

Well…when I lived in bigger towns in Norway, I used to know a lot of asylum seekers, refugees and foreign students. And I used to be good at a type of simplified English, that I guess maybe I learnt from the foreigners, or rather, we developed between us in the gap of missing words…
I used the simplified English when I lived in Bahrain as well. My then English boyfriend would tell the taxidriver where we wanted to go, and the driver would say “What? Where you want?” and then I wouild take over.

The clue is simply: Simplify!
What is the essence of what you want to be understood?
Cut down to nouns and verbs. Then add gesticulations.

For example “Elite residences numder 2. Al Jazeera avenue.” Then I also had learnt the Arabic words for left and right. And if I wanted to continue straight ahead for a while, I said “straight, straight”, whilst pointing forwards with my entire arm 3-4 times, so he knew it was quite a distance… So much can be said through tone of voice and body language.
If the driver dodn´t know the address, I named Pearl Roundabout, or an other landmark on the way to our appartment. (In the beginning, before we knew the way home, it took some time for the driver to discuss with other drivers where this Elite Recidences was. Interesting to sit back and wait, watch them discuss in Arabic. Never be in a rush! Hahaha…)

An example from yesterday (only in Danish words) is
“What time (pointing to watch)… kindergarten… (That´s a word they would know from everyday use)…you pick up kids? (pointing at her kids, then showing with my arm a gesture that could mean to bring back home)…

Not that I think this is hocus pocus or difficult artform in any way. The reason I choose to write about it, is because I so often see people that are afraid of speaking English when they meet a foreigner, because they feel they don´t master the language. This is because we have been given grades in school, and told we are not very good in English.

But communicating isn´t about grades or mastering perfect grammar. It is about making oneself understood. And understanding the other, being willing to listen and to guess, and to admit over and over, in the end with a smile, that “I`m sorry, I just don´t get what you mean!” Or maybe rather; “Me no understand, no…” with a troubled headshaking.

Success, in communication, is yours as soon as you dare to try! It is a lot of fun to improvize languages you don´t master. No one should go a lifetime without experience the joy of that. The laughing together about the hopelessness, and the enthusiasm, and the great relief when understanding is finally achieved, through great common effort…

I wrote a song about it once, and made a music video for it.
Here it is:

Mother Toungue

If you can communicate
in a different tongue than your mother´s:
Be proud! Feel proud!
No matter what mistakes you make.

´Coz it´s about communicating, getting together and celebrating this mystery called life, and none of us do remember why; Why are we here, and should we care about the reason for the changes of season…?

(Yes I wrote the text, did the filming and editing, and it is me singing. The visuals are from Hastings, UK, from a beautiful museum there, and from the home of my dear Servas friends Alan and Fiona Wright, he is a very talented stained glass artist).

It is fun to communicate. There is nothing to be embarressed about. That´s why, when our Servas guest from Taiwain a couple of weeks ago, went to my daughter´s class and held a lecture about Taiwan and travelling for them… One of the best things about it, was that her English was far from perfect. She added a German word here and there that she knew, and she laughed a lot, and the kids were all eager to help her explain what she meant, so they were all ears, guessing for words, and talking English back to her, forgetting their normal shyness about speaking English.
(Read my two posts about Servas for more info about when lovely Yi Ping visited us on Fanoe).

English is a wonderful language. So many nuances, so lovely sounding in its melody and rhythm.
It is also grammarwise a simple language, and the one that people use to reach out internationally to eachother.

Just simplify English, add body language and eye contact and a sense of humour, and you´ve got yourself a real interesting and fun time talking to people from anywhere.
I love it.

I hope the Burmese family can come Saturday. And if they can´t, then we will find an other time. There is so much to learn from having friends from other countries. I look forward to getting to know all four individuals in their family, and to experience how the Danish language becomes easier and easier for us to use in our communication, as they get to practice using it, not just sitting still listening and writing things down in a notebook.

Language is first and foremost a practical tool between human beings, not a fancy theory
to master to perfection on paper.

This is funny. Seven minutes long, but pretty funny minutes.
I think you will enjoy them. 🙂


Our Servas-guest´s TravelLog from Fanoe


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Our Servas-guest from last week, Yi Ping (read the post Servas; A FriendMaking ngo for more info about her visit in our home)…
She posted a status/travel log insert on Facebook yesterday, and I have asked her if I can copy it to my blog, which she has allowed me to do.

It´s not for everybody to read this. And the Bing translation into Danish is quite strange. But I will try to make an English translation underneath, for those of you who can´t read Taiwanese or Danish.
I just think it is so interesting to hear her talk about her experiences on Fanø.


Yi Ping´s Facebook status 15.of March 2015:

學了一句非實用的丹麥文,因為在家裡陪3歲和5歲的小朋友玩,他們 一直重複「Du kan ikke fange mig」然後我們三個在屋子裡轉圈圈跑,原來這句話的意思是「你抓不到我!」

Ottende station, Fan ø. Dette er en Danmark, en lille ø ud for vestkysten med naturlige landskaber og dyreliv win. Rejse med tog fra Tyskland til Danmark, en anden transport skib. Hakke mig op er en mand og kone og to børn, kom hjem og fandt to andre børn, spurgte jeg, “hvor mange børn er hjemme!” Tre et barn la! en anden er jeg 10 alder datter af venner “Jeg tog med I i maleri til to en fire grade af små piger indført I i hjemmet, de engelsk også nej er godt, jeg af engelsk er også ophold reparation af staten, end hånd maleri fødder har en for at lade de forståelse jeg ønsker at vide af indhold, i ved siden af koge ris af musikere far føler jeg sådan måde indført hjem meget rod, sagde jeg maleri er smuk, og er har kreative, er en kunstner (inde i mørke cool super lang!) Sørg for at anbefale mig at tale med sin datter grundskole klasseværelse og indført, jeg sagde, “Jeg ville være glad for, men det er på engelsk eller tysk?” ” I dansk, naturligvis!”
OS inde “dårlig…” efter talen på engelsk og tysk har været blandede, men lærere i to sprog, du kan hjælpe med at oversætte til Danmark. Resultater på denne måde, på øen ikke gå for at se de berømte vilde fugle og naturlige levesteder kun sket til Hong Kong barer set dovent i solen på vilde sæler, så der er en masse ikke-vilde Danmark børn; børn stille spørgsmål meget interessant “Taiwan hvad er det vildeste og mest farlige dyr? “Jeg kan ikke tænke på noget at spørgsmålet”, være forsigtig med mennesker i dyreriget er den mest farlige, “en anden interessant spørgsmål er” ser du asiater det samme? “Jeg besvare” på jeg,, du alle er længe af som “Host kone Super indkvartering I i svar af ~ endte tale zhihou, som store stjerner, som var de omkring hjælp de lægger navn til kinesisk, eller med I til underskrift, nogle også at jeg improviseret maling sendte de, inde i OS” gods jeg indrømmede jeg er pseudo maler, disse maleri tilbragte jeg Super mere tid, ikke nærmer improviseret oprettelsen Ah! “lære har en sætning ikke-praktisk Danmark papir, fordi i hjem ledsage 3 alder og 5 alder børn spil, de er blevet gentaget” Du kan ikke Fange MiG “og så tre af os løb cirkler rundt i huset, den oprindelige betydning af denne sætning er” du kan ikke fange mig! “for at se den måde de behandler deres børn virkelig overraskede mig, og har stor respekt for børn (3 år),” Hvis vi ikke kan behandle dem respekt, hvordan kan de lære at respektere det? “Ud af mit tøj, spise, forbereder mad,” siger jeg aldrig nej til mine børn “Jeg tror sådan en teori jeg nogensinde har set, men kan ikke helt tro at denne teori kan udføres på denne lille ø, der var en familie indsats til praksis.
Oversat af Bing
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In English:

Stop number 8, Fanø. This is Denmark too, a small island off the west coast with lots of nature and wildlife. Went by train from Germany to Denmark, then by ferry to Fanø.
A husband and wife and two kids came and picked me up on the harbour. In their home were another two kids, I asked “How many children do you have?!” Three they said, the fourth was a girl age ten, a friend of one of their daughters.

Goodness, that Bing translation is almost non understandable…

she basically tells us about the talk she did in my daughter´s class, where she showed them her drawings of Taiwan´s culture, demography, history and geography…

She says that the kids had two very interesting questions for her,
1. Does everybody look the same in your country?
To which she replied that no, they do not. But she could understand the question, because to her all the kids in this classroom looked the same as well. She laughed.
Asians find it hard to differentiate between faces of western people. Just like is the case for westerners looking at Asian people´s faces.

2. What animal is the most dangerous in Taiwan?
“Man is! The human beings! Without a doubt the human being is the most dangerous animal.” She replied without hesitating.


She tells us how the kids after the talk wanted her to write all their names in Chinese signs, and after that they wanted her to write their siblings´ names, and to tell them what their names meant in Chinese, and in the end they wanted her autograph. They thought she was extremely good at drawing, which she finds amusing, she calls herself a psudo-painter…

She tells us hos she has learnt some Danish words, which are “Du kan ikke fange mig…!” Meaning “you can not catch me…!” Which is my 3-yearold´s work, he taught her this sentence, and she chased him and his 5-yearold sister around the house here, round and round, hahaha…

She says that the way my husband and I treat our children really surprised her.
That I said “if you don´t show your child respect, then how can the child know what respect is?” And I said something to the extent that I don´t say no to my children a lot. (I save that word for when it is really necessary, editors remark).

I think that´s all I want to make of that interpretation.
You can always copy paste it into google translate or something.
I think I have covered the essential content.

Aren´t the Chinese signs pretty? The Taiwanese language has its own alphabet too. But they also use an old version of the Chinese language.

Here are some photos she included in her Facebook-post.
It shows her in the classroom talking to the kids.
They all wanted to take a photo of her drawings! (I don´t blame them, her drawings are truely amazing).
And one boy copied her name in Chinese signs from the blackboard while she was speaking!
Then there is a picture of me and my two littlest ones, that she took on our way to kindergarten Thursday morning, before we went to the school for her talk.
And then there is a picture of our ferry, she wrote as a comment for it that it connects Denmark to Fanø.
Which is a little funny to me as a citizen here, as us locals tend to think of Fanø as a part of Denmark, but at the same time, like all islanders, we also feel like we are a country of our own! 🙂

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My children still talk about Yi Ping. Viola, my youngest daughter, asked today if we will ever see her again. I told her that I hope so. Maybe one day we can visit her in Taiwan. Maybe by then she has babies and is a very happy mother! Or maybe she comes back to Fanø one day and visits us. Nothing is impossible in this world.
She has touched our lives in a profound, very positive way.

We wish you a wonderful trip around Europe, Yi Ping.
You are a beautiful person and we are very grateful that you came to visit Fanø.

Bon Voyage!


SERVAS; A FriendMaking NGO



Hello everybody! I am very happy to see that yesterday my blog was read by more people than ever before! Especially in Russia, Ukraina, France and Switzerland. Welcome to you new readers. Some of you have shared my site on a place called “Delicious”, and I think that´s why my blog has reached these great new heights. Thank you very much for sharing my blog around, I really appreciate it!

This post will be about Servas. It is an organization which was started in Denmark soon after the war. Its intention was to help increase world peace. Through the method of helping people find friends in other countries!
To become a Servas member, you must be interviewed by someone who is already a member. After that, you write a letter of information about yourself. Then your name and contact details go into a central archive. When you as a Servas member want to go travelling, you simply ask Servas to send you the list of Servas hosts in the country you want to visit. Then you receive by mail a book full of names and the people´s addresses and phone numbers, email addresses…plus a little info about what the hosts can offer, some say no pets, or max 2 people, or bring a sleepingbag, or they only want to be a dayhost, no overnight visitors.
The rule is that if a host would like overnight visitors, you bring the self presentation letter you wrote, including your photograph.
(Your interests, hobbies, your work and education, whether you have children, why you like to travel…stuff like that. As you choose it to be). You bring the letter, and then you just contact people and ask can I come stay two nights in your place on such and such a date? The rule is two nights only.

It is an incredible idea. My husband has travelled using Servas hosts in Italy, Turkey, Usa, SPain, Greece, U.K. … we tried to contact Servas hosts when we were in Thailand, but we could not get hold of them… But to get to visit a local home in a country you are visiting… you learn so much more about the place. You see cultural ways of private families. When else do you get to stay in people´s private homes like that?! And of course, the host is happy to show you around town or tell you where to go and what to see and how much you should NOT pay the taxi driver… 🙂

We actually have a Servas guest right now. She´s sitting in the kitchen drawing as I type away here in the front room. We have just been for a drive around the island, after she came with me to drop off the kids in the kindergarten this morning.
She comes from Taiwan, she´s in her late twenties, and works as a physio therapist with children. She has spent 6 months learning German in a language course for international people in Germany, and now she will travel around Europe for 6 months before she goes back to Taiwan. Her husband will come meet her for a couple of weeks in Italy in May. He is perfectly okay with her wanting to do this trip. He must be a lovely man.

And this woman is incredible! She arrived yesterday, and immediately she brought out a sketch book where she had made beautiful drawings showing facts from Taiwan´s history, demography and geography.
My tenyearold girl and her classmate were listening intently as she told them in English what the drawings were about. She is a true artist, these amazing drawings! And she has a natural gift for teaching as well. I told her so, and she laughed and said that it´s because she works with children who are sick in hospitals, asking them to to physical things that they don´t want to do. So she always has to find ways to entertain them and get them to co operate with her…
She loves to cook as well. Just like my eldest daughter, she too loves drawing and cooking… tonight she will teach us how to make a meal containing seaweed and mushrooms and glass noodles…. and tomorrow for breakfast the two of them also have a plan together, something involving sticky rice…

I have written to my daughter´s teacher, and told her we have this amazing, very interesting and skilled person visiting us, and if the teacher wants, our guest can come and visit my daughter´s class tomorrow morning before she travels on to a new Danish town… I hope the teacher says yes. Meeting a person like that is a gift for children and adults alike, we can learn so much from meeting people from other places, who are interested in talking about the differences and similarities in languages and cultural traditions.

I feel so inspired by meeting her. So many things I didn´t know about Taiwan! Like the fact that it has only been a separate state from China since 1949, and only since 1986 have they been allowed freedom of expression. So most Taiwanese people are still reluctant to discuss their political opinions openly.
In 1996 Taiwan got two different parties to vote for, until then there was only one party. It is, in other words, a very young democracy.
I´m used to thinking about my own homeland Norway as being a very young state, we reached independence in 1905…
The U.N. does not recognize Taiwan as a country, they see it as a part of China. The Taiwanese want to have a direct people´s vote and change their official name into Taiwan, but the China-friendly-party has changed the law so it´s now illegal to make direct people´s voting like they used to do…!

Taiwan has been occupied by China, Spain, Holland, Japan, China again… it is an island nation same size as Denmark, and it has four different kinds of coasts (rocky, sandy, coral reef and steep hill), and in the middle there´s a mountain 4000 metres high, which gets higher all the time due to earth quakes, the earth “flakes” pushing against eachother…(I don´t remember the correct geographical word for that, I trust you still know what I mean…) Taiwan lies on the middle of the equator, so they have tropical climate. Yet on the top of their mountain, there is snow!

We discuss anything from political censorship versus freedom of expression, to child raising to how everyday life is structured, we share stories we have heard from people in exile we have met on our way, like an Egyptian doctor she met in Germany, who is very sad about the Egyptian army having thrown his elected president into jail…
And “cross cultural identity” people, such as one woman she met in Germany who has Russian parents but is born in Latvia, she feels Latvian but because her parents speak Russian it is difficult for both them and her to get work…and she feels the Latvians critisize Russians a lot, which is upsetting when your parents are Russian… yet she can´t just move to Russia either, because she is born Latvian and she needs a visa…

We discuss how it seems many people believe that whole nations of people are not worth communicating with. There seems to be a somewhat strained neighbour relationship these days between Macedonia and Greece, but when they meet in exile in Germany they are good friends, they have so many cultural traditions in common… Cyprus, which is one small island, divided into a Greek and a Turkish part that just don´t get along…
Some Arabs will never talk to an Israeli person… which is understandable when one comes from a warzone like that with so much pain suffered for so many years. But still, the ordinary Israeli persons are not to blame for this, they too suffer from the conflict and don´t want it to be the way it is for the Palestinians…
We discuss how having a vacation is not a normal tradition in every country, life is primarily about working. And how it can be difficult to know how to connect with strangers and build friendships, when all your life you have spent all your time with colleagues and family members…
Normal people everywhere all have in common that they want to live in peace and feel happy. The rulers, though. Many of them seem to just want profits. At any cost. They go to war to get oil. Or to sell weapons. It should not be allowed. It should be illegalized!

My children adore her, our new Taiwanese friend. She sits down on the floor with them and tries to learn their Danish words. She´s also shown me the Taiwanese alphabet, both in sounds and in writing. Such a beautiful melody. Very fascinating!

She says it has surprised her that me and my husband are not strict with the kids, we allow toys everywhere and we don´t tell them what to do and what not to do all the time. I told her we are probably not representative of Danish families though. Most people have more rules and regulations than we do. But we do have our theories, we are conscious about why we bring them up the way we do.
I told her about the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul, who has written many books, one on them is called “Your competent child”. There he says that a child is born finished. It is a finished human being. You don´t need to make it into something. All you need to do is nurture it, water it like a plant and give it good fertilizer, nourishing soil to grow in. Treat your child like you treat a friend, with respect, show the child what it feels like to be respected. Show it trust and responsibility. Trust the child. Give it responsibility. And give lots of positive attention, lots of praise and encouragement. Whilst the negative behaviours you give no attention.

Of course I make sure my children are safe and don´t hurt themselves. That they get good food and brush their teeth. That their clothes are warm enough. And that they feel loved, given lots of hugs and kisses
I also focus on how they treat their siblings. That it is not allowed to kick or bite, and one says I´m sorry when one has hurt an other´s feelings. And when someone says no, or stop, it is to be respected, no question asked.
Apart from that, there is very little “no” from my mouth.
I may say “Try this one instead!” … giving them a better choice option…

Anyways. I guess that´s an other blog post issue for some other time.
I have to go to the kindergarten and pick them up now. They are there from 9am to 1pm. Because I stay at home, they can come home early.

People, you should all check out if there is a Servas host nearby, who can recommend you so you can become a member. It is a most brilliant wonderful way of travelling. And also it is such a gift to receive a Servas guest into your home.

Travelling in the physical reality or travelling inside my mind… the meeting with other people, realizing there are other ways than what I`m used to, other ways to think about religion, power, economy, family… it increases my consciousness, my self awareness, it shows me alternative solutions to life´s challenges. I love the feeling of understanding more than before.

“At rejse er at leve.” = “To live is to travel”,
said famous Danish fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen,
about a hundred years ago.

And with that quote, I will wrap up this blog writing and go back to the kitchen, where my Taiwanese Servas guest is now talking with my 3 year old son and taking his photograph.
Because he is wearing a green dinosaur jacket from H&M, which I gave him, and she has given her 3 yearold nephew back home an identical jacket, that she bought for him in Japan!

It is such a small world.
And we are so much alike, us human beings.
We all smile in the same language.