…because some thoughts are worth remembering
Getting over an upset stomach, I searched around the house for the bunch of bananas I bought the night before to no avail. It was late, so I went to bed, but my craving for a banana to go with my homemade granola would not cease. I made another attempt in the morning: “Perhaps Robert put them away for me somewhere else. Perhaps I misremembered that I bought bananas when I hadn’t.” But Robert told me he hadn’t seen any bananas, and my receipt clearly said I paid for a bunch of bananas. I then realized I forgot to put the bananas in my shopping bag at the cashier, distracted by the organic eggs I almost dropped.
I don’t know what came over me. Perhaps it was because I would need to go back to the store anyway to buy more bananas, or because I felt guilty that I had skipped my Danish language class, but I decided that I needed to go to the store and communicate in Danish that I had forgotten my bananas at the store. I don’t think I would have done anything in the States: it would be my word against theirs, and why would they believe me? Besides, it was equivalent of $3, a bargain for any food item in Denmark, and certainly not a big ticket item in the US. I don’t think the Danes would have done anything either. They often check the receipt after bagging their groceries for errors, but once they leave the store, they would have succumbed to their reluctance for confrontation.
In my broken Danish, I spoke deliberately “Undskyld. Jeg har købt nogle bananer i mandags (Excuse me. I bought some bananas on Monday).”
“Men jeg har glemt dem i butikken (But I’ve forgotten them at the store).”
“nåh (oh no)!”
“Må jeg tage en anden (May I take another)?”
“Ja, selvfølgelig (Yes, of course).”
and when I tried to show the original receipt, she looked like me with dismissive eyes as if to say “why would I need any proof? I already trust you”.
I went to fetch another bunch, only to find out that the kind I bought was sold out. At this point, I didn’t care about the bananas. I was happy that they understood me and continued to engage in Danish, and getting rid of my guilt skipping the language class. As I passed by the cashier empty-handed, she asked what happened, and I told her they were sold out. She told me I should come back on Friday because there will be another shipment then.
What? Now I felt obligated to return on Friday for the bananas I paid for. But what will I say to the cashier? That I am now claiming those bananas from almost a week ago? That the kind lady before told me it was ok on Wednesday but they were out? I wasn’t going to, except that I had to go to the store anyway on Friday, and this time, I didn’t bother giving the backstory that I already attempted to fetch the bananas once. I just said I forgot to pack them. They waved me into the store. When it came time to pay for my groceries, I showed them the receipt from before to make sure the bananas were excluded from the tally. The cashier motioned with her hand for me to put that away. I walked out of the store successfully with my bananas at last.
Trust is cited by many Danes as the foundation of their society. It is assumed. Having been a minority in many of the places I’ve lived or visited or environments/industry I worked in, you develop a keen sense of how to act when you feel like you don’t belong (or more importantly, where others treat you as such). In the US, you are innocent until you are proven guilty, but as a minority, you do your best to not arise suspicion. Until I lived in Hawaii (where there is no majority race), I didn’t realize that some of the things I was doing out of habit were my defensive reaction: for example, if I had something I need out of my bag, I made sure to take it out before I enter the store to ensure the clerks didn’t suspect I was stealing something.
It almost felt weird that not once did I feel my integrity questioned during my multiple encounters with the Danish clerks. My word was taken at face value. I didn’t have to produce any documentation. I didn’t have to provide explanation of why, how or when it happened. I realized how much energy is spent trying to establish your position as being truthful, and how it makes you cynical. The Danish clerks trusted me that I was telling them the truth. That was a given. Denmark is not free of corruption or dishonest people, but there’s something to be said about starting first with trust.