It's Okay To Uhygge

recording April 7, 2021 06:30
actor ticket 002

What makes you feel at home?

I grew up in California. I remember watching Madeleine on VCR, watching twelve little girls in two straight lines, singing about home. Home is not about large, home is not about small, home isn’t the color of paint on the wall.

Home is where the heart is.

Where is my heart? I came to Copenhagen two years ago, carrying with me the feeling of not belonging. I didn’t fit into India where I sounded different, my ideals were different, and I was hopeful that this time, things would be different. A beautiful clean slate full of opportunity.

Where is my heart? Part of it is in California where my journey began, my memories lush and slightly distorted through rosy lenses — they’re full of sun-warmed cherry plum trees, and buckets full of soap suds on a gleaming red Ford Taurus. And laughter. So much laughter.

Part of it is in India, where I’ve lived most of my life. Those memories are more pragmatic — attached to my parents, my sister, and the wall of my room painted wine red. Those memories smell like my mother’s hand cream and damp earth after monsoon showers, the sun still shining overhead.

And I think, by virtue of the time I’ve spent here, part of it is in Copenhagen. It’s cold. Nothing has a smell, except in the summer. I surround myself with soft blankets, scented candles, and neutral colored knick knacks from Søstrene Grene to wait out the cold winter. I yearn to chase the sun again.

I live with the love of my life. This is a recent development. He has my whole heart, and wherever he goes, that’s where home is. Or at least that’s what I hoped. Even his comforting presence and reassurance cannot defeat the feeling of otherness that is both familiar and heartbreaking no matter where I am. Home is a feeling stretched unevenly between 3 different geographies, but is also right where I am.

What is your image of an ideal home?

We move into an apartment in the inner city. The walls are a light green, unusual for a Copenhagen flat, I think. I spend the first week establishing where objects in the house go, unpacking and placing items meticulously in their new assigned seats. I drape a throw blanket on the couch. I fret about how scratched the floor is and wax it by hand. I buy some cuttings from a lady on DBA and nurture them. We grind coffee beans fresh, every morning. We eat breakfast at the kitchen table, dinner at the dinner table, play-acting the ‘Scandinavian lifestyle’. It feels like a performance piece and I want to get a good grade. On good days, I feel like a star student.

And then, I step outside.

What does being Danish mean to you?

It’s like my ears tune to static. I don’t understand what people are saying. There are conventionally attractive white people by the canals, beer in hand, chilling on a Tuesday afternoon. Why do I resent them when I could be doing the same thing? There is a carefreeness and certainty there that doesn’t belong to me. I keep walking.

I make my way to the restaurant where I meet a chef and friend. He’s Austrian, and we discuss often the fact that we don’t know a lot of Danes. They seem to be an odd species — of course they’re polite and civil, but they’ll never consider you one of them. They keep in touch with their friends from primary school, it’s a homogenous society, they don’t need new friends etc. etc. Also, learning the language helps. I sigh. It’s an odd, guttural tongue that I have had no inclination to learn these past two years.

Expats stick together. It’s been seared into my brain. Danishness isn’t something that applies to us. We stick together because we are bonded through our shared otherness, even though none of us come from the same place. We carve out a little grotto, hang our colorful clothes on the racks, and put our strong smelling spices in the kitchen cabinets.

What makes you think of hygge or uhygge?

The aesthetic trappings of hygge are manageable. You can buy fuzzy socks, gløgg premix, and scented candles that make your house smell like baked goods. I don’t think that’s what the word means though, it feels unknowable. Hygge is not meant for me. Cozy is a familiar word, and I love it. I love to feel soft, warm, and comfortable. To me, that is enough. And that feeling of ‘enoughness’, or not being ‘integrated’ into the society but finding a way to live happily, reminds me of California in the nineties again.

Tell us a story of living in Denmark as a minority.

This isn’t my first time living as a minority. The minority experience in Denmark is extremely different from the US (especially as an Indian in the Bay Area), but there’s always a feeling of being grateful for what you do have, and knowing that you simply can’t have it all. I haven’t faced any direct racism — the fact that I’m brown makes people assume that I’m one of the ironically named ‘guest workers’ that came to supplement the labor force in the seventies, until they hear me speak. My accent, being a woman, and the fact that I’m generally an outgoing person really helps. But, the reminder that I’m not white is subtle and omnipresent. There is an unbridled freedom in the way that white people carry themselves that I don’t have. I’m weighed down by the melanin in my skin, or maybe it’s just me. The guilt of not simply ‘being happy’ fights with not wanting to settle for less than I deserve.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the white/Danish/hygge experience. But I’m not white or Danish. I’m here in my grotto with my friends and the one I love. For now, that is enough, and that’s ok.