Wednesday, August 29, 2012


With a last name like Oneslager, you have to be more or less used to people completely butchering the pronunciation. I've heard just about every variation possible. However, I must congratulate the pharmacists at CVS for the most creative guess yet: Oh-ness-lah-ger really takes the cake on that one. I've always assumed that it was a German name and answered as such when someone asked. 

(this picture has no relevance to the post but it's pretty to look at)

You can imagine my surprise when a girl at immigration services recognized it as Danish. Over the weekend we applied for our residency permits so we can legally live in Denmark. As we left, DIS staff members gave us a form to take when we register our new permits. I started to spell out my name for the girls with the papers when one of them lit up and responded:
"Oh! Oneslager! I have that in my pile. I recognized it right away. It's an old Danish name."
Wait, what? Has my whole life been a lie? Naturally I asked my dad about the issue and he informed me that our name is an Americanized version of Ohlenschlaeger, a German name that was too long to fit in a school roster and was thus shortened to Oneslager. Searching even further back, however, I discovered that Ohlenschlaeger is actually a Germanized version of Øhlenschlæger which is a Danish name. If you Google the Danish spelling, the top hits are Danes on LinkedIn.
Øhlenschlæger  > Ohlenschlaeger > Oneslager
It makes so much sense! There is some part of me that is actually Danish. I think it's most evident in what my mom refers to as my "severe lack of social graces" in terms of small talk. While I'm perfectly content to sit in the car and watch the world go by, she loves a constant flow of conversation and always points out that I chat like a teenage boy.

Now that I've spent some time in the city on my own, I'm starting to pick up on more of the cultural difference and am doing my best to follow suit. Danes don't cross the street unless the light is green (I have a hard time with this because I'm the most impatient person on the planet). They don't smile at strangers on the street and they don't talk to each other on the bus. I found myself cringing on public transit earlier today when a group of students hopped on and continued to talk loudly about their weekend plans despite icy glares from the other passengers.

Even with my minimal Danish roots, it's still frustrating when people immediately identify me as a foreigner. The cashier at 7-Eleven automatically asked me in English if I needed anything else before I even offered up my best attempt at a Danish "hej." A clerk at the supermarket rolled his eyes when I asked if they could break a 1000DKK bill because I didn't realize the bills came in such high denominations. While I haven't encountered anyone mean or anti-American, I still feel pressured to present myself and my nationality in the best light possible. My roommates and I are planning to explore the local bar scene this weekend in hopes of socializing with more Danes and fewer Americans. I want to prove that I too can wear all black, ride a bike, and resist the urge to ask "how are you" to everyone I run in to. Hopefully with the little bit of Danish in me I'll be able to seamlessly integrate in to the culture by the end of the semester. For now I'll focus on kicking my jaywalking habit. Baby steps.

1 comment:

  1. You should come to this end of Denmark...jaywalking seems to be a local pastime!