Saturday, 20 February 2010

Learning Danish

One of the advantages of living in Australia is the access you have to foreign language television programmes. Although so close to Europe, UK broadcasters rarely screen anything in a language other than English whereas, thanks to Gough Whitlam (the Australian Prime Minister who would have to be in the running for the title of most entertaining dinner companion [even if he wasn't particularly brilliant at running the country]) and his minister for immigration, 'colourful' Al Grassby, Australia has SBS Television. This service was set up, I think, to provide migrants to Australia with things to watch. As the broadcasts were at first only available in areas of Australia's cities inhabited by university educated Anglos the aim wasn't wholly achieved. Who cares? The opportunity to flop down, slightly the worse for wear after a Saturday night out, and watch the last three-quarters of an hour of incomprehensible black-and-white movies featuring, typically, two pomegranates, a man in a fez and a half-dead boa constrictor from never-to-be-forgotten Turkish art-house directors is one I will always be grateful for.

And now, as a bonus, SBS is teaching us Danish. They started us off with Unit One and The Eagle (which must have the worst theme tune of any decent TV programme in existence) and now they are bringing us The Killing. As the Danish population of Australia is minuscule, I think their plan must actually be to make everyone in this country fluent in the language, with a view to getting us all to write - once we're all up to scratch - to the royal house of Denmark asking, in perfect Danish, that young Frederik take over the role of Australia's head of state after the - sadly inevitable - departure of our current queen. Don't forget, it was SBS who screened the wedding of Frederik and Mary Donaldson in the first place. It was that screening that really got the whole Mary phenomenon going in this country - Frederik cried, so sweet. The popularity of Frederik and Mary would of course ensure the defeat of the Australian republican movement, whereas if Prince Charles succeeded to the position, he would, for all his good works, be unlikely to generate huge affection and the door would then be left open for constitutional change.

The trouble is there is a flaw in this strategy. Although there may be a year or two - or possibly several - before anyone needs to start composing their letters to Copenhagen, I can't help feeling a bit concerned. Perhaps it's just me, but despite spending night after night slackjawed on the sofa gazing at Jens Albinus (aka Hallgrim) et al, I haven't picked up a single word of the language to date. I should be honest and admit that I've even done extra-curricular work, looking at several episodes of Wallander in the original [screened, in fact, by the BBC - a perverse programming decision, given that they'd made their own versions and the original ones turned out to be very much better than the British copies]) but still nothing. Not a phrase, not a noun, not a verb, not a greeting. Is it just me? Have I a tin ear for languages? Has SBS thought this one through? I don't know. But it's too late to start questioning things now - I've spent too much time on the project to back out at this stage. When is the next episode of The Killing anyway?


  1. I for one, shall forever be grateful to SBS for exposure to foreign culture through Top Gear and Mythbusters. Because they're so... so foreign.

  2. That made me laugh out loud. I'm sure they're exactly the kind of thing the founders had in mind for the station.

  3. So comforting to know I'm not the only one who has wondered about this! I have learnt a couple of words in Danish:
    Tak = thank you

    And those plastic cable ties that are useful for handcuffing people? In Danish they're called "plastik strip"!

    Not certain if plastik strip is going to be useful for my letter writing to the Danish royal household beseeching the appointment of Prince Frederik as our head of state.

    Enjoying your blog posts (found it via twitter)

  4. Tak, udørken pige (I got those words of Babelfish, they’re supposed to be Danish for ‘Desert girl’, although can ‘pige’ really mean ‘girl’ do you think?)