What Am I Doing With My Life: My First Three Weeks in Århus and the Mysteriously Unfortunate Tale of Mr. G

I remember when I was little, we had a neighbor that made some rather unconventional choices. Growing up in a comfortable neighborhood where most of the houses on my street looked the same, his decisions always stood out, most notably in negative ways. I remember my mother muttering annoyedly to my father that our neighbor was going through a “midlife crisis.” This term confused me, probably due to my lack of understanding regarding the meaning of the term “mid” (I’ve never had great spatial awareness) and crisis (did that have something to do with Christmas?). Regardless, when I made the decision to forego teaching for this year and move to Denmark in three-month intervals, I wondered to myself repeatedly if there was such a thing as a “quarter-life crisis.” Last year, I truly discovered my purpose: education–yet here I am now, sitting on a ferry in Denmark that just happened to be a part of the bus ride I booked (I hadn’t known this would happen, but in my sometimes overly relaxed travel nature thought, welp, they’re all getting off the bus, I better, also…and what do you know, I’m on a ferry)!

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I know this one-year decision will really not be that big of a deal at all. In fact, it will merely be one of the droplets of water in an ocean of life decisions, and to be honest, my memory is also not so strong (so who knows what my primary take-aways will be, hence the importance of writing). But I’m also aware of the fact that everything is relative, and it’s nearly impossible to separate yourself from feelings about your current circumstances despite the awareness that one day those circumstances will be minimally impactful. Stepping away from what I know I was meant to do was difficult to say the least (and seems even more challenging as the new school year begins).

But that’s not to say that I’m not happy with a lot of aspects of my newfound life this year (otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have made this decision and gone through a quarter-life crisis in the first place). Getting settled in Århus has been an adjustment, yet exciting, and so I thought I’d give you just a few of the basics, but mainly discuss an interesting anecdote thus far.

Århus is the second biggest city in Denmark, but if you’re coming from the perspective of an American who has frequented New York many a time, you would likely describe it as a small town. I had previously lived in Copenhagen, Denmarks’s largest city, and transitioning from one place to the next was more of an adjustment than I expected. When my close friend told me there was no metro in Århus, I embarrassingly felt sad (“but the metro is the best part of Copenhagen!”).  Needless to say, Århus is different. The quickest and cheapest way for me to get around town is to bike, and so I purchased my bike shortly after my arrival (from a man who “owns a bike shop” but will “come to me” to fix it…okay). Prior to that, I walked everywhere to get from place to place (for some reason, I was obstinate and refused to pay for the bus). Also, the teacher within me instantly felt that I needed “bins” to organize my things, so what started out as unpacking eventually evolved into three, hour-long trips back and forth to a place called “Flying Tiger” where I eventually arrived home, dripping in sweat, with five more bins than I had had previously.

Anyway, life is pretty good, and we live in a rather large apartment compared to the standard in our area.  Everything is cute and nice and feels very (Danish friends, I apologize for this one), “European.” What we didn’t realize, however, is that our rather large apartment came at a cost—poor insulation, and a rather intrusive neighbor, who, for the sake of discretion, I will refer to as Mr. G.

Mr. G made himself known shortly upon our arrival. My boyfriend was getting ready to leave for work (this is before 7 am in the morning, mind you) when Mr. G banged on our door. I had just arrived the night before and always go through transitional periods of Danish shyness, so naturally I screamed, “Get it!” and ran into the bedroom.  Mr. G appeared frazzled, flustered, but not ill-willed, initially. He explained the insulation situation within our apartment, which was news to us and stated that he could hear every movement that we made (excellent). This was rather disconcerting to hear, and my tired, jet-lagged brain was displeased. I gave up on teaching and traveled across the ocean just to have to glue myself to a chair within my own apartment for three months in the city? My boyfriend handled the situation, and we discussed how we felt badly for causing a disruption to Mr. G’s life.

To our dismay, the following morning, Mr. G promptly appeared again but was much more aggressive in his approach. He first announced that he was voice recording the conversation. (Um…what?) He stated that he had lived with many noisy families with lots of children above him in his lifetime, but never had he heard a family as noisy as the two of us.  (Now, mind you, we later found out that Mr. G himself did not hear us, but rather other people in his apartment, and Mr. G served as the deliverer of this unwelcome news). Yet again, my boyfriend was on the way out to work and asked if there was time we could meet when he came home from work. Apparently, however, Mr. G is never available in the late afternoon or early evenings (I’ve tried not to consider what this could mean), so instead, my boyfriend cordially arranged a meeting for 6:30 a.m. the next day.

Mr. G arrived promptly (well actually, he was two minutes late, but who’s counting), but I don’t think he anticipated that I would be present, or, of course, that I was American.  So, he greeted my boyfriend in a brisk, disinterested manner, my boyfriend invited him into our apartment to talk, he declined, but then I emerged. I introduced myself, invited him in, and his entire demeanor changed. I was happy to help in some regard (usually being American does not work to my advantage).  But in any event, we tried really hard to form an agreement with him that suited both of us. We were really sincerely sorry that we were disturbing him, but we also wanted to convey that we had to live our lives, too. His approach was not great; he kept insisting we were “doing fitness” within the apartment which, simply never has happened once, but we were polite and respectful. We asked which areas were the worst, we did a little test where he went downstairs and called us and we made odd noises on the floor to figure out what was the most bothersome).  We agreed that we would purchase thick carpets to help conceal the sound, and we would do what we could, so long as he understood that we couldn’t just sit immobilely within our apartment. The conversation ended on what we thought was a relatively positive note.

One trip to Ikea later and we were just a tad resentful. If you know anything about the cost of buying thick carpets you know that they are NOT a cheap expense, and it’s mildly more irritating when you’re making the purchase for a man who has lived in the same place for 37 years but hates it.

Now here’s where it gets extra entertaining. It was a Friday morning, and the carpets were going to be delivered from IKEA that night. I was in good spirits, my boyfriend left for work, and I was showering and getting ready for the day.  All of a sudden, I heard a familiar three taps on our door. I swiftly got dressed and proceeded to look through our peephole. It was Mr. G indeed.

I opened the door. “STOP. DOING. FITNESS!” he exclaimed loudly. An original greeting, certainly.

I paused. I then peered down at my red blouse, which was tucked into my high-waisted denim skirt. “What?” I replied, effusing American eloquence.

“FOR FIVE HOURS, I HAVE HEARD NOTHING BUT NOISE!” he again exclaimed loudly. This was not the same Mr. G who had amicably (well, almost) discussed the problem at our kitchen table just two days before.

I took a deep breath in. “I’m wearing a skirt,” I said. “No fitness is going down.”  (Again, the eloquence thing..I’ve really got to work on it). Mr. G then insisted on telling me all of the fitness activities I was engaging in and how entirely disruptive it was to his sleep. I paused and thought about what I had been doing. I showered.  I straightened my hair (a habit I’m not entirely proud of). I got my computer set up for the morning to test our unfortunately finicky internet connection. I was pretty certain that unless I have a disorder where I black out large portions of my life at a time, fitness had not been happening. At first, I tried to be polite. “Carpets are coming today,” I said. “I apologize if it has been noisy, but I am the only one here.”  This was my first time dealing with Mr. G, independently.

Mr. G continued to discuss his unbearable living conditions, placing blame on me. His frustration was evident, and upon retrospect, I pity how worked up he is about this issue. His voice elevated and I tried again to stay calm.  “Carpets are coming. That’s the best I can do,” I replied. Mr. G was still not satisfied. And then, all of a sudden, something within me snapped.

Now, I wish I could tell you I stood my ground. I wish I could say that I stopped being polite, like I tend to do, that I stopped apologizing, like society has taught me to do (but that’s an issue for another time), and that I gave Mr. G a piece of mind for talking to me in a way that was less than kind.

I’d like to blame my actual response on a lack of coffee, jet lag, and high emotions due to my quarter-life crisis.  Instead of telling Mr. G off, all of a sudden, I began to…cry. Now, we’re not talking a small sniffle and a tear running down the cheek. We’re talking full blown, chest-heaving sobs. Mr. G stopped talking and stared.  I tried to catch my breath, but couldn’t. Mr. G., if possible, became even more frazzled. “What are you doing?” “What?” “Stop that!” he exclaimed. “STOP CRYING!”

Because yelling at a crying person always goes really well.

This prompted a new bout of wailing. I was overcome with tiredness, exhaustion, and the frustration that I had come across the world to feel uncomfortable in the place I was living. I know it’s ridiculous, but I could not stop.  It’s funny, now, I know, but in the moment..I was devastated. And somewhere along the line I even felt a bout of emotion-sass. “AND FRANKLY,” I wailed, “YOU SHOULD PAY FOR THESE CARPETS BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY AND WE’RE DOING THIS FOR YOU!” Mascara ran down my cheeks, and I was desperately in need of a tissue.  Mr. G shifted uncomfortably, repeatedly telling me to stop. We ended our discussion with “Well, alright,” and I closed the door and continued to sob.

Am I proud?  No. One of my finer moments? No. Emotions are hard.

Now, the irony here is that we have not heard from Mr. G since. (It’s been almost two weeks).  At the same time, we also have our carpets. So what really is responsible for Mr. G’s disappearance? The carpets?  Or the fear of my perceived emotional instability, from someone who may not be the most stable themselves?

You decide.

Otherwise, Århus is great, and we are enjoying a life of biking, surprisingly pleasant weather, and most importantly, a whole lot of carpets.

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