Chapter 13Understanding

Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.

Albert Einstein1

This part of the book is brought to you from Hjørring, one of Denmark's oldest towns, on the most northerly tip of Jutland, with a population of around 25,000 people. I am here for a week, and for a number of reasons it seems a good place to be writing about communication and – more broadly – about how we understand one another.

The people here, unsurprisingly, speak Danish. I don't. I have just been to a truly beautiful supermarket, and navigated my way through towering aisles full of food with names and labels that I am unable to read. Of course, because most of the products are familiar, I have come back to my apartment with everything I need. But because I am insatiably curious, I have been looking up lots of the words that I saw. So, for example, I looked up ‘Sild’, which I saw written all over the place. Herring, literally. More generally, fish. But also used colloquially here the way, in the UK, we might use another metaphor. Squashed in like sardines on the tube? You'd be squashed in like herring in Hjørring (though rush hour feels a little less arduous here). Been told your idea is worth peanuts? Come to Denmark, it's worth a whole herring. Worried your career is a dead duck? It's a dead herring here. I love this, and how the ...

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