Being nice is still not as freaky as being cool. People have called me cool a few times already, and I never know what to do about it. I’m not cool, not at all! I’m just the nerdy one who reads too much, though to be honest I don’t even do that anymore. I don’t know about clothes or sports or music, I enjoy analyzing literature and the grammatical structure of sentences, I never know what’s in until it’s nearly out already. I hate cussing; the strongest word I use is ‘drat’. The most frequent is ‘bother’, for pity’s sake! When people call me cool, I wonder what I’m doing wrong.
When I was in middle school and regularly exchanging insults with people, my mother told me that because I never tried to be cool, I would one day surpass everyone else and be ultracool. This magnificent logic failed to sway me, but sheer persistence on her part led me to consider the prospect more carefully.
After all, what’s admirable to our society? People who stick to what they believe in and refuse to bend under pressure. So maybe my mom was right, and someday I would be ultracool. Sounds nice, I thought, being ultracool. I could read in peace. Then I shrugged. It’ll never happen while I’m still in middle school, I thought pragmatically. Probably not till college, and then I’d have to start over anyway ’cause nobody’d know me. Maybe in my late twenties, when people have gotten mature.
Then I moved to Denmark. People here are different. I haven’t been teased by any of my classmates since I got here – except for the usual insults among friends, but those only happen once you get to know each other, and they don’t count. The closest anyone has come was a boy in my sister’s class who thought I would make a good target, for some unfathomable reason. I smiled tolerantly and struck up friendly conversation with his friends, and he looked ridiculous. He never really bothered me after that.
Danes seem to be of the ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Danish society is founded on solidarity, and they truly believe in putting the group’s interests before your own. This comes with its own problems, but it means that bullying happens a lot less. Or at least that’s my theory, based on my own experience. But then, half the boys from my sister’s class teased her persistently for some time, and Squiggle was driven from her school. I was lucky, in other words; I just don’t know how lucky. I don’t know if my experience here is actually pretty unusual. All I know is that no one has ever been mean to me here, and being foreign and getting good grades is enough for most bullies to go on.
When I walked into the classroom on my first day in gymnasium I saw three groups: the ‘popular girls’, the ‘popular boys’, and everyone else. Unsurprisingly, I was right – but where these ‘popular’ people would have been insufferably stuck up in the US, especially at my middle school, here they’re perfectly normal. It’s true that I don’t have much in common with them, so we don’t really talk much anyway – but if I do talk to them, they’re polite and friendly. I don’t think they particularly like me, but if they dislike me, they don’t make a point of letting me know. Danes just don’t do that, as a rule, at least as far as I can tell.
Maybe I just can’t tell. Last year 2A (which is now 3A) had an exchange student from Georgia called Erik. His dad was Danish and he wanted to experience Denmark and so on, and as it happened, he really liked singing and ended up in the school play. He had a very nice tenor voice and got the lead role – we were doing Across the Universe, so he was Jude. I didn’t have a large part, but I did have a solo at the end – All You Need is Love, actually, which was very fun to sing – and he was supposed to sing the first verse with me. Now, my voice is very deep, and I couldn’t sing the line “It’s easy.” It sounded rather pathetic and weak when I did. So I asked him if he’d be so good as to sing that line every time it came up, which is only three times. He never did, despite my asking multiple times.
Anyway, that was rather an unimportant story. The point is, he didn’t like me. I have no proof of this – what you saw just there is the best I’ve got, and I know full well that that’s nothing – but it’s true. I recognized it in the way he never spoke to me if he could help it, in the way he grew curt when I joined the conversation. I could feel it, I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I knew. To be honest, I don’t mind much – he wasn’t that special – but to this day I wonder why exactly he disliked me. And to this day I wonder if there aren’t actually tons of people who despise me, and I just don’t know it because I can’t sense Danish dislike, only American dislike. It would be kind of funny, I think. Kind of sad too.
I’ve gotten way off topic, haven’t I? That’s the problem with using a blog as a diary. Right, I started off with coolness, so let’s finish this with coolness. Well, when my mother told me about this ultracoolness I would one day attain, I dismissed it as deeply unlikely that anyone my age would agree with her standards. However, on the (thankfully rare) occasions when I have been called cool, it was always because I just did my own thing and didn’t care what others thought. (I know because I always get a deer-in-headlights look on my face when that happens, prompting people to explain.) So in the long run, she was right, and it happened a lot sooner than I expected. I admit that I wonder whether this would be the case in the US, or if American kids would be more like Erik. But for now, at least, I have the pleasure of knowing that the society I’m in approves of my philosophy of living. I hope I’ll always be able to surround myself with people like that, but even if I’m not, at least now I know they exist.