What’s it Like Being a Jamaican Living in Denmark?

In this episode of “Jamaicans to the World”, founder Xavier Murphy speaks with Claire Requa. She is a Jamaican living in Denmark.

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Denmark? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Today in Jamaicans to the World, I talk to Claire Requa, a Jamaican who has been living in Denmark. Hi Claire, welcome.

Claire: Hi Xavier. Thank you, thank you for having me.

Xavier: First question, which paat (part) a Jamaica yuh (you) come fram (from)?

Claire: I’m from Kingston. I was raised in Kingston, but I have to say that my grandparents are from Cascade Hanover, and I spent many summers there. So, I have a small attachment to Hanover.

Xavier: Okay, all right. Bigging up (give respect to), bigging up(give respect to) Hanover here.

Claire: Is right.

Xavier: And which school you went to? You know, we love our high school. Which high school did you go?

Claire: St. Andrew

Xavier: Oh, you’re my sister.

Claire: Haha, JC (Jamaica)?

Xavier: Yes.

Claire: Right.

Xavier: Tell us your story of how you ended up in Denmark? How did you get to Denmark?

Denmark city

Claire: Yeah. I met a man in my teens a Danish man that was visiting Jamaica with his family. And we kept in touch over the many years and were pen palling, those days we didn’t have Facebook or anything like that. And we were pen palling, I’d moved to California and we were still pen palling and then we decided why don’t we see what this is about. I visited Denmark, one Christmas, and went back to California and thought, hmm that’s kind of what I thought at the time was a very progressive country. After some time we decided that we would make it permanent and so I married him and moved to Denmark.

Xavier: Okay, how many years ago?

Claire: I’ve been in Denmark now thirty-three years.

Xavier: Oh wow.

Claire: More than half my life.

Xavier: Wow. That’s amazing, that’s amazing. I saw you there thinking a little bit and maybe it’s just trying to remember it. But I’ve done a few of these and sometimes it’s the language. Folks have gotten so emerged in the language, and, are you emerged in the language? That now sometimes you dream in it or you think before you say your English words?

Claire: I have to think before because there are some words that I’ve learned, new words that I’ve learned in Danish. And then I have to think, you know, okay, what did people say in English about this you know, what do they call this in English? But I don’t dream in Danish. But I am immersed and I do have to kotch (chill) awhile and think what I want to say. So, yes.

Xavier: And how difficult was it learning the language?

Claire: Very. I went to school for about six months and then I could read some things in Danish. But it sounded at the time, it still does, but I thought at the time very, very awkward in my mouth. I was afraid to speak in Danish, even though I could understand a lot of conversations and of course reading. But I think maybe the better part of two years.

Xavier: Hmm. And you had family there? Did you….

Claire: Well when I came I didn’t have. My mother had a sister here and she lived in Copenhagen. I had some contact with her, which was some minimal contact.

Xavier: Okay.

Claire: Yeah.

Xavier: What do you love about Denmark? Because again, you’ve been there I mean, you stayed, you’re there.

Claire: Yes yes, but I can tell you that I came to Denmark with two children from an earlier relationship, earlier marriage and they were eight and ten at the time. And I got them in a school, that was half an hour by bike from where we lived, and they would bike to school every day. My son was kind of chubby at the time, and just this cycling back and forth, half an hour every day, trimmed him up. But I loved that they could do that. I loved that I could not be worried about their safety, going back and forth to school. The low crime rate was very, very important to me. But it took time, it took time to get used to this country. Things work here, they work.

Xavier: Okay.

Claire: They work. The technology is highly respected country for technology.

Xavier: Right.

Claire: And things work. You go to the post office if you need envelopes they’re there. You need boxes they’re there, not like Jamaica. When I would be sending somethings from Jamaica, the lady would tell me wrap it in brown paper and put string. I seh wah (said what) put string around it? And the string and the paper you cya (can’t) buy in there neither. Mek (make) me just tell you that.

Xavier: Right, right.

Claire: I mean, I’m thinking wouldn’t you get more money if you just had some paper to the side and some string, and you could sell that to people when dem (they) come wid (with) it, no no no. Anyway, but things work here. And the other thing I like about it, even though the cradle to grave system works for Danes and works for people on a whole, it has its disadvantages, of course, but there is that care from cradle to grave and I like that, that’s there.

Xavier: Nice, nice and winters? So have you gotten used to?

Claire: No, no, no, cya tek di (can’t take the) winters, cya tek di (can’t take the) no light, the grey. The last eight years, after my father got ill with a stroke, I made the final, I mean I have been thinking about it for many years but I thought now I do it. Three months, minimum three months out of the year, I go home to Jamaica in the winter. Because I cannot bear this, I cannot bear the greyness and the no light and the cold of course.

Xavier: Hmm, that’s a good compromise there, you know.

Claire: Yes, yes. I mean, it costs something of course.

Xavier: Right.

Claire: It costs not only financially, but it costs also in your relationships with people. My girlfriends, you know when I’m away, they’re like…. when I come back you know, this and this and this happened to me while you were gone. But now with technology and stuff, I mean, more, there isn’t any reason not to be in touch, you know.

Xavier: What months are these]?

Claire: I pretty much go to Jamaica in December, January, February. I did it a little bit like that, because I have a small design business and I attend some markets when I’m home in Jamaica. So those markets happened in the month of December, mostly and so I kind of time it for that. And I like to be home for Christmas with my mother who is still alive.

Xavier: Ok. Well good, you’ll get the Christmas breeze there and not the Christmas snow.

Claire: Yes. yes, yes.

Xavier: Are your children still in Denmark?

Claire: My daughter lives in Germany.

Xavier: Ok.

Claire: She moved from here, she met a German and married him. And she now lives in Germany, which is five hours drive from here. It’s not that bad and she has two children, I have two grandchildren.

Xavier: Oh.

Claire: They’re my heart.

Xavier: People say if they could sometimes joke and say if we could have done the grandchildren first.

Claire: First, right? And it’s true, it’s completely true.

Xavier: And your son is he still there? Or is he…

Claire: He’s away. He had enough of this life. He was twenty-four when he died.

Xavier: Oh, okay.

Claire: Denmark was where he was a musician and here is where he made his music life. Even although Jamaica was always his home and he always, I mean both my children from they were very very young, even when I couldn’t travel with them from here, they would travel to Jamaica in the summertime and spend the summers there, Jamaica is their home.

Xavier: I see, I see. In terms of the people, what are the Danes like there? You know, you probably have to go back, I know you have friends now, but when you first got there and you’re encountering the Danes, and you were married to a Dane.

Claire: Yes.

Xavier: What are the people like?

Claire: They’re not that open. They’re very reserved, and it took me a long time to sort of be wondering, wow, these people you know, you’re not very friendly. But somebody told me that Danes, their way is, is that they have a set number of friends whether is ten or fifteen, or whatever. But they have a set number of friends through their whole life and those same friends they keep, and they’re not looking nuh (not) new one. So it’s hard to break into Danes, I have a few Danish friends, very few. Most of my friends are from America and I have a couple of friends from Spain. They’re not Danes.

Xavier: Hmm, I see. So you haven’t gotten into a Dane friend group I guess is what you’re saying?

Claire: Right, and I work in a nursing home. I work in nursing home and they have a system here called hjemmehjælp which is home help. So I cycle around one of the cities and pop into people all the time and you know; have you taken your meds? Can I make you some lunch? Can I spread your bed for you? So I’m very much in the Danish way, but in my private life I don’t have any. I have maybe a handful of Danish friends.

Xavier: Okay, okay. And that is a little you know, as they seh (say), you say is ten friends or a group that they’re there with. Are they friendly to, you know, I don’t want to say strangers but.

Claire: Foreigners?

Xavier: Foreigners, you know. What is it typically like, you know, for foreigners? And again, you may not consider yourself a foreigner at this point thirty odd years.

Denmark lighthouse

Claire: No, you crazy still, still. And because I’m close to an “expat” group, I mean my closest friends are both from New York, and I have some other friends who are from other parts of America. But I have a very, very, very close friend who I got in touch with before I even moved here, I consider him my Danish brother. But these are people who have travelled and know a little bit about the world, so they’re not very close. And then I have more recently, in the last three years, a ninety-three year old woman who I’m very close to. I talk to her every day on the phone and we FaceTime and we have great, great talks. I mean, she asks questions about everything and she got pictures from Jamaica my three months there every day, I had something I sent her a photo. So she knows a lot about Jamaica now in her last years on Earth. And it’s nice to talk to her about Denmark and what Denmark was like in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s when she was growing up. So that’s also a nice thing for me to have in my bag of information about Denmark.

Xavier: Okay, all right. What do the Danes, when they realize or learn that you’re Jamaican. What are some of the responses that you get?

Claire: The typical thing is Bob Marley, and you know, spliff (marijuana cigarette) and I’m like, yeah, yeah, yeah. But, you know, I don’t smoke spliff (marijuana cigarette) so nothing there to get. But they also say things like they’re, a little bit surprised that I am, again, we’re talking about this colorism. I mean they think, oh, we always thought Jamaicans were really, really, really dark skinned or like. No! I’m like we come in all kind of colors and all shades from white to black and everything in between. That’s the thing that they say the most.

Xavier: Okay, and do they, you know, some people seh (say) it opens a door for them you know.

Claire: Yes, yes.

Xavier: You find that it opens a door for you when you say I’m Jamaican.

Claire: Yes, it does. Because some of them don’t know where Jamaica is and I say well, it’s south of North America at the very bottom of South Florida, if you know where that is, that kind of thing, it’s in the Caribbean Sea. But they’re interested and it’s without prejudice. It’s not like the kind of response you might get if you said something else. I mean there are many older Danes who are afraid of Muslims and have prejudices. It’s not like the same at all.

Xavier: I see, I see. In terms of the immigrant population there. Is there, where you are a large immigrant population? You mentioned they’re expats there.

Claire: Yes.

Xavier: But sometimes they’re there working and they’re gone. How is the population in the city, is it diverse?

Claire: It is diverse. I happen to live in a sort of very conservative part of Copenhagen. But just across the lake, just across the way, is Nørrebro. Nørrebro is very very diverse, very. There are a lot of Turkish and others and Arab people and Spanish, I mean it is very, very diverse. Where I live not so much, but I go across the river, across the lake and then I’m in Nørrebro and it’s all kind of stuff to get there, that I can’t get here.

Xavier: So you mentioned and I don’t know if this was created by you in the background, your background there, which I love. But you mentioned that you have a little design, I believe or design business and so on. Is that based there in, you know, your there with the design business, but what is it tell us a little bit about that.

Claire: Right. I just reached behind here and saw oh there I have a catalogue. But I grew and designed a chandelier some many years ago. And I’ve been using the time to sell and market and produce, but it looks like this.

Xavier: Okay.

Claire: And I did this eleven, twelve years ago and spent the years right after I developed it going to trade fairs twice, three times a year trying to sell it and trying to get it out there. But the one man show, sometimes it’s not quite enough and in my case, it wasn’t enough.

Xavier: Okay.

Claire: I still have the lamps and I do the jewelry from like this piece here and the ring here that I have on.

Xavier: Oh, that’s a lovely piece.

Claire: It’s part of the upcycling when I plot these pieces, these arms, they are flat pack chandeliers.

Xavier: Right.

Claire: On the computer in all the negative spaces, then I plot bracelets and rings and small bits for earrings and then I make a sort of a tapestry, which I take to a guy that I know who cuts them by laser, and I take all the bits home I pack the lamps, I pack the electrics that I’ve put together to make the lamp and then I sell them on Etsy and the upcycle jewelry comes from the spare bits of the production of this chandeliers.

Xavier: Very nice. Very, very nice. I was looking at the piece and wow, wow, that’s great.

Claire: Thank you.

Xavier: What’s the Etsy website?

Claire: The Etsy website is accent CPH, CPH short for Copenhagen.

Xavier: Okay. All right, all right. So you can check Claire’s items out there.

Claire: Yes, yes.

Xavier: I’ve got to go back to the diversity a little bit there. In food, in terms of food there because there’s some diversity there. Is there, you know, a diversity in food and it’s a two-part question, this is a two part. First of all, the diversity in food and the second part to this question is, is there a Danish food that you’d say, a Dane food sorry that you would say?

Claire: Danish is right.

Xavier: Danish is right, okay. Danish food that you would say you have to try. Two parts again, the diversity in food.

Claire: There’s plenty, plenty, plenty diversity. I mean, you can get anything and everything here, everything. You go to the Green Grocer and you will get, I have bought guavas one time, I must say in thirty-three years only the one time I’ve seen it. But you get avocados, you get all the foods that you want from the Green Grocers in the diverse part of town, Nørrebro across the lakes. And I wouldn’t swear for the quality, but you can get it. And there is Mexican restaurants, there’s Japanese sushi, there’s Ethiopian food.

Xavier: Is there Jamaican food?

Claire: No.

Xavier: Okay. All right.

Claire: The Jamaican people when they start up something, you go there and the food is so tame and so lacking, you know umph and then when you ask them, they say, oh, but you know, we’re catering to the Danish people and we have to, you know…

Xavier: They have to tone it down?

Claire: Tone it down, so you tek (take) what you can get. And then they go out of business after three years or four years and which is very, very sad.

Xavier: I’m sorry, go ahead.

Claire: No, I’m saving my little piece of bun that I brought one with me. I cut it thin, thin, thin so it can stretch.

Xavier: What is the food that you would say, the Danish food that you know you’re like, you have to try this, try this food.

Claire: You know, the fishing industry here is huge. And Danes eat for lunch, they had these open sandwiches they are called Smørrebrød. They’re open sandwiches with rye bread, heavy dark rye bread and fish on top. This fish is marinated or it’s smoked, or it’s something and there’s one of these versions of this fish is called sild which is one of the islands belonging to Denmark. And this sild, this herring is delicious, delicious. It’s breaded, little bit sweet and seasoned nicely and nice. I like sild on rye bread, my husband is not so much for it, he would say some very unkind things about how it looks, so I don’t buy it that often but I like that. I like kanelsnelge, cinnamon bun. They make great cinnamon buns here.

Denmark fields

Xavier: You get used to it. You get your Jamaican fix when you get down there for your three months you’re in Jamaica.

Claire: Exactly, exactly. And of course now with the Covid has hit I mean David, my husband, my partner and I. I call him my husband because I’ve been with him for twenty-five years so it’s just has good. He is from London, so when we used to go to London then I would hit Brixton immediately and go for ma (my) patty. So he knows seh (say) don’t even bodda (bother) try go to your friend first or nuttin (nothing) like that. We’re going straight to the Jamaican place to get ma (my) patty, then we can proceed from there with the visit.

Xavier: Yeah Brixton, ah boy. You’re definitely getting your fix in Brixton.

Claire: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Xavier: Plus if you want your fruits and your….

Claire: Right, right.

Xavier: The market there is like a little, yeah

Claire: It is. When I first came to Denmark, I’d been here about a year or something and the lady who I was working with she was a shoemaker and I was her assistant in her little shoemaker establishment. She wanted to go to London, she seh (said) you want to come wid (with) me? So I seh (said) yeah, okay and we went to Brixton. And let me tell you, I thought died and gone to heaven cause I just also come from Los Angeles. I lived out in in Pasadena, which is a sort of a suburb of formal Los Angeles so I wasn’t getting much Jamaican things in there either. Oh my goodness, I was in heaven. And I would just stand and listen to people talking, you know.

Xavier: Yeah.

Claire: Just teking (taking) it all, sucking it all in. It was lovely, lovely.

Xavier: What would you say was your biggest adjustment apart from the language when you got there to Denmark?

Claire: Well, of course the language was a thing but I found and as you can see, I’m dressed in something dark. I came from California with my bright yellow, bright orange, palm tree print clothes, very very colorful and very very sometimes lively. And I come to Denmark and people looked at me sideways. And I thought uh oh, what’s going on here? And I get to find out that no, you don’t you know, unless you want to be looked at funny, black, black and more black, maybe you wah (want) put some grey but gwaan (go on). And I just thought wow, there was some cold water thrown on me right here, I was just like, oh boy.

Xavier: Oh wow, that is very interesting. You know, I love some bright colors, I mean.

Claire: Yes, yes. So even things like lipstick, I mean in Jamaica this is when you’re getting dressed you put yuh (your) lipstick going out, you know, you’ll get looked at sideways. But sometimes if it’s really gray for two or three years, I put on my hot hot, hot hot pink lipstick and mi gaan (I’m gone). I don’t care if you waah (want) look sideways, you cyaan (can) look, all you wah (you want) look, but I’m putting on my hot pink lipstick, cause I need some color up in here.
Xavier: In terms of when you visit or people come to Denmark, is there an event, an activity, a location, an attraction, any of those that you would say, if you get an opportunity, here is something that you should experience or you may want to do in Denmark?

Claire: You know, after I am scratching my head over the question, I thought, wow. Also, because in the last eight years of my life, have been very focused on taking care of my parents in those three months, then other nine months are working my ass off to be able to stay there for three months. I haven’t had much time to go out and do the things that I like to do or things that people do in their free time.

But not far from where I live are the lakes and this is a feature of Copenhagen. They are five lakes, they string down through the city and it’s just a lovely thing to just go and sit on a bench, if you can catch a bench with sun and sit there and just watch the swans going up and down, the ducks and whatever they’re doing. And people just going by and on and on, and there are a lot of cafes along the side of the lake where you can just hang out and have brunch or beer or whatever. I’m very, very fortunate that it’s just right, you know, I don’t know what a hundred steps from my front door.

Then we have a huge park, which is Fælledparken, which is lovely. And in the summertime of course everybody stripoff lying out on the grass. But they have concerts there and one of my things is, I salsa and tango.

Xavier: Oh!

Claire: Yes, so in the summertime, they have like six weeks of salsa, tango, afrobeat and some other dance forms in a certain part of the park that is a must. I eat my dinner early 5:30 gaan (gone) to the park in the summertime to go dance some salsa and tango, so Fælledparken is nice. But I’ve not had many visitors, unfortunately, but I have a friend who said she was going to come and the last time she told me she was coming I thought what am I going to show her? I mean, so it depends on what’s interesting for you.

Xavier: Okay.

Claire: She has promised to tell me when she’s coming and I will have to question her good because there’s everything here. There is an outdoor ski, all year ski hill, not far from where I live either and when you go out from the city, there are parks with huge giant sculptures and there’s a great great flower shop. A very unusual guy, he’s old now is like maybe eighty I would say something like that eighty, ninety but he’s got a flower shop that’s amazing. And he has the most unusual things. He sometimes have three breadfruits with flowers coming out of them.

Xavier: Oh my!

Claire: Yes, stuff that I recognize and he’ll have really, really, really unusual unorthodox flower settings. So he has a lovely shop in town and the Jazz Festival in July not to be missed.

Xavier: Alright, sounds like there are things there you know, the ones

Claire: Too much tings (things) you cyaa (can’t) sleep. Too much tings (things).

Xavier: Do you hear reggae there?

Claire: Yes. Reggae is heard by, again we’re talking about this class thing and this sort of colorism and whatever. There are those who are like little bit grungy and scruffy and the young people that sort of live rough, and they have reggae clubs that they go to and people smoking there. And then you’ll have the people who are listening to like Damian Marley and you’ll hear it in shops and stuff and it’s sort of more “gentrified” reggae if you want to call it that. But yes, you get reggae.

Xavier: Oh, alright. I’m winding down and listen Claire I really appreciate the time you have spent telling us a little bit about your story. I know, there’s a lot more we could have gone into. The pen pal thing was interesting, you and I talked a little bit about that earlier. There are a lot of directions we could have gone in. But the question I have winding down is, what would you say is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is thinking of relocating to Denmark?

Claire: I used to be involved with a group called the Caribbean Scandinavian Association. It’s sort of taken a backseat, I haven’t heard anything from them in a while but I would contact maybe through Facebook, any sort of Caribbean group. Because Jamaicans even though we are, I don’t know how many we are here, I remember hearing somebody say something like four hundred in Sweden or something, but I go to a local club- bar called Dexter’s. And Dexter has all the rubs from Jamaica and Dexter is Jamaican of course, and a lot of Jamaicans go there and hook up, even when we have independence, we go there and drink and hang out and so. So I would definitely go first to Facebook and put in Jamaican in Copenhagen and find a group or find some kind of your way through to finding somebody who can put you on to where the Jamaicans are hanging out. And many of us who have been here a long time, are happy to share information and tips and tricks and how you can navigate the system and so just find us.

Xavier: All right. All right, that’s great. So, listen, I mean, a wealth of information here. Just a wealth of information. You mentioned this group of four hundred and Dexter’s, just once a year that people kinda (kind of) meet up once a year there?

Claire: No, no, no. The Caribbean Scandinavian Association, I believe has folded. Normally I’m in touch with the ones who are running it and they’ll say we have a fish fry once a year or we’ll have one other event close to the end of year. But Dexter’s is open, when we get to be open, his bar, because I just asked him when he was opening and he has like, once a month he has Caribbean food. I mean it’s as close as you can get, and we tek (take) it because that’s what we can get. But he has Caribbean food once a month and he advertised and say, Caribbean food on Sunday at four o’clock and people come out and order food and hang out and drink. So when he opens you know, bwoy (boy) I’ll be down there.

Denmark canal

Xavier: I see, I see. Again, thank you and here’s how I typically end. I typically ask that you teach me and the audience how to say goodbye in the most informal way. It don’t sound like the Danish are very informal or the Danes are very informal, but in the most informal way you know we wudda seh (would say) bwoy (boy) likkle (little) more or…

Claire: Yes, yes.

Xavier: Catch yuh latah (you later) or something. What would be the most informal way to say goodbye there?

Claire: Very, very easy because the hello and goodbye is the samething. So, hi, simply and hi hi, a (I) gone.

Xavier: Oh, All right. Claire thanks again and hi hi.

Claire: Yes.

Photos  – Deposit Photos

About the author

Xavier Murphy