Anna slår katten af tønden
Originally uploaded by viralbus

People in Denmark (and, I believe, Norway) celebrate carnival like Catholic countries in spite of Denmark being a country with a Lutheran state church.

However, Fastelavn is very different from the Brazilian carnival. It’s much closer to Hallowe’en: The kids dress us and they go guising from door to door. They also “knock the cat out of the barrel” (although no cat is involved any more) — you can see Anna taking part on the photo on the right — and eat special sweet rolls.

It’s a very sweet tradition, and I think Léon, Anna and Amaia really enjoyed celebrating it together with Danish kids in Denmark this year — although Anna was a wee bit surprised that all the other kids in the school group were much bigger than her (Danish kids start school two years later than here).

Ikea’s Christmas Party

Ikea’s dance floor
Originally uploaded by viralbus

We happened to notice that Ikea were organising a Santa Lucia and Christmas party on the 13th of December. We didn’t really know what it involved, but we decided to go along.

It was brilliant! At a cost of £5 for adults and £4.50 for kids (age 12 and under), you got a huge buffet with unlimited crayfish, herring, salmon, ham, sausage, meatballs, sausages, chicken, cakes, soft drinks and coffee and much more, as well as a small glass of snaps.

There were also games, an opportunity for the kids to make their own Xmas cards, and a dance floor.

My only concern about blogging it is that I’m worried Ikea might stop doing it if it gets too popular.

Britain and Scandinavia

The subject
Originally uploaded by Simon Collison

To what extent is Britain (or the British Isles) the same kind of construct as Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries)?

Both Britain and Scandinavia have a long and complex history, with periods of political unification and others with separate kingdoms and plenty of wars.

Scandinavia’s united period was a long time ago (1397–1523), while Britain only started falling apart when Ireland became independent again less than a century ago. On the other hand, the British Isles are to some extent more heterogenous than Scandinavia – the former is a mixture of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Norman French, while the latter consists of the descendants of the Vikings with some Finns, Lapps and Germans thrown in.

In both cases in can be hard to pinpoint exactly what Britishness/Scandinavianness means. For instance, John Major’s description of Britishness – “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’” – is so clearly a description of England that does not apply to Scotland and Ireland. In the same way, it’s very hard to define Scandinavian culture in one sentence. And yet, Scandinavians do recognise the similarities intuitively, and Scandinavians abroad tend to hang out together, for instance at international conferences.

So there are definite similarities. And just as Scandinavia does exist in spite of having been separate countries for half a millennium, Britain will always exist whether Scotland becomes independent in 2014 or not. Actually, Scottish independence might actually lead to a reevaluation of the concept, so that it ceases to be about a political construct and starts being about what actually binds people on these islands together, whether they live in Ireland, Wales, Man, Scotland or England.


Jeg har tidligere blogget om tyske stednavne i Danmark.

Jeg gik for nylig tilbage til den artikel i Politiken, som mit blogindlæg var baseret på, og fandt denne kommentar af Poul Petersen fra Vangede (jeg har rettet stavefejlene):

Tidligere gik jeg kraftigt ind for, at det danske mindretal fastholdt deres danskhed, og fandt naturligvis at det tyske mindretal nord for grænsen havde samme ret. Men med de sidste 20 års masseindvandring i begge lande, så giver det vel ikke mening at presse disse nytilkomne til assimilering, mens man bevidst holder de “gamle” adskilte. Regelen må være: Assimilér dig i det land, du lever i.

Jeg tror, det var Søren Pind, der som den første offentligt begyndte at kræve assimilation i stedet for integration, men Poul Petersens kommentar er et skræmmende eksempel på, hvilke konsekvenser denne idé kan få.

Integration betyder for mig, at der er plads til forskellighed, så længe alle er enige om nogle fælles spilleregler. Der er da ikke en sjæl her i Skotland, der har problemer med, at jeg taler dansk med mine børn og lader dem slå katten af tønden til Fastelavn. På samme måde burde man da heller ikke have noget problem med, at der findes danskere, som er jøder, muslimer eller ateister, som taler tysk, polsk eller tyrkisk, eller som ikke vil indtage kød, alkohol eller skaldyr.

Der har altid været mindretal i Danmark – tyskere, katolikker, jøder, tatere, etc. – så hvorfor går danskerne i panik, blot fordi mindretallene ændrer sig? Hvorfor kan man ikke længere fejre forskelligheden?

Jeg er yderst glad for at bo i Skotland, hvor ingen taler om assimilation!

The Danish-Scottish Christmas party

I joined the Danish-Scottish Society shortly after moving to Scotland, but I was not a very active member due to the fact that almost all events took place in Edinburgh (which seems to have a much bigger Danish community than Glasgow). For a couple of years, some people tried to arrange events in Glasgow, but they didn’t typically attract more than ten participants, so eventually I let my membership lapse.

However, these days I’m living with three bilingual children who really could use an opportunity to hear other people speak Danish and learn more about Danish culture, so we recently joined again as a family.

The first event we went to was their Christmas party (in Edinburgh). It was really good fun for the kids. There were at least a hundred people there, including lots of kids, and they were selling glögg, æbleskiver and pebernødder. Towards the end, we all danced around the Christmas tree, singing Danish and English Christmas songs, and afterwards somebody read the kids a Christmas story, and then Santa arrived, bringing presents for all the children.

We then had to leave, but on our way out, each kid got a large bag of sweet, so they were well chuffed!

It’s just a shame it takes an hour and a half to get to Edinburgh – the kids really thought it was a long trip, If only there were enough people in the Glasgow area to arrange similar events for Danish-Scottish families here…

我叫韦明涛 (my name is Wéi Míngtāo)

Chinese names tend to consist of a surname that is one syllable long, followed by a given name of either one or two syllables. This means that converting a non-Chinese name by sound results in something which doesn’t look like a name to a Chinese. (For instance, the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is called ??·??-??? Hèl?i Tu?níng-Sh?mìtè in Chinese.)

Because of this, there is a tendency for foreigners to get Chinese names if they learn Chinese or similar. E.g., the famous computer scientist and inventor of TEX, Donald Knuth, is not called ???·??? Tángnàdé [the usual transcription of ‘Donald’] Kèn?s? or similar, but ??? G?o Dénà, because he was given this name years ago by Frances Yao (I’m not entirely sure why he got it, but possibly for the purpose of translating his books into Chinese).

Because I’ve started learning Chinese, I believe it would make matters easier if I got a Chinese name. If I had been learning Chinese in a classroom situation with a native teacher, it would presumably have been relatively simple to ask them to give me a name. However, I don’t have access to a Chinese person who knows me well enough to pick a name, so I’ve had to take charge of the process myself.

Picking a surname is actually very easy. Chinese people use a very limited number of surnames, so the best solution is probably to pick a name from the top-100 list. Given that my real surname starts with a ‘W’, I guess it’s a reasonable idea to pick one starting with the same letter in pinyin, which limits my choices to ? Wáng, ? Wú, ? Wèi, ? W?ng, ? Wéi, ? Wàn and ? W?. From these, I eliminate ? Wú and ? W? because the vowel doesn’t match Widmann at all, ? Wèi and ? Wàn because they don’t start with ‘W’ in Cantonese, and ? Wáng and ? W?ng because they end in ‘-ng’, which isn’t really suitable, so I’m left with ? Wéi (Cantonese Wai4), which suits me fine. ????

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there is no convenient list of Chinese given names, for the simple reason that Chinese people like to have unique names and they don’t tend to name their children after family members or famous people.

I was of course ultimately named after Thomas the Apostle (via Thomas Aquinas, I believe), but I reckon it wouldn’t be the Chinese way simply to give myself his Chinese name, ?? Du?m?.

On the other hand, it’s probably not a good idea to pick two random characters with appropriate pronunciations and meanings – some characters are not considered desirable, and others are seen as feminine.

Another approach is to look at my name in Japanese. Although foreigners can just write their names in katakana, the native Japanese lecturer at Aarhus University back in 1990 gave a proper Japanese name, which of course could be pronounced in Chinese, too. Alas, I’ve forgotten what it was, although I do remember that it consisted on two kanjis, and I believe both had water as their radical, and the meaning had something to do with waves. After searching through some Japanese dictionaries, I’ve come to the conclusion that the first character must have been ? tou, which in simplified Chinese is ? t?o and means “great waves”.

I’m quite happy with this character, and I could of course stop here and just call myself ?? Wéi T?o.

On the other hand, I could add another character, either one pronounced ‘ma’ or ‘mai’ for ‘-mas’, or one pronounced ‘ma’, ‘min’, ‘meng’ or ‘ming’ for ‘Martin’ (my middle name). Some of the options I’ve been able to find are ? mèng ‘first’, ? mài ‘wheat’ and ? míng ‘next, bright’. However, I’m not sure the former is used much as a given name (although it’s a common surname) and I don’t identify strongly with wheat. On the other hand, I quite like ? míng, and ?? T?omíng at a first glance looked like a reasonable name.

I got stuck here for a while – although I couldn’t find any flaws with ??? Wéi T?omíng, I was a bit anxious that I could have overlooked something, so I was looking for reassurance from somebody with native or near-native Chinese.

Fortunately my old friend Uffe Bergeton Larsen (??? Lán Wùf?i), who was a linguistics fresher with me, is now a specialist in Chinese and has a Chinese wife, and he popped up on Facebook at just the right time.

Wufei at first couldn’t see any problems with being called ??? Wéi T?omíng. However, he then asked his wife who thought that “det lyder som et kinesisk navn en ikke-kineser kunne finde på at kalde sig” (“it sounds like a Chinese name that a non-Chinese might decide to call themself”).

I therefore decided to swap the elements around (as if my name were Martin Thomas rather than Thomas Martin), and ?? Míngt?o is definitely a real name.


Historieforfalskning i Russangbogen!

Jeg opdagede rent tilfældigt, at Russerne synger 2005 – også kendt som Russangbogen – ligger på nettet i PDF-format.

Jeg sad med fornøjelse og bladede den igennem, mens jeg mindedes gamle dage, da jeg faldt over et eklatant eksempel på historieforfalskning.

På side 67 skriver de flg. om Vi har en lang vej hjem: “Denne sang har en fascinerende historie. Teksten blev en dag fundet på Mat/Fys-Studenterrådet. Da det tydeligvis var en sang, satte en flok gæve mennesker sig til at finde ud af, hvilken melodi, den var skrevet på. Det gør man ved at synge og synge indtil man opdager, at den passer som fod i handske på netop Kringsatt av fiender. God fornøjelse!”

Den sande historie er naturligvis, at da Jesper Andersen, Peter JC og undertegnede skulle lave Russangbog 1994, opdagede vi, at havde brug for en ny udgave af “Der er ingenting som maner” med noder til bagsiden. Vi gik derfor ned på biblioteket og ledte mange sangbøger igennem, til vi endelig fandt den rette bog.

Det var, mens vi sad på Kommunebiblioteket i Århus (og aldeles ikke på Studenterrådet, hvor jeg aldrig kom), at vi fandt den fremragende sang om at have en lang vej hjem. Vi kendte naturligvis også den oprindelige melodi, da der var noder i bogen, men vi mente ikke, den passede til teksten, hvorfor vi ganske rigtigt prøvede os frem, til vi fandt en bedre melodi. Som vi skrev i forsangen:

Vi fandt mange sange, vi nævner blot én,
som absolut ikke ku’ synges.
Vi gav den fluks en ny melodi
og nu kan den immervæk nynnes.