“I Felt I’d Arrived Home”

Erika Katalin Molnár moved to Denmark 10 years ago. During her first visit, she worked in horticulture, today she’s employed as an operations coordinator at Gehl Architects. Besides her job, I asked Erika about her journey to and experiences gained in Denmark.

How did you end up in Denmark?

In 1992 a Danish family rented my parents’ summer house for a couple of days. They were totally different from our previous Western guests. Instead of going to the house straight away and closing the door shortly after their arrival, they sat down on the ground and started eating. Later I showed Budapest to them, and during lunch the father asked me whether I would spend a couple of weeks with them in Denmark. I gladly said yes. Two days later I stood on the doorstep carrying a fully packed piece of baggage, and started the journey, which had and still has an impact on my life. When I first saw the Danish coasts in the heat of July 1992, I felt I’d arrived home. I’ve been feeling the same ever since – despite the fact that both Denmark and I have changed a lot.

Since Hungary wasn’t part of the EU in 1992, it wasn’t so simple for me to move to Denmark, especially without any kind of financial and “political” support. I was in the fourth year at the university in 1997 when I made an application for work and resident permit at the Danish Embassy in Budapest. In October I was given the green light, and two days later my parents and I were driving to Scandinavia. Then I moved to Denmark in 2005 after 13 years later than my first visit.

With Gehl in San Francisco - study tour

What kind of experience did you gain while living and working in Denmark?
I’ve learnt that in order to let the sunshine in and to look outside we don’t hang a curtain on the window. I’ve had to face the fact that those who work hard, even if her/his salary is the lowest, since she/he is from Eastern Europe, one can make ends meet, and what is more, she/he can save some money, too. I’ve experienced that „water is expensive”, therefore, we have to use it responsibly. In addition to these, I’ve realised that one does not buy a flat or house, but rents a place for one’s entire life. I’ve learnt that it’s not awkward to decorate our homes with rusty cans and tyres. I’ve also heard about the great amount of help the Danes gave the Hungarian refugees arriving Denmark after the revolution in 1956.

Nonetheless, I’ve got to know how great is that I was born Hungarian. Growing up, I also learnt that women should be women and men should be men. The Scandinavian/Danish egalitarianism is a myth. Men and women are frustrated because they cannot be men/women in a relationship. But the most important lesson having received was to realise how lucky I was that I grew up in a beautiful city like Budapest; that everything I learnt from my parents during my childhood is treasure. One can easily take this for granted if she/he lives at home. The years spent in Denmark – far away from my family and accustomed security – helped me appreciate and love more what I had inherited and carried with me.

What do you like the most about Denmark?
I love Denmark’s magnificent and diverse geography, its closeness to the sea, its wonderful coasts, the long summer nights, the fresh air, the winter swimming traditions, the Christmas menu, the good road system, the excellent and clean carriages, the beauty of the bridges, the royal family’s attitude, the social security network, the sunrise and sunset, the Danish directness, the Danish language and its dialects, the appreciation and love towards the light, the love towards music and singing, their joy, their critical approach, their sweets, their home-made pastries, their oven-baked scalloped potatoes, their clean and colourful airport, their pride, their history that is similar to the Hungarian history, their love towards and the use of their flag as well as their incredible self-confidence they have regardless of being such a small country and loosing such a great amount of territories and battles.

What don’t you like about Denmark?
The beer and cigarettes, the pickled herring, the salty liquorice, the state bureaucracy and the conventional behaviour towards immigrants, their dissatisfaction despite their luxury life, the luxury tax, the high degree of democracy, the schools’ informality, the lack of respect towards teachers, and the Danish medical system.

Was there something you could hardly get used to?
When friends or families meet, it is an “obligation” to sit and talk at the dinner table for hours. It seemed an incredible constraint in the past, since I’m from a family where we spent approximately 10 or 15 minutes together at the dinner table; when one of us ate the starter, my mum already gave the dessert to someone. I’m very glad that I can experience the exact opposite today. Hostesses are appreciated, so they are treated equally in the company.

The other is the Danish humour. From a very early age Danish kids not only hear but also use Danish humour, which is quite similar to the English black humour. It took me years to understand that when they criticised me they in fact praised me.

What are those Danish peculiarities / phenomena you would bring to or experience in Hungary as well?
I’d thought for so many years that Danish pastries and the tradition of candlelight and moody lighting at home should be naturalised in Hungary. Then I realised, the magic would go away right away. If I had to say something, I would build my business on the Danish (Wienerbrød). However, the tradition of burning witches on 23 June would surely be popular in Hungary.

Charlottelund Beach & Park winter

What is your favourite Danish dish(es) / film(s) / word(s) or expression(s)?
My favourite dishes are their Christmas dessert called risalamande, oven-baked scalloped potatoes, ham salad served with red onion, strawberry linzer torte and carrot cake. I love the word “skat”, which – unfortunately – also means tax and tax office, but its meaning (treasure) is dear to me. The word „hyggelig” that could be translated as cosy is on my list, too. I would also add that the meaning of this word cannot really be translated into English, it’s rather peculiar to the Danish language. My favourite films are The One and Only (Den eneste ene), The Celebration (Festen) and the Olsen Gang films.

Winter bathing - Member

Finally, I’d ask you about your job. You work at Gehl Architects. Please tell us what you do exactly.
I work as an operations coordinator at the company. I work on improving the harmonisation of the three Gehl offices (Gehl Studio in San Francisco and New York, and Gehl Architects in Copenhagen). This means I not only work on setting up the new computer infrastructure but also securing its operation supported by an external consultancy firm. Moreover, I deal with HR tasks and I’m the office manager in the Danish office.

The US Ambassador visiting Gehl Architects in June 2015

 

Photos: MOLNÁR Erika Katalin

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