May 11 - So the whole Studieskolen class is a bundle of jangling nerves as the teacher distributes the first part of our written exam. She places the exams before us upside-down and instructs us not to turn them over until she gives the word. This section's going to be timed. It's a reading comprehension test and we'll have only five minutes to get through it. At the end of five minutes, she'll snatch the tests away from us whether we're done or not.
We all want to pass. Nobody wants to go through this class again.
In a flurry of Danish she tells us how to take this particular test: read the questions, then scan for the answer. Don't try to read everything: just scan to the information you need to answer the question. And be sure you really understand the question.
Finally she starts the timer and tells us to begin. We flip over our exams.
I'd been debating whether or not to write my name on top of the test right away, or whether I should hold out and see whether I needed the time. I take a gamble and waste a valuable couple of seconds writing my name on top of the front page of the test.
The first question, at the top of the first page, asks (in Danish) what the daytime temperature will be in Copenhagen.
The rest of the page consists of a huge table of cities, daytime highs, nighttime lows, and meteorological conditions—you know, like the international forecast you see in any newspaper. Each city takes up one line of the table. I look up the daytime temperature for Copenhagen and write it down in the space provided beside the question. Total time elapsed: nearly ten seconds.
I review the question again just to be sure I wasn't falling for a trick. No, it's perfectly clear. I double-check to be sure I looked up the correct daytime temperature. Check. All systems go. I turn the page.
The second page has two questions, each of them referring to large illustrated blocks of text. So does the third. I turn the third page and find myself staring at the first.
Total time elapsed: approximately forty-five seconds.
I flip through the pages again to be sure I haven't missed anything. Maybe it's double-sided paper? No. I'm done. I check and recheck: my answers appear correct. There are no trick questions.
Total time elapsed: one-minute and twenty seconds. I'm stunned.
I look around the room. Some of the other students are also clearly done with their test and are also looking around the room with bewilderment. We smile vaguely at one another and shrug.
The rest of the exam is no harder.
Had I gone in roaring drunk, or immediately after being struck repeatedly on the head with a crowbar, I still don't think it would have been much of a challenge. Believe me, this is not boasting. I know where I'm at with my Danish: a few miles south of "almost passable." The test covered things that most of us knew before we even began taking the class. Passing it will have proved nothing. Failing it will induce me to to check in for a full suite of neurological exams.
* * *
Today is the oral. That's going to be harder. It's going to be harder because it's going to require the use of spoken Danish—a skill that I've mastered about as well as I have that of, say, kibuki yodeling. (No, there is no such thing as kibuki yodeling. Not yet, anyway.)
I'm not going to get overconfident, but neither am I going to spend the morning fretting over the test and poring over my indecipherable notes from the last six weeks.
Nor am I going to load up on bourbon and whack myself over the head with a crowbar.
The word of the day is overrasket, which means surprised.
On May 11, 1949, Siam changed its name to Thailand, because everyone was getting tired of those jokes where one guy would say, "Are you familiar with this place?" and the other guy would go "Yeah, Siam," and the first guy would go, "You gonna tell me where we are?" and the other guy would be like, "Yes: Siam." and it would go on and on and they'd never give it a rest.
Had anyone foreseen the glut of restaurants trading on the new name, however—Beau Thai, Thai Me Up, Thai One On, etc—the nation might still be called Siam.
May 11 is the birthday of Louis Farrakhan (1933), Salvador Dali (1904), and Irving Berlin (1888).
It's Minnesota Day in Minnesota.
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac