“Meet the Danes”

How my family got in contact with foreigners in the sixties!

My mother Ruth was a lover of the English language, and as we couldn’t afford travels abroad in the early sixties, she reacted on an announcement in the newspaper from the tourist bureau to invite tourists home for coffee or a meal. In the years between 1962 -1970 we had several couples and families visiting. In the first years, I hadn’t yet learnt English, and it was difficult to communicate. I remember an American girl my age wearing a dress with buttons in different colours and cute shapes. I understood that this was made to make a girl happy. It really impressed me as I thought that our clothes were so dull.

It was not too many years after the war so one man was apparently a WWII veteran and he had a bullet hole in his ear. Nothing was mentioned about this, but it was fascinating to see.

The American tourists had other habits than us, loading all kind of cakes and buns on the plate at once. In Denmark, you start with one type and continue with another afterwards.

My mother was very faithful in keeping contact, and she kept writing letters to many of these families from U.S.A. and England. A couple called Rose from the south of England kept coming back. Once I was alone with them as my parents were on holiday. I was cooking in the kitchen, and later when I returned to our living room, they sat in silence in the darkness. They were a couple of very few words.

Graduation day at Ballerup Gymnasium 1970

Graduation day at Ballerup Gymnasium 1970

My mother always wanted to do everything as perfect as possible so that the visitors would have a good experience in “Meeting the Danes”. A certain cake called “lagkage” is a speciality. It consists of layers of sponge cake with delicious cream and jam in between. On top, it is decorated with chocolate frosting and cream. On one occasion my mother had forgotten to take away the thin paper in between one layer. When she tried to cut the pieces, it slithered apart. She got distraught and sorry for that. One of the foreign guests asked:

Β Is it poisonous ? Oh no! said my mother.

My homemade "Layer Cake" many years later

My homemade “Layer Cake” many years later


Later on, when I was fifteen, I knew some more English and somehow a retired teacher, one of the visitors, Cora Canenburg from Nebraska, wrote a lot of letters to me. I must have written back. I have one of her letters saved from that time. I just can’t imagine why she wanted to have a correspondence with me. She was in her seventies.

One American couple the Papay’s of Italian ancestry came back on a cruise to our harbour in Copenhagen close to the famous Little Mermaid. The invited us to have dinner at the ship. I remember thinking as a teenager that it was very dull to have a holiday like that dining at a big boat. I was not used to dining out at all. I am sorry that I don’t have photos from the many visits, but lots of letters to my parents are kept.

The Little Mermaid photo MH

The Little Mermaid photo MH

A Catholic family Gray from Boston was also very faithful in writing back for many years. My twin brother visited them as an exchange student in 1970.

My father knew very little English, so everything seemed to be my mother’s responsibility. She had to act as an interpreter too.

My father was very creative and repaired everything in the house and invented things, so he enjoyed showing the guests around and didn’t need vocabulary for that.

I believe that I have inherited my mothers love for the English language and for contact with interested foreigners.


  1. My sister and some others travel with a group[ called “The friendship force.” They stay in native homes and later return the favor. Other people trade houses for vacations.


    • Yes Paula I have heard about it. But I don’t know if I dare to have people staying without me being here. My daughter had two different families staying over Christmas time while she and her family was in the states. But it is always very memorable to have been inside a home and seen how people live. I have done that in the former Soviet Union. Then you are grateful for what you have


  2. I love the idea of hosting foreigners. What a great way to get to know someone. I remember one Danish teacher telling us how in the ’60s foreigners were a bit rare, so they were akin to a sensation, which I’m sure applies to a lot of places. My last high school in Maine was very homogenous, and that was in the very early ’90s. Love hearing these accounts. Or reading about them.

    Liked by 1 person

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