I reached out to author, speaker and Danish expat Peter H. Fogtdal and invited him to be a part of the Success Stories series. Enjoy!
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Copenhagen and will always be Danish. I don’t really feel I “immigrated” to America. I don’t remember leaving my country on a steamer, waving my bowler hat, knowing I would never see my mother or The Little Mermaid again. Since I’m a writer and a speaker I go back to Denmark a lot. Except for my adorable wife, my whole family is in Europe, so the word immigration doesn’t have the same meaning it used to for a lucky nomad like myself.
Why did you decide to move to America and what do you do?
It happened gradually from around 2005. I got a few visas to teach fiction writing and Scandinavian literature at Portland State University in Oregon, even though I’m not an academic. At the same time, an American publisher picked up my novel The Tsar’s Dwarf that was received well over here. But the most important was that I met My Pale Beauty Who Shall Remain Nameless Until She Gets A Tan who later became my wife.
What was the most difficult part of your immigration?
Getting used to peanut butter.
What do you like to write about most?
Spirituality, historical fiction, sex & God, with a tiny dose of humor and satire.
Is there anything that you miss from home other than family?
Better bike lanes, bread without sugar, more equality, no guns, anchors who look human and don’t have perfect teeth.
Have you had a culture shock in the U.S. yet? Please share some examples.
The American puritanism where everybody freaks out when they see a nipple freaks me out. And then there’s American health care. Please don’t get me started on American health care because then I’ll get a migraine and my doctor will tell me that my plan doesn’t cover that.
What are the biggest differences between every day life in Denmark and America?
People are friendlier and more generous here than at home. I probably wouldn’t think so if I lived in Chicago, but in Portland, Oregon most you run into are obscenely nice. Sometimes it’s almost scary how nice they are. Passive-aggressiveness is the leading religion in the Pacific Northwest, by the way.
Have you found a good source (in-store or online) to buy Danish food in America?
The only thing I miss is rye bread and my local supermarket has that. The bread is actually German but since my mouth has no prejudices I can live with that.
Tell me 3-5 things you would take back to Denmark from the USA.
Faith in something larger whether you call that God or the Universe. The multicultural society and the innovative spirit that is so predominant here. Mountains, rivers, warmer weather. I would also like to bring Jon Stewart with me and most of Portland, Oregon. I adore the hipster vibe in this city. Every barista is an author, musician or organic farmer and they all think that riding a bike is a political statement.
And 3-5 things you think the USA should have/implement from Denmark.
A society that’s more fair. I still don’t understand why American voters can live with a country where there is so much poverty. You need more of a social conscious here – and some better soccer teams, even though you definitely are improving.
Please tell us about the day you got your first US driver’s license.
I’ve never driven a car in my life which makes me very exotic to Americans. I’ve never fired a gun, either or said shucks – at least not in public.
You’re blogging at Danish Accent, Fogtdal.blogspot.com. Why did you start your blog and what are your plans with it?
When you’re a novelist there’s something great about “publishing” a piece of writing the same day you write it without laboring too much over it.
I have no plans with Danish Accent. I simply write to keep myself entertained. However, I’m very ambitious with my novels, and after 12 published at home I just finished my first in English which is about a man’s clumsy attempt at reaching enlightenment in an Indian ashram. Yes, it’s a farce.
Any final words or tips that you would like to share with new expats?
Stop using air condition when it’s below 86 degrees.