Purse of many meanings

Even after living here for almost eight years, I have not learned Danish. But I’ve tried, off and on, and so I’m not completely oblivious. I can generally conduct simple transactions in Danish, but I’m always just a word or two from either not understanding, or understanding exactly the wrong thing. Nevertheless, I generally try to do things like go to the post office or to the store without resorting to English.

Last year, as part of the gradual but undeniable increase in medical visits that one experiences with age, I found myself at the hospital awaiting a CAT scan. In this case it was an abdominal scan.

I walked into the lab, and was greeted by a friendly and enthusiastic woman about my age. Her Danish was brisk, but I managed to pick out a few words: something about a purse. In Danish the word for purse is pung.

In her hand, she held a small grey rubber object. It was oval, grey, and about four inches long. It looked like a very sturdy, industrial coin purse.

I knew that metal is not something you want to take into the scanner with you, so I assumed that she wanted me to place all coins, keys, jewelry and the like into the purse. I thought this was a little strange, as I clearly had a backpack with me, so I said thanks but no thanks, I have my own bag.

Her body language led me to believe that she was okay with me not using her purse, but also that she wasn’t convinced that I understood what she was asking. She withdrew the purse, and said something else which I had trouble parsing… something about kids.

I put my backpack down and followed her to the scanner, where she gestured for me to sit. As I did so, she asked me a question that I did understand: “So do you have kids?”

Relieved that the conversation seemed to be headed in a friendly direction, I told her that I did. I expected her to ask how old they were or whether I had boys or girls, but instead she asked, “And you’re sure you don’t want anymore?”

At this point I realized that this was probably not the best time to be experimenting with my Danish. I switched to English and said, “Umm…pretty sure… why?”

That’s when I was reminded that in Danish there is no shortage of words that have multiple means. Yes, pung means purse, but it also means scrotum. She wasn’t asking me to put coins and jewelry in the strange hospital-designed coin purse. She was telling me that I should put my own, personal family jewels into the safe, lead-lined testicle protector that looked like a coin purse. She was instructing me to put my bag into another bag, for safe-keeping.

No wonder I was confused.

One Thought on “Purse of many meanings

  1. næsemanden on November 16, 2013 at 8:50 am said:

    Fin historie!

    When it comes to pronounciation and listening comprehension Danish is maybe the most difficult European language. Talk about kylling, kelling and killing; ord and år; hul, hjul and jul; gul, gud, guld, and gulv.

    As a German who has been learning Danish for about six years now (while not living in DK) I find it relatively easy to read Danish texts like newspaper articles. But oral communication still ends up in misunderstandings…

    BTW, I would have known how to use grey “purse”. But only from personal experience. The meaning of pung as a description of your private parts was new to me, too.

    Pas på din pung! :-)

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