GW Expat: War in Iraq makes for uncomfortable conversation

COPENHAGEN, Denmark

A recent exchange with a cashier at a local fruit stand here made me realize that the reverberations of the Iraq War are truly felt worldwide.

The cashier, an older Middle Eastern man, told me that I owed 40 Kroner (which translates to roughly $8) and then asked me a question in Danish. Whether it was the way I bit my lower lip or cocked my eyebrow that gave away my utter lack of Danish language skills, he proceeded to ask me in English if I was American.

This is a question that since arriving in Denmark I have been surprisingly proud to answer. It is usually followed up by “where in America?” I smile and say, “New York, and I go to school in Washington, D.C.” Then there tends to be a comment about how wonderful New York City is and questions about how I like Copenhagen in comparison. However, this time, the response was somewhat different.

“I am from America, too,” the cashier said.

“Oh, really,” I said, excited to meet a fellow American. “Where in America are you from?”

“I’m from Iraq,” he said with a smirk. “It’s the same thing now, isn’t it?”

I stood awkwardly in the store, located on Osterbrogade, a main avenue that runs through my neighborhood of Osterbro. I then took it upon myself to apologize on behalf of the entire U.S. population and made a quick beeline for the door.

It was a brief, but loaded encounter.

Earlier in the week I had learned that Denmark was part of the coalition forces in Iraq. It served as a rude awakening that even though I was an ocean away from home, I still lived in a land whose citizens were ridden with anger and grief over the military involvement in Iraq.

Per and Marianne are a Danish couple that my school connected me with so that I could experience the country’s culture in the home setting. While at dinner, the topic of the war came up and as usual, strong feelings were expressed.

The two, along with Per’s brother, told me that every time a Danish soldier is killed in Iraq it is considered a national tragedy. Ceremonies are held in honor of the fallen soldiers and for each one lost, the Danes settle into deep reflection about the implications of the country’s involvement in the war.

This thought process served as a stark contrast to the one I had left behind – where it can feel like the deaths of U.S. soldiers are reduced to meaningless tally marks. Though the U.S. death toll far exceeds the Danish one, it made me realize that each and every soldier’s death should be considered a national tragedy of the gravest kind.

The imparting of these few experiences is not so I can hop onto my metaphorical soapbox and spew arguments about the ills of the war in Iraq. It is simply to serve as a reminder – as it did for me – that this war still rages on. And whether you look at an Iraqi fruit stand owner in Scandinavia or a parent holding a folded flag representing their lost child, it must be remembered that life has been permanently changed around the world.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.