In her interview with Carolyn, Francine reflects on her time in Denmark back when she was a junior in college. She looks back fondly at the many memories and life lessons of her host, Frau Nielsen. Fran reflects on how Frau Nielsen changed her young mind’s conception of what it means to be old.
‘Kay, so the person I want to tell you about is Frau Nielsen. It’s funny Frau is like Mrs. or Miss or something [in Danish], but that’s what I always called her. I think her first name was Marie, but I never used it. And she was the person I lived with when I was a junior in college and went to Denmark for a year. And she had a big impact on the way I viewed the world and my life.
I had dinner with Frau Nielsen and what I really remember is that we just had these incredibly interesting conversations every single night. And, in fact, I tried to study Danish and the problem was… sometimes I’d say to her, “Let’s just try to speak Danish”. But then, all we could say was, you know, “How are you?”. You know, we couldn’t say anything interesting, so we’d always go back to English, which she was quite good [at]. Although sometimes, she would mix in a German word ‘cause she also knew German.
Carolyn: So next, question. What are the most, or some of the most, valued lessons that Frau Nielsen taught you while you were over there?
Okay so, the first lesson for me was, I would call it anti-ageism because when I was 20-years-old, I was really ageist. And when I first got to Denmark, all the people that were going to house students were waiting at the train. And there were these young families with kids and everything, and that was my image of what I was hoping to have. Although I already knew [it would be Fraun], because she had written me a letter that she wasn’t [young]. And I saw this old woman standing there. You know, it’s kind of funny now, because she was 67, which is six years younger than I am now.
I remember my heart sank, I just thought, “Oh why did I get a bad choice?” or whatever. And it was, I had such a fantastic year because of her. So I realized how absurd that was. But also, I had all kinds of stereotypes like I thought it was just an amazing thing that she could ride a bicycle. I mean she would ride a bike to the train station. Now that I’m seventy-three, I have a friend who goes on 100-mile bike rides like it’s nothing. And even when I was older, even when I got better after knowing her, at my wedding, I invited the mother of my husband’s best friend in college. The mother was probably in her sixties and we thought it was so impressive that she had made her way to our house all by herself [laughs]. I mean it’s just ridiculous [Carolyn laughs].
Anyways so, I mean I did get better in that I thought older people were worth knowing. But I still probably harbored a lot of stereotypes even into my thirties. Anyways, so that was the first lesson. The other thing was she was so intellectually alive, and always always trying to learn new things like taking courses… And the first week that I got there, she had a birthday party for herself and she had a bunch of friends over. They had this discussion about what was the best American novel and they asked me my opinion, which I felt completely unqualified to give. I mean I had an opinion, but what struck me was like how intellectual they all were. And they weren’t all college professors, I mean she was a teacher but it’;s not like they had… It’s not like their profession was predominantly intellectual professions. They just were intellectual. It's just really… something that I think about everyday, that I just want to keep learning. And I really learned that from her.