Out of the Bubble

Jean Finsen, USA

A bowl of bananas

Jean Finsen lives in Berkeley Heights in New Jersey together with her Danish husband and their dog. Her husband works for an international firm based in Denmark. We talk on the porch of their pleasant suburban house while birds sing and squirrels play in the garden.

On a normal day the alarm goes off at 6:30, and we hit the snooze button a couple of times. I get up first, shower, get dressed, put the coffee-pot on and take our dog Freddie for a walk. I don't eat breakfast, but I have a cup of coffee and a cigarette. I watch CNN, read the paper and go to work.

I work for a non-profit organisation helping old and handicapped people. I used to work with fundraising, but at present I mainly do marketing. Sometimes I spend a week stuffing envelopes with letters and sorting the mail, at other times it is much more creative. Right now I do a lot of visiting to doctors and senior centres promoting our services.

Typically I lunch at my desk, I usually bring what we have had for dinner the night before and heat it in the microwave oven. I worked in the corporate world for a long time, and this is very different. I think it is a quite stress-free environment. It is not my career, it is a job, and I enjoy it.

I leave work at three and come home, change my clothes and take Freddie for a walk. Then I do some gardening, cut the grass, do the laundry or just sit and read a book. On Monday afternoons I typically relax because I'm tired. When Jens comes home we sit and talk about our day, take the dog for a walk and have dinner in front of the television, it is nice just to sit and watch some mindless TV. Then we go to bed and read for a while. I prepare everything at night to get half an hour in the morning to drink coffee and read the paper.

I like to have time by myself, perhaps because I grew up in a big family. When Jens goes on business trips I don't make arrangements to be with other people.

Now I have both Wednesdays and Fridays off. I spend Fridays cleaning so I will not have to do it during the weekend, and I will line up some new projects in the house to stay busy.

Friday nights we usually put a movie on. On Saturdays we like to sleep in, do some errands and yard work. Saturday night we spend with friends or we cook a nice dinner together and have a bottle of wine, and sometimes I make Jens play a game. Sundays we like to spend together.

Most holidays and vacations we are with our families either here or in Denmark.

A happy childhood

I am the youngest of five siblings. My brother Mike is two years older than I am, and we fought like cats and dogs to the point where my poor mother just wanted to kill both of us.

Family vacations going to a house in New Hampshire in the summer is a big memory. My father would injure himself every single summer. One year we played baseball, and he slid into second base which was a telephone pole and broke his ankle, but then he was on crutches and we didn't have to wait for tables on restaurants. Another year he had a big fishing hook stuck in his hand, and we had to take him off to the emergency room. That was kind of a family joke.

My dad travelled a lot for business, and he used to bring me chocolate when he came home. I remember this huge chocolate bar that he brought me back from somewhere in South America. - It is funny things you remember.

It was a happy childhood. We played with kids in the neighbourhood, but we were also many ourselves and had "built in playmates". My sister and I used to play war in the wood behind our house. We also used to go swimming in the brook, and our dog Kelly came with us. Back then we could leave the house and stay away for hours, and our mom wasn't worried.

I have also lived in Texas and in Illinois, but we moved to Basking Ridge in New Jersey when I was nine, and I really don't have many memories before that.

My third grade teacher was said to be so mean that she would kill you so that you had to go to the graveyard near the school. Actually she was not mean at all.

I remember trying out for cheerleading in eight grade but I didn't make the squad and that was a great disappointment. When I was going home a guy who was very good looking hit me in the head with a Frisbee, it didn't hurt, but I started crying because I had just suffered this huge loss.

I skipped school for the first time when I was in junior high. My friends and I spent the whole day in the woods just to do it. The next day I had to pretend to be sick to get a note from my mother, so that I could get back to school.

In eight and ninth grade we would also start experimenting with alcohol by taking a little bit from each bottle in your parents liqueur cabinet and trying to drink it. I remember one time drinking so much rum and Diet Coke, that I could not touch a Diet Coke for weeks.

My first relationship with a boy was in ninth grade. He was white but had this Afro hairdo. There were only few black families in the whole town it was a very white, Anglo Saxon community and we were all privileged upper-middle-class kids. When we turned seventeen we either had a car, or there was a family car we could borrow. Whatever you needed you had.

I was brought up Catholic, but when my oldest brother grew up and was supposed to take us kids to church, he would drop us at the church and come back to pick us up after the service. As we grew up, we all did the same thing.

The Basking Ridge Bubble

It was not until we grew older that we realised how privileged we were. When we were seniors in high school, we called it "the Basking Ridge Bubble". It was a nice childhood with loving parents who stayed together. The five of us kids got along, and we like the spouses every one has picked. We don't have many family problems. I often talk with my siblings on the phone and I e-mail with them. I am thankful for that.

After high school I went to Ithaca College upstate New York. It was very Jewish and very Long Island. I lived with two Jewish girls who were friends, they turned out to be nice girls and we ended up getting on fine, but it was a big adjustment for all three of us. After a semester I moved in with a girl from Maine whose father was a minister.

I met many fun people in college. We went to a lot of bars and smoked a lot of pot, but I also managed to get pretty good marks. I studied communications, which are liberal arts with a little bit of everything and an emphasis on English. But I didn't know what I wanted to do, and after two years I felt that I was wasting my time and my parents' money.

I had various odd jobs for some time, but then my mother suggested that I would need a "marketable skill". She had gone to Katharine Gibbs, which is a very good secretarial school, and I went there for nine months. They were very keen on making you a good secretary prepared for the corporate world. We had to wear skirts and stockings, and they drilled language and business skills into your heads. It was not fun, but it was good.

An eye opener

I got a job in a private company, where I worked in the internal audit department. In my twenty-year-old eyes everybody was very old and very conservative. I stayed for a bit more than half a year then I couldn't stand it any longer.

After that I got a job working for a sales manager in a sports clothes company. That was a great place, everybody was young and we would be social together. I also went to shows where I would walk around in the firm's clothes and sneakers. We went out together, and it was like having twenty big brothers, who were all very protective with me. Then the company moved to South Carolina, but I didn't want to live there.

So I decided to go back to college and finish up my degree. I went to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, and this was good. I took my studies more seriously now because I was older and didn't live on campus. But I still had a nice group of school friends.

After college I drove around in my own car and sold bottled ice tea for poor pay for a year. Then I became marketing assistant in a firm selling kids' shoes, I got into working on their catalogue and that was fun. But unfortunately the company didn't do well financially. Then I had a job as a business concierge at a conference centre, I really enjoyed that, it is nice to help people. But I left again, perhaps because I had been doing it for too long.

Then I took a job in an insurance company where I spent a couple of years working with my present boss and also got to do some travelling. The firm was good at giving back to the community, and I got into welfare projects for inner city black and Hispanic people. Volunteering in a soup kitchen and organising Christmas presents for poor families was an eye opener, which really made me aware of how good my own life is. But because of a big realignment of the divisions in the company, my group was dissolved and five hundred of us lost our jobs. I got a nice package and spent some time doing projects around our house.

After that I wrote stories for the local newspaper for six or nine months. Two years ago I got the job in the non-profit organisation, where I work now.

One of the best things I did

I met Jens seven years ago on February 28th, I was with two friends from high school, we went to a Mexican restaurant, Jens was part of the group and I thought he was cute. He kissed me, and I gave him my phone number, but he never called me. I had my friend from high school arrange that we meet several times, and Jens finally called and invited me for dates.

We lived together for at good amount of time, then he asked me to marry him, I said yes, and we got married in July 1999.

One of our dreams is to have a little antique shop some day, but Jens would have to keep his job because of the salary and the health insurance. We would also like to move to get a little more space. If Jens could get a job-transfer, we might move to a new country or a different part of this country. - I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

Marrying Jens was one of the best things I did, it means that now I have a Danish family and get to live with them for periods of time. In this way I learn about different customs and traditions in a way that you could not do by going on a holiday in Denmark.

The only difficulty is that I do not speak Danish, going to Jens' brothers wedding I lost out on the speeches and songs. This I could of course do something about, and every time I am in Denmark I decide to do so, but when the plane touches ground in Newark I tend to forget it.

I also enjoy that Jens works for an international firm and that we meet lots of people from different countries because of that.

July 2004

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