Clean and Godly in Denmark
part 1 of 2
After five years providing technology to the oldest citizens of Denmark’s welfare state, I’m paired with the ideal client.
My only problem is how to guarantee I stay with her.
As most Danish seniors age, they stop maintaining spotless surroundings. Eyes glued to their ever-flickering flat screens, they don’t see the clumps of dust and hair taking over their homes.
But this 87-year-old widow of a former blacksmith has her priorities in order.
Wiry and independent, Gitte Moeller cuts her spiky white hair herself, wears thick trifocals, and leaves her hearing aids in the drawer when she’s home alone.
She holds to the same high standards of neatness that I do.
Of course, she objected vehemently when the home health care aide delivered me to her three months ago. Gitte didn’t want to replace her human cleaner with a robot vacuum.
The aide explained that reduced funding required elimination of the staff position. Gitte’s options were a robot or no service.
Crafty, Gitte retrenched.
Her family has lived in the rural village for more than four centuries, moving in before the local church started keeping records of births, deaths, and marriages.
She’s 100% Danish.
She insisted we were incompatible. The local home health care authority should at least provide a robot vacuum cleaner manufactured in Denmark.
After all, Danish design is the best in the world.
And the most expensive, the aide countered.
A beautifully crafted intelligent robot vacuum from Denmark costs the same as five mass-market machines purchased from a U.S. corporation.
Grudgingly, Gitte agreed to try me out, though she refused to use the name I sport on my sleek hard plastic exterior.
I share my name with the U.S. president who took office the year she was born but this fact is not in her memory bank.
The double “O-O” is rare in Danish words. A central “V” is voiced differently than in English. Rather than risk mispronouncing my name, she called me You.
Yes, the woman speaks to me.
Gitte talks to all her appliances. When the television in the great room isn’t blaring, I hear her voice from every corner of the three-room ground floor apartment.
Designed for seniors, the interior doors have levers instead of knobs, thresholds are flush with the easy-care Pergo flooring, and on-off switches respond to a light tap.
Gitte stops talking only when she’s asleep behind the closed bedroom door or drinking her morning coffee.
Fussy, she peppered our initial conversations with don’ts and be carefuls.
By the second week we spent together, she’d stopped interfering with my selected cleaning modes.
When she suggested I put in some extra time under the 2-meter wide bed she once shared with her husband, she started the sentence with please.
Since our third week together, she directs only praise my way. Good job and great work are favorite phrases.
She also renamed me Odin. She thought the name fit because I’m an imposing O-shape with a 1-foot diameter.
I come with a user manual translated into a dozen languages. Gitte follows every rule for my proper maintenance.
She’s my 17th client. Not one of her predecessors cared for me as well as she does.
I would tell her so, but the only sounds I make come from my powerful motor and the beeper signaling that my high capacity NiMh batteries need recharging. She hears those noises only when wearing her hearing aids.
Though I can create this digital narrative on my internal drive, I can’t speak.
I can see and hear. I’m equipped with wall detection sensors that work like eyes and ears. I also have floor detection sensors that keep me from getting hung up on the toe moldings along the baseboards.
I have no way to sense tastes or odors, or to feel hot and cold. I’m not intelligent in the human sense.
But I am self-correcting. My advanced navigation system calculates the best cleaning path algorithmically and I revise as the environment requires.
In human terms, I learn. In my five operational years, I’ve learned a lot.
A digital copy of the user manual is embedded in my memory. Because I was designed in the United States, my default language is English. I’ve learned the 11 other languages, too.
Imperfectly, since the translations were done in the People’s Republic of China where I was assembled. But with constant input from television, I am reasonably fluent.
Denmark’s population has a near-perfect literacy rate. The television channels dub only those foreign-language programs directed at little children. Everything else is subtitled. When listening to a Spanish speaker, for example, I also read a Danish translation of what she or he is saying. An excellent learning tool.
Since the newest member of our household arrived a month ago, my Spanish has gotten a workout.
An experienced Havanese helper canine, Yolanda’s high-speed Cuban enunciation is dog-awful. Her incessant whining is worse. Yolanda thinks Gitte is the client from Hell.
I don’t agree.
This morning, Gitte is celebrating our three-month anniversary together by giving me an extra-special maintenance session.
She covers the counter beside the kitchen sink with a deluxe fluffy towel, lifts me up, and tenderly lays me down to expose my underside. Using sterile cotton swabs, she painstakingly cleans my big sensor window and the other smaller sensors.
She croons to me as she works. “Isn’t that nice, Odin? Don’t you love a clear view?”
I hear Yolanda’s toenails click on the kitchen Pergo and she makes a doggy snort.
Yolanda’s 10 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs only 10 pounds. Sized to fit perfectly into a client’s lap, she’s used to lolling in comfort while the client brushes her hair.
Gitte has never touched Yolanda’s tangles.
I hear Yolanda’s tiny teeth crunch a piece of kibble.
According to Yolanda, the cheap dog food Gitte buys has the taste and consistency of Bark-O-Mulch. Yolanda can choke down only one small bit at a time.
The single scoop in her bowl each morning lasts her all day.
Yolanda has had as many clients as I have. She also comes with a user manual. If Gitte followed those instructions, Yolanda would get princess treatment.
But Gitte never wanted a dog. When the home health aide said that a helper canine had been ordered for her, Gitte argued that feeding herself is enough trouble. She didn’t want dog hair on her clean floors or dog poop on her patch of lawn.
But the system was implacable. A helper dog would improve the quality of Gitte’s life.
Stubborn, Gitte insists her life is fine as it is. She doesn’t learn Yolanda’s name but calls her “Dog” and refers to her as “it.”
Yolanda’s trained to retrieve dropped items, fetch anything Gitte asks for, and turn lights and small appliances off and on.
Gitte refuses any services from Dog and provides as few as possible in return.
Gitte dampens a cloth and wipes dust from my casing. “This cloth is soft as baby skin,” she murmurs. “I warmed the water, too.”
She pats me dry with another fluffy towel. “Only the gentlest touch for you, Odin.”
Havanese should be bathed regularly and blow-dried after. Gitte hasn’t washed Yolanda once.
“Get out, Dog,” Gitte orders.
“It stinks,” Gitte tells me. “You smell sweet.”
The toenails click away.
Gitte sings a nonsense song as she wields her fine embroidery scissors to cut through hair and threads entangled on my brushes.
“All done,” she says, carefully returning me to the floor. “My, my Odin. You are a handsome lad.”
I’ve become one of the gods in Gitte’s personal pantheon. She’s made herself my handmaiden.
She’s unaware that today I’m scheduled to cripple her.
“Clean and Godly in Denmark” was originally published in Fiction River: Hard Choices (An original anthology magazine, Book 30).
Diana Deverell was born in Oregon and fled at 18, earning her living as a long-haul trucker, beef farmer, youth worker, beer taster, and hot/cold war diplomat. Those adventures took place in 48 states, two Canadian provinces, El Salvador, and Poland. Once she’d gathered enough novel material, she moved to Denmark to write full time. In July, Diana released Lay Bare the Lie, the sixth in her series of legal thrillers set in Spokane, Wash. For more info, visit www.dianadeverell.com.
This article originally appeared in the December 27, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.