This week's How To Live in Denmark Podcast:
Danes and Technology: The Homeless Man Has an iPhone

Danish Vikings:
They Don't Live Here any More

Kay's Stories about Living in Denmark

If you enjoy the podcasts and this website, you may also enjoy the new How To Live in Denmark book, now available for download from Amazon.
The book is an easy-to-read collection of about 30 essays from the first year of the How To Live in Denmark podcast, which premiered in summer 2013. There’s also an extra essay with a little bit more personal information about me, such as how I first came to Denmark.

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What I like about Denmark: More time for kids and less stuff to clean

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a Danish woman who now lives in Germany. She says that this podcast helps her keep in touch with life back home, but that she doesn’t really like it.

She writes: “I have to tell you, that almost every story has a negative ring to it when you portray your thoughts on Denmark and Danes. I cannot shake the feeling, that you really deep down, do not like Danes or Denmark. I find this sad, as you have been living there now over a decade.”

Lady – I won’t say your name on the air – but you’re full of baloney. Of course I like Denmark. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I do have a pretty nice country to go back to. I’m not a refugee.

I like living in Denmark, for a lot of different reasons.

‘Time with family’ doesn’t mean you’ve been fired
One of them is that people here have a lot of time to spend with their children.

There’s a cliché in the U.S. business world of the CEO who quits because ‘I want to spend more time with my family’. That always means he’s been fired.

But in Denmark, people really do want to spend a lot of time with the people they care about. I think that’s one reason why a lot of people here are not very ambitious – because getting ahead means working a lot of hours, and they want their free time.

The pace of life in Denmark is much slower than it is in the US, or the UK. There’s much less competitiveness, which can be a good and a bad thing. There’s never a feeling of fighting to get through the day.

In New York, everybody wanted everything you had, all the time
Before I lived in Copenhagen, I lived in Manhattan, and there, everybody wanted your job, everybody wanted your apartment, everybody wanted your boyfriend, everybody wanted your seat at the restaurant – everybody wanted everything you had, all the time. Denmark is much more relaxing.

And people have much less stuff here. The taxes are so high that you can’t buy a lot of stuff. People don’t go shopping just for fun. So people have fewer things, but better things. That means less clutter, and less stuff to clean, which is always a positive in my book.

Hear more in the full podcast What I like about Denmark: More time for kids and less stuff to clean in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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More thoughts on Danish summer: The downside of the ‘light times’

If you’re in Denmark right now, you’ll know that we’re coming up on the year’s longest day this week. June 21. You know it because it starts getting light at 4 in the morning, and the sun doesn’t go down until 10:30 or 11 at night and then you’re up again at 4 in the morning. In between it never gets really dark, just like in December it never gets very light.

During the dark times, I know that I wait and wait for the light times to come. Sometimes I count – only 3 more months until the light times! Only 6 more weeks to the light times!

When the light times do get here, they’re actually kind of annoying. Sure, it’s great to have some sun, and I love those long summer evenings, and the green trees, and the wildflowers. But with all that light, it’s kind of difficult to sleep.

Everyone I know has blackout curtains and wears sleep masks. They don’t always work, though, particularly when it’s hot, and people start to get a bit crabby after a few weeks of limited sleep. The fact that it’s light until 11pm is great on a Saturday night, but not so great on a Tuesday, when you have a 9am meeting the next day.

Hear more in the full podcast More thoughts on Danish summer: The downside of the ‘light times’ in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Danes and Swedes: The world’s worst haircuts are Swedish

I don’t regret many things in life, but I do regret not going to a party I was invited to almost 14 years ago.

That was in 2000, when I first arrived in Denmark. It was a party to mark the opening of the Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden. There were no cars on the bridge yet, so you could easily walk or bike between these two countries that had been bitter enemies for hundreds of years.

At one point, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden – who were both young and unmarried at time – met and shared a hug and kiss in the center of the bridge, right across the national dividing line.

Now, that’s a party.

I won’t be able to walk or bike across the Øresund Bridge any time soon. A half million cars per month drive over it now, plus a train every 20 minutes, full of commuters.

The Prussians of the North
In some ways, the Øresund bridge has brought Denmark and Sweden closer together. Danes buy vacation homes in Southern Sweden. Swedes come to attend university in Denmark. Danes go shopping in Sweden, because almost everything is cheaper there. As a matter of fact, the only thing cheaper in Denmark than in Sweden is alcohol.

Still, Swedes and Danes are very different peoples. Danes still eat rye bread, Swedes eat flatbread. Danes eat sausages, Swedes eat meatballs.

And Danes, as cold as they may seem to outsiders, are still more outgoing than the Swedes. Among Scandinavians, Danes are sometimes called the Italians of the North. They know how to sit down, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy life.

Swedes, on the other hand, are known as the Prussians of the North. They’re tall. They stand up straight. They follow rules. And the men have terrible haircuts.swedish_hair

Hear more in the full podcast Danes and Swedes: The world’s worst haircuts are Swedish in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Danes and Technology: The Homeless Man has an iPhone

Ordinarily don’t get my technology news from the local newspaper sold by the homeless in Denmark, but I did this week.

First of all, I learned that you can pay your homeless newspaper seller by text message. If you don’t have loose change, as I often don’t, you can send a text to the newspaper seller’s registration number, along with the amount you want to give him, and the seller gets paid right away.

Secondly, I learned that some homeless people in Denmark have iPhones. exprodplain

Not my particular seller, but another reader had written a letter to the editor of the newspaper saying he’d try to buy a paper the previous week, but that his seller had been too wrapped up in his iPhone to pay attention to a potential customer.

The letter writer was asking if it made sense to spend 20 crowns on a newspaper to help a man who had a phone worth at least 2000 crowns.

The newspaper had a good response. They said an iPhone was a perfect device for a homeless person. It allowed him to keep all the information he needed in one place – government documents, health records, family photos. And it was a way for him to get phone calls and emails related to housing or jobs.

I thought that was a very sensible approach.

The CPR is a national menace.
As I’ve said on other podcasts, the Danes are very practical people, and they use IT for all manner of practical things. For example, there’s a new app you can get from your kommune that allows you to immediately report things that need repairing around town.

You know, you come across a park bench that’s broken, and you just hit the app, send the GPS co-ordinates, and it’s immediately reported to the right person. How long it will take them to fix it is another question – it is the kommune after all – but at least it’s reported.

Yet, as sensible as it is, Denmark remains invested in the CPR system. As those of you who live here know, the country’s IT systems are all based around something called the CPR – the central person register.

Everyone has a CPR number, and you use it for everything – for banking, for the doctor, for school, for taking books out of the library. Lots of people have your CPR, and if they don’t, it’s pretty easy to guess. Your CPR number is your birthday, plus the century your card was issued in, plus 2 random numbers, plus your gender. Did you know that – men have uneven CPR numbers, and women have even numbers? I did not, until I looked it up.

Anyway, the CPR was probably high tech in 1968 when it was first introduced. But in an age of cybercrime, I think it’s now a national menace.

Hear more in the full podcast Danes and Technology: The Homeless Man has an iPhone in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Danes and Norwegians: Bitter envy and brotherly love

Danes and Norwegians were part of the same country for hundreds of years, and they’re still family.

Written Danish and written Norwegian are very similar – so similar that I once tried to find a Danish-Norwegian dictionary and was told there was no such thing. The spoken language is a little more different, but still Danes and Norwegians can understand what the other is saying.

Danes and Norwegians like each other. They care about each other. They even sometimes cheer for each other’s football teams.

But like any family, there’s envy involved. Envy.

For example, there’s envy of each other’s geographical pleasures. Norway has beautiful mountains, great for skiing. Denmark has windswept beaches, which the Norwegians seem to love. Lots of summer holidays in Denmark.

Oil and a glass of whisky
The real envy, of course, is about money. Norway has money, because of North Sea oil. There is a feeling among Danes that some of that oil should have been Danish oil.

During a meeting to divide up the waters between the two countries in 1963, the Danish negotiator Per Haakerup was photographed with a glass of whisky in his hand.

The rumor is he was drunk during the meeting, and gave up the Ekofisk oilfield to Norway, which has earned billions of dollars from it.

Hear more in the full podcast Danes and Norwegians: Bitter envy and brotherly love in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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At How To Live in Denmark.com, I get a fair amount of email from Muslims who have written to me, asking if Denmark is a good place for them to live. It is a good place. All the things that are good about Denmark for other people – that it’s a peaceful country, a safe country, a country where you can earn a good living and still have time for your family – are also good for Muslims. I also tell the people who write to me that, in a multicultural world, it’s fair enough to ask the Danes to adapt to and accept different ways of living, but you have to adapt, too.

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Summerhouse or dollhouse? What to expect if you’re invited to a Danish summer home

If you live in city or a big town in Denmark, you may notice that the weekends are getting very quiet just about now.

The streets outside my home in Copenhagen are empty. The streetlights just change from red to green and back again, but no cars ever pull up. Nobody comes to cross the street. It’s a little like a scene a movie right after the zombie apocalypse.

This is because all the Danish people have gone to their summerhouses.

On Friday afternoons, Danish people like to pack up their cars, drive out to the countryside, and spend the weekend in conditions that are sometimes quite primitive. Every summerhouse is different, but most of them seem to have questionable plumbing, odd sleeping arrangements, and chipped dishes and glassware. 6921657-et-liv-i-sus-og-dus-i-mormors-kolonihavehus---1

The Danish summerhouse is an old tradition – 400 years ago, the government started offering small plots of land to the industrial workers who lived in crowded, sooty slums. The idea was that they could get away into the clean, fresh air on weekends, and grow healthy vegetables.

Fast forward to now, and very few people grow vegetables on their plots. Instead, these small summerhouse plots have become little kingdoms, with neatly clipped hedges all around and lots of lawn chairs and flowerbeds and bird feeders. In the center is a tiny, tiny house – usually not more than 50 square meters, or 400 square feet – where the entire family spends the summer.

imagesThis little doll house is almost always lovingly taken care of. Freshly-painted wooden facades, sparkling windows, flowery curtains. I’ve also seen elaborate ones: one near my house has a copper roof, like a courthouse or a cathedral. When I was looking at real estate ads for this story, I saw another one that had been fitted with big white columns like the mansion house in Gone With the Wind.

But as fancy as they are, they are small. There’s usually room for one double bed, or a fold-out couch, and then maybe there’s a loft where a couple more people can sleep, maybe a porch for one or two more. I would guess that Danish maximum-security prisoners get more sleeping space than ordinary Danes in their summer houses.

Hear more in the full podcastSummerhouse or dollhouse? What to expect if you’re invited to a Danish summer home in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Stories of a Salty: On Returning to Denmark After a Vacation

I’ve been away from the podcast for a couple weeks. I’ve been on vacation in the USA. But I’m back now, and it only takes a few minutes after I arrive at Kastrup airport before something happens to destroy the relaxing effect of 2 weeks off and several thousand kroner spent on spas, hotels and tasty dinners.

The jolt back to reality usually happens at baggage claim, when one of my fellow fliers of the Danish persuasion bumps right into me at the baggage carousel without saying Excuse me, or Pardon, or Entshculdigung, or any of those other nice oops-I’ve-just-run-into-you phrases so common in the rest of the world. For Danes, the standard response after accidentally running into someone is a sullen grunt – HUMPH – along with a sour look of annoyance that you got in their way.

And if I don’t get bumped into in the airport, there’s bound to be a letter from the tax department waiting when I get home. If it’s not the Danish tax department, as it usually is, it’s the American tax department, as it was this time. I came home from my wonderful, relaxing vacation to a completely nonsensical letter from the IRS, written by a machine, and asking for 600 dollars.

But that’s what it’s like when you have a foot in two different countries. You have two different sets of bureaucracy hassling you. And when you go back to your country of origin, it’s alarming sometimes to realize how Danish you are becoming.

I remember when I first came to Denmark and I thought – It’s cute, their cars are so small! Now when I’m in the US, I think Why do they need such big cars?

Don’t get me wrong – I still like going to the United States. Everything’s in English! I don’t have to struggle for the right Danish phrase to say anything.

I like the diversity of the people. I like the fact they’re open and friendly and up for a chat, even if you don’t know them. I like the diversity of the food – like good TexMex food, which you can never find in Denmark.

I love being able to shop in bigger stores, with more variety and cheaper prices, and sales assistants who actively want to help you buy things. This compares well to Danish customer service people, who are best known for greeting customers with a sullen grunt – HUMPH – along with a sour look of annoyance that you got in their way.

Hear the full podcast returning to Denmark in Stories of a Salty: On Returning to Denmark after a Vacation in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Denmark is a pretty good place to raise children. Working hours are short, and it’s perfectly OK to leave work at 3 or 4 o’clock to pick up your kids. There’s a good system for early childhood health. And there’s the day care system, which is inexpensive and well-run. It’s also a form of social engineering, creating that equality and community spirit that everyone prizes in Denmark. Day care is the first step in making your child more Danish than wherever you come from.

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The Little Mermaid is Highly Disappointing: Better ideas for visitors to Denmark

It’s spring in Denmark. The evenings are brighter, the winds aren’t quite as chilly, and the wild blue anemone flowers are bursting up through the grass. And the tourists are on the way. Understandably, Denmark attracts most of its tourists during the spring and summer, when you don’t need to pack heavy winter clothing. Although maybe you do – it depends on the summer.

Anyway, the tourists will be coming, and some of those visitors to Denmark may be related to you. What do you do with them? They want the Danish experience.

Based on my 14 years of showing parents, aunts, former colleagues, old college roommates and friends of friends around Denmark, these are my tips. They’re a bit Copenhagen-centeric, but I think most of them can be applied throughout Denmark. And if your listen to the podcast itself, I’ll tell you about an amazing new museum I just found last week.

Start the morning with Danish pastries
First of all, start your tourists in the morning with a trip to the local bakery where they can pick out their own Danish pastry. Or 2 or 3 pastries. I know it’s called Wienerbrod – Viennese bread – but Danish pastries really are some of the best in the world. And some coffee, or black tea. Carbs and caffeine will set your tourists up well for the day’s busy program.

Once your tourists are energized, now is the time to take them walking. Walk them around the old city center, and past the largest, most visible historical monuments in your town. In Copenhagen, you can take them up the Round Tower or to the Queen’s Palace. In Aarhus, maybe tour the Gamle By, in Odense visit Hans Christian Andersen’s home.

Now, part of this trip may take them down a shopping street. This is critical – don’t let them shop yet, or they’ll be carrying bags around all day. Or, if it’s your mom, you’ll be carrying bags around all day. Save the shopping for another time.

Men like Viking artifacts
After you’ve seen the city and the major sites, it might be time for an early lunch. If the weather is good, a picnic in the park is great. Denmark has beautiful parks. Maybe buy a some Danish open-faced sandwiches and some drinks.

If your visitors are elderly – or if they’re rich and will be picking up the tab – a touristy restaurant with Danish food is another option.

Your tourists are now re-energized, so now is a great time for the local museum. I find that men are usually most interested in the Viking artifacts, you know iron sticks with points on the end, while women are more excited about the art and glass museums.

See the Little Mermaid from a boat, with beers
After a day of walking and museums, I recommend a boat trip. You guests can sit down with a chilled Danish beer and see the city from the water. In Copenhagen, these boat trips are a great way to see Denmark’s most disappointing tourist attraction, the statue of the Little Mermaid.

If you’ve seen it, you know the Little Mermaid is only about four feet tall – that’s 1.25 meters. You probably own pillows that are bigger than the Little Mermaid. But all the boat trips go right by it, so your tourists can get the photos they need for their Instagram or Facebook feeds.

If they want, they can climb out of the boat and onto the slippery rock where the mermaid sits for a photo. That’s best performed before too many beers have been consumed.

Hear the full podcast about taking tourists around Denmark in The Little Mermaid is Highly Disappointing: Better ideas for visitors to Denmark in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Raising Children in Denmark: Jantelov begins in day care

If you stay in Denmark for longer than a semester or a single work assignment , you, too, may find yourself having children here, as I have. My daughter is now almost ten years old.

It’s not a bad thing. Denmark is a pretty good place to raise children. Working hours are shorter, and it’s perfectly OK to leave work at 3 or 4 o’clock to pick up your kids. There’s a good system for early childhood health. A nurse visits to your home when your child is a baby, and then there are regular checkups with doctor. If your child has the sniffles, you can take off work and stay home with her – the first two days are paid.

And, of course, there’s the day care system. It’s not free, but it’s reasonably priced, and it’s nice to be able to drop off your kid in a safe place with trained people while you go to work.

In some countries, there’s a lot of controversy about whether very young children should be in day care or at home with their parents. Not in Denmark. 97% of kids go to day care, even the children of the Royal Family. Even the future king, currently known as the eight-year-old Prince Christian, went to day care.

Everyone goes to day care partly because the Danish tax structure means both parents have to go to work.

But Danish day care is also social engineering. It’s about creating that equality and community spirit that everyone prizes in Denmark. Day care is the first step in making your child more Danish than wherever you come from.

No elite education, no competition
The Jante Law is part of all Danish education. There’s no elite education here, no advanced, or gifted and talented programs. If you child is better than the others at a certain subject, his job is to help the students who are not as good.

If you come from a very competitive society – the US, the UK, China, India – that can be a bit of a shock. There’s no competition in Danish education. The kids work in groups. There are no competitive schools you have to fight to get into. There’s no standardized testing until the kids are 15 or 16. And there are relatively few tests within the daily school lessons.

In Danish school, your child’s social life is considered what’s most important. Does she have friends? Can she get along with the other children in the class? Does he like to go to school? Does he fit in?

The idea is that if a child is socially comfortable in school, if he or she wants to go to school, then academic success will follow.

Hear the full podcast about raising children in Denmark Raising Children in Denmark: Jantelov begins in day care in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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The Things I Do Double: Thoughts on Denmark’s offer of Double Citizenship

There was big news this week for foreigners in Denmark. It looks dual citizenship will soon be permitted. Previously, if you wanted to be a Danish citizen, you had to give up citizenship in your home country.

Meanwhile Danes who had moved abroad, say to the US or Australia, and became citizens there had to give up their Danish citizenship.

There’s now been a proposal to get rid of all that. It hasn’t been finally approved, but all the Danish parties say they’ll vote for it, with the exception of our anti-foreigner friends in the Danish People’s Party.

Now having been here for 14 years, I will probably apply for Danish citizenship. I realize I’ll have to do a lot of studying about Danish history, and learn things like the difference between King Christian the Fourth and King Christian the Seventh.

But that’s true of any country. I’m sure people wanting to be American citizens have to learn the difference between, say, George Washington and George Bush.

Carrying the Danish flag
I want to be a Danish citizen for a lot of different reasons. Right now, my ‘permanent’ residence permit expires if I’m out of the country for more than a year. That could easily happen if I travel, or have a family crisis back in the US.

Also my daughter has no rights here. She was born here, and has only lived here, but she has no residence rights here, or right to attend university here. Under the current law, she’d have to apply for a Danish residence permit when she turns 18, and there’s no guarantee she’d get it.

If I’m a double citizen, she can become a double citizen. And if she’s a double citizen, it means she can carry the Danish flag in her girls marching band. Right now she’s not allowed.

Hear the full podcast about dual citizenship in Denmark The Things I Do Double: Thoughts on Denmark’s offer of Double Citizenship in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Salaam and Goddag: Denmark for Muslims

There’s a new mosque opening down the street from me this spring, a big one. It will be the first mosque with minarets in Denmark, although the minarets are legally prohibited from calling to prayer.

The people behind the mosque are doing everything they can to blend in with the local neighborhood – they even went to observe at a local church service a couple of Sundays ago. They were probably the only ones there.

There are a lot of Muslims in Denmark, about 250,000 out of a Danish population of 5-and-a-half million, most of who have arrived here in the past 40 years, or their descendants.

And contrary to what the Danish right-wing parties might say, they’ve brought a a lot of good things to Denmark, and not just Shwarma shops.

The corner kiosk
Just the fact that corner kiosks exist was a Muslim innovation in Denmark. When I first visited Denmark in 1984, all the shops closed at 5:30 on weekdays and 2pm on Saturdays, and they were closed all day Sunday. If you ran out of milk on a Sunday, you had to borrow from a neighbor or just drink beer until Monday morning. The kiosks run by Muslim immigrants changed all that.

These days, Muslim women in particular have a lot to offer a lot to Danish culture. If you go into any pharmacy in Denmark, you will probably find at least one female pharmacist wearing a headscarf.

I had a similar experience when I did a tour of the Rigshospitalitet, Denmark’s largest and most prestigious hospital, where all the royal babies are born. In the bloodwork division, where they test blood, almost all the workers were Muslim women wearing headscarves.

These jobs are a way for devout Muslim women to enter the medical field without having to touch men, or seen men unclothed. I thought that was great.

As a matter of fact, the statistics show girls from second generation and third generation immigrant backgrounds in Denmark now attain higher educational credentials than ethnic Danes. Now, all those girls are not Muslims, but a lot of them are.

Muslims ask if this is a good place to live
At How To Live in Denmark.com, I get a fair amount of email from Muslims who have write to me, asking if Denmark is a good place for them to live.

It is a good place. All the things that are good about Denmark for other people – that it’s a peaceful country, a safe country, a country where you can earn a good living and still have time for your family – are also good for Muslims.

I also tell the people who write to me that, in a multicultural world, it’s fair enough to ask the Danes to adapt to and accept different ways of living, but you have to adapt and accept, too.

Hear the full podcast about Muslims in Denmark at Salaam and Goddag: Denmark for Muslims in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Danish Stereotypes: The superficial American and the Copenhagen cheater

I don’t date much these days – I’m a single mother with a full-time job and weekly podcast – but back in the days when I did date, I occasionally dated online. Dating online is very popular in Denmark. It seems to be where everyone over the age of 25 meets a partner.

One guy contacted me and said. “You know, an American girl broke my heart very badly once. I hope you’re not like her.”

I never went out with the guy. That’s a hell of a history to live up to. And I believe that’s why a lot of Muslim guys have trouble dating in Denmark. Everyone knows some girl who went out with a good-looking Muslim and it didn’t work out. And you, ordinary Muslim guy, are paying the price for someone else’s heartbreak.

Is that right? No. But Danes, like any other nationality, are not immune to stereotypes.

Now, I see this myself, in my daily life. For example, Danes love stories about American right-wing nutcases. Newspapers are full of them. Whenever some Republican fool says something that makes no sense he is guaranteed front-page treatment in the Danish media. Unborn babies have a right to guns! Top of the Danish news.

Those people do exist in the United States but they’re like what – 3% of the population? There are 350 million of us – we’re entitled to some idiots! But whenever I meet Danes, and they are eager to tell me how much they disapprove of these people.

I’m also told regularly that Americans are superficial. Danes seem particularly upset by the common American greeting ‘How ya doin’?’ “You know, the cashier at Wal-Mart asked me ‘How ya doin’?’, but she didn’t really care how I was doing.”

There are Danish stereotypes about other nationalities as well. Spaniards and Italians are seen as fun and sexy and romantic, but unlikely to arrive on time. Eastern Europeans work too hard, at wages that are much too low, at least by Danish standards. Asian immigrants are seen as OK because they work hard at things Danes aren’t really interested in, like high-level engineering degrees.

Danes also have stereotypes about other Nordic people. Norwegians are seen as happy, friendly people with a humorous language. Everything sounds funny in Norwegian because everything sounds like singing.

Swedes are seen as kind of stiff, humorless types who can’t dance, and can’t hold their liquour. Finns are silent, angry drunks that carry knives. Oddly, given their history, Danes really like Germans. Really, really like the Germans. Many Danes will say that Berlin is their favorite town.

Danes also have stereotypes about each other, something that amazed me when I first arrived here. You have 5 million people, and you’re dividing yourselves into groups! But Danes themselves see a big difference between people from Sjelland, the island with Copenhagen on it, and Jylland, the bigger part of Denmark that is connected to Germany.

Learn more about Danish stereotypes: listen to the podcast Danish Stereotypes: The superficial American and the Copenhagen cheater in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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Danish Names: Why Bent is not bent, and why it’s bad to be Brian

Danish first names are very strongly stratified by age.

Ole and Finn and Knud and Kaj and Jørn and Jørgen and to some extent Poul and Per, are almost always over 50. Their female counterparts, their wives and sisters and secret lovers, are Inger and Karin and Kirsten and Ulla.

Or Bente. A nearly guaranteed old ladies’ name is Bente. Or Bent, the male equivalent. Being named Bent is a problem for Danes who travel, because in many English-speaking countries, ‘bent’ is old-fashioned slang for ‘gay.’

In those countries, if you hold out your hand and say, ‘Hi, I’m Bent,’ you may get an unexpected reaction.

I once knew a Danish executive named Bent who was sent to work in the UK, once. While he was there, he called himself Ben – no ‘t’. He even had ‘Ben’ put on his business cards.

There’s always a Søren

If you’re in business, it’s good to have these insights about names before you go to a meeting, because you can get an idea who’s going to be on the other side of the table.

If it’s Søren or Mette you’re going to meet with, it’s someone mid-career, maybe in their 40s. When I first got to Denmark, I used to joke that you could get into any party by saying “Yeah, I’m a good friend of Søren” because there was always a Søren. Pia, Rikke, Trine, Pernille, Jesper, Steen, Kim, these are the middle-aged, middle-management names of Denmark today.

But if you’re supposed to meet with Rasmus or Sofie or Maja or Magnus, you’re probably going to be talking to someone younger, and potentially smarter, than you are. These are the names of Danish people in their 20s.

Heroic baby names

These days the hippest names to give Danish babies are very old-fashioned Viking names. Valdemar. Gertrude. Holger. Holger Danske is a legendary figure who is supposed to arise from the grave and save Denmark in its difficult moments. The next Holger Danske may be your local day care right now, dribbling organic carrot juice onto his blanket.

Learn more about decoding Danish first names in the podcast ‘How to find a job in Denmark: It’s not easy, but it can be done’ in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.

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