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Book, Stories about life in Denmark

恭喜發財! The ‘How to Live in Denmark’ Chinese version is now available.

After a process that seemed to take longer than building the Great Wall, the Chinese version of ‘How to Live in Denmark’ is finally available, just in time for Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Goat, an auspicious year for creative enterprises. 恭喜發財!

Thanks to my Singapore-based translator, John Zhao, as well as the many Denmark-based Chinese speakers who took time to help me out! I appreciate it.

You can access the eBook version here on the site or via Apple’s iBooks store. (Due to an agreement with the Chinese government, Amazon does not support Chinese for Kindle Direct Publishing.) It’s also available via the Danish online bookstore, Saxo.com.

A print version of the How to Live in Denmark Chinese version will be available March 1.

Please contact me if you’re interested in a volume package to distribute to your student or work organization,  of if you’re interested inviting me to China (I would be happy to visit my old colleagues at the South China Morning Post) or having me stage a live ‘How To Live in Denmark’ event.

Podcasts

More Snow Tomorrow: Surviving Winter as a Foreigner in Denmark

 

Everyone suffers a little bit during the winter in Denmark. But I feel particularly bad for people I can see come from warmer climates, and are experiencing one of their first winters here.

In Copenhagen the other day, I saw a pretty young woman – she looked like a newlywed – wearing traditional Pakistani dress. A light chiffon tunic, soft pajama pants, little leather slippers – and then a giant parka over the top. All around her was grey, slushy snow. I got the sense that she was a new bride whose husband hadn’t really given her the full story about Denmark and Danish winter. She looked so cold and unhappy.

I also feel bad for the African migrant workers I see here. They’re often wearing kind of cool-looking leather jackets, which they probably get when they pass through Italy, and not much else in the way of winter clothing. I sometimes see one of these dark guys fighting his way through a white cloud of windy snow. And the look on his face is not full of love for Denmark.

Of course, immigrants to Denmark adapt to the cold after a while. I think Muslim women have it best, because they often wear a head covering every day anyway.

Danes, on the other hand, often go bare-headed all winter.

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Podcasts

Inequality in Denmark: Private Schools and Migrants Who Sleep in Sandboxes

 

I was on Danish morning TV recently, which isn’t really something to boast about. In a country of 5 million people, 10 guests a show, 365 days a year – you do the math. Just about everyone gets on TV sooner or later.

Some of my friends and colleagues mentioned that they had seen me, stumbling through with my imperfect Danish, trying to promote my book, How to Live in Denmark. But just some of my friends and colleagues. Specifically, it was my friends and colleagues who work in trendy creative industries – advertising, app designers, actors.

That’s because I was on TV at 8:45 in the morning, when people in those industries are just getting out of bed in preparation to roll into the office around 10.

My friends who have more conventional office jobs, like working in a bank, have to be their desk at 9am, so some of them had seen teasers – you know, coming up next, someone who doesn’t speak Danish properly, trying to promote a book – but they hadn’t seen the show itself.

And my friends who do real, physical work had no idea I was on TV at all. Airport tarmac staff, postal carriers, builders. They start work at 7am. Or even earlier, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had your deep sleep interrupted by a Danish builder banging on something outside your house at, say, 5:30 in the morning.

While there’s no official class system in Denmark, there is when it comes to working hours. And working clothing – people who work with their hands often wear blue jumpsuits to and from work, or painters pants, or bright fluorescent vests if they work outside in the dark. People in the creative industries wear aggressively ugly eyeglasses, and unusual shoes, and the men have chic little Hugo Boss scarves around their necks.

Different clothes, different starting times, that’s not big news, but recently other forms of inequality have been increasing in Denmark. In fact, according to the official Danish Statistics, the GINI coefficient, which measures inequality in Denmark, has been rising faster than in any other country in Europe. It’s now 27.9, compared with 22 at the turn of the century.

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Podcasts

Cat Bites and Dental Vacations: The Ups and Downs of the Danish Health Care System

 

I’ve just arrived back in Denmark after a couple of weeks in the US and the night I got back, my cat bit me. This was not just a little affectionate peck – Fluffy used her sharp teeth, her fangs, to create four bleeding puncture wounds in my leg. I suppose it was partly my fault – I put a call on speakerphone. Fluffy doesn’t like speakerphone, because she can hear a person, but she can’t see one, so she assumes I’m some evil magician who has put a person inside a little glowing box, and she bites me.

So I was bleeding, and I did what I did the last time she bit me….which was a couple of months ago, the last time I used speakerphone: I called 1813, the Danish government’s non-emergency line for off-hour medical situations.

I waited about 5 minutes for a nurse to take the call, and she asked me some questions about the size and location of the bite, and whether or not I’d had a tetnus shot recently. I hadn’t, so she made an appointment for me at the local emergency room for about an hour later.

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Stories about life in Denmark

How to Learn Danish: At first, I could only understand the puppets

I speak Danish. I have lived in Denmark for more than a decade, and I speak it reasonably well, or at least well enough to appear in my daughter’s school play in a Danish-speaking role. Other foreigners frequently ask me for my advice on how to learn Danish.

It wasn’t easy. For the first few years, I made plenty of mistakes.

Thrown out the window
Like, for example, the time when I was forced to quickly leave a sublet apartment, and told everybody that I was not thrown out (smidt ud) but thrown out the window (kastet ud.) Or like the time I went past the Fødevareministeriet (Agricultural Ministry) and, getting fødevarer confused with fodtøj, wondered why Denmark had such a big ministry for shoes.

That was before I coughed up for a private teacher, which was much better than the government-funded Danish-language schools I went through. Their programs were clearly designed for a 1963 type of immigrant: one made us repeat over and over, supposedly as a pronunciation drill, “Jeg arbejder på en fabrik i Vanløse.” (“I work in a factory on the outskirts of town.”) They also insist on lumping candidates from all countries in a single class, being politically unwilling to accept that someone from Sweden might learn Danish a little faster than someone from Korea. As each day’s class enters its third hour, the Swedish girl is drawing pictures in her notebook, while the guy from Korea is lost and gradually losing the will to live.

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Podcasts

Donald Duck, Anti-depressants and the Myth of Danish Happiness

 

Whenever I hear that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, I think of Donald Duck.

Donald Duck is extremely popular in Denmark, as he is in all Nordic countries. He is much more popular than Mickey Mouse. He even has his own Danish name – Anders And. Which means, basically, Anders the Duck.

I don’t know how much you know about Disney characters, but Donald Duck – or Anders Duck – is kind of a second-class citizen. While Mickey Mouse is the perfect gentleman, outgoing and take charge, the face of Disney, Donald is lazy. He likes to come up with clever ways to avoid work, or avoid any exercise whatsoever. He’s often short-tempered, and jealous of Mickey.

Donald Duck is an underdog, and Danes identify with the underdog. They identify with the idea of low expectations, and then being pleasantly surprised when things turn out well.

This is the secret to Danish happiness. While Americans might identify with bright, happy Mickey, there’s a lot of room for disappointment if your bright, happy plans don’t work out the way you hoped they would.

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Podcasts

Cheating on Mother Nature: Danes and Environmentalism

 

It’s been a beautiful autumn here in Denmark. Golden sun and blue skies, red and yellow and orange leaves on the trees. Just gorgeous. And unusually warm for Denmark. It’s always exciting when, instead of wearing your winter coat every day from October to April, you can wear it every day from November to April.

But this unusually pleasant weather can’t help but spark conversation about global warming. So far the biggest impact climate change has had in Denmark are some severe rainstorms, when end up flooding a lot of basements and overwhelming a lot of sewer systems. It’s intriguing to think that plumbers may become the great heroes of the twenty-first century.

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Podcasts

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. There are no young Bentes. 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.

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Podcasts

Are you a good foreigner or a bad foreigner? How the Danes categorize newcomers to Denmark

 

Have you ever seen the movie The Wizard of Oz? It’s a classic. When Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, the first thing she’s asked is – are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

I was having lunch with a friend this week. Over club sandwiches she said, its a shame there’s only one word for foreigner in Danish, when actually there are two types of foreigner here.

I got her point, even though I think there’s only one word for ‘foreigner’ in most languages. What she was really saying is, there’s no single way in Danish to say, Are you a good foreigner, or a bad foreigner?

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Events, Stories about life in Denmark

Book Kay for a How To Live in Denmark Live Event

Would your business or school group enjoy a How To Live in Denmark live event?

How To Live in Denmark events are designed to make international employees feel more comfortable in Denmark, help them understand the Danish mindset, and give them something to chat about with their Danish colleagues besides just ‘shop talk.’

We use the format of TV game shows – which are popular around the world – to put participants at their ease and get them interacting with each other. ‘How To Live in Denmark Jeopardy’, shown above, is one of our most popular games.

Contact Kay via this site’s contact form for more information.

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