Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Beauty: Miss Denmark, the empty museum, and why you shouldn’t expect compliments

I get a little local newspaper in my mailbox every week, and this week – in between the usual stories about which local project has been able to squeeze the biggest subsidy out of the Copenhagen city government – there was an article about the Miss Denmark pageant.

Two teenagers from the neighborhood, one an ethnic Dane and one of Middle Eastern descent, had been selected to represent us in the pageant.

Now that surprised me. I’ve lived here for 15 years, and I’d ever even heard of the Miss Denmark pageant. Denmark is usually not the sort of place where women in bathing suits walk around while fully-dressed men debate their merits.

And quite frankly, most Danes are less interested in the beauty of people than the beauty of things.

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Book a ” Working with Danes / Working with Non-Danes ” event

A multi-cultural workplace can be vital and exciting, with many talents and perspectives. But it also creates challenges when foreigners try to fit into a workplace culture that Danes take for granted.

Why, foreigners wonder, do Danes introduce themselves by simply stating their name, instead of explaining their position and job function? Why does the big boss ride a bike to work when he could certainly afford a car? And why does he help clear the table after our weekly ‘morgenbrød’? Isn’t that the cleaning lady’s job?

Danes may also have work to do when it comes to understanding their foreign colleagues: Why doesn’t he seek everybody’s input before he begins a project? they may wonder. Or: Why won’t she look me in the eye? The presentation Working with Danes / Working with Non-Danes helps both sides examine their own assumptions and move towards a happier working environment.

Kay Xander Mellish arrived in Denmark 15 years ago. A trained journalist and a former member of the communications staff at Danske Bank, Carlsberg Breweries and Saxo Bank, Kay runs her own communications consulting business in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is behind the podcast series ‘How to Live in Denmark’ and is the author of the book ‘How to Live in Denmark‘, available in English and Chinese.

Book Kay for your group

If you represent a corporate or community group and would like to have Kay make a presentation at your location, please get in touch via this site’s contact form for more information. Or read more about Kay’s other events.

Return to the How to Live in Denmark events page

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Arriving in Denmark: Some tips from my experience

August in Denmark brings the first signs of fall: a crisp chill in the air, the changing color of the leaves, the annual posters warning drivers to be aware of small children riding their bikes to school for the first time.

And foreign university students in the local 7-11, asking that their buns be warmed up.

I saw a newly-arrived young American student in my local 7-11 this morning, asking that her newly-purchased bun be warmed. The 7-11 clerk told her sorry, but there were no bun-warming services available at that branch.

She wasn’t too pleased, but it’s always a mistake to expect U.S., U.K., or Asian-level concepts of customer service in Denmark: in this egalitarian country, nobody serves anybody, and if they do they are frequently grumpy about it. You and the store clerk are equals, and nobody’s going to warm anybody’s buns unless it was agreed to in the original deal.

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In the Media

DR.dk: “I er Danish passive med kærligheden”

The How to Live in Denmark project was recently featured on DR.dk, the website of Denmark’s national broadcaster DR.

The journalist chose to focus on love and romance in Denmark. Here are a few translated excerpts:

Having lived in Denmark for 15 years, Mellish has noticed that there are special rules for love here.

“Many of the dating mechanisms that work in the rest of the world don’t work here in Denmark. No one knows who should take the initiative. Women can’t figure out if a man is ‘Danish passive’ or just not interested.”

“Danish men are ‘nice boys’ that won’t go after a girl who doesn’t want them. There’s very little mystery and a woman simply cannot expect a Danish man to seduce her.”

Instead, Mellish has found, romance is facilitated with large amounts of alcohol consumed in the evenings.

“In Denmark, it’s easy to find sex, but hard to find love. People drink a lot of alcohol and go home with someone they don’t know well, and then figure out the day after if they want to get together for coffee.”

Cheating on one’s romantic partner is also common, Mellish says.

“I see a lot of infidelity, and I believe that’s because in Denmark, everything is so secure. There’s no war at the moment, people are financially protected by the welfare state, but you can still be unfaithful! That’s still dangerous! In Denmark, people are so open about sex that there is very little ‘forbidden fruit.’ But forbidden fruit is one of the things that makes sex sexy!”

Read the full Danish-language DR interview featuring How to Live in Denmark. Or read all of our blog posts on dating in Denmark on our dating tag.

Photo: Roman Boed via Creative Commons

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish babies: Rolling royalty and tribal names


Denmark is a small country, and Danish people tend to think small things are good. Small cars. Small homes. Small ambitions when it comes to international team sports. But one thing in Denmark is never small – a baby carriage.

Danes seem to believe that a carriage (or pram) for a new baby should be roughly the size of a hotel room on wheels.

Inside, baby will be wrapped up warm with a fat feather blanket – even in the summer. There will also be room for pillows, books, toys, snacks, diapers and extra clothes in the giant baby carriage.

Danish babies are like rolling royalty. Everything they need is at their tiny fingertips.

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Book an ‘American in Denmark’ presentation

“An American in Denmark” is a humorous after-dinner speech suitable for mixed groups of foreigners and Danes. Kay comes from the U.S. state of Wisconsin, where fourth or fifth generation Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns are still proud of their heritage. What surprises did she encounter when she arrived in the ‘real’ Scandinavia?

Prize winning cheese from Denmark, Wisconsin.

Prize winning cheese from Denmark, Wisconsin.

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.’

A former staff member at Danske Bank, Carlsberg Breweries and Saxo Bank, Kay runs her own communications consulting business in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is behind the podcast series ‘How to Live in Denmark’ and is the author of the book ‘How to Live in Denmark‘, available in English, Chinese and Arabic.

Book an event
If you represent a company or organization and would like to have Kay make a presentation at your location, contact Kay via this site’s contact form for more information, or download a PDF flier about How to Live in Denmark events to share with friends and colleagues.

This event has previously been held for a DTU group in Tivoli.

Return to the How to Live in Denmark events page.

In the Media

“Life in Norway” on How to Live in Denmark

The Trondheim-based blog Life in Norway interviewed Kay Xander Mellish about the How to Live in Denmark project.

Life in Norway: How do you think Denmark is different from Norway?

Kay: The landscape is so different! The landscape affects the way people see the world. It’s said the Danish language is flat because it mimics the flat surroundings, whereas the opposite is true in Norway. I think the landscape means Norwegians are more colorful in many ways. The language has more energy to it, and as a people they are more in touch with nature.

Life in Norway: How easy or hard was it to learn Danish?

Kay: It’s similar to Norwegian but pronunciation is much more difficult. I do think you have to be born here to have the pronunciation perfect. I don’t think I’ll ever stop making mistakes in Danish, but I’m at the point where I can hold my own at both business meetings and social situations in Danish.

Life in Norway: What keeps you in Denmark?

Kay: My network is here now and it’s a nice place to raise children. In the US there is too much pressure on children to achieve too early. There’s too much testing and too much pressure on getting into colleges. The Danish system focuses on holistic knowledge, which I really like.

There is more time here, people are not as stressed. You don’t buy as much stuff because you don’t have as much money. People have fewer things but better things, and most importantly, more time for family and friends.

Read the full Life in Norway blog post featuring How to Live in Denmark.

Photo: Roman Boed via Creative Commons

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Private-equity pastry and the decline of bodegas: How Denmark is changing


I help out at a flea market sometimes near Copenhagen, a flea market that’s held a few times a year to benefit my daughter’s marching band. We sell things people have sent for recycling – at the local recycling center, you can put things that are still useful in a special room, and then community groups sort through those things and sell them to raise money.

We have one persistent problem: too many shotglasses. Each new week brings dozens of beautiful crystal shotglasses, prized for a lifetime by someone from the older generation, perhaps now the dead generation. These people to used to drink clear snaps before fancy Easter lunches, and or a dark bitter alcohol called Gammel Dansk before breakfast.

People in Denmark don’t do that much any more. They go jogging before breakfast and drink wine for holiday lunches, if they drink anything.

And most young people already have a set of grandpa’s old shotglasses gathering dust somewhere at the back of a cabinet, and they don’t need any more.

So week after week, these lovely little etched crystal glasses line up like fragile soldiers on the storage shelves at the flea market. Nobody needs them, nobody buys them, but we just don’t have the heart to throw them out.

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Book, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the Statens Museum for Kunst / Danish National Gallery

I do a lot of writing in the lovely, sunny cafe at the Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the Danish National Gallery.

This museum is free to the public and has a great collection of both historic and contemporary art.

Now I’m excited to say that you can get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English at the Statens Museum for Kunst gift shop.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the shop at Denmark’s National Museum, at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available in Aarhus at Stakbogladen near the university.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Fear: What is there to be afraid of in Denmark?

I was walking towards my home in Copenhagen the other day, when I walked past a kindergarten. It had a big, open playground with lots things for the kids to climb on, but nobody was climbing. The kids were all gathered around a giant, open bonfire. Now, these kids were 3 to 5 years old, and the flames of the bonfire were probably twice as tall as they were. But there was no restraining fence or barrier to keep them away from it. Just a couple of adults and some pails of water.

Big open fires, which are called bål, are pretty common in Denmark, even around children. Sometimes the kids even roast little pieces of bread over the fire, or rather, a long piece of dough curled around a stick. Snobrød, it’s called. Kids grow up learning not to be afraid of fire. Maybe that’s a legacy of Denmark being such a cold country; fires were once very important to staying alive.

Even at Tivoli in the winter, you’ll see open containers of flaming hot coals – you know, the sort of things you usually see in depictions of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. But at Tivoli Danish parents are carefully showing their children how to warm their little fingers over the hot coals. No fear.

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