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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stop by the shop at Danmarks Nationamuseet /The National Museum of Denmark to get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English or Chinese.
Denmark’s National Museum is located in downtown Copenhagen, and it’s got a great collection of Viking artifacts as well as a wonderful kids section where kids can dress up as Vikings and ride in a play Viking ship.
You can also buy a copy of the book 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 spring in Denmark, and spring is by far my favorite season here. The wonderful white Scandinavian sunlight is back after the dark days of the winter, the flowers are coming out on the trees, and everybody’s in a good mood. The outdoor cafés are full of people again – sometimes draped in blankets to keep warm, but outside all the same.
April and May are often the best months for weather in Denmark, along with September. Summers can be rainy. And April is when Tivoli opens in Copenhagen. (Side note: when you see a man in Denmark with his trousers accidentally unzipped, you quietly inform him “Tivoli is open!”)
Tivoli is one of the world’s great non-disappointing tourist attractions – it’s constantly updated, with new shops, new rides, fresh flowers and fresh restaurants. And in the spring, it’s not as crowded as it is in the summer. You can hang out all day, have a picnic, ride the rollercoaster, even hear some bands play.
It has been said that Danish birthdays are the most important in the world. Adults, children, even the Queen of Denmark make a big deal about birthdays. And there is specific set of birthday rules and traditions for every age and role you play in life. Let’s face it, Danish birthday traditions are a minefield for foreigners. Get it wrong and you could make some serious birthday faux pas.
For example, if the sun is shining on your birthday, you may find Danish people thanking you. ‘Thanks for the sunshine’ they’ll say. This is because in Danish tradition, the weather on your birthday reflects your behavior over the past year. If you’ve been good, the weather is good. If you’ve been bad….well, then. You get depressing, grey, Danish rain.
What does it mean to be Danish? Or, put in local terms, Hvad er Danskhed? In this intercultural event, Kay Xander Mellish will discuss Danishness from a foreigner’s perspective, and suggest ways that Danes and foreigners can understand each other better.
Never lose your temper in Denmark. Speak in a tone as calm and flat as the Danish countryside.
Kay Xander Mellish arrived in Denmark 14 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 download a PDF about How to Live in Denmark events you can share with colleagues.
This event was originally held at Politikens Akademi in Copenhagen.