Stories about life in Denmark

Summer vacation in Denmark: The agony and the ecstasy

Planning your summer vacation in Denmark is like playing the lottery. You could hit it lucky, with golden days and long, warm evenings, sitting with friends in the soft light and drinking hyldeblomst cocktails.

Or you could get grey day after grey day, interspersed with a little rain whenever it is least convenient. The weather could be chilly, leaving your cute new summer clothes to sit disappointed in your closet while you wear your boring long trousers again and again.

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In the Media

My first vote in Denmark, Part 5: Lars and Me

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on election day, June 5, 2019.

If you’re fairly new to Denmark, as I am, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen seems like he has always been there, like bike paths and rainy summer weather.

I do have a faint memory of the other Rasmussen prime ministers, Poul Nyrup and Anders Fogh, plus the tax and fashion scandals surrounding Helle Thorning-Schmidt, but for most of my time following politics Lars has been in charge.

Now as I vote for the first time for the Folketing, it seems odd to form an opinion on something I have taken for granted. But I since have not found another candidate I am enthusiastic about, it’s something I must do.

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In the Media

My first vote in Denmark, Part 4: Yes, Radikale Venstre *should* be my party – there’s just one problem

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on May 18, 2019. The next installment will run on June 5, 2019.

“You should be a Radikale Venstre voter,” one of my Danish friends told me. “They’re a multi-cultural party, but they’re also business oriented and practical.”

Since I’m still looking for a party to offer my first vote in Denmark, I spent a rainy Copenhagen morning last week reading through the Radikale Venstre website, newly designed with the bright yellow and pink colors of a Filur Is popsicle. I’ve never had to wear sunglasses to look at a website before, but the Radikale Venstre site brought me pretty close.

I was pleased to find some ideas I agreed with. For example, RV wants to simplify the rules for Danes who bring a spouse to Denmark. Instead of the tangle of rules that now greets lovers, the Danish half of the couple will simply be required to support the new spouse for five years. This seems like a solid test of dedication: I’m not married myself yet, perhaps because I have not met a man whose bills I am willing to pay for five years.

And I liked Radikale Venstre’s suggestion that people who are born in Denmark, grow up in Denmark, have no criminal record and pass the state school final exam should have the right to become citizens on their 18th birthday. It seems to me that nearly two decades of Danish culture and language immersion should be enough to pound Jantelov and selvironi into their heads.

When I was taking my own Danish language and citizenship exam, there were a lot of 18-year-olds in the testing room. Born in Denmark, raised in Denmark, they emitted the usual teenage grimaces and sighs as they took a test in something they already knew perfectly well and had been tested on dozens of times.

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In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark, Part 3: Red, Green, and Enhedslisten

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on May 8, 2019. The next installment will run on May 21, 2019.

As a resident of Copenhagen Northwest, I hear a lot about Enhedslisten. In fact, there are some people in my neighbourhood that would like me to hear only about Enhedslisten, since during the last election local hooligans ripped down all of the election signs for all the conservative parties and the Social Democrats, leaving just SF and Enhedslisten posters dangling from telephone poles and fluttering in the wind on the S-train platforms.

But I had never seriously looked into Enhedslisten before, despite my closest Danish friend having voted for them for years.

Weren’t they the former communists who didn’t believe in private property? Why would anyone who owned anything vote for them? And since I don’t own a house and don’t own a car, would I get half of somebody else’s house and half of somebody else’s car if Enhedslisten came into power?

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In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark, Part 2: Mette and Me

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on April 24, 2019. The next installment will run on May 8, 2019.

I spend much of my time travelling around Denmark helping foreigners survive and thrive in Danish society. I tell them never to turn down cake when offered, never to act like they are the smartest person in the room, and never to make enemies – because this is a small country, and you will run into those people again and again.

Perhaps Mette Frederiksen could have benefitted from that speech, because she made a minor enemy of me with her 2005 essay “Alle har et ansvar for at folkeskolen fungerer” (“Everyone has a responsibility for making public schools work”), suggesting that parents who sent their kids to private schools were letting down the community.

As a parent of a child in a small, creative private school, I remember that speech, even though I wasn’t much interested in politics at the time. I didn’t feel I was letting down the community.

I also remember when Mette chose later to send her own children to a small, creative private school. “As a parent, you need to make the decision that is best for your child,” she said at that point.

Yeah, Mette – me too. All the other parents too. You’re not the only one who thinks her kid is special.

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In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark, Part 2: Mette and Me

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on April 24, 2019. The next installment will run on May 8, 2019.

I spend much of my time travelling around Denmark helping foreigners survive and thrive in Danish society. I tell them never to turn down cake when offered, never to act like they are the smartest person in the room, and never to make enemies – because this is a small country, and you will run into those people again and again.

Perhaps Mette Frederiksen could have benefitted from that speech, because she made a minor enemy of me with her 2005 essay “Alle har et ansvar for at folkeskolen fungerer” (“Everyone has a responsibility for making public schools work”), suggesting that parents who sent their kids to private schools were letting down the community.

As a parent of a child in a small, creative private school, I remember that speech, even though I wasn’t much interested in politics at the time. I didn’t feel I was letting down the community.

I also remember when Mette chose later to send her own children to a small, creative private school. “As a parent, you need to make the decision that is best for your child,” she said at that point.

Yeah, Mette – me too. All the other parents too. You’re not the only one who thinks her kid is special.

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In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark: Who should I vote for? Part 1

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on April 10, 2019. The next installment will run on April 24, 2019.

Usually when you are a first-time voter in Denmark, you are 18 years old, and the excitement of being able to vote comes second to the excitement of being able to get tattoos and piercings without your parents’ permission.

I am somewhat older than that, so for me the chance to vote in my first election for the national Parliament (Folketing) is really exciting. I became a citizen of Denmark in 2017, and although I’ve been able to vote in municipal elections before, this is the first time I get to make an impact nationally.

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Stories about life in Denmark

April Fool’s in Denmark, and the rough game of Danish humor

April 1st is April Fool’s Day – Aprilsnar in Danish – and each Danish newspaper will feature a clever but false story for the unwary to be fooled by.

Last year, for example, there was a story that the Danish police were switching their siren colors from blue to red to match the Danish flag.

There was also a report that the perennially messy discount supermarket Netto was launching a discount airline – Jetto.

And a local TV station ran a piece about how an acute shortage of daycare workers meant the Danish army had to be called in. It showed video of the battle-hardened tough guys in combat uniforms, reading aloud from storybooks and helping with toilet training.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers

When you’re not from Denmark, understanding the way Danes think can take a little time. And if you’re an international manager in charge of managing and motivating a group of Danes, you may not have a lot of time to experiment before you’re expected to produce results.

So I wanted to share some of the tips I gave to a group of international managers recently on motivating Danish employees.

Motivating Danish employees is very different than motivating other groups of people because there are two big factors missing – hierarchy and fear.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The sound of Denmark? Quiet. Very quiet.

Travel brochures usually talk about the sights and the smells and the tastes of a new place, but they don’t always talk about the sound of a place. Denmark has a sound, a default sound. And that sound is quiet.

Denmark is a quiet country, even within the cities. Especially this time of year, February, when it’s too cold to do anything but scurry from place to place, when the street cafés are closed and no one wants to eat their lunch in the park. The Danes are hibernating in their homes until the spring.

And especially when a blanket of snow covers the cities and countryside. Then everything around you will be beautifully, peacefully, totally quiet.

This Danish quiet can freak out a lot of internationals when they first arrive. If you’ve read my first book, you’ll know I tell the story of a refugee who’d just arrived in Denmark from Cairo, Egypt, and he asked another more established refugee to show him downtown Copenhagen.

The established friend took him to Strøget at, like, 9pm on Tuesday night in February, and the refugee was like, this is not a city! There’s no one here! He accused his friend of tricking him.

But it was the city. It was the capital city. And it was quiet.

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