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Stories about life in Denmark

What’s it like to live in Denmark as an expatriate? Kay Xander Mellish has lived in Copenhagen since 2000, and her blog about life as a foreigner among the Danes includes a podcast as well as drawings and photographs. If you are moving to Denmark, studying in Denmark, or simply thinking of visiting Denmark, you may enjoy this blog about the experiences of a foreigner in Copenhagen.

Stories about life in Denmark

Randers is not a joke

Every country, it seems, has a city or region that is the butt of jokes. The rest of the country makes fun of the locals’ abrasive accents and supposedly low-end behavior.

In the United States, it’s New Jersey. In Sweden it’s Skåne, the area close to Denmark that includes Malmo. I’ve been told that in England it’s Essex, in Scotland it’s Aberdeen, and in Ireland it’s Kerry.

In Denmark, it’s Randers.

Randers is a city in Northern Jutland, about a half hour away from Aarhus. It used to be bigger than Aarhus, and bigger than Aalborg too, but it was a manufacturing town, and when manufacturing fell apart in Denmark after the Second World War, so did Randers.

Today, the stereotype of Randers locals involves muscle meatheads, possibly criminal, possibly in some sort of motorcycle gang, with a rough, gravelly accent, and lots of tattoos and leather.

And that’s just the women. The men are the same, but with shorter haircuts.

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Stories about life in Denmark

The Bridges of Denmark

I don’t do a lot of stock market investing, but if I did, I’d want to go back in time and invest in companies that build bridges in Denmark. This country is on a tear when it comes to bridge building. Over the past decade, there have been 5 new major bridges in Copenhagen alone, and at least one new major one is planned.

And because this is Denmark, and people love design, each bridge has its own special look. You can’t just put up a few bridge supports and a deck on top for traffic. You need style, and you need a colorful name.

Consider, for example, the multicolored Kissing Bridge in Copenhagen. It’s not named that because you’re supposed to kiss on the bridge, although you can if you like. It’s named that because it breaks in half on a regular basis to let ships through, and then it’s supposed to come together again like a kiss.

The Kissing Bridge has needed to visit a relationship counselor, however, because there have been constant problems getting it to kiss. It wasn’t quite aligned the way it was supposed to be.

It seems to work now, although it’s rather steep and a difficult ride for bicyclists, which is rather a shame, because it is a bicycle and pedestrian bridge only. There are no cars on it.

Bicycle Snake and Brewing Bridge

The Bicycle Snake and the Brewing Bridge a little further down the harbor are also just for cyclists and walkers, and so is the Little Langebro bridge.

The Little Langebro bridge is currently the newest bridge in town, just a couple of years old. This is a neighborhood I don’t go to often, and I remember coming home from a late night engagement to suddenly find a new bridge in front of me, all lit up and ready to serve.

Whoa! Unexpected bridge. It was like a dream.

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Stories about life in Denmark

On returning to Denmark: Swimming in Copenhagen harbor, picking wild blackberries, and admiring Danish law and order

I’ve just come back to Denmark after some time away, and I’m happy to be here, particularly since the Danish summer weather has been lovely this year.

Of course, this creates problems of its own – Denmark is built for cool weather, not hot weather, which means that air conditioning is rare, even in the fitness center. Lifting barbells inside a room that feels like a toaster oven with thirty other sweaty people is really something. And not something good.

Still, it’s nice to be in Copenhagen during summer. The sidewalk cafés are open, and you don’t need a blanket to sit outside and enjoy your coffee.

I don’t think there’s a prettier city in the world on a lovely summer day, which is something you have to remember on one of those days in November when pelting grey rain angles into your eyeballs.

Swimming in Copenhagen harbor

One of my favorite things to do is swim in Copenhagen harbor, a formerly industrial waterway that has been cleaned up enough to become a giant swimming zone, although you’ll still see some seaweed and barnacles on the pull-up ladders.

There are spots set aside for swimmers as opposed to boaters, and these areas can get pretty crowded – lots of exposed pink flesh on display. Although, contrary to what many might believe, Copenhagen swimmers are not nude and the women are not topless.

An American journalist called me recently to ask about nude bathing in Denmark. In Copenhagen, I don’t see much of it, and the few nudes I do see are mostly men.

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

Working with Denmark’s neighbors: Sweden, Norway, Germany, and more

When I first arrived in Denmark, it was common to attend a meeting in which Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes would each speak their own language and simply assume everyone else understood.

It was a proud expression of Scandinavian solidarity.

Unfortunately it never worked very well, and everybody ended up understanding roughly 80% of what was being said. In particular, the Swedes and Norwegians struggled to puzzle out spoken Danish.

These days, the addition of other internationals to meetings means these inter-Scandinavian conversations are now conducted in English, to just about everyone’s relief.

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Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Coming soon: “How to Work in Denmark” book in a brand new version

A brand new version of the “How to Work in Denmark” book will be available in Fall 2022, with three new chapters.

“How to Work in Denmark:Tips for Finding a Job, Succeeding at Work, and Understanding your Danish Boss” has helped thousands of newcomers since it was issued in 2018 – but things change, and I have updated the book for the times.

Three new chapters

One new chapter will talk about internationals managing Danes. Five years ago, a non-Danish boss with a Danish team was a rarity, but it isn’t any more. What’s it like to manage and motivate Danes?

We’ll also look at what it’s like to work with Danes virtually – the top boss may be wearing a hoodie and dialing in from his summer house – and how Danes work with their neighbors, including Swedes, Norwegians, and the all-important Germans, who are Denmark’s top import and export partners.

The brand new “How to Live in Denmark” book will be available in paperback form, as an eBook, an audiobook, and in video excerpts too.

Why job titles aren’t important in Denmark

It will explain why job titles aren’t that important in Denmark, how to fine-tune your approach to the Danish job market, and look at whether joining a union is worth it. It also has tips on your first day at work, handling a meeting in Denmark, and the secrets of socializing with your Danish colleagues.

The book also talks about birthdays and gifts in the Danish workplace, decoding your Danish pay slip and your Danish taxes, and when to take sick leave.

It includes the special chapters “Will I ever be promoted?” and “Can I date my Danish colleague?

Pre-order for the new edition of How to Work in Denmark is now open.

Stories about life in Denmark

The ballad of the Danish Royal Teenagers

It’s hard to be a teenager no matter who you are or where you live, but spare a thought for the two teenagers who are currently part of the Danish Royal Family.

Christian is just 16 years old, and he’s the future King Christian the Eleventh of Denmark. Danish kings alternate between two names, Christian or Frederik, and his father’s name is Frederick, so Christian’s name was in place before he was even conceived, before his parents even met. He was always going to be Christian the Eleventh.

His sister, Isabella, is 15, and she and her young twin siblings are the spares. They have all of the media attention and the responsibility for good behavior that their brother has, but with no royal job waiting for them when they get older. Sure, they may cut a ribbon here or there, but they will have no guaranteed income from the Danish taxpayers.

Christian and Isabella have been in the news this week because the boarding school that Christian attends, and that Isabella plans to attend, was the subject of a TV documentary on bullying. This a school for Denmark’s elites – and yes, there is an elite class in Denmark, although they generally stay very well hidden. And this is an old-fashioned boarding school that still begins each educational year with a bird shooting, using bows and arrows.

According to some former students, violence was a part of daily life in the school. New students were dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and assaulted by older students. Many of those students are now leaders in Danish government and business life.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Tivoli vs Bakken: How two amusement parks show the two sides of Denmark

It’s spring in Denmark. The sunny days are longer, the daisies are popping up through the grass, and the sidewalk cafés are full again, even if you have to sit there with a blanket, which many cafés provide.

And Denmark’s amusement parks are opening up for the summer. Denmark has several amusement parks, including the original Legoland, but the ones I know best are the ones in Copenhagen – Tivoli Gardens and Bakken.

Tivoli and Bakken show two different sides of the Danish character.

Tivoli is the sleek, confident, high-end image that Denmark likes to present to the world: it has exquisite flower gardens, fancy shops and restaurants, and a theater that hosts world-class performers. Bakken is more homey, more quirky, a little shabby, and a bit more hyggelig, under my own definition of hygge as “unambitious enjoyment”.

The difference between the two parks also illustrates the class differences in Denmark – even though Danes like to pretend there are no class differences in egalitarian Denmark.

Visiting Bakken

Bakken is clearly the more working-class of the two and opens every year with a huge convoy of thousands of motorcycles roaring through the city. It happens every April – I hear a huge mechanical growl in the distance, and then I realize, ahhhhh, Bakken is opening today.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

On the Road: Copenhagen Northwest, beyond the cherry trees

It’s springtime, and the cherry trees are about to bloom in Copenhagen Northwest, which is usually the only time people who live outside Northwest bother to go there.

Northwest is a working class neighborhood, so much so that the streets are named after working-class occupations.

While other Copenhagen neighborhoods have streets named after kings and queens and generals, Northwest has Brick-maker street, and Book-binder street, and Rope-maker street, and Barrel-maker street.

But there are other things to see in Copenhagen Northwest besides the cherry trees, which have become a bit of a crowd scene since they were reported on by a national news network.

Old city, new neighborhood

Like many industrial districts in a post-industrial society, Northwest has become a bit of a trendy neighborhood. I live here, and when I first moved here ten years ago it was hard to find a café to meet up in. Lots of cafés and restaurants now, lots of young people, lots of activity.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

The secret trick for practicing spoken Danish

Newcomers to Denmark often complain that the locals aren’t chatty. They don’t want to converse on the bus, or on the train, or in line at the supermarket, or really anyplace that isn’t a designated social zone. Like the company canteen at lunch, or a dinner party at home to which they have invited a precise number of people to match the number of chairs that they own.

In general, Danes rarely talk to strangers unless they are drunk, but there is one exception: Danish people over 75 years old.

Danes over 75, or even 70 or 65, often live alone, and they are often eager for conversation. There is even a special municipal program called Elderlearn that matches older Danes with newcomers who are eager to improve their spoken Danish abilities. The internationals get to practice speaking Danish, and the older person gets some company.

Comic situations

This does create some comic situations. I remember seeing a video – one of those videos I saw online years ago and haven’t been able to locate since – in which a nice fellow from India was matched with Kirsten, a Danish lady in her 80s.

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

Working with a Danish boss? 5 tips for Swedes

While outsiders sometimes see the three Scandinavian cultures as “pretty much alike”, there are significant differences when it comes to working styles, in particular Danish working culture vs Swedish working culture.

Working with a Danish boss can be a shock for Swedes, with their extreme need for consensus and passion for sticking to whatever has been agreed on by the group.

The Danes’ more free-form, flexible approach can take Swedes by surprise, as can the Danes’ directness and sometimes lack of political correctness.

Here are a few tips for Swedes (or anyone else!) working with a Danish boss.

Tip #1: “The plan” is whatever works best today.

Swedes are famous for their careful planning process, spending all the time they need to collect consensus and make sure that everyone is on board with the plan. And once the plan is agreed upon, it is carefully followed by all.

Danes aren’t quite as keen on long planning processes: they’d rather put their oars in the water and start rowing, correcting course as needed.

If new information emerges or customers don’t respond as expected, “the plan” may be ditched without hesitation – and without discussion.

As an employee, it can be disconcerting to be working in one direction and then suddenly be pulled in another, but the Danes are proud of what they see as their practicality and flexibility.

This approach may also mean that the Danes on your team will follow a consensus agreement only to the extent that they think it is useful. If not, they may try to wiggle out of it, or “forget” to implement some of the measures you thought you’d agreed upon.

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