“When I first moved to Copenhagen from New York City, more than a decade ago, Danes used to ask me why I wanted to come to a little place like Denmark after living in glamorous Manhattan,”, writes Kay Xander Mellish in a new article for Berlingske.dk (in Danish) and The Copenhagen Book (in English).
“Nobody asks that any more. In the time since I’ve been here, Copenhagen has increased its confidence while New York City as a cultural capital seems to have lost its mojo.”
When I was working on the 5th anniversary podcast last week, I realized I’d had podcasts on spring in Denmark, summer in Denmark, winter in Denmark, but nothing on autumn in Denmark.
And that’s too bad, because early fall can be one of Denmark’s prettiest seasons.
Autumn in Denmark actually starts in mid-August, when the kids go back to school. Danish kids have a very short holiday – usually only about 6 weeks. By late August, you can definitely feel a little fall crispness in the air. By September the leaves start to turn color, and by the end of October many of the trees are already bare for the winter.
But what really defines fall in Denmark is the slow fading of the light.
This is a transcript of the “How to Live in Denmark” fifth anniversary podcast posted on August 31, 2018.
This is a special episode, because this is the fifth anniversary of the How to Live in Denmark podcast. Hard to believe, I know, but this podcast began in the summer of 2013. At the time I’m recording this, it is near the end of Summer 2018. We’ve had more than 80 episodes and around a million streams and downloads. Most importantly, I’ve received a lot of messages from people like you saying that the podcast and the books that have come out of the podcast have been really helpful for you in adjusting to Denmark. I’m so happy to hear that.
For me, one of the best things to come out of the podcast is that I’ve gotten to see so much of Denmark. As some of you know, I work as a keynote speaker, booked by organizations and schools and companies around Denmark. So over the past 5 years that’s helped me get out of Copenhagen and get out of the mindset that Copenhagen equals Denmark, which I think a lot of people suffer from.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the “How to Live in Denmark Podcast” – which launched in summer 2013 and has since racked up more than a million downloads – I wanted something special and memorable.
I had long been a fan of Danish cartoonist Claus Deleuran’s 1992 image, “Danes, Danish, More Danish”, done for an exhibit at the Nikolaj Kunsthal, but had always been frustrated that it only seems to exist online small, low-res versions.
I thought it would be fun to recreate it – and as long as I was redrawing it – to reflect the Denmark of today.
Although I have drawn cartoons in the past, this particular image is not drawn by me. I commissioned Polish graphic artist Karolina Kara to help me to create it, explaining to her exactly how I wanted each of the characters to appear.
I also gave her photos to work with, such as a picture of the trademark “Copenhagen bench” the beer drinkers are sitting on in the foreground to the right.
Foreigners in the Danish workplace tend to be clustered at the very top of companies – several of Denmark’s largest firms have Dutch or Norwegian CEOs – or at the very bottom, in entry-level service positions.
Even skilled workers like engineers and nurses are more likely to be found in hands-on functional roles than in middle or upper management. Berlingske Tidende, one of the country’s major newspapers, publishes a list of the Top 100 upcoming business talents every year, and at least 90 of them are ethnic Danes.
Some companies like to talk a lot about their open-mindedness, but in practice believe that only Danes are really capable of managing other Danes. Language certainly plays a role, and foreigners are also seen as unable to understand the Danish national psychology and secrets of employee motivation.
When I noticed that the podcasts and blog posts about working in Denmark seemed to be the most useful, I collected them into another book, How to Work in Denmark, which is also available as a live How to Work in Denmark presentation.
But what if you just want to listen to the podcast?
Trust is so natural to the Danes and such an integral part of their culture that it is like the water fish swim through: even though it’s all around them, they barely notice it’s there.
As a foreigner, if your culture has a different outlook on honesty and trust, it’s important to adapt to the Danish way for as long as you’re in Denmark. If the Danes decide they can’t trust you, you might as well pack your suitcases and go home. Once you lose the trust of a Dane, it’s like losing your virginity: you’ll never get it back.
Danish humor is a tricky thing for many foreigners. Danes compete with the Brits for world leaders in dry humor and sarcasm, but it can be hard for foreigners to figure out what’s a joke and what’s not.
For example, a friend told me about a foreigner who was standing by the elevator at work, just getting ready to go upstairs for a meeting, when a Danish colleague walked by and said “God rejse!”
In other words, Bon Voyage. Have a nice trip. In the elevator.
In some countries, such as the US, “working sick” is a badge of honor. You are supposed to be so dedicated to your team or to the assignment that you come to work even if you have a bad cold or a slight fever.
In Denmark, the opposite is true. If you feel you’ve got the beginnings of something that could be contagious, particularly a stomach virus, you are considered a better team member if you stay home that day and care for your health. You are not expected to work from home or answer emails if you are ill.
It’s also considered OK to take a day or two off if you have a sick child at home, although in these cases you may be asked to participate in a phone meeting or some other work-related activity while your little darling sleeps.