Browsing Tag

Christmas

Stories about life in Denmark

What to do for Christmas in Denmark when you’re on your own

We’ve talked on the podcast about what to do if you’re spending your Christmas holiday with family and friends – but what if you’re not? What if you’re an international who is alone in Denmark during the holiday season?

This is a topic that is near to my heart, because it was what happened to me when I first arrived in Denmark. It wasn’t Christmastime, it was spring, when the Danish holidays come one after the other.

I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t speak the language, and back then all the stores were closed on holidays. I had to live off hot dogs from the hot dog wagons. So I know what it’s like.

These days supermarkets are open for at least limited hours during the holidays, but not much else is, particularly on the big three days – December 24, 25, and 26. On December 24, the buses even stop running for a few hours so the drivers can be with their families.

So, if you’re alone for Christmas in Denmark, what do you do?

Plan a project in advance
Well, the first thing to do is prepare in advance. Basically, there is not much going on in Denmark between December 23, which is when the stores close after Christmas shopping, and Jan 2, when the normal work week resumes. That’s about 10 days.

So, it’s good to prepare a project. A big box set is good. I recommend the Danish TV series Matador, which is about a rivalry between two families. Danes will tell you that it totally explains Danish culture and thinking.

Other big projects are good too, like cleaning off your computer, or getting your taxes in order. One of the Danes’ favorite ways to shield their income from taxes is making contributions to a pension fund, and December 28 is the last day you can do that.
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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Gift Giving in Denmark: Package games, almond gifts, and why it’s OK to exchange whatever you get

Like so many other aspects of life in Denmark, gift giving in the holiday season comes with dozens of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.

Should you give a gift to your boss? What about your colleagues? Will you and your Danish friends exchange gifts? And why does almost every store in Denmark ask if you want a “gift sticker” when you buy something?

Here are a few basic tips about gift giving in Denmark.

Gift giving isn’t the most important thing
First of all, it’s important to emphasize that gift giving is not the most important thing about the holiday season in Denmark. Food is the most important thing, from the roast pork to the caramelised potatoes to the shredded red cabbage to the buttery Christmas cookies.

Alcohol is probably the second-most important.

And neither one is any good without the hygge of being together with your family at Christmas dinner, or your colleagues at the work Christmas lunch, or your football friends at your team holiday party.

Gift giving runs a distant fourth, so don’t get too worried about not choosing the perfect gift. That’s what the “gift sticker” is for – it means the recipient will be able to take your carefully-chosen gift back to the store and exchange it for something they’d like better.

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Stories about life in Denmark

My gift giving tips: Gifts from Denmark for local and faraway friends

I get a lot of questions from the internationals who follow my blog and podcast about gifts from Denmark they can send or bring to friends back home.

Here are a few of my favorite gifts from Denmark that show Danish craftsmanship and Danish style. If you’re ordering from abroad, you’ll probably notice that Danish style comes with Danish prices, which can be hefty. I’ve tried to choose medium-priced, high-quality items.

I should make clear that (regrettably) I’m not getting paid by any of these companies to promote them. I’m just a fan.

(You can read about general Danish gift giving customs in my post Gift Giving in Denmark.)

Source: H Skjalm P Instagram

Danes are world champions at kitchenware
The Danes do kitchenware very well. In particular, I like the colourful cotton aprons, oven mitts, and dishtowels from H. Skjalm P in Copenhagen, and have given matching aprons and mitts to both men and women.

I also like the kitchenware from the Danish brand Eva Solo, which I think is attractively designed and reasonably priced.

I have a lot of Eva Solo stuff in my own kitchen.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish Christmas #2: The cultural importance of the adult elf hat

I’ve been living in Denmark so long that I sometimes forget what it’s like not to live in Denmark. Specifically, I forget that in most countries, adult men and women don’t want to walk around in an elf hat, even at Christmastime.

Wherever alcohol is served
In Denmark, the red and white elf hat is part of any Christmas activity where alcohol is served, and even a few where when alcohol isn’t served. Children occasionally wear the elf hats, which are called Nissehue in Danish. At my daughter’s school pageant, the girls wear long white gowns and carry candles for the Santa Lucia procession, and the boys wear elf hats.

But you’re more likely to see an elf hat on an adult, quite possibly on your boss or your professor or somebody else you’re supposed to respect. Wearing an elf hat as a grown-up in Denmark is the way to show you’ve got a sense of humor about yourself, that you’re up for a party, that you see the fun in Christmas. Or, that you can see any fun in life at all after four weeks of nonstop grey skies and rain during Danish November.

Elf hats will be out in force during Danish corporate Christmas parties. You’ll see them on the dance floor, and quite possibly see two of them making out in the printer room. Danish corporate Christmas parties get pretty wild, which why furniture movers say their big season is December and January. One half of a couple misbehaves at the Christmas party, and the movers are there the next weekend.

French people don’t want to wear the elf hat
Anyway, elf hats got me in trouble a few years ago when I was trying to make a corporate video at Carlsberg, showing how our Danish division worked together with our French colleagues to make a special Christmas beer.

The Danish team, including the executives, all wanted to be festive and wear elf hats. So I asked the French team if they would too.

Hmmm.

Let’s just say the French people did NOT want to wear the elf hat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen angrier French people in my life.

Danish Christmas calendar on TV
But elf hats are not the only signs Danish Christmas is on the way. There are braided hearts, for example. Braided hearts are the little red-and-white paper ornaments that look like tic-tac-toe patterns. You’re supposed to braid them together with your friends, at braiding heart afternoons, and then use them to decorate your home, or your tree.

Another sign is the Christmas Calendar on Danish TV. The Christmas calendar is a heartwarming show with a new episode every day during the Christmas season, which all your Danish colleagues will watch and be talking about.

I have never watched one, and this disturbs the Danes around me, because it’s supposed to be a communal experience. Other mothers at school have questioned whether or not my daughter was being properly raised if she couldn’t watch the Christmas calendar on TV.

A lot of Danish companies do ‘Julekalender’, too, with different bargains on every day of the season. If you have the time and energy to keep up with more than one of these calendars, congratulations – you are having a quiet holiday season.

Bring all your money to the Danish post office
One more Christmas experience you may be having is a little letter from the Danish post office, telling you that friends and family from abroad have sent you a Christmas present.

The little letter will say that if the present is worth more than 80 crowns, you need to pay 25% Danish value-added taxes on it, plus a DK150 administrative fee, and some cases 2.5% customs as well.

You could have avoided this by having your family buy online from somewhere in the E.U., like Amazon.co.uk, but now it’s too late. Unless you want Grandma’s hand-knit sweater to be returned to her, marked ‘rejected’, you’ve going to have to go pick up the package and pay.

Depending on where you live, you may get the chance to go pick up the package at a convenient location at a warehouse on the outskirts of town. You and your money will follow the signs down a dusty concrete staircase to some odd office in the basement to find a wizened old postal clerk…and there’s a good chance he’ll be wearing an elf hat.

 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2018

Stories about life in Denmark

The Two Months of Christmas in Denmark: Holiday drinking starts now

The 12 days of Christmas is an old French Christmas song. But those 12 days have nothing on the Danes, who have more than two months of Christmas, and would probably have it last all the way to spring if they could get away with it.

Little cookies in shops
If you’re here in Denmark right now, you probably saw the Christmas wrapping paper hit the shelves at Netto a couple of weeks ago. That, and the first of the gingerbread Christmas cookies. You’ll notice that a lot of Danish shops put out little dishes of brown Christmas cookies that look like overgrown M&Ms. Pepper nuts, they’re called.

You’re invited to take one, they’re free and they are very tasty. That said, you might not be thinking about all the other little fingers that have touched those cookies. I recommend buying your own pepper nuts and enjoying them at home.

Christmas beer bikinis
Anyway, the official start of the holiday is this week, November 6, when Tuborg rolls out its annual Christmas beer. It’s released at precisely 20:59, and everybody hangs out in bars waiting for it, some specially dressed in blue Christmas beer hats, Christmas beer neckties, or even Christmas beer bikinis.

Christmas beer tastes a lot like regular beer, a little bit sweeter, and a lot stronger. This is why a man I once knew, who was a bit of a wolf, told me that Christmas beer day was the best day of the year to ‘score’ with married women. The beer is very strong.

I used to work at Carlsberg, which owns Tuborg, and I can tell you that the company had highly conflicted feelings about J-dag, which is what Christmas beer day is called. On one hand, it makes a hash of their corporate position promoting responsible drinking. On the other hand, they do sell an incredible amount of beer on that day.

Heartbreak, fights, and dangerous adventures
So, if you’re a party person, J-day is not to be missed. If you’re a more quiet person, J-day is a good day to be home, with the curtains drawn, and earplugs. If you’re a Danish policeman, you’ll be on duty that evening, sorting out all the heartbreak, fights and dangerous adventures caused by Christmas beer. If you’re a Danish taxi driver, you’ll be cleaning up your cab several times.

This is the start of two months of Christmas in Denmark. There will be lots of parties, and lots of drinking, all the way through to January. And if you’re new to Denmark, here’s a tip: Don’t invite your friends to get together during the Christmas season. Don’t plan a Christmas party, at least not one that includes Danes. You friends are fully booked, particularly in December, with Christmas work events and Christmas family events and Christmas club events that were planned in August.

Throw a party in January, when everybody’s miserable and broke. Then everyone you know will show up, even if all you serve is takeout pizza and leftover Christmas beer.
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2018

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

The Danish Corporate Christmas Party

This essay is from a series I wrote shortly after I arrived in Denmark. The line drawings are my own.

Americans can’t be prissy, can they? After all, we invented Las Vegas.

So why am I so shocked at the debauchery of a Danish corporate Christmas party?

It’s not the drinking that shocks me – God knows, Danish people do that all year – or even the sex. I think it’s the proximity of work and sex. In a land with few limits, Americans draw a firm line between work and sex, based on the (rather prissy) notion that no one should have to put up with sexual come-ons or even sexual talk in order to keep a job, and that anyone who does should be compensated with a hefty legal settlement. All I can think about at a Danish Christmas party is how much an American lawyer could earn off the proceedings. One stalk of corporate mistletoe, I am sure, would generate more than enough business for him to redecorate his office with the high-priced furniture at Illums Bolighus and his wife with silver from George Jensen.

Call a lawyer
This American concept of sexual harassment has been difficult to explain to my Danish male co-workers, who like to tell saucy jokes in the office, and whose hands have occasionally ended up attached to my hair, shoulders, and bottom until I threaten to call an American lawyer. For them, I offer this easy-to-follow rule: Anything I might want to discuss with, say, Danish heartthrob Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in a jacuzzi over two flutes of champagne, I do not want to discuss with you, married father of four, over six pages of computer printouts on letterhead. Anything I might want to do with Nikolaj by candlelight, I do not want to do with you by fluorescent light. It’s that simple.

santa-300x295

The overfamiliarity between co-workers is just one of the reasons Christmas partys are difficult for foreigners. The structure of the party, the long tables and the fixed seats, is a challenge in itself. At American parties, the format is loose and everybody mingles, which allows one to break free of a bore with a number of convenient excuses, such as Hey! Isn’t that my plastic surgeon over there? I must say hi. At a Danish Christmas party, you sit at a seat assigned to you by luck of the draw or cruel party planners and are expected to chat for seven hours.

Snaps, a Viking tradition
What do Danish people say to each other for seven hours at those tables? Of course, I know what two close friends say to each other, but what about people who have nothing in common but a copy machine? All of a sudden, those dull people from the back of the office, those people you’ve avoided all year, are your companions in fate for the evening. This is where snaps comes in. I feel confident that the tradition of heavy schnapps drinking at Christmas parties can be traced to a Viking forced to sit next to the dull guy from the back oars he’d been avoiding all year. Schnapps must be the only way to get through Hour 3 of hearing about a stranger’s pets, office feuds or summer-house redecoration.

Snaps is also just the beginning of an enjoyable program of Danish food. Question: do foreigners like Danish food? Answer: Is there a fast food chain with “Golden Ds” serving “Dyrelaegen’s Natmal” (pork paste and raw gelatin) to customers all over the world? Of course, the Christmas party has its own delicacies, most of which, taken off the table and reassembled like a puzzle, would form a large, live, and angry pig. Except, of course, for the parts which are herring. When you are a foreigner, Danish people thrill to making you try everything, the odder the better, and watching your reaction when you discover that there is an extra layer of pork paste underneath the bacon and mushrooms. If other foreigners are reading this, the secret is to take small bites of everything and smile a lot. When fellow partygoers are distracted, you can soak up the alcohol in your stomach with bread and butter.

Drinking songs
After the almond has been found in the ris a la mande and the snaps topped off with wine and aquavit, the Viking drinking songs begin. Drinking songs seem to be the only modern remnant of Viking culture, except for the way Danish people behave in the bike lanes at rush hour, where they will use their bells with all the ferocity of an ax if you don’t move into the right lane fast enough. At any rate, everyone but you will know all the words to these songs, and enjoy singing them enough not to notice you are sitting against the back wall looking confused. For foreigners, it is time to go to the loo and pretend to wash your hands for about an hour.

By the time you get back, the deejay will be playing. This is a mixed blessing, since from what I can tell, there is a paragraph in the Danish constitution that requires Danish deejays to play George Michael every five songs. But loud music means that you no longer have to pretend to talk to the people next to you, and, freed from your chair, you can shift around and talk to the people you actually like. A few courageous souls start the dancing, mostly women, along a few sad men in elf hats who don’t realize that apart from a bow tie, no garment cuts your score potential more than an elf hat. Every once in a while the deejay plays an old Danish Eurovision song contest entry, and then it becomes easy to tell the locals from the foreigners again. The Danes are the ones on their feet in ecstatic remembrance, while the foreigners are sitting down looking bewildered, wondering when George Michael will come back.

Ping-pong tables
By this point in the evening, those people who plan to score have chosen their target, and perhaps even their location. This, in particular, has always confused me – I mean, I’ve certainly dated people I’ve met in the office, but I’ve always dated, and slept with them, outside the office as opposed to within it. But Christmas party stories are always rife with tales about ping-pong tables, bathroom stalls and the boss’s desk. Some people leave together, but even at home and in bed, I have to wonder how much fun this drunken sex can possibly be. How much sexual technique can these snaps-soaked middle managers have to offer? For the women, it must be about as erotic as having the statue of Bishop Absaolm fall on top of you.

The real challenge of the company Christmas party is the first day back at work afterwards, when you are required to take the middle managers’ opinions on sales strategy and corporate downsizing seriously again. You’ll get little help from the managers themselves, who will be avoiding your eyes, knowing perfectly well that you saw them dancing in their shorts and elf hat to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go just a few days before. Years ago, before my very first Christmas party, I was told that people would go wild at the party but then forget the whole thing the next day. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Somehow, nobody ever does.
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2018