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danish culture

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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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Tips for living with a Danish family

As the new academic semester starts up, some of you may be planning to live in a Danish home. It could be you’ll rent a room in a household, maybe you’ll be part of a Danish host family, or maybe you’ll just be staying with Danish friends.

I thought it might be useful to have some tips on living with a Danish family.

First of all, if you’re used to having your parents or domestic workers do most of the household chores – things are about to change.

Danish families generally don’t have live-in domestic workers. A few wealthy families with small children have au pairs, and it’s common to have a weekly cleaning person, but on a day-to-day basis, household chores are done by all the members of the family.

Male, female, young, old, everybody does their part. (In fact, statistics show that Danish men do more household chores than any other men in Europe.)

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Podcasts, 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 the window closes sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, on the last banking day of the year.
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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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Denmark and the USA, In the Media, Stories about life in Denmark

Copenhagen vs New York City: Reversal of fortune?

“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.”

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In the Media

Danish Drinking Culture: Article in “The International”

It’s nearly Christmas, which is peak season for Danish drinking culture, writes Kay Xander Mellish in a new article for The International, a Danish monthly aimed at expats.

“Gløgg mix has appeared in the supermarket aisles, packaged as tiny bags of spices, raisins, and tiny slivered almonds – just add heat, wine, and brandy.

“Crystal snaps glasses are being taken out of the cupboard where they have stood since Easter, ready to be filled with strong liquor for toasts.

“And the police and street crews are probably still cleaning up from J-day, the early November evening that that celebrates release of the year’s potent holiday beer.”

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In the Media

“Four wheels” religion in Denmark: Article in “The International”

Most Danes practice a “four wheels” type of Christianity, writes Kay Xander Mellish in a new article for The International, a Danish monthly aimed at expats. Religion in Denmark is mostly restricted to life ceremonies that involve a baby carriage (baptism), a wedding carriage, or a hearse.

“Throw in Christmas Eve, when Danish churches can get so packed that I’ve seen people push each other out of the way for seats,” Kay writes. “And then add the teenage celebration of confirmation, which is what my family is about to undertake.”

Coming of age ritual
Kay writes: “Many cultures have a ritual in which boys become men and girls become women, whether it’s the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah for Jews, the Quinceanera in Latin America, or the warrior ceremony among the Masai. In Denmark, this ritual is Confirmation, or for the non-religious, Nonfirmation.

“For the teenagers, the best part of the confirmation is the flow of money in their direction. Their parents pick up the tab for new formal clothes – for Danish boys, it’s often their first business suit, and girls are allowed to shop in the expensive dress section on Zalandos – and for a fancy party after the ceremony, at which godparents and aunties and family friends attend bearing gifts, often cash gifts.

“It’s like getting married, except there’s no groom,” says my 14-year-old daughter, who is looking forward to being confirmed.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Autumn in Denmark: The slow fading of the light

 
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.

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In the Media

(The Joy of) Denmark outside Copenhagen: Article in “The International”

Some newcomers see Copenhagen and think they’ve seen Denmark, writes Kay Xander Mellish in a new article for The International, a Danish monthly aimed at expats.

Kay notes that “if the Copenhagen metropolitan area has about 2 million residents, as suggested by Statistics Denmark, then there 3.7 million people in Denmark who do not live in Copenhagen, and not all of them are like the lonely rural studs on the TV2 reality series Farmers Seeking Love.”

Focusing on Copenhagen to the exclusion of the rest of the country isn’t only something foreigners do, Kay writes.

“I recently edited a major Danish organization’s promotional text called Bicycling in Denmark. It went into great detail about Copenhagen shared bikes and Copenhagen bicycle highways and how many sick days Copenhagen residents had saved themselves with their fondness for cycling.

“Could a person also bicycle around Haderslev or Lolland or even Aalborg? Nobody seemed to have looked into that.”

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