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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Private-equity pastry and the decline of bodegas: How Denmark is changing


I help out at a flea market sometimes near Copenhagen, a flea market that’s held a few times a year to benefit my daughter’s marching band. We sell things people have sent for recycling – at the local recycling center, you can put things that are still useful in a special room, and then community groups sort through those things and sell them to raise money.

We have one persistent problem: too many shotglasses. Each new week brings dozens of beautiful crystal shotglasses, prized for a lifetime by someone from the older generation, perhaps now the dead generation. These people to used to drink clear snaps before fancy Easter lunches, and or a dark bitter alcohol called Gammel Dansk before breakfast.

People in Denmark don’t do that much any more. They go jogging before breakfast and drink wine for holiday lunches, if they drink anything.

And most young people already have a set of grandpa’s old shotglasses gathering dust somewhere at the back of a cabinet, and they don’t need any more.

So week after week, these lovely little etched crystal glasses line up like fragile soldiers on the storage shelves at the flea market. Nobody needs them, nobody buys them, but we just don’t have the heart to throw them out.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Fashion: All the colors of the Danish landscape

I can’t remember exactly what the social occasion was, but when I was fairly new to Copenhagen I met a man who was a refugee from a country in Sub-Saharan Africa. He had escaped his homeland – I also can’t quite remember which country that was – by way of Cairo, Egypt, and ended up in Denmark.

What I do remember is his account of what it was like to come to Copenhagen after living in busy, colorful city like Cairo. He asked another refugee, a guy who’d been here longer, to show him downtown Copenhagen.

The guy drove him to, I don’t know, Gammel Strand on a Tuesday night in February, and there was no one there. All the Danes were home enjoying their hygge, and the streets were dark and empty. My friend got very angry at the other refugee. Said he’d tricked him. Where is the city! This is not the city! he said. But it was.

The same grey sweater
Anyway, I also remember this African refugee’s comments about Danish fashion. He said he had trouble shopping here, because Danish clothes all look alike. He said, Every store you go to, it’s got same grey sweater.

Now, that’s not entirely true. You could also find a navy blue sweater. I’ve even seen green sweaters.

But what is true is that Danes dress to match the Danish landscape. That means grey. And brown, and green, and some blue. Maybe some beige for the adventurous types.

If you find yourself wearing purple or orange, or hot pink, you will stand out in Denmark. Those colors are worn by children, or sometimes by middle-aged ladies trying to make a statement.

Danish fashion is not what your average Dane wears
Now, there is such a think as Danish Fashion, and there is a Danish Fashion Week. Designers like Malene Birger, Bruuns Bazaar, and Day Birger Mikkelsen have made a name for themselves internationally. But what they design is not what your average Dane wears.

What the average Dane wears is outerwear. It’s cold in Denmark, so people’s wardrobes are heavy on sweaters, boots, and coats and jackets. There’s even a category of outerwear I never knew in the United States called rain gear.

Rain gear is like a plastic jogging suit, and it goes over your clothes and allows you to bicycle or walk around in the rain without getting wet. It’s like galoshes for your body. It comes in all the Danish fashion colors – grey, green, blue, beige, and brown for the adventurous.

Now I understand scarves
Anyway, if you really do need some color in your life, scarves are very big. When I was growing up in the United States, colorful neck scarves were always something worn by the foreign exchange student with the funny name. I never understood why.

Now that **I** am the foreigner, I do understand. It’s cold here, and rooms are not overheated the way they sometimes are in the US. A scarf keeps you from shivering. A scarf saves you from a sore throat. Personally, I now own summer scarves, light cotton, fall scarves, which are thin, flat wool, and winter scarves, which are about the thickness of a boa constrictor around my neck. On a cold, windy, rainy day in November, you’ll WANT that boa constrictor.

Danish fish
Speaking of wildlife, Copenhagen recently opened a beautiful new aquarium. It’s full of tropical fish in gorgeous tropical colors – hot magenta, lemon yellow, vibrant orange, brought to Denmark from all over the world.

But what many people don’t know is that there is another aquarium, in Helsingor – one for fish from local waters. It shows brown fish, and beige fish, and slightly grey fish. These are the Danish fish.

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


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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 2021