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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Books about Denmark from the second hand store

I love old books. I love the kind of old books you get at antique bookstores or on the Internet Archive. And I have a good collection of old books about Denmark.

I like old travel guides, most of which are still pretty useful because the Danes don’t tear a lot of things down the way they do, in say, Los Angeles or Hong Kong. In Denmark you’ll pretty much find most castles and monuments right where somebody left them hundreds of years ago.

If you want to see a famous church or square or the Jelling Stone, your Baedecker guidebook from 1895 will work just fine for you in most cases.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

The Danish Flag: 800 years old and going out of style?

I’ve never seen a country that loves its flag as much as Denmark does – and that’s a big statement, coming from an American. But foreigners who come to Denmark can’t help but notice that the Danish flag is everywhere.

People love to fly Danish flags over their summer houses – the bigger the better. Christmas trees in Denmark are decorated with little Danish flags. Cucumbers in the supermarket have Danish flags on the label to show they’re grown in Denmark. Whenever a member of the Danish royal family has a birthday, two little Danish flags are stuck on the front of every Copenhagen bus.

The Danish flag is closely associated with Danish birthdays. If you have a birthday when you’re working in a Danish office, one of your colleagues is likely to put a Danish flag on your desk. It means – happy birthday! You may see a birthday cake with tiny Danish flags stuck into it, or the Danish flag recreated in red frosting.

And if you’re invited to a party by a Danish friend – any kind of party – you may find paper Danish flags stuck into the ground to guide you to the right house.

The Danish flag is not really a statement of nationalism. It’s a statement of joy.

I’ve never seen anyone say anything negative about the Danish flag – until a couple of weeks ago.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish gangsters: Night-time helicopters and the risks of a knit cap


If you live in Denmark or follow the Danish media, you’ll know there’s been a lot of talk of gangsters over the past week. One Danish gang is trying to expand at the expense of another gang, and this summer there have been about 25 shootings in Copenhagen, generally in the northern neighborhoods – my neighborhood.

Somebody was shot outside my supermarket, somebody else was shot outside the school near my house, and a couple of people have been shot just walking down the street.

Most of the victims are other gangsters, but a few have been unlucky civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. All have been young men, and the Copenhagen police went so far as to suggest that young men stop wearing knit hats. Knit hats can be a gang sign.

I should point out that this summer in Denmark has been so cold that wearing a knit hat in August can actually seem like a good idea.

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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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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Fear: What is there to be afraid of in Denmark?

I was walking towards my home in Copenhagen the other day, when I walked past a kindergarten. It had a big, open playground with lots things for the kids to climb on, but nobody was climbing. The kids were all gathered around a giant, open bonfire. Now, these kids were 3 to 5 years old, and the flames of the bonfire were probably twice as tall as they were. But there was no restraining fence or barrier to keep them away from it. Just a couple of adults and some pails of water.

Big open fires, which are called bål, are pretty common in Denmark, even around children. Sometimes the kids even roast little pieces of bread over the fire, or rather, a long piece of dough curled around a stick. Snobrød, it’s called. Kids grow up learning not to be afraid of fire. Maybe that’s a legacy of Denmark being such a cold country; fires were once very important to staying alive.

Even at Tivoli in the winter, you’ll see open containers of flaming hot coals – you know, the sort of things you usually see in depictions of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. But at Tivoli Danish parents are carefully showing their children how to warm their little fingers over the hot coals. No fear.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danish Vikings, or how to find Vikings in today’s Denmark

I play a little game sometime when I look at Danish people. I imagine them as Danish Vikings. It’s easy now that big beards are in fashion on young men. Sometimes on the metro I’ll look up at the hipster guy playing with his iPhone next to me and imagine him wearing a big fur cloak. Maybe a rope belt, with a sword dangling from it.

I imagine him stepping off the boat in Newfoundland in the year 1000, freaking out the local American Indians.

Imagining Danish women as Vikings is a little harder. They don’t usually have the long braids or wear the big golden brooches that Viking ladies used to fasten their dresses. They don’t wear the headscarves the married women used to wear. Of course, you can still see plenty of headscarves in Denmark, but usually not on the Danes.

Choosing Viking-era plumbing
Anyway, the Danes love the Vikings, the same way the same way the French love the age of the Impressionists, and the British love the Second World War, and the Chinese love the 2008 Olympics. It was a time when their country was at the peak of power and influence.

If you go to the Denmark’s National Museum in Copenhagen, you can spend hours looking at Viking handicrafts: lots of golden horns, and rune stones. Danish kids learn a lot about the Vikings at school – even in kindergarden, they make Viking shields, and Viking swords, and try out Viking handicrafts. There’s various places around the country where the whole family can ‘live like a Viking’ for a week. That means Viking-era clothing, Viking-era food, and Viking-era plumbing.

Unsaid in all this is that Vikings were not just fun guys who wore horned hats to soccer games. The Norse pagans were a gruesome people, by modern standards. Their religion involved a lot of human sacrifice, including young children, particularly young girls. Viking is the Norse word for pirate. When they took off on a raid in England, or France, they stole everything they could, they attacked women and girls, they burned down people’s homes, they hacked off people’s limbs with axes. All that scary stuff you see in horror movies, with fake blood, the Vikings actually did. These guys were not cute and cuddly. They were villains. They were bad guys.

Of course, your Danish friends will tell you, the people you’ll meet in Denmark today are not the descendants of the Vikings. The Vikings, they’ll tell you, were the guys who left. They settled what is now England or France. The people you meet today in Denmark are the descendants of the people who didn’t want to go anywhere.

Tell them you want to work together
The current Danes are peaceful people. But there are still some things they have in common with the Vikings, and not just the way they scream bloody murder at you in the bicycle lanes.

For example, they still love the sea and the water. Denmark wins its Olympic medals for sailing, more than any other sport, followed by rowing and canoeing.

And they still think communally. The Vikings lived communally, in what were called ‘long houses’, with many families living inside. People lived together and worked together to survive the tough Scandinavian winters.

Understanding this can help you in your daily life in Denmark. If you want Danish people to do something, tell them you want to work together on it.

For example, Let’s work together to stop your kid from hitting my kid in the sandbox. Or Let’s work together to figure out the best way to share our corporate resources. That’s code for ‘I want a raise.’

Samarbejde is the Danish word for working together. Another good word, if you’re dealing with people on the left side of the political spectrum, is solidarisk. Solidarity. Some of the parents at my child’s school wanted to throw a fancy party which I didn’t want to attend or pay for, but it was decided that we all had to pay whether we attended or not, for reasons of solidarity. Communal thinking.

One word you should not use
So you can talk about working together, co-operation, co-ordination, but there’s a similar English word you should avoid, and that’s collaboration. In English, to collaborate just means working together. Rhianna and Jay-Z are going to collaborate on a new tune.

In Danish, kollaborere does not mean working together. It means working with the enemy. A kollaboratør is somebody who works with an occupying power, like certain Danes who collaborated with the Nazis during the 1940s.

If you use the English version of collaborate, Danish people will probably understand the difference…but the word has a nasty flavor. It brings back memories of a bad time in Danish history…of some gruesome villains that are a lot more recent and well-documented than…the Vikings.

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 2021


Danes and Vikings, plus: Two words to use to get Danish people to do what you want


I play a little game sometime when I look at Danish people. I imagine them as Vikings.

It’s easy now that big beards are in fashion on young men. Sometimes on the metro I’ll look up at the hipster guy playing with his iPhone next to me and imagine him wearing a big fur cloak. Maybe a rope belt, with a sword dangling from it.

Continue Reading