I missed a gala opening last week. It wasn’t of an opera or a nightclub, but of Copenhagen’s big new Genbrug Center, a place set up by the local government where people can leave stuff they don’t want and other people can take it for free.
The party seems to have been a hit. I saw photos of people leaving with chic leather chairs, kitchenware, lumber for building, even an electric guitar.
There is a network of these “genbrug” (recycling) stations all over all over the country, 13 in Copenhagen alone, full of lovely things that people simply can’t use any more.
Maybe they bought a new one, maybe they’re cleaning out the basement or a storage locker, maybe they’ve fallen in love and are moving in with someone who already has a toaster.
Anyone who has spent time living in Denmark knows that it’s one of the most expensive countries around. That’s true when it comes to food shopping in Denmark, too.
One Dane who had lived in the US explained it this way: “In Denmark, every supermarket is priced like Whole Foods.”
For those of you who haven’t visited the States, Whole Foods is a high-end grocery chain nicknamed “Whole Wallet” or “Whole Paycheck.”
One reason is that unlike most Western countries, Denmark imposes a full sales tax on food items, adding 25% to the price of almost everything.
Earlier this year, my daughter and I visited several Danish high schools to help her decide where she’ll continue her education. We looked at the classrooms, and at the laboratories – my daughter likes science. We looked at the athletic faculties, and we looked at the bars.
Yes, most of the high schools we visited had a bar, or at least a café where they serve the students beer on tap, or hard cider in cans, or alco-pops in bottles when they want to relax after class.
Now, high school students are usually 16 to 19 years old, and the legal purchase age for wine and beer in Denmark is 16, so it’s all totally legal.
It’s just a bit surprising when you come from anyplace where teenagers are encouraged not to drink alcohol to find a bar conveniently located next to the school gym.
January, February, and March are some of the dreariest months in Denmark – it’s dark, with no Christmas lights to pep it up – and many people are dealing with a heavy load of year-end debt from travelling, parties, dining out, and gifts.
Along with religion, personal finances (privatøkonomi, which many Danes insist on directly translating to “my private economy”) is a topic that is rarely discussed in Denmark. But the country has one of the highest rates of household debt in the world.
And once you get into debt in Denmark, it can be very difficult to get out.
Working with Americans: Tips for Danes, my new book, is now available!
Many Danes work for companies that are US-owned or have US divisions. Others deal with American colleagues on the telephone or online every day. Some even travel to the US to meet customers, suppliers or colleagues.
Because Danes speak great English and are exposed to so much American TV, movies, and radio, they tend to think that they have a handle on the American culture and way of doing business.
As the great American composer George Gershwin once wrote, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Working with Americans: Tips for Danes covers aspects like:
- What should you expect in meetings and negotiations with Americans?
- How can you make small talk with your American colleagues – and which topics should you avoid?
- What do American employees really want from a manager?
- Why do your US customers expect you to be available all the time?
- Why won’t American employees go outside their job descriptions?
Book an event
If you represent a company or organization and would like to have an American keynote speaker in Denmark make a presentation to your group, contact Kay via this site’s contact form for more information.
Alternately, you can read more about all of Kay’s events on the How to Live in Denmark events page.
Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.
Tips for Danes working with Americans, and Americans working with Danes
Danish Managers and American Managers: 5 big differences
Tips for Working with Americans in Børsen
US and Denmark: The enthusiasm gap
Amerikansk foredragsholder Kay Xander Mellish
The “How to Work in Denmark” book is now available!
Working in Denmark comes with a lot of benefits – but a lot of unwritten rules, too.
- Why is it so important to take a break and eat cake with your colleagues?
- How can you promote your skills in a job interview without breaking “The Jante Law”?
- Is learning to speak Danish necessary? Can you succeed in your career without it?
- What’s the secret to understanding Danish humor at the office?
With its high salaries and good work-life balance, Denmark is an attractive place to work for professionals from all over the world. But the Danish workplace, like Danish culture is a whole, is built on unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.
“How to Work in Denmark”, the book, explains some of the rules of the road in the Danish workplace as well as how to find and keep a job in Denmark.
How to buy the book
You can buy the paperback book from Arnold Busck on Strøget in Copenhagen or from Bog og Ide in Frederiksberg Center.
Or order the paperback from our webshop, or from any bookshop using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8.
You can download the “How to Work in Denmark” eBook from Amazon, from Saxo, from iTunes, or from Google Play.
In the era of online applications, face-to-face networking, and LinkedIn profiles, the Danish cover letter is a bit of a lost art.
Probably your future employer will ‘meet’ you via one of these other channels before they ever read the letter that is supposedly introducing you.
But it’s still worth writing, because it’s a chance to set the experience on your cv in the context of the job on offer.
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.
I’ve just arrived back in Denmark after a couple of weeks in the U.S., and the night I got back, my cat bit me. This was not just a little affectionate peck – Fluffy used her sharp teeth, her fangs, to create four bleeding puncture wounds in my leg. I suppose it was partly my fault – I put a call on speakerphone. Fluffy doesn’t like speakerphone, because she can hear a person but she can’t see one, so she assumes I’m some evil magician who has put a person inside a little glowing box. And she bites me.
So I was bleeding, and I did what I did the last time she bit me – which was a couple of months ago, the last time I used speakerphone. I called 1813, the Danish government’s non-emergency line for off-hour medical situations.
I waited about five minutes for a nurse to take the call, and she asked me some questions about the size and location of the bite, and whether or not I’d had a tetanus shot recently. I hadn’t, so she made an appointment for me at the local emergency room for about an hour later.
Before I moved to Denmark, I didn’t know what a thatcher was.
Of course, I had heard of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister. But a thatcher – as a job like a carpenter, or a massage therapist – this was something I was not familiar with.
A thatcher, I now know, is a person who makes a thatched roof. A straw roof, basically. There are thousands of thatched roofs in Denmark, and they’re actually very practical for the climate, very environmentally friendly. They keep the heat in and the rain out.
If you want to live in a house with a thatched roof in Denmark, you probably can. A lot of them are vacant, because they tend to be located on farms in the countryside.
You, on the other hand, will probably want to live in a city somewhere – Copenhagen, or Aarhus, or Bilund if you work for Lego.
Beautiful but uncomfortable chairs
The bigger the city, the harder it will be for you to find a place to live. Or at least, a reasonably-priced place to live.
Danes like to buy their homes, because they can deduct the mortgage interest from their taxes.
But if you want to rent, there are two options.