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.)
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
What do you need to pack if you’re moving to Denmark? Casual clothes, over-the-counter medicines, unique ingredients for recipes, and games with English-language rules, writes Kay Xander Mellish in a new article for TheLocal.DK.
An extra set of eyeglasses is useful if you wear them, she adds, since optometry and opticians aren’t covered by the Danish health system and can be expensive. It’s also a good idea to bring along an external hard drive to back up your laptop data – laptop theft is all-too-common in Denmark.
And you can leave your high heels at home. In Denmark, practical clothing is key.