Browsing Tag

politics

In the Media

My first vote in Denmark, Part 5: Lars and Me

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on election day, June 5, 2019.

If you’re fairly new to Denmark, as I am, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen seems like he has always been there, like bike paths and rainy summer weather.

I do have a faint memory of the other Rasmussen prime ministers, Poul Nyrup and Anders Fogh, plus the tax and fashion scandals surrounding Helle Thorning-Schmidt, but for most of my time following politics Lars has been in charge.

Now as I vote for the first time for the Folketing, it seems odd to form an opinion on something I have taken for granted. But I since have not found another candidate I am enthusiastic about, it’s something I must do.

Continue Reading

In the Media

My first vote in Denmark, Part 4: Yes, Radikale Venstre *should* be my party – there’s just one problem

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on May 18, 2019. The next installment will run on June 5, 2019.

“You should be a Radikale Venstre voter,” one of my Danish friends told me. “They’re a multi-cultural party, but they’re also business oriented and practical.”

Since I’m still looking for a party to offer my first vote in Denmark, I spent a rainy Copenhagen morning last week reading through the Radikale Venstre website, newly designed with the bright yellow and pink colors of a Filur Is popsicle. I’ve never had to wear sunglasses to look at a website before, but the Radikale Venstre site brought me pretty close.

I was pleased to find some ideas I agreed with. For example, RV wants to simplify the rules for Danes who bring a spouse to Denmark. Instead of the tangle of rules that now greets lovers, the Danish half of the couple will simply be required to support the new spouse for five years. This seems like a solid test of dedication: I’m not married myself yet, perhaps because I have not met a man whose bills I am willing to pay for five years.

And I liked Radikale Venstre’s suggestion that people who are born in Denmark, grow up in Denmark, have no criminal record and pass the state school final exam should have the right to become citizens on their 18th birthday. It seems to me that nearly two decades of Danish culture and language immersion should be enough to pound Jantelov and selvironi into their heads.

When I was taking my own Danish language and citizenship exam, there were a lot of 18-year-olds in the testing room. Born in Denmark, raised in Denmark, they emitted the usual teenage grimaces and sighs as they took a test in something they already knew perfectly well and had been tested on dozens of times.

Continue Reading

In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark, Part 3: Red, Green, and Enhedslisten

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on May 8, 2019. The next installment will run on May 21, 2019.

As a resident of Copenhagen Northwest, I hear a lot about Enhedslisten. In fact, there are some people in my neighbourhood that would like me to hear only about Enhedslisten, since during the last election local hooligans ripped down all of the election signs for all the conservative parties and the Social Democrats, leaving just SF and Enhedslisten posters dangling from telephone poles and fluttering in the wind on the S-train platforms.

But I had never seriously looked into Enhedslisten before, despite my closest Danish friend having voted for them for years.

Weren’t they the former communists who didn’t believe in private property? Why would anyone who owned anything vote for them? And since I don’t own a house and don’t own a car, would I get half of somebody else’s house and half of somebody else’s car if Enhedslisten came into power?

Continue Reading

In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark, Part 2: Mette and Me

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on April 24, 2019. The next installment will run on May 8, 2019.

I spend much of my time travelling around Denmark helping foreigners survive and thrive in Danish society. I tell them never to turn down cake when offered, never to act like they are the smartest person in the room, and never to make enemies – because this is a small country, and you will run into those people again and again.

Perhaps Mette Frederiksen could have benefitted from that speech, because she made a minor enemy of me with her 2005 essay “Alle har et ansvar for at folkeskolen fungerer” (“Everyone has a responsibility for making public schools work”), suggesting that parents who sent their kids to private schools were letting down the community.

As a parent of a child in a small, creative private school, I remember that speech, even though I wasn’t much interested in politics at the time. I didn’t feel I was letting down the community.

I also remember when Mette chose later to send her own children to a small, creative private school. “As a parent, you need to make the decision that is best for your child,” she said at that point.

Yeah, Mette – me too. All the other parents too. You’re not the only one who thinks her kid is special.

Continue Reading

In the Media

My first time voting in Denmark, Part 2: Mette and Me

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on April 24, 2019. The next installment will run on May 8, 2019.

I spend much of my time travelling around Denmark helping foreigners survive and thrive in Danish society. I tell them never to turn down cake when offered, never to act like they are the smartest person in the room, and never to make enemies – because this is a small country, and you will run into those people again and again.

Perhaps Mette Frederiksen could have benefitted from that speech, because she made a minor enemy of me with her 2005 essay “Alle har et ansvar for at folkeskolen fungerer” (“Everyone has a responsibility for making public schools work”), suggesting that parents who sent their kids to private schools were letting down the community.

As a parent of a child in a small, creative private school, I remember that speech, even though I wasn’t much interested in politics at the time. I didn’t feel I was letting down the community.

I also remember when Mette chose later to send her own children to a small, creative private school. “As a parent, you need to make the decision that is best for your child,” she said at that point.

Yeah, Mette – me too. All the other parents too. You’re not the only one who thinks her kid is special.

Continue Reading

In the Media

The Privileged Immigrant: Kay Xander Mellish’s TEDx Talk

Kay Xander Mellish’s TEDx Talk “The Privileged Immigrant” looks at highly-educated immigrants who choose to relocate for professional or personal reasons.

What responsibilities do these privileged immigrants have to the places where they’ve chosen to live?

In the talk, which was delivered April 14, 2018 at TEDx Odense, Kay suggests that immigrants with options need to research the basic values of the place where they intend to move in order to make sure that their own values are in line with the people who already live there.

Continue Reading

Denmark and the USA, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Tips for Danes working with Americans, and Americans working with Danes

As an American who has lived in Denmark for more than 10 years, I’m often asked for tips by Danes working with Americans.

It’s usually the smartest people in the organization who ask the question: others seem to assume that because they speak great English and have watched every episode of “Friends” or “Breaking Bad” they have a good enough handle on the American culture way of doing business. As the great American composer George Gerwshin once wrote, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Here are a few tips taken from my new book “Working with Americans: Tips for Danes“, which is available on Amazon, Saxo, Google Play, iTunes, and from our own webshop.

Fear of lawyers and lawsuits

U.S. companies and employees live in constant fear of litigation. When I first arrived in Denmark, I remembered being shocked at traditions that could make an American liabilities lawyer rich. Whether it was bonfires at a børnehave, hot coals to warm your hands on at Tivoli, or drunk studenter falling off the back of trucks, I couldn’t help thinking about how a stupid or careless person might injure himself and sue.

American businesses think about this all the time, since they have two things on their mind: how to stay in business at a profit, and how to avoid litigation, since the second can make the first impossible. Every business decision, every product development or marketing technique, every hiring and every firing, has to be looked at through the lens of : Can we be sued for this?

Even official social events take place in the shadow of possible litigation. This is why Americans have trouble understanding the amount of alcohol served at Danish office parties. An American boss has to keep in mind that if someone misbehaves at or on the way home from one of these parties, the company may be held liable. And if the boss herself makes has one too many cocktails and makes a smart remark about an employee’s anatomy or ethnicity, she could end up in trouble with HR at best, and with a career-ending lawsuit at worst.

Better to stay sober and go home early, or stage the party at a local bar where people buy their own drinks and are therefore responsible for what they do afterwards. (The bar, however, might be held liable in some cases.)

American diversity is a wonderful resource – and a constant challenge

The U.S. is no longer the mostly White and Black populace you might imagine from the movies and music videos popular on Danish TV. While the greatest number of immigrants to the U.S. now come from Asia, the country is also home to Arab-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic and Latino Americans, who have roots in Central and South America but can be of any race.

Most Danish companies who do business in the U.S. have figured out that it’s no longer OK to produce marketing materials showing only White faces. But diversity is more than skin color and ethnic background. It includes other ‘protected classes’, including women, older Americans, people who are ‘differently abled’ (from using a wheelchair to suffering from mental illness) and LGBTQIA+ Americans.

For example, I had a Danish client who had put together a “Valentine’s Day Quiz” to sell its product – but based the entire game around heterosexual couples. These days, that’s a turnoff to straights as well as gays. Better to make the whole thing gender neutral.

Diversity also requires strict protocols for hiring and firing. You must have everything written down so, if necessary in a court of law, you can prove that person A was treated exactly like person B. This kind of record-keeping can seem annoying and petty for Danes accustomed to informality and used to operating with a high level of trust.

“Toot your own horn”

Americans are taught to ‘sell themselves’ and will expect Danes to do the same.

One of the worst things a Dane can be called is a bilsælger, a pushy promoter. But Americans have grown up in a much more competitive environment than Danes have, and have learned from an early age that getting into the ‘best’ schools, the ‘best’ universities, the ‘best’ internships and the ‘best’ jobs requires a good dose of self-promotion. My mother used to tell me that in the business world, I’d have to “spend 80% of your time doing a great job, and 20% of your time telling people you’re doing a great job.”

This can leave Americans at a loss when dealing with Danish understatement and self-irony. Unless they’ve received cultural training, they might take Danish self-restraint as lack of confidence, laziness, or even ‘dead wood’ that the company no longer needs.

I remember being involved in a project in which a Danish company had been purchased by an American one, and a team of mid-career Danish engineers was set for one-on-one meetings with their new bosses.

My advice was that they should explain to their new bosses exactly what their work had produced and how it had contributed to the company’s successful products, and would continue to do so. They should ‘toot their own horn’ as the American expression goes.

The engineers were, understandably, horrified.

Working hours, work-life balance, and Danish welfare state envy

If the Danish working model is built on flexicurity, the American model is built on fear. Since there is very little safety net in the U.S., an American who loses his or her job can fall very far, very fast.

This is one of the reasons Americans with well-paying jobs take so few vacations, and when they do, they tend to take short ones. The fear is: If my boss notices that everything runs smoothly when I’m out of the office, I might not have a job when I get back.

This is also why your American colleagues repeatedly emphasize that they very, very busy – joining to a phone meeting 15 minutes late, for example, because they were so very, very busy doing something else extremely important. The fear is: If I’m not busy all the time, the company may realize they don’t need me.

Your American colleagues will no doubt comment on the short Danish working hours, with the office a ghost town by 5pm while the Americans work on into the evening.

But having worked at Fortune 500 companies in both countries, I can say that Danes work fewer hours because they work efficiently, and with focus.

When I worked on 12-hour days on Wall Street, there were a lot of long lunches, taking a quick nip out to pick up my dry cleaning, or using the company’s secure IT network to send Grandma flowers on her birthday. In other words, those 12 hours weren’t 100% work.

Danes, by contrast, want to get the job done quickly so they can go home to their families.

While Americans love their families as much as Danes do, an American executive who leaves a position because he “wants to spend more time with my family” is using a code word for “I got fired.”

If you’d like more tips and observations for dealing with your American colleagues, book my presentation Working With Americans.

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

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019

Stories about life in Denmark

Moving to Denmark, a Guide for Americans fleeing President Trump

Moving to Denmark as an American has become a hot topic since Donald Trump began his run for President. Now that he is in office, I hear even more from Americans interested in immigration to Denmark.

Since I’m selling books called How to Live in Denmark and How to Work in Denmark, you’d think I would encourage as many Americans as possible to look into Denmark immigration.

But moving to Denmark with a U.S. passport isn’t as easy as just buying a plane ticket and a lot of sweaters.

Continue Reading

Podcasts

Cat Bites and Dental Vacations: The Ups and Downs of the Danish Health Care System

 

I’ve just arrived back in Denmark after a couple of weeks in the US 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 5 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 tetnus shot recently. I hadn’t, so she made an appointment for me at the local emergency room for about an hour later.

Continue Reading