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politics

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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.

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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 2020

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.

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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.

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Podcasts

Cheating on Mother Nature: Danes and Environmentalism

 

It’s been a beautiful autumn here in Denmark. Golden sun and blue skies, red and yellow and orange leaves on the trees. Just gorgeous. And unusually warm for Denmark. It’s always exciting when, instead of wearing your winter coat every day from October to April, you can wear it every day from November to April.

But this unusually pleasant weather can’t help but spark conversation about global warming. So far the biggest impact climate change has had in Denmark are some severe rainstorms, when end up flooding a lot of basements and overwhelming a lot of sewer systems. It’s intriguing to think that plumbers may become the great heroes of the twenty-first century.

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Podcasts

Don’t mention the flag: What I learned when I studied for the Danish citizenship exam

 

There was no How to Live in Denmark podcast last week, and I apologize for that. I have been busy studying for my Danish citizenship exam. As some of you may know, Denmark is allowing double citizenship as of next year.

That means you’re are allowed to keep your passport from your home country – in my case, USA – while also becoming a Danish citizen. Personally, I’m a little concerned that this may be overturned if a right wing government takes power next year. Danske Folkeparti, which is now the biggest party in Denmark, is passionately opposed to double citizenship.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danish political parties: ‘Left’ is not leftist, and other tips for voting in Denmark

Last week, political posters went up all over Copenhagen, on streetlights, on bridges, and on train platforms.

The posters are for the local elections this month, and even though the candidates are supposed to take them down afterwards, they usually don’t.

So, the candidates will keep smiling and making promises through Christmas, and through the winter snow and ice. Come spring, you’ll see a faded, battered photo of somebody who failed to win anything at all hanging from a light pole near you.

The ‘left’ party is not leftist
I like Danish politics, and I follow it, even though I don’t follow Danish sports or entertainment. I like Danish politics because it involves a lot of intelligent women running things, with men standing in the background to help them out.

candidate-poster-with-drawn-moustache-225x300Even though I’m an American citizen, I can vote in local Danish elections, having lived in Denmark for more than 3 years. Of course, you can pay taxes from the moment you step off the plane, but after 3 years, you can have a say in how those taxes are spent.

Now, Danish politics are all about putting together a coalition, because there are 9 main parties, maybe 5 of whom you need to know about. And their names are confusing. For example, the sort of solid, suburban conservative party is called Venstre – the Leftist party.

The sort of hip, young, new media entrepreneur party is called Radical Venstre – the Radical Left. Neither of these parties are in any way leftist.

Giving them the finger
What IS leftist is Enhedslisten – Unity List – a relatively new party built on top of the old Danish Communist party. As a student in Denmark, you’ll notice that a lot of your friends may vote for this party. Enhedslisten has done a great job of branding: they have a gorgeous, likeable young woman as their leader, and they’ve become the cool protest party.

They’re also still communists – they want to shut down the stock exchange, get rid of the army, and abolish private property. A lot of people who vote for this party don’t really want them to come to power. But voting for them is like giving the finger to middle-class Denmark.

The ultra-left Enhedslisten sometimes votes in harmony with the ultra-right party, The Danish People’s Party. This is because they both hate Denmark’s membership in the European Union. Now, that ultra-right-wing party, the Danish People’s Party, is an anti-foreigner party. They’re always trying to tighten immigration restrictions, or close up the borders.

Even trust foreigners
Many Danes don’t want to admit, at least to you, that they vote for the Danish People’s Party. But a lot of people do – it’s the third biggest party in Denmark.
There is a party that wants you and wants your votes as a foreigner.

That’s Radikale Venstre (the Social Liberals) – the hip, entrepreneur party I mentioned before. They had a terrible ad campaign during the last election: “We trust people. Even foreigners.”

But their heart is in the right place. The Radikale have a multi-cultural team of candidates, and they do what they can to soften immigration restrictions, in part because their business supporters need the foreigners’ skills.

Oh Frank
Anyway, I will not be voting for the Radikale. I will vote for the team lead by Frank Jensen, the Mayor of Copenhagen, who is a Social Democrat. I voted for him last time, after reviewing all the various campaign videos, and after I’d made my decision, my vote was solidified because Frank Jensen had a great campaign technique.

The red rose is the symbol of the socialism, and Frank found lots of attractive young men from the Social Democrat youth wing to stand outside train stations and give a single red rose to middle-aged women.

It was great – I mean, these are women who haven’t gotten a rose in 20 years. I think he got 85 per cent of the middle-aged female vote. Including mine! And I’m a registered Republican in the United States. I’m sure it was the first time ever I voted Socialist.

Vote at McDonalds
But not the last time. I’ve liked Frank’s work with the city, and I’m going to vote for his team again.

The percentage of Danes who voted in local elections was a little disappointing last time, so this time, people have been allowed to vote anytime from August until November. You can vote by mail, at libraries, in old folks’ homes, in jails, in hospitals, and at McDonald’s.

Yes, McDonald’s. McDonald’s is co-operating with the Danish authorities to get the youth vote up, so candidates will be holding rallies and speeches there.

And whenever you pick up your Big Mac and fries, you can also vote for the candidate of your choice.
 

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 2020

Podcasts

Voting at McDonald’s: Danish politics, and the posters that will last until spring

 

Last weekend, political posters went up all over Denmark. On streetlights, on bridges, on train platforms. Politicians fight for the best space. The posters are for the elections in November, and even though the candidates are supposed to take them down afterwards, they usually don’t.

So, the faces on the posters will keep smiling and making promises through Christmas, and throughout the winter snow and ice. Come spring, you’ll see a faded, torn photo of somebody who failed to win anything hanging from a light pole near you.

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