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religion

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

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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Podcasts

More Snow Tomorrow: Surviving Winter as a Foreigner in Denmark


 

Everyone suffers a little bit during the winter in Denmark. But I feel particularly bad for people I can see come from warmer climates, and are experiencing one of their first winters here.

In Copenhagen the other day, I saw a pretty young woman – she looked like a newlywed – wearing traditional Pakistani dress. A light chiffon tunic, soft pajama pants, little leather slippers – and then a giant parka over the top. All around her was grey, slushy snow. I got the sense that she was a new bride whose husband hadn’t really given her the full story about Denmark and Danish winter. She looked so cold and unhappy.

I also feel bad for the African migrant workers I see here. They’re often wearing kind of cool-looking leather jackets, which they probably get when they pass through Italy, and not much else in the way of winter clothing. I sometimes see one of these dark guys fighting his way through a white cloud of windy snow. And the look on his face is not full of love for Denmark.

Of course, immigrants to Denmark adapt to the cold after a while. I think Muslim women have it best, because they often wear a head covering every day anyway.

Danes, on the other hand, often go bare-headed all winter.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Salam and Goddag: Muslims in Denmark

There’s a new mosque opening down the street from me this spring, a big one. It will be the first mosque with minarets in Denmark, although the minarets are legally prohibited from calling to prayer.

The people behind the mosque are doing everything they can to blend in with the local neighborhood – they even went to observe at a local church service a couple of Sundays ago. Given the Danes’ lack of interest in religion, they were probably the only ones there.

There are a lot of Muslims in Denmark, about 250,000 out of a population of five-and-a-half million, most of who have arrived here in the past 40 years.

And contrary to what the Danish right-wing parties might say, they’ve brought a lot of good things to Denmark, and not just Shwarma shops.

Milk on a Sunday
Just the fact that kiosks exist was a Muslim innovation in Denmark. When I first visited Denmark in 1984, all the shops closed at 5:30pm on weekdays and 2pm on Saturdays, and they were closed all day Sunday. If you ran out of milk on a Sunday, you had to borrow from a neighbor or just drink beer until Monday morning. The kiosks run by Muslim immigrants changed all that.

These days, Muslim women in particular have a lot to offer to Danish culture. If you go into any pharmacy in Denmark, you will probably find at least one female pharmacist wearing a headscarf.

I had a similar experience when I did a tour of the Rigshospitalitet, Denmark’s largest and most prestigious hospital, where all the royal babies are born. In the bloodwork division, almost all the workers were Muslim women wearing headscarves.

This is a way for devout Muslim women to join the medical field without having to touch men or see men unclothed. I thought that was great.

As a matter of fact, the statistics show that girls from second generation and third generation immigrant backgrounds in Denmark now attain higher educational credentials than ethnic Danes. Now, all those girls are not Muslims, but a lot of them are.

Hijab on a bicycle
Sure, there are still problems and tensions mixing Danish cultures with Muslim traditional cultures. Sometimes criminals who say they are enforcing sharia harass bar owners, but they’re perfectly happy to forget all about it if the bar owners pay them off. And there have recently been problems with Muslim-Danish gang members shooting each other in the streets of Copenhagen, a development that upsets ordinary Muslims as much as it does everyone else.

Women wearing hijab also face some challenges in Denmark. First of all, depending on the clothes they choose, it can be difficult to ride a bicycle. Some Muslim women feel modest enough in long loose pants, and that works fine, but others feel a long skirt is required, and that works less well. Riding a bicycle is the key to freedom in Denmark – it means you can get around cheaply and safely just about anywhere. If you don’t, you’re stuck waiting for the bus. Whenever I’m stuck waiting for the bus, I see a lot of women in long, dark skirts waiting with me.

At How To Live in Denmark.com, I get a fair amount of email from Muslims who have written to me, asking if Denmark is a good place for them to live.

It is a good place. All the things that are good about Denmark for other people – that it’s a peaceful country, a safe country, a country where you can earn a good living and still have time for your family – are also good for Muslims.

Danes must adapt, but Muslims must adapt too
I also tell the people who write to me that, in a multicultural world, it’s fair enough to ask the Danes to adapt to and accept different ways of living, but you have to adapt and accept, too.

People dress differently in Denmark. The women wear less clothing, particularly in summer, and that does not indicate that they’re available to any man who asks. That’s just what they’re comfortable in, just like women you know may be more comfortable with hijab or other traditional dress. You must accept this.

I also tell the people who write to me that if you live in Denmark, you have to be able to accept gay people. Gay people here get married, they have children, and those children are going to play with your children. They’re going to invite your children – and maybe you – to their homes. If that’s not something you can handle, your children are going to be lonely. They’re not going to fit in. And they’re less likely to be successful in school.

The roles of men and women are different than they are in Muslim countries. Most married women work outside the home in Denmark. The tax system is set up so it’s very difficult for one income to support a family. And very few people have servants in Denmark. That means that even educated, well-off people do most of their own housework. Men, too. Educated, wealthy men do cleaning and cooking and daily care of children. This is very unusual in most of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In Denmark it’s expected.

I read in the newspaper about a small Danish company that hired an Iranian engineer. At this particular company, everyone would eat breakfast together on Friday morning. After the breakfast was finished, they would take turns cleaning up. Everyone took a turn, including the CEO. When it was the turn of the Iranian engineer to clean up, he quit. I’m an engineer, he said. I’m not a cleaning lady.

In Denmark, that’s not true. In Denmark, everybody’s a cleaning lady.
 

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 2019

Podcasts

The Deeper Meaning of Pigs

 

Hear about the role of significant cultural role of pigs – and we mean real pigs, not just people with bad manners – in Danish public life.
 

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 2019