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Scandinavia

On the Road, Stories about life in Denmark

How to Live in Denmark On the Road: Copenhagen’s Harbor Bus, “Havnebussen”

One of Denmark’s cheapest and most colorful vacations is a few hours riding back and forth on Copenhagen’s big yellow harbor bus, or “Havnebussen”, a commuter ferry designed to transport ordinary citizens between downtown and the urban islands of Christianshavn and Amager.

For those of you who have no summer vacation plans yet, or who don’t have the cash to go very far, the harbor bus can take you from tourist trap to high culture to party culture, from shabby little wood shacks to neighborhoods of chic glass apartment houses with their own private beach.

All for as little as 14 kroner, or 2 euro, if you pay with Denmark’s popular rejsekort, or nothing, if you’re a tourist with a Copenhagen Card. (Beware – you cannot buy a ticket onboard, although you can pay with with the DOT Tickets app on your phone.)

Every day for the next seven days, I’ll be offering you a look at a new stop on the Copenhagen Harbor Bus – and they’re all very different.

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Stories about life in Denmark

What hygge is and isn’t: Thoughts on a misused word

It’s unusual for us Americans to miss a business opportunity – it feels a little unnatural, to be honest – but for some reason, I have never before written about hygge.

Hygge is big business. Hygge housewares catalogues offer candles, soft blankets, earthenware coffee mugs, and warm socks that will help you, too, experience hygge. Hygge tours are offered in major Danish cities.

And authors who do write about hygge are richly rewarded. They’re interviewed by glossy magazines, their books are arranged in elaborate piles in the shops at Copenhagen airport, and they speak to adoring audiences in London, Paris, and Rome. Meanwhile, my next exciting engagement is at Holsterbro Gymnasium. (I really am excited, kids – see you there!)

Selling hygge has become an industry. But hygge, like love, is not really something you can buy.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danish, Dutch, Deutschland – Why Denmark gets confused with its neighbors

I run a small business, so often I outsource minor tasks. This week I outsourced the writing of some Tweets to Jessie, a college student in the United States.

Jessie did a good job, with one major exception: in all 100 Tweets, she confused the word Danish with the word Dutch.

For example:

Copenhagen Fashion Week – Check out the latest in Dutch fashion!

Stay healthy like the Dutch: Bicycling in Denmark

10 top restaurants in Copenhagen: Enjoy Dutch cuisine!

Now, don’t give me that stereotype about geographically dumb Americans. At least not until Europeans can tell me the difference between Iowa, Idaho and Ohio – and yes, there is a difference.

Understandable confusion
The fact is, confusing the Dutch and the Danes is understandable. They both represent small, peaceful countries with seafaring traditions. Countries which are today best known for healthy blond people on bicycles, rushing home to see their monarchs on TV and eat potato-based dishes.

The Dutch are known for their windmills. The Danes are known for their wind turbines. It’s an understandable mistake.

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Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the Statens Museum for Kunst / Danish National Gallery

I do a lot of writing in the lovely, sunny cafe at the Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the Danish National Gallery.

This museum is free to the public and has a great collection of both historic and contemporary art.

Now I’m excited to say that you can get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English at the Statens Museum for Kunst gift shop.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the shop at Denmark’s National Museum, at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available in Aarhus at Stakbogladen near the university.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

National Museum of Denmark shop book
Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the National Museum of Denmark

Stop by the shop at Danmarks Nationamuseet /The National Museum of Denmark to get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English or Chinese.

Denmark’s National Museum is located in downtown Copenhagen, and it’s got a great collection of Viking artifacts as well as a wonderful kids section where kids can dress up as Vikings and ride in a play Viking ship.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Swedes: The world’s worst haircuts are Swedish

I don’t regret many things in life, but I do regret not going to a party I was invited to almost fourteen years ago.

That was in 2000, when I first arrived in Denmark. It was a party to mark the opening of the Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden. There were no cars on the bridge yet, so you could easily walk or bike between these two countries that had been bitter enemies for hundreds of years. At one point, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden – who were both young and unmarried at time – met and shared a hug and kiss in the center of the bridge, right across the national dividing line.

Now, that’s a party.

I won’t be able to walk or bike across the Øresund Bridge any time soon. Half a million cars per month drive over it now, plus a train every twenty minutes, full of commuters.

There are Danes that live in Sweden, and Swedes that work in Denmark.

Personally, I love the Swedes who work in Denmark.  Most work in restaurants or are shop assistants, and they have revolutionized customer service in Denmark by being cheerful.  They say things like ‘Hello!” and “Can I help you?”

This is in contrast to traditional Danish service personnel, whose default approach is “Are you still here? What do you want?”

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and Norwegians: Bitter envy and brotherly love


Danes and Norwegians were part of the same country for hundreds of years, and they’re still family.

Although I’ve chosen to live in Denmark, I have a personal relationship with Norway. My grandmother’s family comes from Norway, and as my mother was growing up, her mother told her that our family was Norwegian royalty. 

Never mind that there was no modern Norwegian royalty until 1905, when the country became independent, and our family came to the U.S. thirty years before that. My mother grew up being told she was a lost Norwegian princess. I think it was something that her grandparents, who were immigrants, did to make their kids feel special.

Fast forward sixty years, and my mother and her sister, who would, of course, also have been a Norwegian princess, got a chance to visit Norway for the first time. My mother, who has a good sense of humor, wore a crown on the plane. She and her sister got crowns at a costume store and wore them on the SAS flight to Norway. She said the stewardesses really loved it. When they got off the plane, they did the royal wave. And they went to the Royal Palace and had their picture taken out front, wearing their crowns.

So, bottom line, I’m not sure the Mellish family is welcome in Norway anymore.

Family envy

Danes and Norwegians were part of the same country for hundreds of years, and they’re still family. Written Danish and written Norwegian are very similar – so similar that I once tried to find a Danish-Norwegian dictionary and was told there was no such thing. The spoken language is a little more different, but Danes and Norwegians can understand what the other is saying. 

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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.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Painful hugs and Poison Gifts: When the same words mean different things in Danish and English


When you’re just starting to learn Danish, some people may tell you that Danish and English are very much alike.

In some ways, they are. The Vikings invaded England several times and left behind their language as well as their genes.

The Danish word sky, meaning cloud, became the English word ‘sky.’ Øl – Danish beer – is ‘ale’ in English.

But in some ways, English and Danish are not alike, and that can cause problems. Back in the days when I was learning French, they called them ‘false friends’ – words that look identical but mean entirely different things.

The one I noticed first when I arrived in Denmark was slut. Slut means ‘finished’ in Danish, all done, but the same four letters in English spell ‘slut,’ which is a not very nice name for someone, usually a woman, who is very friendly in a naked sort of way.

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