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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish Christmas #2: The cultural importance of the adult elf hat

I’ve been living in Denmark so long that I sometimes forget what it’s like not to live in Denmark. Specifically, I forget that in most countries, adult men and women don’t want to walk around in an elf hat, even at Christmastime.

Wherever alcohol is served
In Denmark, the red and white elf hat is part of any Christmas activity where alcohol is served, and even a few where when alcohol isn’t served. Children occasionally wear the elf hats, which are called Nissehue in Danish. At my daughter’s school pageant, the girls wear long white gowns and carry candles for the Santa Lucia procession, and the boys wear elf hats.

But you’re more likely to see an elf hat on an adult, quite possibly on your boss or your professor or somebody else you’re supposed to respect. Wearing an elf hat as a grown-up in Denmark is the way to show you’ve got a sense of humor about yourself, that you’re up for a party, that you see the fun in Christmas. Or, that you can see any fun in life at all after four weeks of nonstop grey skies and rain during Danish November.

Elf hats will be out in force during Danish corporate Christmas parties. You’ll see them on the dance floor, and quite possibly see two of them making out in the printer room. Danish corporate Christmas parties get pretty wild, which why furniture movers say their big season is December and January. One half of a couple misbehaves at the Christmas party, and the movers are there the next weekend.

French people don’t want to wear the elf hat
Anyway, elf hats got me in trouble a few years ago when I was trying to make a corporate video at Carlsberg, showing how our Danish division worked together with our French colleagues to make a special Christmas beer.

The Danish team, including the executives, all wanted to be festive and wear elf hats. So I asked the French team if they would too.

Hmmm.

Let’s just say the French people did NOT want to wear the elf hat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen angrier French people in my life.

Danish Christmas calendar on TV
But elf hats are not the only signs Danish Christmas is on the way. There are braided hearts, for example. Braided hearts are the little red-and-white paper ornaments that look like tic-tac-toe patterns. You’re supposed to braid them together with your friends, at braiding heart afternoons, and then use them to decorate your home, or your tree.

Another sign is the Christmas Calendar on Danish TV. The Christmas calendar is a heartwarming show with a new episode every day during the Christmas season, which all your Danish colleagues will watch and be talking about.

I have never watched one, and this disturbs the Danes around me, because it’s supposed to be a communal experience. Other mothers at school have questioned whether or not my daughter was being properly raised if she couldn’t watch the Christmas calendar on TV.

A lot of Danish companies do ‘Julekalender’, too, with different bargains on every day of the season. If you have the time and energy to keep up with more than one of these calendars, congratulations – you are having a quiet holiday season.

Bring all your money to the Danish post office
One more Christmas experience you may be having is a little letter from the Danish post office, telling you that friends and family from abroad have sent you a Christmas present.

The little letter will say that if the present is worth more than 80 crowns, you need to pay 25% Danish value-added taxes on it, plus a DK150 administrative fee, and some cases 2.5% customs as well.

You could have avoided this by having your family buy online from somewhere in the E.U., like Amazon.co.uk, but now it’s too late. Unless you want Grandma’s hand-knit sweater to be returned to her, marked ‘rejected’, you’ve going to have to go pick up the package and pay.

Depending on where you live, you may get the chance to go pick up the package at a convenient location at a warehouse on the outskirts of town. You and your money will follow the signs down a dusty concrete staircase to some odd office in the basement to find a wizened old postal clerk…and there’s a good chance he’ll be wearing an elf hat.

 

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 2021

Stories about life in Denmark

The Two Months of Christmas in Denmark: Holiday drinking starts now

The 12 days of Christmas is an old French Christmas song. But those 12 days have nothing on the Danes, who have more than two months of Christmas, and would probably have it last all the way to spring if they could get away with it.

Little cookies in shops
If you’re here in Denmark right now, you probably saw the Christmas wrapping paper hit the shelves at Netto a couple of weeks ago. That, and the first of the gingerbread Christmas cookies. You’ll notice that a lot of Danish shops put out little dishes of brown Christmas cookies that look like overgrown M&Ms. Pepper nuts, they’re called.

You’re invited to take one, they’re free and they are very tasty. That said, you might not be thinking about all the other little fingers that have touched those cookies. I recommend buying your own pepper nuts and enjoying them at home.

Christmas beer bikinis
Anyway, the official start of the holiday is this week, November 6, when Tuborg rolls out its annual Christmas beer. It’s released at precisely 20:59, and everybody hangs out in bars waiting for it, some specially dressed in blue Christmas beer hats, Christmas beer neckties, or even Christmas beer bikinis.

Christmas beer tastes a lot like regular beer, a little bit sweeter, and a lot stronger. This is why a man I once knew, who was a bit of a wolf, told me that Christmas beer day was the best day of the year to ‘score’ with married women. The beer is very strong.

I used to work at Carlsberg, which owns Tuborg, and I can tell you that the company had highly conflicted feelings about J-dag, which is what Christmas beer day is called. On one hand, it makes a hash of their corporate position promoting responsible drinking. On the other hand, they do sell an incredible amount of beer on that day.

Heartbreak, fights, and dangerous adventures
So, if you’re a party person, J-day is not to be missed. If you’re a more quiet person, J-day is a good day to be home, with the curtains drawn, and earplugs. If you’re a Danish policeman, you’ll be on duty that evening, sorting out all the heartbreak, fights and dangerous adventures caused by Christmas beer. If you’re a Danish taxi driver, you’ll be cleaning up your cab several times.

This is the start of two months of Christmas in Denmark. There will be lots of parties, and lots of drinking, all the way through to January. And if you’re new to Denmark, here’s a tip: Don’t invite your friends to get together during the Christmas season. Don’t plan a Christmas party, at least not one that includes Danes. You friends are fully booked, particularly in December, with Christmas work events and Christmas family events and Christmas club events that were planned in August.

Throw a party in January, when everybody’s miserable and broke. Then everyone you know will show up, even if all you serve is takeout pizza and leftover Christmas beer.
 

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 2021

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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Podcasts

‘Friendship in Denmark is a slow-growing plant’

 

I was in London this week, and did a little fall wardrobe shopping. I got tired after walking for awhile, and it was lunchtime, so I sat down in a pub. I had a beer and a fish and chips and a British guy next to me was also having a beer and fish and chips and so we just chatted through lunch. We talked about politics, the weather, the job market. After lunch, we waved goodbye and I went back to shopping. I never found out his name.

The reason I mention this is that it never could have happened in Denmark. Danes don’t talk to strangers. They talk to their friends. The idea of a casual lunch with someone you will never see again makes no sense to them.

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Podcasts

Danes and English, or “Can I get by in Denmark without speaking Danish?”

I get a lot of mail at the How To Live in Denmark podcast, and some of it is from people who want to move to Denmark, but they’re not sure what to do to make money once they get here. But, I do speak English, they say. Can I make money in Denmark just off of just speaking English?

Generally, no. No you can’t. I mean, I do, but I was an experienced journalist before I got here. But English is not a rare commodity in Denmark.

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Podcasts

Danes and Authority: The giant penis on the wall, or how to deal with Danish civil servants

 

When you think you’re talking to the authorities in Denmark, you’re often not talking to the authorities. If it’s about bus service, train service, unemployment compensation, homeless shelters, even fire protection and ambulance services – you will be talking to a private company hired by the authorities.

Denmark has a really high level of privatization. Of course, these companies get subsidies from the government to provide transport service, or to counsel to the unemployed, or to put out the fire you started while trying to barbecue ribs, but their employees are not civil servants. They can be hired and fired and trained and promoted – they work for private companies.

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Books

How to Live in Denmark eBook now available!

If you enjoy the podcasts and this website, you may also enjoy the new How To Live in Denmark book, now available for download from Amazon, iBooks and Saxo.com.

The book is an easy-to-read collection of essays from the first year of the How To Live in Denmark podcast, which premiered in summer 2013.

It includes material from some of the most popular podcasts, like ‘No Planned Hangovers: Ways I will not Integrate in Denmark’ and ‘Tips for Dating a Danish man’ and ‘Tips for Dating a Danish woman.’

There’s also an extra essay with a little bit more personal information about me, such as how I first came to Denmark.

I hope you enjoy the book, which I’ve tried to price at an affordable level for everybody – around DK50, varied only slightly by your local level of sales tax.

Please contact me if you’re interested in a volume package to distribute to your student or work organization,  of if you’re interested in having me stage a live ‘How To Live in Denmark’ event. like_us twitter_button

Podcasts

What I like about Denmark: More time for kids and less stuff to clean

 

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a Danish woman who now lives in Germany. She says that this podcast helps her keep in touch with life back home, but that she doesn’t really like it.  She writes: “I have to tell you, that almost every story has a negative ring to it when you portray your thoughts on Denmark and Danes. I cannot shake the feeling, that you really deep down, do not like Danes or Denmark. I find this sad, as you have been living there now over a decade.”

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Podcasts

More thoughts on Danish summer: The downside of the ‘light times’

 

If you’re in Denmark right now, you’ll know that we’re coming up on the year’s longest day this week. June 21. You know it because it starts getting light at 4 in the morning, and the sun doesn’t go down until 10:30 or 11 at night and then you’re up again at 4 in the morning. In between it never gets really dark, just like in December it never gets very light.

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Podcasts

Summerhouse or dollhouse? What to expect if you’re invited to a Danish summer home

 

If you live in city or a big town in Denmark, you may notice that the weekends are getting very quiet just about now.

The streets outside my home in Copenhagen are empty. The streetlights just change from red to green and back again, but no cars ever pull up. Nobody comes to cross the street. It’s a little like a scene a movie right after the zombie apocalypse.

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