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.
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’m looking out the window as I write, and it’s snowing again. It’s pretty, but it’s not a novelty anymore. It’s been like this for the past couple of weeks – Danish winter weather. Nearly every day, there’s fresh snow and ice.
When I wake up on winter mornings, it’s still pitch dark, very cold, and I can hear the wind whistling outside my window. Every day I think, “Ahhhh, I don’t want to get up.” But I do.
Of course, everyone in Denmark suffers a little bit during the winter. But I feel particularly bad for people who come from warmer climates and are experiencing one of their first winters here.
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. It was a fun lunch, but 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.
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.
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, but their employees are not civil servants. They can be hired and fired and trained and promoted – they work for private companies.
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 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.”
We’re coming up on June 21, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
Here in Denmark it starts getting light at 4 in the morning, and the sun doesn’t go down until 10 or so at night, then returns again around at 4 in the morning.
In between it never gets really dark, just like in December it never gets very light.
The light times can be annoying
During the long, Danish winter, I wait and wait for the light times to come. Sometimes I count – only 3 more months until the light times! Only 6 more weeks until the light times!
When the light times do get here, they’re actually kind of annoying. Sure, it’s great to have some sun, and some long, summer evenings to enjoy the rare good weather. Danish nature is at its best in the early summer: the leaves on trees are plentiful and a deep, dark, green; the grass is thick, and every bit of roadside is speckled with white, yellow, or purple wildflowers.
But with all that light, it’s kind of difficult to sleep.
Light pouring in the windows until 11pm can be exhilarating on a Saturday night, but not so great on a Tuesday when you have a 9am meeting the next day.
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.