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.
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.
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 ribs, but their employees are not civil servants. They can be hired and fired and trained and promoted – they work for private companies.
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.”
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.
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.
I’m sitting at my desk in Copenhagen right now, and it’s noon, but it’s not really very light. Outside the sky is grey, and the air is kind of thick, and soupy. And it’s cold. I’m indoors, and the heat’s on to the max, but I’m wearing a thick woolen scarf and a knit hat.