Browsing Tag

society

Stories about life in Denmark

Nudity in Denmark: The naked truth

The relaxed approach to nudity in Denmark can be a surprise for many newcomers.

It’s something they’re often confronted with at the local swimming hall, where a very large and strong attendant insists that they take off their entire swimsuit and shower thoroughly before going into the pool.

Stripping off in front of strangers is new for a lot of internationals, and some try to place it a larger context of Danish morality.

It hasn’t been entirely forgotten that Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography in 1967. Some people still think of Denmark as a place where there is easy sex available and a generous display of naked boobs and butts.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish Birthdays: Flags, Queens, and Remembering to Buy Your Own Cake

It has been said that Danish birthdays are the most important in the world. Adults, children, even the Queen of Denmark make a big deal about birthdays. And there is specific set of birthday rules and traditions for every age and role you play in life. Let’s face it, Danish birthday traditions are a minefield for foreigners. Get it wrong and you could make some serious birthday faux pas.

For example, if the sun is shining on your birthday, you may find Danish people thanking you. ‘Thanks for the sunshine’ they’ll say. This is because in Danish tradition, the weather on your birthday reflects your behavior over the past year. If you’ve been good, the weather is good. If you’ve been bad….well, then. You get depressing, grey, Danish rain.

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Podcasts

Cat Bites and Dental Vacations: The Ups and Downs of the Danish Health Care System

 

I’ve just arrived back in Denmark after a couple of weeks in the US and the night I got back, my cat bit me. This was not just a little affectionate peck – Fluffy used her sharp teeth, her fangs, to create four bleeding puncture wounds in my leg. I suppose it was partly my fault – I put a call on speakerphone. Fluffy doesn’t like speakerphone, because she can hear a person, but she can’t see one, so she assumes I’m some evil magician who has put a person inside a little glowing box, and she bites me.

So I was bleeding, and I did what I did the last time she bit me….which was a couple of months ago, the last time I used speakerphone: I called 1813, the Danish government’s non-emergency line for off-hour medical situations.

I waited about 5 minutes for a nurse to take the call, and she asked me some questions about the size and location of the bite, and whether or not I’d had a tetnus shot recently. I hadn’t, so she made an appointment for me at the local emergency room for about an hour later.

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Podcasts

Danish Names: Why Bent is not bent, and why it’s bad to be Brian

 

Danish first names are very strongly stratified by age.

Ole and Finn and Knud and Kaj and Jørn and Jørgen and to some extent Poul and Per, are almost always over 50. Their female counterparts, their wives and sisters and secret lovers, are Inger and Karin and Kirsten and Ulla.

Or Bente. A nearly guaranteed old ladies’ name is Bente. There are no young Bentes. Or Bent, the male equivalent. Being named Bent is a problem for Danes who travel, because in many English-speaking countries, ‘bent’ is old-fashioned slang for ‘gay.’

In those countries, if you hold out your hand and say, ‘Hi, I’m Bent,’ you may get an unexpected reaction.

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Podcasts

The 8:00 meeting is not an 8:05 meeting: Faux Pas in Denmark

 

I did a little crowdsourcing for this week’s podcast. I asked some of our listeners, and some people on Facebook – what were some of the small cultural mistakes – the dos and don’ts, the faux pas – you made when you first arrived in Denmark?

I got a whole selection of answers. Don’t keep your shoes on while entering someone’s home was one thing. Don’t arrive even a few minutes late was another. The 8:00 meeting is not an 8:05 meeting. Trying to bum a cigarette – not done in Denmark. Telephoning a friend after 9:30 in the evening or so – if you’re beyond university age, this is not done in Denmark. Dropping by to see a friend unannounced – not done in Denmark. Danes like to plan in advance – and they are proud of their homes, and don’t want you to see them messy.

One girl mentioned that she had eaten the last piece of cake on a plate. You should never eat the last piece of anything in Denmark, at least without asking every single person present. If you don’t want to do that, the proper etiquette is to slice the piece of cake in half, and take half. And then the next person will slice that half in half. And so on. In the end there will be a little transparent slice left to shrivel up in the middle of the plate.

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Podcasts

Danes and Technology: The Homeless Man has an iPhone

 

Ordinarily don’t get my technology news from the local newspaper sold by the homeless in Denmark, but I did this week.

First of all, I learned that you can pay your homeless newspaper seller by text message. If you don’t have loose change, as I often don’t, you can send a text to the newspaper seller’s registration number, along with the amount you want to give him, and the seller gets paid right away.

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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

Stories of a Salty: On Returning to Denmark After a Vacation

 

I’ve been away from the podcast for a couple weeks. I’ve been on vacation in the USA. But I’m back now, and it only takes a few minutes after I arrive at Kastrup airport before something happens to destroy the relaxing effect of 2 weeks off and several thousand kroner spent on spas, hotels and tasty dinners.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Raising Kids in Denmark: Social engineering begins in day care

Denmark is a pretty good place to raise children.

Working hours are short, and it’s perfectly OK to leave work at 3 or 4 o’clock to pick up your kids. There’s a good system for early childhood health. A nurse visits your home when your child is a baby. Later, there are regular checkups with a doctor.If your child has the sniffles, you can take off work and stay home with her. The first two days are paid time off.

And, of course, there’s the day care system. It’s not free, but it’s reasonably priced, and it’s nice to be able to drop off your kid in a safe place with trained people while you go to work.

In some countries, there’s a lot of controversy about whether very young children should be in day care or at home with their parents. Not in Denmark. 97% of kids go to day care, even the children of the Royal Family. Even the future king, currently known as ten-year-old Prince Christian, went to day care.

Everyone goes to day care partly because the Danish tax structure means both parents have to go to work.

Day care is social engineering
But Danish day care is also social engineering. It’s about creating that equality and community spirit that everyone prizes in Denmark. Day care is the first step in making your child more Danish than wherever you come from.

The famous Jante Law is introduced in day care. The Jante Law being you are not allowed to be better than anyone else, and you should be ashamed if you’re trying to be. In Denmark, ambition is embarrassing.

For example, one day I was there to pick up my daughter, and since it was a spring day and she wasn’t finished with her sand castle, I sat on the edge of the sandbox and waited. There was a little boy there who was just starting to take his first steps, holding on to the side of the sandbox. I got really excited. I said, Come on, you can do it! You’re good at this! Good boy!

One of the Danish daycare supervisors came over shaking her head. She said, “I think he knows he’s good at walking.”

No competition in education
The Jante Law is part of all Danish education. There’s no elite education here, no advanced, or gifted and talented programs. If you child is better than the others at a certain subject, his job is to help the students who are not as good.

If you come from a very competitive society – the US, the UK, China, India – that can be a bit of a shock. There’s no competition in Danish education. The kids work in groups. There are no competitive schools you have to fight to get into. There’s almost no standardized testing until the kids are 15 or 16. And there are relatively few tests within the daily school lessons.

In Danish school, your child’s social life is considered what’s most important. Does she have friends? Can she get along with the other children in the class? Does he like to go to school? Does he fit in?

The idea is that if a child is socially comfortable in school, if he or she wants to go to school, then academic success will follow.

Kids don’t learn to read until age 8 or 9
Children in Danish schools don’t learn to read very well until they’re 8 or 9. This can be a little embarrassing if you go home for a visit. Your kid’s cousins of the same age are tearing through the third volume of Harry Potter while your kid can barely read the menu at McDonalds.

But they do catch up. Keep in mind that Denmark has one of the highest educational levels in the world, and is home to some really big biotech companies, medical research, high-end sound equipment companies. The system seems to work, on some level.

What’s more the children are very self-assured, and ready to take responsibility for themselves. Even when they’re very small, they’re expected to sort out their own problems to the extent they can, without intervention from adults. By age 10 it’s common for Danish children to take the public bus or train to and from school all by themselves.

Well-rounded kids
I met a woman from India once, who had a sister who had immigrated to Denmark. They had sons about the same time. This woman’s son was raised in India, while her nephew was raised in Denmark.

The boys were now men in their early 20s, both at university, and according to this woman, her nephew raised in Denmark was much more mature, much more confident, much more able to run his own life. Her son was very good with the dry stuff of academics, but the nephew was pretty good too, and he was more of a well-rounded person.

So, if you raise kids in Denmark, you have to be ready to go with the flow. Of course you don’t have to give up your own culture entirely, but one of the ironies, I find, is that you end up teaching your child about your culture as you knew it, as opposed to the way the culture is now.

For example, we watch a lot of old American TV shows in my house – the shows I watched when I was a child. I Love Lucy. The Brady Bunch. They’re good shows, but my child gets a very old-fashioned version of American culture and American English.

I heard her saying something was ‘groovy’ the other day. I don’t think anyone in the U.S. has said ‘groovy’ since the 1970s.

I feel like I’m raising a child in contemporary Denmark, and in an America 40 years in the past.
 

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