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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 2020

Stories about life in Denmark

The Things I Do Double: Thoughts on Dual Nationality in Denmark

There was big news this week for foreigners in Denmark. It looks like dual nationality in Denmark will soon be permitted. Previously, if you wanted to be a Danish citizen, you had to give up citizenship in your home country.

Meanwhile Danes who had moved abroad, say to the US or Australia, and became citizens there had to give up their Danish citizenship.

There’s now been a proposal to get rid of all that. It hasn’t been finally approved, but all the Danish parties say they’ll vote for it, with the exception of our anti-foreigner friends in the Danish People’s Party.

Why I’ll apply
Now having been here for 14 years, I will probably apply for Danish citizenship. I realize I’ll have to do a lot of studying about Danish history, and learn things like the difference between King Christian the Fourth and King Christian the Seventh.

But that’s true of any country. I’m sure people wanting to be American citizens have to learn the difference between, say, George Washington and George Bush.

I want to be a Danish citizen for a lot of different reasons. Right now, my ‘permanent’ residence permit expires if I’m out of the country for more than a year. That could easily happen if I travel, or have a family crisis back in the US.

Daughter born in Denmark has no rights
Also my daughter has no rights here. She was born here, and has only lived here, but she has no residence rights here, or right to attend university here. Under the current law, she’d have to apply for a Danish residence permit when she turns 18, and there’s no guarantee she’d get it. If I’m a double citizen, she can become a double citizen. And if she’s a double citizen, it means she can hold the Danish flag in her girls marching band. Right now she’s not allowed.

Most importantly, I’ve been paying Danish taxes for 14 years, and I want a say in how those taxes are spent. I want to vote.

I get to vote
Now, I can vote on the local level, as can any foreigner who has been here for four years. That said, the Danish People’s Party is trying to take that away from us. One of their candidates recently said, “As an immigrant in a new country, you’re busy with a bunch of other things as opposed to politics. If I moved to a hula-bula land in Africa, I also wouldn’t be able to have an opinion on political matters and vote.”

If the Danish People’s Party was not the second largest party in Denmark, they would be comic relief.

More things to do double
At any rate, having double citizenship will add to the large number of things I need to do double as someone with ties to two countries.

Having double citizenship will mean that instead of trying to remember where I put my passport, now I can try to remember where I put two passports.

I already pay two sets of taxes, and wrestle with two sets of tax bureaucrats. Lots of fun. I have two drivers’ licenses, and two sets of eyeglass prescriptions, since one country won’t accept the others’.

In each country, I have two sets of pensions, public and private. That means four pension plans, and I basically don’t understand any of them.

But those are the big things. There’s also the small things, like having two different keyboards on my iPhone, one Danish, one English. Whenever I start typing something, the keyboard always seems to be in the language that doesn’t match what I urgently need to say.

Even worse, sometimes I need to mix languages – say, giving an English-speaking friend a Danish street name. That just about blows the iPhone’s circuits. You can tell that the iPhone was designed by mono-lingual Americans.

Another thing that drives me crazy is geo-targeted sites like Google or Hotels.com or Trip Advisor. They assume because I’m physically located in Denmark, I want all their services in Danish. No I don’t. You can figure out how to re-set them into English or whatever language you choose, but that always takes like 15 minutes to find that little hidden tab that does it. Drives me nuts.

The Danish People’s Party disagrees
Now, the Danish People’s Party would suggest that if I wanted to get rid of all these double headaches, I should simply give up my American citizenship and commit myself to Denmark.

In the newspaper stories I’ve seen about this issue, there are a lot of comments from people named Knud and Bent and Axel and other old people Danish names that say things like “It’s citi-zen, not cities-zen – statsborger, ikke statersborger. That means one person, one country, one pass. How hard can it be?”

“Hvorfor kun to pas, hvorfor ikke tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte………?”

Or “I can’t see why anyone would want double citizenship, or even twenty citizenships, for any reason except to have many identities they can use for crime or tax evasion.”

But I don’t want to give up my American passport. I’m an American, and I always will be an American. I live in Denmark, I speak Danish, I send my child to a Danish school. I’m pretty well integrated. But as a foreigner in Denmark, you’re never entirely Danish. Even if Denmark has become home, there’s still another home, at least somewhere in your heart.
 

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 2020

Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Finding a job in Denmark as a foreigner: Some tips from my experience

If you’re a foreigner, finding a job in Denmark is not easy, but it can be done. It depends a lot on what you can do. And what you can do better than a Dane. Because, let’s be frank here, if all things are equal between you and a Danish person, they’re going to hire the Danish person.

The Danish person knows the language, the Danish person knows the culture, the Danish person knows not to bring Brie cheese to the Friday shared breakfast. In every Danish office I’ve ever worked in, there’s been a Friday shared breakfast, and they always eat exactly the same cheese. Sliced, medium-sharp Riberhus Danbo cheese.

Sometimes I would try to bring a different cheese and my Danish colleagues would smile and nod like they do when a foreigner has done something silly … and then not eat my cheese. They’d eat no cheese at all until someone brought out the Riberhus Danbo medium-sharp sliced cheese. My daughter and I call it ‘Danish people cheese.’

Having a Danish diploma helps
Anyway, the Danish workplace is about teams, and working together, and getting along as a group, and there’s an automatic suspicion that a foreigner might not fit into that. Back to my original point – to overcome this, you have to show what you can do better than your Danish rivals.

If you have an education from within Denmark, that’s a good start, because that’s kind of a local seal of approval. If you’re just moving here with a partner, you might want to consider this as a way to start out. Higher education is (in some cases) free here, and the government even gives you a stipend to live on while you learn. By the time you’re finished with school, you’ll have a network that should make job hunting easier.

Otherwise, I suggest you put all your effort into Danish classes at the start, and then get a job that will force you to speak Danish all day, every day.

I often recommend working as an assistant in a Danish day care center. The jobs don’t pay well, but they’re relatively easy to get, particularly in Copenhagen, and particularly for men. They’re always looking for men that the little boys can look up to. And quite frankly, the kids speak very simple Danish, and you speak very simple Danish. It’s a good match.

Just speaking English is not enough
When people come from English speaking countries – the US, Britain, Australia – they often ask me if speaking English well is enough to get them a job. The answer is no, even though there are many companies that have English as their corporate language. But those are prestigious companies – Novo, Lundbeck – places that everybody wants to work. So, you have to have a job skill, plus English, to work there.

So, if you do have a job skill, plus English and you want a job in Denmark, what do you do?

This is my recommendation: search the job ads on databases like Jobindex.dk and WorkinDenmark.dk. But unless you’re a perfect fit, don’t rush apply for these jobs, where you’ll be competing with a lot of other people.

Instead, study the ads to figure out what skills companies are looking for. What skill can they not find? Figure out if you can dress up your cv to highlight some of those skills, or even get take a quick course so you have them.

Go to as many professional events as possible, chat with people, but don’t ask them for a job. Ask about them about your industry, ask them where the pain is, where the problems are.

Show how you can solve their problems
And then, write your job application and your cv, explaining how you and your skills can help them solve exactly the problems that everyone is worried about. Put the problems at the top, and explain how you are the answer. Create a little elevator speech explaining how you and your skills can help solve this problem or that problem in your industry.

The local union that covers employees in your field can also help with this, and can also help you adapt your cv and cover letter for Danish employer tastes. Joining a union is well worth the money when you’re looking for a job that requires an advanced degree.

And then start approaching companies, and you gotta be tough. The first time I was unemployed in Denmark, I approached 100 companies with personalized letters. I got about three responses…and one job, where I stayed for 8 years. So it’s a numbers game.

Denmark loves LinkedIn
Two more tips. Danish people love LinkedIn, so get your LinkedIn profile looking really spiffy. Please put up a professional picture that shows your real face. Of just the people who have asked for my help, one guy had a picture of himself at wedding, maybe his own wedding, wearing a little white carnation. He looked like Fred Astaire.

Another guy had a shadowy picture of himself at a nightclub, holding a beer. No. You have to put up a clear picture of yourself smiling and looking friendly in whatever type of clothing you wear for work. If you’re a music producer, you don’t have to wear a suit. If you’re a banker, it’s probably a good idea. Danes are casual, so a nice, colorful sweater or blouse is perfect.

And secondly, pay somebody to look over your LinkedIn profile and make sure it’s in really good English. I’ve hired people in Denmark, and it’s always amazing to me I got so many cvs and cover letters in terrible English. There’s a website called Fiverr where people will copyread your CV or your LinkedIn profile for only five US dollars. It’s definitely worth the investment.

So, that’s my advice. It’s hard to get a job in Denmark, but the good news is that everyone is rooting for you – particularly the Danish government. They want to get you working as quickly as possible – so you can start paying your giant Danish taxes.
 

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 2020

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.

candidate-poster-with-drawn-moustache-225x300Even though I’m an American citizen, I can vote in local Danish elections, having lived in Denmark for more than 3 years. Of course, you can pay taxes from the moment you step off the plane, but after 3 years, you can have a say in how those taxes are spent.

Now, Danish politics are all about putting together a coalition, because there are 9 main parties, maybe 5 of whom you need to know about. And their names are confusing. For example, the sort of solid, suburban conservative party is called Venstre – the Leftist party.

The sort of hip, young, new media entrepreneur party is called Radical Venstre – the Radical Left. Neither of these parties are in any way leftist.

Giving them the finger
What IS leftist is Enhedslisten – Unity List – a relatively new party built on top of the old Danish Communist party. As a student in Denmark, you’ll notice that a lot of your friends may vote for this party. Enhedslisten has done a great job of branding: they have a gorgeous, likeable young woman as their leader, and they’ve become the cool protest party.

They’re also still communists – they want to shut down the stock exchange, get rid of the army, and abolish private property. A lot of people who vote for this party don’t really want them to come to power. But voting for them is like giving the finger to middle-class Denmark.

The ultra-left Enhedslisten sometimes votes in harmony with the ultra-right party, The Danish People’s Party. This is because they both hate Denmark’s membership in the European Union. Now, that ultra-right-wing party, the Danish People’s Party, is an anti-foreigner party. They’re always trying to tighten immigration restrictions, or close up the borders.

Even trust foreigners
Many Danes don’t want to admit, at least to you, that they vote for the Danish People’s Party. But a lot of people do – it’s the third biggest party in Denmark.
There is a party that wants you and wants your votes as a foreigner.

That’s Radikale Venstre (the Social Liberals) – the hip, entrepreneur party I mentioned before. They had a terrible ad campaign during the last election: “We trust people. Even foreigners.”

But their heart is in the right place. The Radikale have a multi-cultural team of candidates, and they do what they can to soften immigration restrictions, in part because their business supporters need the foreigners’ skills.

Oh Frank
Anyway, I will not be voting for the Radikale. I will vote for the team lead by Frank Jensen, the Mayor of Copenhagen, who is a Social Democrat. I voted for him last time, after reviewing all the various campaign videos, and after I’d made my decision, my vote was solidified because Frank Jensen had a great campaign technique.

The red rose is the symbol of the socialism, and Frank found lots of attractive young men from the Social Democrat youth wing to stand outside train stations and give a single red rose to middle-aged women.

It was great – I mean, these are women who haven’t gotten a rose in 20 years. I think he got 85 per cent of the middle-aged female vote. Including mine! And I’m a registered Republican in the United States. I’m sure it was the first time ever I voted Socialist.

Vote at McDonalds
But not the last time. I’ve liked Frank’s work with the city, and I’m going to vote for his team again.

The percentage of Danes who voted in local elections was a little disappointing last time, so this time, people have been allowed to vote anytime from August until November. You can vote by mail, at libraries, in old folks’ homes, in jails, in hospitals, and at McDonald’s.

Yes, McDonald’s. McDonald’s is co-operating with the Danish authorities to get the youth vote up, so candidates will be holding rallies and speeches there.

And whenever you pick up your Big Mac and fries, you can also vote for the candidate of your choice.
 

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 2020

Stories about life in Denmark

Just buy more insurance: Crime and Punishment in Denmark

I have a daughter, and a couple of years ago, she buried her mobile phone in the sandbox at school.

She buried her mobile phone deep in the sand, too deep to hear it ring, and then she couldn’t find it. She dug and dug, and then she panicked, and she blamed another girl. She said the other girl had buried the phone in the sandbox.

Pretty soon lie piled on top of lie, so we ended up with a Richard Nixon/Bill Clinton type situation, where the lies were far worse than the original crime. When we finally unraveled it all, I had to apologize to the other girl’s mother.

And I punished my daughter, who was old enough to know better. I took her screens away – her online games and her YouTube access – for a month.

I am an adult bully
The Danish parents around me were horrified.

The idea of punishment, in Danish eyes, is old-fashioned and maybe a bit criminal in itself. From the Danish point of view, almost all problems can be solved by talking about them.

The Danish parents believed I should have simply spoken strongly to my daughter, and explained to her that that it’s not OK to get someone else in trouble, while trying to save your own butt, after doing something colossally stupid. The explanation is the remedy.

By adding a penalty, they believe, I was just being an adult bully.

It’s OK to impose fines
This doesn’t mean there are no penalties in Denmark. The Danes are big on fines. You’ll see the controllers prowling the S-trains in Copenhagen, asking to see tickets, and raining down a giant fine on those who don’t have them. Even if you have a ticket, but not precisely the correct ticket, you still get the fine. No questions allowed, no pity.

You can get a fine for bicycling aggressively, and you get an automatic fine for paying a bill even one day late. And because Denmark is a centralized system based around your CPR number, these fines get added to your taxes or taken away from your government benefits, so there’s no avoiding them.

A society built on trust
But larger crimes leave Danes at a loss. This is a society built on trust. You see that trust everywhere – coats left on unguarded coat racks, bikes barely locked, children as young as 8 or 9 taking public transportation alone.

At my post office, people send their expensive packages by putting them into a big open bin. It wouldn’t take a very bright or ambitious criminal to just take a couple of promising-looking packages back out again and be on his way.

Why not look at the video?
Danish society is not set up to expect criminal behavior, or to guard against it. When that trust is broken, Danes aren’t entirely sure what to do.

My daughter’s school is in a suburb of Copenhagen, and nearly every weekend, someone smashes up the local S-train station. They break the elevator, bust up the benches, and cover the walls and windows with graffiti.

There is a working video camera in the station, so in my American naïveté, I said, why not look at the video, find out who it is, and arrest that person or persons?

Oh, it’s not that easy, say the Danes I’ve spoken to. You might have the video, but you might not know who they are. And then you might not be able to track them down. Really, there’s not much that can be done about it.

Pickpockets are loose
Policing in general seems rather passive in Denmark. You’ll rarely see police officers in Copenhagen, which unusual for a big city, but you do hear constant announcements in the trains and train stations that pickpockets are loose.

Criminal gangs, many of which are based in Eastern Europe, have discovered that Denmark is an easy mark. They don’t see a society built on trust and respect – they see a lot of unsecured villas in the fancy neighborhoods, filled with designer housewares that are easy to resell. At one point the police started searching the baggage room of a daily bus service to Romania, and found almost everything that had been stolen in burglaries the day before.

Gangs have also been blamed for stealing the copper cables that power the S-trains, causing hours-long delays for fuming commuters, and even for defacing gravestones with copper flowers or crosses that can be removed and melted down. Twenty percent of the prisoners in Danish jails are now foreigners.

Just buy more insurance
But the Danish response to crime is again, not punishment. The Danish response is to buy more insurance. You can insure just about anything in Denmark – insure your home against theft, or your bike against theft, or your mobile telephone against theft. Gravestone insurance is probably on the way.

Denmark is still a mostly peaceful place, and the people you really have to fear in Denmark are not the criminals. The people you really have to fear are the tax authorities.
 

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 2020

Stories about life in Denmark

Danes and privacy: Why public nudity is OK & public ambition is not

Shortly before I arrived in Denmark in 2000, one of the famous guards outside the queen’s palace at Amalieborg was fired. You’ve seen these guards in pictures, the Royal Life Guards. They’re dressed like the British palace guards, only with dark blue coats, instead of red. They have the same tall, black, bearskin hats. It’s no big secret that being in the Royal Life Guards is an excellent path to a powerful future in corporate Denmark.

Anyway, the guard that was fired was special. She was the first woman to guard the Royal Palace at Amalieborg. There was a lot written about it in the newspapers at the time. Unfortunately, this young lady also had a part-time job. She was a prostitute. She would guard the palace by day and run her business out of the royal barracks in the evening. She found customers via escort ads in the local newspapers.

So the young lady was fired. But she was NOT fired because she was a prostitute. She was fired because she’d been ordered by her commander to stop moonlighting after her side-job was first discovered, and she did not stop. In fact, she’d been asking her soldier colleagues to drive her to her various nighttime appointments. She was fired for not following orders.

Whatever she wants in her private time
The Danes I talked to didn’t find this case particularly shocking. “It’s her private time, when she’s not at work,” they said. “She can do whatever she wants in her private time.”

That was my introduction to the Danish passion for privacy, and protecting their private life. The word private, itself, is used a lot. You’ll hear Danes talking about their ‘private economy’, which means their personal finances. Two of your colleagues may say they ‘we know each other privately’, which does not mean they’ve seen each other without underwear. It just means they get together on weekends.

Where this relates to you as a foreigner, is when the Danes around you – your colleagues, your neighbors, the people sitting next to you on the Copenhagen metro – don’t want to invade YOUR privacy. This is why they’re not talking to you.

Not being unfriendly; just respecting privacy
Now, me as an American, let’s say I saw a new African family move into my apartment building. I would think that was pretty interesting. I’d probably want to chat with them about where in Africa they came from, what they were doing in Denmark. Maybe bring them some American cookies and see if I could get invited to a meal to taste some food from their country.

But some Danes, not all, but many Danes, would not chat with the African family at all. This is because they are protecting the African family’s privacy. Perhaps the family doesn’t want to talk. Perhaps they have a secret. In Danish eyes, it can be good manners not to disturb them or ask too many questions. The African family might, incorrectly, see this as Danish unfriendliness.

And that’s not just for people from ethnic minorities. I’m blonde and green eyed, Danish speaking, I do not know most of my neighbors in Denmark. When they move in and out of one of the six apartments in my relatively small building, they often don’t say hello when they move in or goodbye when they move out.

I will admit here that I have resorted to Googling my neighbors to find out who they are, and why they might be using a chain saw at 10pm on a Saturday night.

Your age is not private in Denmark
Now, you may see an irony here. You may wonder how people who appear topless on public beaches, or nude in daily newspapers, keep anything private at all.

Well, there are some things that are private in Denmark, and some things that are not.

For example, age. In New York, where I used to live, you didn’t ask women their age. And if you did, you’d probably get lied to. I used to take off five or six years.

In Denmark, everyone knows your age. It’s part of your social security number, which you use for every contact with the government, even checking out library books. If you call to set up an appointment with your doctor, you’ll need to give that number, which includes your birth date. Your age is not private in Denmark.

On the other hand, your personal choices are very private. When I lived in Hong Kong, local Chinese people I had just been introduced to would ask me “Why aren’t you married? Don’t you want children? You’re getting awfully old.”

That’s not the kind of stuff people in Denmark want to discuss with strangers. They also don’t do much office gossip, about who is sleeping with who, or who is cheating on his or her spouse. That’s considered private.

Ambition is embarassing
And some things are private because they are considered embarrassing. Like ambition. Ambition is embarrassing in Denmark, because it suggests that you want to be better than someone else. In an egalitarian society, that’s very bad manners. A recent survey showed that 68% of Danes are not interested in being promoted at work. Maybe that’s because, if you get promoted, whatever extra income you get mostly goes to taxes. But maybe it’s because some Danes were too embarrassed to tell the survey taker that they wanted to get ahead. Ambition is private in Denmark.

Religion is another thing that is very private in Denmark. Even though Denmark is officially a Christian country, and the queen is head of the state church, to be openly Christian, and talk about Jesus or being saved, is considered bad manners. It will make most Danish people very uncomfortable. Many Danes see religion as sort of a security blanket for backward, uneducated people. This is one of the many reasons Danes have so much trouble understanding their Muslim minority.

Contempt for the Bible Belt
Speaking of religion, my Danish friends have a lot of contempt for Bible Belt in the U.S., where people loudly declare their religious fervor, but if you’re, say, gay, you’re expected to hide it, keep it to yourself.

In Denmark, if you’re gay, you can tell everybody – but if you’re religious, particularly deeply religious, you’re expected to hide it, keep it to yourself. That kind of thing is…private.
 

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 2020

Stories about life in Denmark

Danish celebrities: Why I still can’t recognize any

This essay is from a series I wrote shortly after I arrived in Denmark. The line drawings are my own.

To truly know a country, you must get to know its people. Not just ordinary people, the butcher and the baker and the sulking lady at the sausage stand, but its famous people.

On this basis, I am integrating very badly. I simply cannot tell Danish celebrities apart. Of course, the Royal Family and their troubles are familiar to anyone who stands in line for groceries, but the others all blend together for me in a sea of teeth and hair.

It’s confusing and isolating, being outside the local currents of fame. Magazines run in-depth profiles of Danish actresses disclosing their new, intimate secrets when I don’t even know their old, intimate secrets. The Big Brother celebrity house looked exactly like any other house to me. And out in public, I have often witnessed the Danish people around me are getting very, very excited by someone who looks to me like a well-dressed bus driver.

Secret magazines
I’ve tried to catch up. Recently, I did what thousands of Danes do every week – I bought one of the supermarket gossip magazines. (At least, I hear that thousands of Danes buy supermarket gossip magazines every week. I never see them reading them. In cafes and other places where people can see them, they always seem to be reading the very smallest print in the highbrow newspaper Information.)

Anyway, after flipping through the pictures and reading the rather short articles, I realized that apart from the Royal Family, the weekly magazines have three basic themes: pregnancies, premieres, and TV hosts. Sometimes they report on pregnant TV hosts attending premieres.

I didn’t recognize the hosts, since there is so much terrible American TV available in Denmark that I rarely watch terrible Danish TV. But I did learn a lot of interesting things from the magazines. Did you know, for example, that Birgitte Nielsen has had pretty much the same hairstyle since Ronald Reagan was president? (She also seems have been wearing the same black mini-dress – perhaps she uses that detergent advertised to keep black from fading.)
danish-celebrity
Furthermore, if Denmark ever faces attack from the air, we will all be able to protect ourselves with a shield made from Princess Benedikte’s fancy hats.

But the gossip magazines were no help with Danish celebrities who had been out of the public eye for awhile. Just the other day, my colleagues rushed to the window of our office building to see someone passing on the street outside. It turned out to be the former Danish foreign minister Uffe Elleman Jensen, who in person looks a lot like an elderly, balding man.

Modest, gentle celebrities
I think the main problem is that Danish celebrities are Danish – that is, they are modest, gentle, and eager to fit in. In New York, picking out a celebrity is easy. Most successful pop musicians can be counted on to have a car the size of a small yacht, be wearing at least a kilogram of jewelry, and be surrounded by an entourage of 60. If you were surrounded by an entourage of 60 in some small Danish towns, there would be no one left to admire you and your entourage.

It’s the same thing with Danish sports stars. American athletes look like living cartoons, the football stars as wide and thick as refrigerators, the basketball stars as tall as trees. Danish handball and badminton players look like ordinary Danish guys, if in slightly better shape.

In fact, when I first arrived in Denmark, some guy-in-good-shape tried to impress me by telling me he had once played for FCK. He didn’t look particularly impressive, I had no idea what an FCK was, and Americans don’t care that much about soccer. Anyway, I failed to fall off my chair with excitement, and Mr. FCK went away with his ball intact and his ego bruised.

This is one of the great ironies of celebrities everywhere. They say they want to be treated just like ordinary people, but they are horrified if you do. If you ever want to hurt a celebrity’s feelings, pretend not to recognize him.

Hi, I’m Suzie. Hi, I’m Michelle.
Which does not mean that they will return the favor. Since I do some work in the dance world, I have met choreographer Alexander Kolpin on at least six occasions. He can never remember having met me before.

After the third or fourth time of staring into his handsome, empty eyes, I began to play a fun game. Each new time I’m introduced, I gave him a brand new name. “Hi, I’m Suzie,” I’ll say. “Hi, I’m Michelle,” I’ll say the next time.

He has never noticed the difference. I plan to work my way up to statements like “Hi, I’m Barack Obama,” just to see at what point he realizes that there is a person on the end of the hand he is shaking.

To be honest, I am getting pretty good at recognizing Danish movie stars, assisted by the fact that the same six or seven people star seem to star in every Danish movie. I’m also getting good at recognizing Danish music. By the time Aqua broke up, I knew them so well that I was able to jump up and turn off the radio within the first two bars of any of their songs.

Now rap is big in Denmark, and tall blond men wear “do-rags,” designed to assist in the difficult maintenance of African hair. My friends tell me these men are very talented, but, frankly, I want to hear Danes rap in English about as much as Danes want to hear Miley Cyrus struggle her way through the Danish national anthem.

I thought I recognized him
Still, I was excited when I thought I had recognized one of the Danish rappers at a party. He was a handsome guy in his early 20s with blond dreadlocks, and the girls were wild about him. “Which record is his?” I whispered to one of them.

“He’s not a musician,” she told me. “He sells pants at Illums.”

“We all love him,” she added. “We make him bend down and get pants off the bottom shelf.”

So perhaps celebrity is relative. You can be known worldwide, you can be known in Denmark, or you could be known in the pants department at Illums. You could be David Beckham and be able to walk down the streets of Kansas City unnoticed. No matter how many people know you, there will always be some people who don’t know you.

After two years in Denmark, I can recognize both the Royal Family and the lady at the sausage stand, and that will have to do for now.
 

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 2020