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 on Danish morning TV recently, which isn’t really something to boast about. In a country of 5 million people, 10 guests a show, 365 days a year – you do the math. Just about everyone gets on TV sooner or later.
Some of my friends and colleagues mentioned that they had seen me, stumbling through with my imperfect Danish, trying to promote my book, How to Live in Denmark. But just some of my friends and colleagues. Specifically, it was my friends and colleagues who work in trendy creative industries – advertising, app designers, actors.
That’s because I was on TV at 8:45 in the morning, when people in those industries are just getting out of bed in preparation to roll into the office around 10.
My friends who have more conventional office jobs, like working in a bank, have to be their desk at 9am, so some of them had seen teasers – you know, coming up next, someone who doesn’t speak Danish properly, trying to promote a book – but they hadn’t seen the show itself.
And my friends who do real, physical work had no idea I was on TV at all. Airport tarmac staff, postal carriers, builders. They start work at 7am. Or even earlier, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had your deep sleep interrupted by a Danish builder banging on something outside your house at, say, 5:30 in the morning.
More than a decade after moving to Denmark, I am pretty well integrated into Danish society.
I’ve learned to speak Danish, I pay my taxes, I bike everywhere, I send my daughter to a Danish school. I enjoy a nice slice of dark rye rugbrød – even when I’m on my own and don’t have to impress anyone with how healthy I’m eating.
But there are a few ways I simply refuse to integrate. I will not do things the Danish way.
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.
Before I moved to Denmark, I didn’t know what a thatcher was.
Of course, I had heard of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister. But a thatcher – as a job like a carpenter, or a massage therapist – this was something I was not familiar with.
A thatcher, I now know, is a person who makes a thatched roof. A straw roof, basically. There are thousands of thatched roofs in Denmark, and they’re actually very practical for the climate, very environmentally friendly. They keep the heat in and the rain out.
If you want to live in a house with a thatched roof in Denmark, you probably can. A lot of them are vacant, because they tend to be located on farms in the countryside.
You, on the other hand, will probably want to live in a city somewhere – Copenhagen, or Aarhus, or Bilund if you work for Lego.
Beautiful but uncomfortable chairs
The bigger the city, the harder it will be for you to find a place to live. Or at least, a reasonably-priced place to live.
Danes like to buy their homes, because they can deduct the mortgage interest from their taxes.
When I first arrived in Denmark during the summer – summer 2000, for those who are counting – one of the things I immediately liked about it was that there was no air conditioning. I had spent the past ten years working in tower blocks in Manhattan, where you are hit by an icy blast of air as you enter on a sunny June day, and with an oven-like blanket of heat when you exit.
In Copenhagen, the summer air is the same inside as it is outside, except perhaps a bit stuffier, what with Danish ventilation technology being somewhat less advanced than Danish heating technology.
That summer of 2000 was a good education in Danish summers, since the sunny weather never actually turned up. In June, it was rainy and cold, and people told me it would probably get better in July.
In July, the weather was also poor, but the Danes told me you could generally count on August.
August came, grey and drizzling, and people started extolling the general glory of September.
And so on. I believe there was some sunshine around Christmas of that year.