Rank #1: Danes and Stereotypes: The superficial American and the Copenhagen cheater
As an American in Denmark, I get to experience Danish stereotypes about Americans on a regular basis: we are superficial, too outspoken and direct, and are apparently controlled by a small cabal of right-wing nutcases.
But the Danes have stereotypes about other nationalities as well. Spaniards and Italians are seen as fun and sexy and romantic, but unlikely to arrive on time. Eastern Europeans work too hard, at wages that are much too low, at least by Danish standards. Asian immigrants are seen as OK because they work hard at things Danes aren’t interested in, like high-level engineering degrees.
Danes also have stereotypes about other Nordic people. Norwegians are seen as happy, friendly people with a humorous language. Everything sounds funny in Norwegian because everything sounds like singing. Swedes are seen as kind of stiff, humorless types who can’t dance, and can’t hold their liquour. Finns are silent, angry drunks that carry knives. Oddly, given their history, Danes really like Germans. Really, really like the Germans. Many Danes will say that Berlin is their favorite town.
Danes also have stereotypes about each other, something that amazed me when I first arrived here. You have 5 million people, and you’re dividing yourselves into groups! But Danes themselves see a big difference between people from Sjelland, the island with Copenhagen on it, and Jylland, the bigger part of Denmark that is connected to Germany.
As the stereotype goes, people from Jylland are seen as quiet, reliable, trustworthy, and likely to marry young and start families. They are also sometimes seen as stubborn, and very tight with money. They want to drive a hard bargain. People from Copenhagen are seen as slick. Smart-ass, fast-talking, prone to exaggeration- everything’s the biggest and the best. The men wear expensive business suits, and everyone wears overpriced eyeglasses. They have jobs that are non-jobs, like Senior Communications Consultant or SEO specialist. People from Jylland have real jobs, like pig farmer, or Lego designer.
Mar 09 2014
Rank #3: Dating in Denmark, Part 2: Dating Danish men, a guide for the foreign woman
If you are a romance novelist, the Danish man is not your dream man. He will not write poetry and pursue his beloved to the ends of the Earth. He won't send flowers, he won't buy chocolates. He won't even help carry packages.
That said, if you’re a feminist, a Danish man IS your dream man. He will cook and help with the housework, and spend time with the kids. He'll respect your opinion, and he won't force himself on you. In fact, you may have to force yourself on him. But if you do, he’ll usually be really grateful.
Feb 16 2014
Rank #4: Arriving in Denmark: Some tips from my experience
August in Denmark brings the first signs of fall: a crisp chill in the air, the changing color of the leaves, the annual posters warning drivers to be aware of small children riding their bikes to school for the first time.
And foreign university students in the local 7-11, asking that their buns be warmed up.
I saw a newly-arrived young American student in my local 7-11 this morning, asking that her newly-purchased bun be warmed. The 7-11 clerk told her sorry, but there were no bun-warming services available at that branch.
She wasn’t too pleased, but it’s always a mistake to expect U.S., U.K., or Asian-level concepts of customer service in Denmark: in this egalitarian country, nobody serves anybody, and if they do they are frequently grumpy about it. You and the store clerk are equals, and nobody’s going to warm anybody’s buns unless it was agreed to in the original deal.
While I didn’t dare approach the angry American bun-woman, I thought it might be useful to her and to others list a few tips for arriving in Denmark at any time of year. You know, random things I wish people would have told me before I arrived.
Aug 23 2015
Rank #5: Dating in Denmark, Part 1: Meeting Danish women, a guide for the foreign man
A lot of the mail I get at howtoliveindenmark.com get is from men, wanting to know how they can meet women in Denmark.
I can understand this. Danish women are very beautiful. And I can tell you now, most of them will not immediately exclude you because you have a different skin color. I know of several babies of mixed heritage here in Denmark.
That said, dating in Denmark is hard, even for the Danes, and it will probably be hard for you too.
That’s because the process that works in much of the rest of the Western world doesn’t work in Denmark. In most parts of the world, a man will see a woman he likes, and he’ll approach her. He’ll try to start a conversation. Maybe he’ll ask if he can buy her a coffee, or some other type of drink. If they’re in a nightclub, he might ask her if she’d like to dance, or maybe go outside and get some fresh air.
These tactics will get you nowhere in Denmark.
Feb 09 2014
Rank #6: Is learning to speak Danish worth it?
Learning to speak Danish can be difficult, even if you speak its close linguistic cousins, English and German.
While the written language isn’t too tough to figure out, the spoken language is a headache. Danes pronounce only small bits of each word and smash those small bits together.
Even the Swedes and Norwegians have trouble understanding spoken Danish.
If you’re only in Denmark for a short time, is it worth it to learn more than just the basic pleasantries in Danish?
May 07 2018
Rank #7: The Things I Do Double: Thoughts on Denmark’s offer of Double Citizenship
There was big news this week for foreigners in Denmark. It looks double citizenship 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.
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.
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.
Mar 23 2014
Rank #8: Danes and Beauty: Miss Denmark, the empty museum, and why you shouldn't expect compliments
If you really want to get a Dane all hot and bothered, start talking about some thing that is beautifully designed.
In Denmark, beauty is usually found in something practical that has been very well designed. Housewares, particularly kitchenwares, are a Danish design favorite.
They don’t have to be from expensive materials, but they have to be simple, streamlined, and work flawlessly. The beauty is in the usefulness.
Sep 21 2015
Rank #9: More Snow Tomorrow: Surviving winter as a foreigner in Denmark
I’m looking out the window as I record, and it’s snowing again. It’s pretty, but it’s not a novelty any more. 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 dark, and 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 I can see come from warmer climates, and are experiencing one of their first winters here.
Feb 02 2014
Rank #10: Are you a good foreigner, or a bad foreigner? How the Danes categorize newcomers to Denmark
Have you ever seen the movie The Wizard of Oz? It's a classic. When Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, the first thing she's asked is - are you a good witch, or a bad witch?
I was having lunch with a friend this week, and, over club sandwiches she said, its a shame there's only one word for foreigner in Danish, when actually there's two types of foreigner here.
I got her point, even though I think there's only one word for foreigner in most languages. But what she's was really saying is, there's no single way in Danish to say, Are you a good foreigner, or a bad foreigner?
If you've been to Danish dinner parties, often later on in the evening, whenever a fair amount of wine has been consumed, you'll hear a Danish person complaining about foreigners in Denmark. They come here just to take advantage of the our system. All they want is free education, free health care and welfare payments. They don't contribute to Danish society at all. And then, at some point, someone will turn to you and say, Oh, but we don't mean your kind of foreigner.
You know, a good foreigner. The kind who works or studies. The kind who is an trained carpenter, or engineer, or a doctor. The kind who open restaurants with unfamiliar but unchallenging food. Smiling, young, healthy, industrious, good foreigners.
Good foreigners are highly sought after at the moment. This week, for example, one of the big business groups said that Denmark should aim for at least 150,000 new immigrants in the next 20 years. The Danish population is aging, so the country needs younger workers to drive Denmark's economy. The business group held a conference on ways to attract them, and make them feel welcome. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schimidt came by to offer more international schools. She promised less red tape. These are things we can do to attract good foreigners.
On the other hand, in just the past couple of months, more than 20,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Denmark. But no one's too worried about how to attract more refugees or make them feel more welcome. In fact, some Danish political parties are trying to change the asylum conditions and send as many of these people as possible back home to the battlefield.
It reminds me sometimes of an old fashioned faucet, with the hot and cold knobs. Denmark is trying to turn one knob on, and the other one off.
Oct 05 2014
Rank #11: How to date a Dane: The two-speed bicycle and the flexible word
In Denmark, romance is like a two-speed bike. Speed one is casual sexual affairs with someone you may never see again: speed two is a serious relationship where you’ll be expected to go to all your partner’s dull family events. There’s not much of a middle. And what there definitely is not is dating.
Nov 01 2015
Rank #12: Danes and Vikings, plus: Two words to use to get Danish people to do what you want
I play a little game sometime when I look at Danish people. I imagine them as Vikings. It’s easy now that big beards are in fashion on young men. Sometimes on the metro I’ll look up at the hipster guy playing with his iPhone next to me and imagine him wearing a big fur cloak. Maybe a rope belt, with a sword dangling from it. I imagine him stepping off the boat in Newfoundland in the year 1000, freaking out the local American Indians.
Jan 26 2014
Rank #13: White Socks and the Danish Tax Burden
The price of white cotton socks in Denmark is about five times as high as in the USA. I explain how the price of socks has a lot to say about the Danish economic system.
Jul 25 2013
Rank #14: Danes and English, or "Can I live in Denmark without speaking Danish?"
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.
Danish children start learning English when they’re six years old. And because British and American TV shows and movies and are not dubbed, children are constantly hearing English even earlier. Danish adults often read novels in English, and by the time you get to university, pretty much all the high-level textbooks are in English. There’s just no economic case for translating textbooks into a language that only 5.6 million people speak.
So, English is everywhere in Denmark. And Danes love English. When you come to Denmark, you’ll find that shops and youth programs and rock bands have English names because the Danes think it sounds cool. Danes also like to tuck bits of English into their Danish speech, like ‘Du fik et nyt job! Nice” or ‘Er det her den billigste togbillet til Roskilde? I don’t know.”
For some Danes, particularly younger Danes, the Danish language is seen as provincial, old-fashioned, kind of like those dusty little porcelain knick-knacks your grandparents keep around the house.
So another question I get a lot is, if you already speak English, is it worth learning Danish at all? Yes, it is. Parties are more fun if you can speak Danish. There's nothing worse than everyone laughing uproariously at some very funny joke, and you having to wait there like a piece of furniture until someone takes the time to explain it to you.
Aug 24 2014
Rank #15: Politeness in Denmark: Some thoughts on Danish etiquette
“Is there politeness in Denmark?”
That was the question I was recently invited on a national TV show to discuss.
The implication was that I was supposed to say that Danes were not at all polite, because effusive praise and cheerful agreement make for a rather dull TV show.
But Danes are not impolite. They have their own version of courteous behaviour, which is based on reinforcing aspects of their culture that they care about.
Oct 12 2019
Rank #16: Danes and Fear: What is there to be afraid of in Denmark?
In general, Denmark is not a fearful country. You could argue, what is there to be afraid of in Denmark? It seems like a safe little corner of the world. Tax-funded social programs make it unlikely you’ll go hungry or homeless, as long as you have that little yellow social service card that shows you're here legally. Your medical care and education is paid for by taxes – yours or somebody else’s. Even if you lose your job – and it’s very easy in Denmark for companies to get rid of workers they don’t want – there is the social safety net to catch you.
I’ve often thought that the social safety net is one of the reasons has so little interest in religion. When there’s so little to worry about, there’s not much to pray for.
Denmark also has is little of the open competition that can make life so stressful in competitive nations like China or India or the United States. Danish culture prizes consensus, not competition, and Danish children don’t get any formal grades in school until they’re in their teens. Any type of non-sports competition is discouraged.
So that fear that kids live with in many parts of the world – of not being the best in class, not being able to get into a good secondary school or college – of being crossed off the list at a very young age, is largely absent in Denmark.
May 10 2015
Rank #17: How to make friends in Denmark; or 'Friendship in Denmark is a slow-growing plant.'
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.
Foreigners often say it’s hard to make friends in Denmark. This is because Danes take friendship very seriously. A friendship is a commitment, often a lifetime commitment. You will often meet adult Danes who have friends they met in kindergarten. As a matter of fact, this is why I chose to put my daughter in a Danish school, instead of an international one – I wanted her to have those deep friendships. In some international schools, your friends are moving in and out all the time as Mom and Dad get transferred around the world.
But for you, as a foreigner, making new freinds can be tough. Danes don’t really have the idea of ‘an acquaintance’ - they have the word, en bekendte, but it isn’t used very often. If you were in some other countries, an acquaintance might invite you, maybe your partner, over for dinner and then, three months later, you’d invite the acquaintance and her partner and maybe it would continue and maybe it wouldn’t.
That light, no-obligation friendship – Danes don’t do that. In Denmark, friendship is an obligation, and a trust. Friends don’t let each other down. So, when a Dane meets you, he may think ahhhh he’s a great guy, but I really don’t have room for another friend. I have no time to see the friends I have. Meaning, the people he’s known since he was three years old.
Aug 31 2014
Rank #18: The sound of Denmark? Quiet. Very quiet
Denmark is a quiet country, even within the cities. Especially this time of year, February, when it’s too cold to do anything but scurry from place to place, when the street cafés are closed and no one wants to eat their lunch in the park. The Danes are hibernating in their homes until the spring.
And especially when a blanket of snow covers the cities and countryside. Then everything around you will be beautifully, peacefully, totally quiet.
This Danish quiet can freak out a lot of internationals when they first arrive.
The Danes have a lot of respect for quiet. If you ask a Danish friend how things are going in his life, he’s likely to stay “Ah, stille og roligt.” Which Google Translate renders as “Quiet and quiet.” (‘Nice and easy’ is another translation)
Quiet is written into the laws in Denmark – car horns are rarely heard, for example, because it’s against the law to use them unless you are in immediate danger. I learned to drive in Manhattan, where you use your horn every 3 or 4 seconds, so this was a big change for me.
Church bells are only allowed to chime at certain times of the week. And most trains in Denmark – local S-trains and national – have a silent car. If you choose to sit there, you are not allowed to make any noise at all.
Feb 07 2019
Rank #19: Public nudity and the passion for privacy: Why I Google my Danish neighbors to find out who they are
They may appear nude on public beaches and in daily newspapers, but the Danes have a passion for privacy. And they may be respecting YOUR privacy by not talking to you.
Aug 24 2013
Rank #20: Summerhouse or dollhouse? What to expect if you're invited to a Danish summer home
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.
This is because all the Danish people have gone to their summerhouses.
On Friday afternoons, Danish people like to pack up their cars, drive out to the countryside, and spend the weekend in conditions that are sometimes quite primitive. Every summerhouse is different, but most of them seem to have questionable plumbing, odd sleeping arrangements, and chipped dishes and glassware.
The Danish summerhouse is an old tradition – 400 years ago, the government started offering small plots of land to the industrial workers who lived in crowded, sooty slums. The idea was that they could get away into the clean, fresh air on weekends, and grow healthy vegetables.
Fast forward to now, and very few people grow vegetables on their plots these days. Instead, these small summerhouse plots have become little kingdoms, with neatly clipped hedges all around and lots of lawn chairs and flowerbeds and bird feeders. In the center is a tiny, tiny house – usually not more than 50 square meters, or 400 square feet – where the entire family spends the summer.
This little doll house is almost always lovingly care of. Freshly painted, nice roof, clean windows, flowery curtains. I’ve also seen elaborate ones. One near my house has a copper roof. When I was looking at real estate ads for this story, I saw another one that had been fitted with big white columns like the mansion house in Gone With the Wind.
But as fancy as they are, they are small. There’s usually room for one double bed, or a fold-out couch, and then maybe there’s a loft where a couple more people can sleep, maybe a porch for one or two more. I would guess that Danish maximum-security prisoners get more sleeping space than ordinary Danes in their summer houses.
May 10 2014