A good way of finding out what it’s like to live in a place is to find someone who has made the move before you.
When I left Denmark for the first time seven years ago I started reading blogs from people (mostly foreigners) living in the places I was moving to and found it a good way of exploring the place before I arrived. Sometimes it even evolved into friendships once I landed in my new location. Around the same time I started reading blogs from foreigners in Denmark as well. It was an interesting way of getting an outsiders perspective on the things I took for granted about my home country – and if you didn’t know Danes often have a somewhat skewed perspective on Denmark.
Here are some quotes from foreigners blogging in Denmark I have come across over the years.
[W]hen sharing food with the Danes, you may not take the last item on any given plate.
You may take half of it, and it is quite entertaining to watch the last of a plate of delicious cookies be halved, and halved again, and then halved one last time, so there is only a tiny crumb left – which no one will take because it is the last item on the plate. Someone will gobble it guiltily later in the kitchen during clean-up.
—My Life in Denmark: Danish Manners
Denmark’s a firmly admirable place. It’s the world’s example of how the state can deliberately create a culture and administration around social justice. There’s basically no poor people here. The working culture is the best in the world, and my professional experience here has solidified my commitment never to move back to the US. […] That said, Denmark has some serious problems. The world sees Denmark as a model of ‘how things are supposed to work’, and Danes see themselves like that too. This ‘we are awesome so we don’t have to try’ attitude translates into a society-wide smugness that can be hard to thaw. The ethnic discrimination, for example, which is as severe here as anywhere in Europe, is ignored by the popular and political culture. Domestic politicians are more interested in blocking immigration than developing Denmark’s international competitiveness.
—Rotten in Denmark: The Exit Interview
The question in my case is more emotional than rational – do I like this place? Can it become ‘home’?
The answer isn’t clear. I definitely feel a sense of affinity to Denmark. In fact, I sometimes feel the story of me and Denmark is one of unrequited love (me being the one doing the loving). The reason is simple – it’s never nice to feel like a second class citizen.
[A] Copenhagen restaurant won a fine dining award so now Dan-splainers tell me that Denmark has the best food in all the world.
Or a study several years ago finds that Danes are “satisfied”, so I am told that Denmark is the current happiest country in the world.
Or they get it completely wrong and tell me that Denmark has the best schools (really: top 20), or best health care (really: top 40), or highest taxes (really: top 10), or hardest language (not even close, try “one of the easiest according to the CIA”).
—Kelly Draper: Dansplainers I have met
You arrive in your new country and are instantly enamored with its charm and beauty. It’s all so DIFFERENT! So EXCITING! You explore your new city and check out all the neighborhoods you’ve been visiting online for months. You spend a few days looking for a place to call home. You sign a lease and then BAM! Reality hits you and you realize you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. […] The first thing that you should know about our move to Denmark is that it did not go entirely smoothly. There isn’t just a whole lot of information out there about how to do things here and a lot of what we managed to get done was simply a matter of trial and error.
Whenever I’m visited by someone from the states, I inevitably end up having to grab their arms and jerk them back to stop them from stepping directly in front of an oncoming bicycle. The experience is usually instructive enough not to have to be repeated. You really, really need to be aware of those bike lanes.
A number of the bloggers mentioned above have since left Denmark. If you want to start following someone who is in Denmark and blogging have a look at some of these. They all write witty, thoughtful, eye opening posts about life in Denmark as expats:
- Adventures and Japes
- Mads & Kelli
- May’s Musings
- Only in Denmark
- Sage & Simple
- She Talks Like June
- Straarup Family
- stranger in Copenhagen
- The Coziness Project
- The Read Diary
- This Indonesian
Or read them all here.
This is part 2/2 – Read the first part of this series here.