Monthly Archives: November 2011

Review: The Worktrotter’s Guide to Denmark

The Worktrotter’s guide to Denmark is an ‘instruction manual’ for people moving to Denmark, mainly for work reasons. It is written by Dagmar Fink, a software engineer who moved to Denmark in 2006 and now works for the integration of expats in her spare time.

The book covers a wide variety of topics, from Danes you should know about and Danish norms, to practical information such as getting registered in Denmark and learning Danish. The book is quite brief in most sections, but the list of links it provides allow you to delve deeper into the areas you are interested in.

In my case I only got it once I arrived in Denmark, which meant I had already gone through a lot of time and effort trying to figure things out myself. Furthermore, I had visited Denmark so many times in the last years and read quite a bit about the country as I tried to understand the characteristics of my ‘in-laws’. Therefore, I had already spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure things out on my own.

Nevertheless, there were still a number of surprises in the books and explanations to things that I had never quite understood. I hope to highlight some of these below to show the wide variety of useful tips and hints in the book

Surprising facts: The time you are invited to someone’s house has a big bearing on what you will be offered there in terms of food and drink, such that they would not necessarily specify it in the invite. Very important to know rather than offend your host by turning up full for a dinner, or starving for snacks!

Good ideas: The author mentions a group she set up in Copenhagen, called ‘Vi taler dansk‘ (We speak Danish), where expats are encouraged to practice their spoken Danish in a ‘safe’ environment. It would be quite difficult for me to travel to Copenhagen for this, but nothing keeps others, including me, from setting up similar groups. If anyone else in Sonderborg thinks this is a good idea I think it will be something I will go for.

Practical issues: Danish households receive heaps and heaps of advertising leaflets and booklets with discounts and offers from a wide variety of stores. Apparently there are always some good offers (and who doesn’t like the idea of that?) but I baulk at the notion of leafing through them all every single week. However, there seems to be a saviour in all this in the form of a website that pulls them all together.

Danish traditions: A lot is said in Denmark about Jante’s Law, both by those who agree that this is a reality and by those who think that it no longer holds in Danish society. I think the book tackles this issue sensitively by highlighting aspects of Danish attitudes that may be due to this sociological concept without prescribing them to it.

As you can see the guide tackles a wide-ranging set of issues that would definitely help anyone moving to Denmark (and possibly even Danes themselves!). For this reason I would say that the guide is indispensable to the total newcomer to the country, and useful for everyone else.

UPDATE: Got this comment to the book from Grace:!/graceac/status/178033475687948288

Photo by Naomi Luxford

“Break Down” Breakdance Competition

Fall - part of Cut-Ups (bad fall) exhibition - hip hop dance

It sounds like this is a first for Sønderborg. The sports college, IHS, is organising a tournament for b-boys and b-girls to battle it out over who has the coolest moves and grooves. We saw a couple of hiphop dance shows in London but I’ve never experienced a dancing battle so I’ll definitely check this one out.

Ups - part of Cut-Ups (bad fall) exhibition - hip hop dance

There are two competitions, one for professionals with cash prizes and one for amateurs with sponsored goods as prizes. So if you feel hip you can join in and battle it out with other Sonderborgers. Participants who sign up before the day get free entrance 🙂

Apart from the competitions there will be a breakdance show by breakdancers from Ground Elements and parkour show from Team JiYo. Looking at these two groups videos alone it should be a fun night.

The event is at IHS, Friheds Alle 42
Friday December 2nd 20.00 – 23.00
Tickets are 75DKK (Free for kids under 13)
Facebook event

UPDATE 17/1/2012: Here is a video from the actual event. I’m guessing it’s the final of the battle:

Photos by William Hamons (Aka Ewns).

Sonderborg’s Newcomers Network

When moving to a new place one of the biggest concerns you have (after accommodation) is making friends. Back home you probably have a support network of friends that you have been building for years, but all of a sudden you are all alone, starting from scratch.

You are probably not alone in that situation in town. A problem is finding the others! For this reason the Sonderborg Industry and Tourism Centre (SET) has set up a ‘Newcomers Network‘.

This group, organised by Patricio Soto, meets every first Monday of the month at 7pm at Broggeriet, a cafe in central Sonderborg. Even though we were not yet living in Sonderborg we attended the November meetup.

At the meetup we attended there were people from all over, particularly in Europe, and also Danes. Surprisingly to us we were seated for the ‘networking event’. However, as people joined and left we moved around on the tables to make space or close gaps, which helped the circulation of people.

The next meetup is a Julefrokost (or Christmas lunch) in December. So if you live in the area and interested in meeting other new (and not so new) people living in Sonderborg and surroundings check out this group page and send an email to Patricio to book your place (it is subsidised so only costs 50dkk). I look forward to seeing you there!

The lights go on on Friday

December is as close as ever and after local volunteers went around Sonderborg city centre to put up 125 small Christmas trees in the streets the time for lighting is upon us. All the Christmas lights around the streets and the big Christmas tree in front of town hall will be turned on this Friday the 25th of November.

The programme looks like this:

  • 16.00 a performer playing Christmas songs in front of town hall.
  • 16.30 South Danish Girls’ Choir will sing
  • Around 16.35 the Christmas parade will start from Georg Hansens Vej and make it’s way towards the centre
  •  16.50 Julemanden (Santa) and all the elves(?) will arrive with Sønderborg Garden at town hall
  • Everybody sings a Christmas carol, the vice mayor will give a speech and finally light the big Christmas tree.

During December the local business association has more plans.

  • November 27th 12-17 Christmas food, workshop and customs at Sonderborg Castle. Free entrance(?)
  • December 3rd 10-16 Christmas at the Dybbol Mill – hot beer with honey, Christmas tree anno 1864 and more
  • December 3rd 12.30-15 a jazz band will play in the streets
  • December 4th 10-16 Christmas at the Dybbol Mill – hot beer with honey, Christmas tree anno 1864 and more
  • December 4th at 15 Stig Rossen, Denmark’s most famous opera singer, will sing at the Town Hall Square
  • December 10th 11-14 a jazz band will play in the streets
  • December 10th at 12 it’s Claus Lykke the “Christmas Rock Pirat” and his dog (so I’m guessing it’s more for kids)
  • December 11th at 12 dancers will perform at Rønhave Square
  • December 15th 15-17 a jazz band will play in the streets
  • December 16rd 15-17 a jazz band will play in the streets
  • December 16th to 19th the big Christmas market will be open on the Town Hall Square

Working in Denmark

The main reason for our move to Denmark was that I got a job at Danfoss. However, although I had read and heard quite a bit about working culture in Denmark, I hadn’t experienced it myself as yet first hand. So how different is working in the UK, or Malta, to working in Denmark? Here are a couple of impressions I have had so far:

Danfoss entrance

First Day at Work

It was immediately clear to me that the company was ready for my arrival. I had a computer, a phone, a mobile phone and a desk with storage space already set up. An introduction plan had also been prepared for my first weeks with timeslots already planned for meetings with individual colleagues to introduce me to their work. I was also assigned a buddy for practical help and a mentor for technical help, besides the colleague I will work most closely with. I was also greeted with flowers from my manager!

My colleagues were also eager and ready to meet me; a message had been circulated about my joining and with some brief details about me as soon as I signed the contract around a month earlier. This is unlike my experience in the UK where we often only learnt about a new person joining when they turned up on their first day.

Work Day

The work day proceeds quite differently to what I am used to too. In London I worked a 9-5 day, which meant that I was often one of the first (if not the first) to arrive in the office and also to leave. In Denmark? I aim for 8:30-4:30, and am one of the last to arrive and last to leave!

There is also one other big difference in working culture. In the UK (and Malta, though to a lesser extent) I often felt that presenteeism (the tendency to stay at work beyond the time needed for effective performance on the job) was pervasive. Here, employees come to work, do their work, and then leave, giving them the necessary time for a fulfilling personal life. This probably explains why I have not heard anyone grumble or complain in the few days I have been there!

I think this is possible as employees are trusted to see that their work is done. This also means that I have seen much less time-wasting here (if at all!). At the same time activities that bring employees together, such as a Friday roll club (where bread rolls and toppings and brought by a different person each week), or a joint Advent calendar (where everyone gives 2 gifts to the pile and every day in advent someone gets to choose a gift), are accepted with a smile.

Overall Impression

My first impressions of working in Denmark are positive: welcoming colleagues with a successful work-life balance. Of course, I have not had extensive experience of working in either the UK, and more so Denmark, but I look forward to learning more about the Danish working culture over the coming weeks, months and years.

Review: Singh & Goldschmidt at Alsion Concert Hall

A month ago Michael had written about a cross-cultural Middle Eastern/Arabic influence concert happening at Alsion on our first weekend here to be preceded with an ethnic bazaar. This seemed to be an event that would hit the right spot for us so decided to venture out for our first concert in Sonderborg.


The ethnic bazaar consisted of a variety of performances, from African dancing, to ballet dancers and Middle Eastern music. There were also some musical instruments and accessories for sale, and three girls giving out a tasty (Middle-Eastern?) meat-filled pastry (though I am sure they could have easily asked people for a donation or a small fee and people would not have questioned that!).

As the bazaar came to a close it was then time for the main concert. As I expected from musicians of their calibre the music was of high standard and the performers, particularly Goldschmidt, seemed to be really enjoying themselves.


Coming from the (mostly) prim and proper theatre audiences in London it was a relief to also see an audience participating and feeling at home in the theatre. It seemed that the audience was also not your typical concert-going crowd, so kudos to the organisers for getting them into the theatre and the performers for interacting with them successfully.

However I do think that maybe this audience felt a bit too much as though they were in their own living room! The chatting and walking around the (seated) theatre to chat with friends was a constant occurrence throughout the performance, as were phone calls and calls to catch people’s attention.

This did not completely mar my first experience of theatre in Sonderborg, however! The music was excellent and I would definitely pay to go see the performers again…maybe with a different audience, however, that would allow me to appreciate the music a bit better!

Singh & Goldschmidts akademi for mellemøstlig musik

Sønderborg Street Art

We went for a walk through town yesterday and on the way back came across two guys painting a wall.

The guy on the left is Lars Jensen who used to perform as a rapper under the name L:Ron:Harald when I went to gymnasium in Tønder. I still remember the first time in ’98 when I heard a copy of his mixtape where he does gangster rap in the Southern Danish dialect. It was epic – nobody had ever done anything like that! He went on to release 5 records under that alias. He has been an active graffiti artist since he was young and has put colours on Sønderborg for three decades now. (Which I think he does under the name El’Jay?) This is what the piece on Jernbanegade looked like when we came by.

sonderborg graffiti 019

Before writing this post I hadn’t seen much street art in Sønderborg but it seems like ElJay/L:Ron and others have been very productive in the past. What is now a big hole in the ground used to be a supermarket with a huge, dark parking lot where the city allowed kids to express their graffiti skills. David Sass travelling around nothern Europe on a bike stumbled on the famous parking basement in Sønderborg, full of graffiti and made this video of the parking garage that no longer exists:

geese watching in west Denmark

Bird watching in Denmarks biggest National Park


An area in the southwestern corner of Denmark was declared Wadden Sea National Park, Denmark in 2010. The area is part of a larger ecological area also named Wadden Sea that stretches from Holland, through Germany to Esbjerg in Denmark. The German and Dutch parts are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage area.


The Wadden Sea is unique in its flatness, which means the area changes with the tide twice a day. Huge beaches are flooded with sea water rich in nutrients, which makes the area one of the most important areas in the world for migrating birds. It is estimated that 10-12 million birds migrate through the area as they migrate to Africa for winter and Scandinavia for summer. This makes it an excellent place to picnic for birds needing to fatten up before their long flights. Birds love the place but the area might seem barren, boring and monotonous with huge flat expanses with little vegetation.


Right now geese are in the area in the thousands and last weekend we went with my parents to see if we could spot them. And we did manage to find a couple of big flocks flying, ‘talking’ and eating in a couple of places. We did not see the huge flocks I was hoping for but still spotted a lot of birds.


In spring and fall huge flocks of starlings feed in the area for a couple of weeks and it has become such a big attraction that the few narrow roads in the area gets quite congested and the big groups of people disturb the birds. When the birds go to rest for the night they perform a “dance” which in Danish is called Sort Sol (literally Black Sun). The English term is Murmuration. Here’s one of the pictures we took last year:

Black Sun

I have dragged Ann to the area a couple of times now to look for birds but still she is not as awestruck as me at the spectacle of nature and open space. I was raised to admire and love the subtle miracles of nature in this often windswept and cold place but I guess it might be an acquired taste like herring and aquavit. However it’s not the last time we have come to this corner of Denmark and maybe some day Ann will be the one who spots the Peregrine Falcon or the pied avocet with excitement.

Ann with binoculars looking at birds


Southern Jutland Frikadeller (Meatballs)

One of the dishes Michael’s parents used to cook for me every time I visited was frikadeller. I have seen his parents cook them (and got the shock of my life at the amount of oil used in the pan!), but now that I will be living here I thought it would be a good idea to learn how to make them myself. So on the appointed afternoon I went down to the shops with Michael’s mother to select a good non-stick pan to be able to significantly limit the oil required, and returned home for the frikadeller-making session.


Ingredients (8 pers)

  • 500g beef mince
  • 500g pork mince
  • Bread crumbs
  • 3 dL water
  • 2 onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • mixed spices


  • Finely chop the onions
  • Mix the minced beef and pork in a bowl and add the chopped onions
  • Replace 1/4th of the mixture with rasp (i.e. remove 1/4th of the mixture, fill the space in the bowl with the bread crumbs, and add the removed 1/4th again)
  • Add the remaining ingredients (eggs, spices and water)
  • Mix in a food processor till well mixed
  • Heat a pan with some oil
  • Form the mixture into small flattened balls (I used a full spoon as a measure of the mixture to go into each ball)


  • Flip the frikadeller over after every 5-6 minutes for 3 times (i.e. each side is cooked 2 times in total).
  • Split one frikadeller in half to see if it is cooked.
  • Eat 🙂

We then served the frikadeller with boiled potatoes with parsley, brown sauce and mixed vegetables. They were delicious – as always. We also made a double portion today to have left overs for friends who will help us move into our new place at the beginning of December – can’t wait to sample my product again!

give way sign denmark

Driving in Denmark

When Michael suggested that I drive back home after dropping his parents off at an event, and his parents didn’t bat an eyelid at the suggestion, I agreed to my first drive on ‘the wrong side of the road’. This is my take on it:

Driving on the Right

In Malta, we neither drive on the right nor on the left, but we drive in the shade,

I don’t think the above is a fair assessment of driving in Malta, but we do, officially, drive on the left hand side. Add to this the fact that I have driven only very sporadically over the last 3+ years. This means that not only did I need to get back in the motion of driving, but mirror everything my body knows!

Overall I think it went quite well, considering. I did keep on trying to change the gears on the door side, but other than stalling once at the very beginning it went smoothly from there. I was quite worried as to if I would take the right side of the road when joining a new road, but with Michael’s help I had no problems.

Other Quirks

There were two other things that struck me while driving. The first is something which has made me think when sitting in the passenger seat. Being in the driver’s seat made it even more important. This is the fact that there are no road lights on most roads, with all the light being provided from the car’s lights.

This is excellent in terms of light pollution, but to someone who is used to driving in well lit roads (mostly within urban areas), it was a bit disconcerting. In particular I struggled to recognise the signs in the middle of the road when a car was coming on the opposite side as the car’s light bathed the sign in too much light. However, as these were always arrows pointing to the side of the road I should stay on, I am sure I will relax about it in the future.

give way sign denmark

The second issue is the shark teeth at ‘give way’ signs. Michael said, and a brief search on the internet seemed to confirm, that this means that you have to stop. I am not sure I came to a give way sign without shark teeth, but if there are, I wonder what the difference between a normal give way sign, a shark toothed give way sign, and a stop sign actually are.

Michael says

I thought I did quite well, but Michael did comment on two things when we arrived home. The first is that he thought that I changed gears much quicker than what he would do. However, I felt that my gear changing on the whole was as normal.

He also commented that I never crossed my arms on the steering wheel. I remember being told quite severely during driving lessons that my arms shouldn’t cross, while Michael said that I should cross them when at sharp turns. We are at a bit of an impasse about this. Luckily for us Michael’s sister and her partner were both driving instructors, so we hope to resolve them soon.


Since I wrote this post I have driven a couple more times. Something that has impressed me is how anxious both Michael and his mum got when I am not driving at the maximum speed limit allowed! I’m used to being told that being comfortable is the most important consideration, but in Denmark it seems that driving at the maximum limit overtakes all others.

Photo by