Tag Archives: Denmark

We moved to Denmark at the end of 2011. As a Danish/Maltese couple we find things interesting, funny and frustrating living here. The posts below are some of the ones where we write about living and visiting Danes and Denmark.

To dash or not to dash

International family law can be complicated. When couples join up across borders cultures, norms and bureaucracy can get tangled up in the process. Some of it can be enlightening and charming but sometimes it’s just frustrating. This is a case of the latter where two countries with equally bureaucratic systems butt heads.

We got married this spring in Malta and wanted to change our name in the process. We figured there might be a bit of bureaucracy involved but figured we could work it out.

We wanted to join our two surnames so both of us would be called “Fenech Andersen”, so we could have the same name and Ann could have the same identity in Denmark and in Malta.

We got married in Malta where the husband doesn’t change his name. So after our marriage Michael kept his name and Ann changed hers to “Fenech Andersen”.

After arriving back in Denmark, Michael went and changed his surname to “Fenech-Andersen”. In Denmark you can change your name to a lot of things but you cannot have two surnames (a double name) without them being joined by a dash. Unless you are Spanish – or from a Spanish speaking country – then you can…

Although people often think Malta is a Spanish speaking country it is not. So when Ann came back to Denmark she went to the kommune to ask to have her new name registered. They sent her to the church (because in Sønderjylland the church handles all name changes (when they are not done within 3 months of the marriage)). The church disagreed and tried to send her back to the kommune but we ended up back at the church. At the end of that loop de loop we got the verdict that Denmark would not recognize Ann’s new double surname from Malta. Had she been double surnamed when she moved here it might have been a different story.

So Denmark has spoken: it had to be the dash. So now she is changing her name in Denmark to “Fenech-Andersen”. We contacted the embassy to hear if a name change made to a Maltese citizen in Denmark would be recognised and they came back and said a name change will be recognised but, no – in Malta you cannot have a dash in your last name.

Maybe it’s not a big deal – it is after all just a dash. But still it’s a strange realisation that Ann in essence will end up having two identities. In Malta, in her passport and when she books flights she will be Ann Fenech Andersen. In Denmark, on her health insurance card, at her bank and to her colleagues her name is Ann Fenech-Andersen. Her two “home” countries has diverging naming laws that can’t agree whether to dash or not.

Want to know more?

A Year of Working in Denmark

Working in a new country will undoubtedly raise questions about the working style to be encountered. Every company has its own working culture, which is also affected by the cultural expectations of the employees. Before I started working in Denmark I had a number of doubts about what I would find.

These are the points I would have highlighted to myself one year ago, based on my experience of different management styles I have encountered:

  • Expect to be trusted to do you work without being checked. Conversely, be careful how you ask questions to others. They might see it as criticism rather than an attempt at understanding (or knowing that 2 heads are better than one).
  • Expect to receive emails starting ‘Hi’, or even ‘Hello’. Formality is considered redundant.
  • Oh – and don’t expect to receive a reply saying thanks for a report or even confirming that they have received it! no contact = no issues (normally).
  • Expect to be taken seriously, regardless of age or gender. Equality (at least in this sense) really permeates the working life more than I had ever imagined it could.
  • Enjoy a flexible working situation and a good work-life balance. Arrive early and leave early. That said, you can do whatever you want, as long as the work gets done.
  • Forget about management styles you are used to. Decisions making is much more consensual. Great if you are the worker, not so great if you are in need of a decision!
  • Your colleagues are not your friends. Friendly enough at work, but don’t expect this to extend to life outside. Make friends elsewhere.
  • Phone usage? Forget most previous experience. Answering your phone during meetings is fine. But do walk out of the room if possible.

What about you? What would you add to this list?

Denmark – One Year On

One year ago today I arrived in Denmark. From London, via Hamburg. I arrived exhausted – it was a gruelling trip, what with luggage and train cancellations. However, it signified the start of a new life: a new country and a new job in a new field. I was excited.

Having known Michael for around 4 years, I had, of course, often visited Denmark. During these visits I had encountered a country that looked ‘like in the films’: green rolling hills in spring and summer, golden reddish hues in autumn, and snow! However, most of all, houses had attics – with sloping roofs! You may say – why the excitement? But I come from a country with flat roofs and sloping roofs was what all houses in fairytales had when growing up!

However, I was also apprehensive. I had experienced quite a number of Danes who solely looked inwards towards Denmark and Danes rather than outwards towards the rest of the world. These were people who really believed that everything in Denmark is the best in the world. An attitude, might I add, I had never encountered previously and is the complete opposite to what I expect. This did not sit easy with me – I like to question everything, if only to understand. This is a country where ‘hygge’ and a happy time is important above all else. Coming from a confrontational society, where arguments are relished, I was worried.

So what have I found? I have found a bit of both. Lovely nature that is opposite to the dry and urbanised landscape I grew up with. But also, people with different norms of what is acceptable discourse and what is not, and individuals who struggled with my questions as they were used to having what they say accepted without being challenged in the hope by others of keeping the peace.

Over all, however, I am happy to be here. I appreciate the nature I have around me. I appreciate having the possibilities I have been given in being involved in the community. Above all else, however, I have learnt more about Danish culture and what causes people to act the way they do. This has come in handy in feeling less affronted by what I am told and confronted with, and – why not? – in knowing what buttons to push when I feel its time to give my argumentation skills some exercise!


Education in Denmark

I am tired of constantly being told by certain people that the Danish education system is an all-singing all-dancing perfect affair. In the words of a friend, “the Danish education system is not backward like the education systems in Russia, France and the UK”. So I decided to dig a bit deeper.

A quick search online brought me to review on the national policies of education commissioned by the Danish Government from OECD. When I saw it I thought ‘Great – an objective report!’ and set to reading it.

So what did I find?

The report  was written following the PISA results carried out in 2000, a study which aims to investigate how prepared students are to future challenges. It is divided into 2 parts: a background report on the Danish education system, and an examiners report written by people from three reference countries (Canada, UK and Finland). In the examiners report there are sections on the strengths and on the weakness of the system, which I found particularly interesting:

The strengths

A strength of the system is, without a doubt, the interest of the state in investing in education (7.8% of GDP in 2008). This provides some of the highest ratios of staff to students, resources and equipment. The government also provides the different schools with the flexibility for innovation. Another positive aspect from my point of view is that the students are happy and feel well-supported. The parents also are strongly involved. This makes for happy customers all round, with public satisfaction being constantly high.

The weaknesses

Unfortunately, what the report clearly shows (saying it in the first paragraph of the executive summary) is that while Denmark has one of the most expensive education systems in the world, it is disappointingly underperforming. In particular, the report identifies a strong underachievement, where there are “fewer high flyers, a lower average performance, and a greater proportion of those experiencing serious difficulties” than might be expected. A possible reason given for this is that there are very few evaluation systems put in place to be able to identify if there are problems that need to be taken care of, and often very little sharing of successful practices.

However, what I found even more surprising is that, while I have constantly been told that the quality might be suffering because Danes aim for equality, the report clearly shows that this is not the case. In fact, the difference between the weaker students and the ones from less advantaged backgrounds and the average is bigger than in other countries they looked at. One particular point they picked up on was that the weaker students are often taken out of class to improve in one subject (mainly Danish from what I understand), which consequently means that the students are automatically falling behind on the other subjects, causing a downward spiral from which it is harder to get out.

I think the report really hits on a couple of things I have been feeling since I have been bombarded by how great the Danish education system is. I tried to summarise the main points that struck me, but there are others, such as that the system focuses on the social and emotional skills, but forgets that its primary aim is also intellectual skills, and that it should also challenge the kids. So I urge you to read the report yourself if you have an interest in the subject… and I am curious. What do YOU think?

Book Review: Xenophobe’s Guide to the Danes

Before my first visit to Denmark, around 4 years ago, Michael had sent me Xenophobe’s Guide to the Danes to ‘prepare’ me for what I was going to find. Now that I am permanently living here I thought it would be useful to read it again.

The book offers a light-hearted look at Danes, their characteristics and their foibles. Having visited Denmark regularly over the past years, I feel that the book accurately dissects the Danish psyche and exposes it without any indication of malice; in light of all the strong feelings written about foreigners and Denmark, it is uplifting to read something about Danes and foreigners that is not completed skewed one way or another.

The best thing about the book, though, is the quotes. When reading the book you will find gems that you will chuckle over for quite some time and you will want to remember and recite whenever you feel the need for sanity to return to your world! Reading quotes such as:

Pollution is generally frowned upon. Smoking is not. The atmosphere in many living rooms is thick enough to cure herring.

which perfectly illustrate what I have been thinking (and said in previous posts) was definitely heart-warming. I think you might find a few of these quotes sneaking in to posts in the future!

So if you are coming to Denmark, or in any way want to understand Danes better, I do suggest you read the book…you can also get a sneak preview here. On the other hand, if you are already here, I think you might find this post by a Danish blogger/historian interesting. And finally if you want a more serious and in-depth book about coming to Denmark check out Worktrotter’s Guide.

Working in Denmark

I have been working in Denmark for just over 2 months (which included 10 days off for Christmas). During this time I have been busy learning my job, but also observing how things work within the department. I have also given myself time to think about the differences I am observing, if only to be able to keep them in mind when interacting in this new environment. So what have I been noticing? These are a few of my first impressions.

Attitude to learning

First of all I am impressed with the attitude toward learning I have observed. At work I have been given a mentor – a retired colleague who comes in every week to talk to me about the tasks I have, introduce me to the relevant people and help bring me up to speed with the technical issues. I am given the time to learn new things and apply my knowledge at a slower pace than a more experience colleague would at this point in time. This surprised me a lot as it is completely the opposite of what I was always told working in a company would be like – and my previous experience as well.

I think the reason for this attitude is based in the vision of the manager. I feel that management see the employees as a valuable resource, and only by having them trained to the required standards can we deliver to the best of our abilities, thus serving our function within the company.


I was told this before I moved to Denmark, and I have really seen it work. The working environment is very much built on trust. Everyone is trusted to do the tasks they are working on within the time frame and to the level expected. No one checks that you work the hours you are expected – my contract also specifies hours a year I should work rather than per week, making working hours more flexible.

It’s the same situation with tasks: once I ask you to do something I trust you to do it, and do it right, and I will find the results in the required place. So far the system seems to work, though it has been a mind-shift going from a manager who expected to know everything about where I was to one who looks blankly at me if I start talking about my current tasks just for the sake of informing her!

Respect for each others’ abilities

I think that trust is a result of the respect everyone has for others’ abilities irrespective of whether one is the a consultant or a technician, a manager or an administrator. Because of this everyone feels proud of the job they are doing, and do their best to do it well. It has been a blessing not to have to decipher the social pecking order in a work place this time round.

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is something that Danes pride themselves on. I really see the difference here. In London and elsewhere people often lived to work. Here, the balance is really shifted the other way: people get their job done and leave. Socialising with colleagues is not really a thing done here and staying around at work once your hours/work is over is definitely not something I have seen being done. It’s refreshing, and great, though, I am still to be convinced that shifting so far onto the other side can only be a good thing.

What’s it like living in Denmark as a foreigner – part 2/2

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.
Shahar Silbershatz


[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.

A Belle Abroad


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.

The Morons Guide to Denmark for Americans

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:

Or read them all here.

This is part 2/2 – Read the first part of this series here.

Smoking in Denmark

I always equated a wealthy, well-educated society, such as Denmark, with a health-conscious society. I think this is a general assumption, and in the case of Denmark was reinforced further in my mind when Denmark was the first country to introduce a fat tax (though we won’t go into the minefield of pros and cons of that law here!).

However, if Danes may be eating healthily, they have definitely not stopped smoking. A report by the World Health Organisation shows that around 25% of the Danish population are daily smokers. That’s a very significant proportion.

When looking at the statistics from other countries (e.g. UK, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Czech Republic) it is clear that smoking is more prevalent in Denmark than in these other countries (by over 10% when compared to Sweden) . From my experience, however, where Denmark differs from these countries in an even bigger way is in the way smoking is perceived.

The lack of consideration by smokers in Denmark is almost shocking! People seem to smoke everywhere. While in the UK (and most other countries I have been to, except the Czech Republic) smokers would politely move outside to smoke, in Denmark no one bats an eyelid if a smoker lights up right next to you. Even in small, quite enclosed spaces, such as bus shelters, people will be smoking; most days there is a smoker at my local one, and it is not the same one! I have even seen a mother waiting in the bus shelter with her young kid and smoking!

It seems to be perfectly acceptable to smoke in a room full of people, perfectly acceptable to smoke next to a pregnant woman, and perfectly acceptable to smoke next to children. What is even more shocking to me, however is that no one seems to comment.

Maybe the damage smoking does not just to you but to the people around you just hasn’t gotten through to Danes? Or maybe they really just don’t care? I am at a loss on this subject, so please do feel free to enlighten me!

Apartments in Denmark: Observations

After nearly a month living in temporary accommodation in Denmark, we finally received the long-awaited keys to our apartment on the 1st of December. This is my first experiencing at trying to maintain Danish standards of house decoration. With Michael holding my hand, this is the start to that journey.

First Impressions

Spacious was the first word that came to mind on entering the apartment. This was especially so when compared to what we had in London. The space is then bound by wooden floors and whitewashed walls; a blank canvas that you can infuse with your own character over time.


If you have been looking for apartments in Denmark you have probably figured out that most are offered unfurnished. If not, hopefully you would realise this before you enter the apartment. For this purpose we had previously extracted Michael’s furniture (mostly from his university days) from storage, and bought a few other essentials, such as a bed and sofas.

When selecting furniture, however, it would be useful to keep in mind that the first floor is floor 0, so if you are on the 3rd floor that means you need to lug your furniture up 4 flights of stairs. Glad to have had people helping us for that.

Nevertheless, the practically that might take you by surprise the most is that you would probably have no lighting in your apartment at all, so make sure you have all the essentials for this at hand before it gets dark. You need to not only get bulbs with you but wire them into the system yourself. As Heidi said over at her blog ‘The Red Project, I am not sure how safe that is.

Living in the apartment

So far the apartment has been comfortable. The heating (Danfoss products, may I add) does its job well and the windows don’t seem to be leaky. This makes for a comfortable temperature that can be easily reached and then maintained.

The apartment also has a ‘special feature’! As we don’t have that much furniture (only 1 trailer of furniture when compared to someone who moved below us on the same day who had 3+!) voices still echo in the living room (the largest open space in the apartment). However, a few more bits and pieces and carpets will probably remove this ‘feature’.

The only ‘issue’ is that we can never seem to get cold water out of the tap – it always comes out lukewarm at best. We suspect that the cold and hot water pipes run close to each other and are not properly insulated, hence this result. However, this is nothing that cannot be solved by putting a bottle of water in the fridge!

Good to Know

I will finish this post with this warning however. Remember that deposit you paid on signing the contract? Well, expect to lose a good chunk of it. Unlike in other places I have lived, where you got your deposit back if you leave the place in good conditions, this does not happen in Denmark. The owner will generally repaint the apartment regardless of if you leave it in pristine condition or not.