How to Live in Denmark

How to Live in Denmark

Living as a foreigner in Denmark, one of the world's most homogenous countries, isn't always easy. In this podcast Kay Xander Mellish, an American who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade, relates her thoughts about Danish current events, as well as offering tips on how to find someone to talk to and how to find something to eat.... Show More

Episodes

July 13, 2020

It’s a funny kind of summer this year in Copenhagen, quieter than usual, and more like a family event than a cosmopolitan city.

Coronavirus came early to Denmark, the borders were shut down early, but they’re mostly open now to other Europeans.

But the change came too late for many people to make summer vacation plans, so many of the usual tourist attractions are slightly forlorn. 

There are a few Europeans around the Little Mermai...

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Among the many cultural questions I ask audiences during my How to Live in Denmark Game Show is “Which animal represents Denmark best?”?

There never seems to be an obvious or generally agreed-upon answer. Sure, the bear represents Russia, the elephant Thailand, and the bald eagle the United States. But what about Denmark?

Denmark does have a national animal – the mute swan (Cygnus olor) – but an image of a swan doesn’t provoke the ...

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Alcohol has a long history in Denmark. The Vikings brewed four types of beverages: ale, mead, fruit wine, and syra, a fermented milk – and for many centuries Danish babies have eaten øllebrød, which is a mix of old bread scraps and beer.

Fast forward a few centuries, and alcohol is still part of almost every Danish gathering.

Early in 2020, the EU Commission reported that Denmark placed an unhappy first in Europe in binge drinking ...

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January 22, 2020

January, February, and March are some of the dreariest months in Denmark – it’s dark, with no Christmas lights to pep it up – and many people are dealing with a heavy load of year-end debt from traveling, parties, dining out, and gifts.

Along with religion, personal finance is a topic that is rarely discussed in Denmark. But the country has one of the highest rates of household debt in the world. 

And once you get into debt in Denm...

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If you’re newly arrived in Denmark, making Danish friends is not easy – in fact, surveys show that one of the main reasons internationals end up leaving is the difficulty of building a network.

The irony is that Danes are actually very good at friendship. Their friendships are strong, reliable, and deep-rooted. Friends can count on each other.

But because Danes take friendships so seriously, they like to keep their number of friend...

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November 2, 2019 5 min

The relaxed approach to nudity in Denmark can be a surprise for many newcomers.

It’s something they’re often confronted with at the local swimming hall, where a very large and strong attendant insists that they take off their entire swimsuit and shower thoroughly before going into the pool.

Stripping off in front of strangers is new for a lot of internationals, and some try to place it a larger context of Danish morality.

It hasn’t...

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“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.

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One of my favorite types of speaking engagement is introducing Denmark to some of the smart, motivated young people arriving from around the world to study at Danish universities.

Since the publication of my first book, How to Live in Denmark, I’ve been speaking regularly to audiences of new arrivals, and I probably learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Among the things I’ve learned is that the aspects of Danish culture th...

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Planning your summer vacation in Denmark is like playing the lottery. You could hit it lucky, with golden days and long, warm evenings, when you can sit with friends in the soft light and drink hyldeblomst cocktails.

Or you could get grey day after grey day, interspersed with a little rain whenever it is least convenient. The weather could be chilly, leaving your cute new summer clothes to sit disappointed in your closet while you ...

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April 1st is April Fool’s Day – Aprilsnar in Danish – and each Danish newspaper will feature a clever but false story for the unwary to be fooled by.

To some extent every day is April Fool’s Day in Denmark, because Danish humor is a rough humor. Danes show affection by making fun of each other. And, as an international, they might make fun of you too.

This is a good thing: that means they have accepted you into the circle of Danish...

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Motivating Danish employees is very different than motivating other groups of people because there are two big factors missing – hierarchy and fear. 

We don’t like to talk about the fear part in our various countries of origin, but the fact is true that in the US, UK, China, India, and in parts of Europe, someone who loses their job can be in a lot of trouble. They may have trouble paying their bills, might lose their house, might ...

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February 7, 2019 6 min

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, tot...

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January 9, 2019 7 min

As the new academic semester starts up, some of you may be planning to live in a Danish home. It could be you’ll rent a room in a household, maybe you’ll be part of a Danish host family, or maybe you’ll just be staying with Danish friends.

I thought it might be useful to have some tips on living with a Danish family.

First of all, if you’re used to having your parents or domestic workers do most of the household chores – things are...

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Being alone for Christmas in Denmark can be tough – one of the downsides of Danish "hygge" is that people who are not inside the "hygge" circle can feel shut out and very alone.

Here are our tips for having a good holiday anyway.

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Like so many other aspects of life in Denmark, gift giving in the holiday season comes with dozens of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.

Should you give a gift to your boss? What about your colleagues? Will you and your Danish friends exchange gifts? And why does almost every store in Denmark ask if you want a “gift sticker” when you buy something?

Here are a few basic tips about gift giving in Denmark.

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Autumn in Denmark actually starts in mid-August, when the kids go back to school. Danish kids have a very short holiday – usually only about 6 weeks.

By late August, you can definitely feel a little fall crispness in the air. By September the leaves start to turn color, and by the end of October many of the trees are already bare for the winter.

But what really defines fall in Denmark is the slow fading of the light.

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This is a special episode, because this is the fifth anniversary of the How to Live in Denmark podcast.The podcast began in the summer of 2013; at the time I’m recording this, it is near the end of Summer 2018. We’ve had more than 80 episodes and around a million streams and downloads. Most importantly, I’ve received a lot of messages from people like you saying that the podcast and the books that have come out of the podcast have ...

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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 tha...

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There’s no reason to spend a lot on what you wear to work in Denmark. Danes, by nature, are not flashy dressers.

In most Danish business environments, you’ll be perfectly well dressed in a fitted pair of business trousers, dark shoes, and a solid-color sweater or dress shirt. Male or female, you’ll never go wrong with quiet colors like burgundy, dark blue, dark green, black or - for the adventurous - beige. 

Subtle good taste is th...

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On your first day at work in Denmark, you may find a pretty bouquet of flowers on your desk to welcome you.

(This terrified a Chinese acquaintance of mine, who was accustomed to receiving flowers on her *last* day at work. She thought she’d been fired before she ever sat down.)

In Denmark, the bouquet is just a way to say “welcome” and to add some sunshine to an arduous day that is sure to include many handshakes and computer passw...

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