How to Live in Denmark

How to Live in Denmark

Life as an international in Denmark, one of the world's most homogenous countries, isn't always easy. In Denmark’s longest-running English-language podcast, Kay Xander Mellish, an American who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade, offers tips for enjoying your time in “the world’s happiest country” plus insights on Danish culture and how to build friendships with Danes.

Episodes

April 26, 2021

No matter what the tourist brochures suggest, you probably won’t go *everywhere* on a bike in Denmark.

And along with food and housing, getting around is a big part of the cost of living in Denmark.

Here are a few tips to save money on trains, buses, cars, and even bike maintenance.

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Anyone who has spent time living in Denmark knows that it’s one of the most expensive countries around. That’s true when it comes to food shopping, too.

One Dane who had lived in the US explained it this way: “In Denmark, every supermarket is priced like Whole Foods.”

For those of you who haven’t visited the States, Whole Foods is a high-end grocery chain nicknamed “Whole Wallet” or “Whole Paycheck.”

But there are a few creative wa...

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I love old books. I love the kind of old books you get at antique bookstores or on the Internet Archive. And I have a good collection of old books about Denmark.

I like old travel guides, most of which are still pretty useful because Denmark doesn’t tear a lot of things down the way they do, in say, Los Angeles or Hong Kong. In Denmark you’ll pretty much fine most castles and monuments right where somebody left them hundreds of yea...

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While I’m not an authority on the Danish visa or immigration systems, I’m often asked for practical tips about moving to Denmark. So here are a few things to think about when you’re packing your suitcases or, if you’re doing a corporate move, packing your shipping container.

Number one, make sure you bring money. Denmark is an expensive place to live where you will own less stuff, but better stuff.

That said, there’s no need to bri...

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February 13, 2021

Denmark has had two female prime ministers and about forty percent of the people elected to the Folketing, the Danish Parliament, are women. 

But when it comes to private industry, Danish women have one of the lowest participation rates in management in Europe. According to the OECD, only 26.5% of managers in Denmark are female, compared to 39.8% in the US.

It’s not unusual to see a senior management team made up entirely of Danish...

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February 10, 2021

It might seem like a counterintuitive time to talk about beaches, in the middle of a long, very cold winter.

But in these times of COVID, beaches are one of the few places in Denmark you are currently allowed to meet up with family and friends.

Beaches, parks, frozen-over lakes: these are the big social meeting points at time when cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, gyms, schools, theaters, museums, places of worship, and hairdressers...

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February 6, 2021

I like to drive. I like to be on the open road, like in the American Southwest - Arizona, Nevada, Utah. Put your pedal to the metal, no one in front of you, no one in the rear view mirror. Just you and the road.

You will not get that experience much in Denmark, a small country with a lot of people packed into a small area. There’s not a lot of open land here, not much living off the grid. Which doesn’t mean drivers don’t long for i...

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When visiting Denmark, you’ll be offered Danish food, and expressing enthusiasm for it will go a long way towards generating harmony with your Danish friends.

The good news is, Danish cuisine offers something for everyone. 

If you’re a carnivore, don’t miss the Danish pork dishes, particularly "flæskesteg". That’s a crispy, fatty fried pork that’s the official national food.

For people who prefer fish, there’s a great selec...

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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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