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

May 14, 2022 7 min

It’s hard to be a teenager no matter who you are or where you live, but spare a thought for the two teenagers of the Danish Royal Family. 16-year-old Christian - the future King Christian XI - and 15-year-old Isabella have to deal with family photo calls and media events, leaked Tik Tok videos, and a TV documentary this week accusing their boarding school of being a toxic environment.

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Denmark has several amusement parks, including the original Legoland, but the ones I know best are the ones in Copenhagen - Tivoli Gardens and Bakken.

Tivoli and Bakken show two different sides of the Danish character.  

Tivoli is the sleek, confident, high-end image that Denmark likes to present to the world: it has exquisite flower gardens, fancy shops and restaurants, and a theater that hosts world-class performers. Bakken is mo...

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It’s springtime, and the cherry trees are about to bloom in Copenhagen Northwest, which is usually the only time people who live outside Northwest bother to go there.

Northwest is a working class neighborhood, so much so that the streets are named after working-class occupations.

While other Copenhagen neighborhoods have streets named after kings and queens and generals, Northwest has brick-maker street, and book-binder street, and...

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Newcomers to Denmark often complain that the locals aren’t chatty. Danes don’t want to converse on the bus, or on the train, or in line at the supermarket, or really anyplace that isn’t a designated social zone. Like the company canteen at lunch, or a dinner party at home to which they have invited a precise number of people to match the number of chairs that they own. In general, Danes rarely talk to strangers unless they are drun...

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No matter how they feel about the institution of royalty, almost everyone likes Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, who is celebrating 50 years on the throne this week.

Every New Year’s Eve, the streets of Denmark go quiet as the Queen makes her annual televised speech to her subjects. I find the speeches pretty much the same every year, they’re about being kind to each other, taking care of the environment, and such.

The real entertainment...

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Drinking, and drinking heavily, is common in Denmark at holiday time. Whether it's the traditional "gløgg" - hot spiced wine with nuts, orange peel and a little brandy - or the specially-made (and specially-strong) Christmas beers, you'll be offered a great deal of alcohol at almost every seasonal social event.

But what if you're a nondrinker, or a light drinker? In this episode we'll tell you how to enjoy C...

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Denmark has a thriving second-hand economy, in part because people generally don't look down on second-hand goods here.

The Danes are practical people – why should something be thrown out when it can be used again? And their passion for sustainability means it’s cool to reuse something that already exists instead of manufacturing something new.

There is a network of “genbrug” (recycling) stations all over all over the country, ...

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September 26, 2021 6 min

Getting to Sweden from Copenhagen is easy: you take a quick trip across the Øresund Bridge in your car or on the train. Getting to Norway from Copenhagen isn’t too hard: there’s a ferry that runs every day from Nordhavn.

Getting to Germany from Copenhagen, on the other hand, is a headache. But in 2029, a new direct tunnel will open between Denmark and Germany. The Danes are building it with very little help from the Germans, who or...

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One of Denmark’s cheapest and most colorful vacations is a few hours riding back and forth on Copenhagen’s big yellow Harbor Bus, or “Havnebussen”, a commuter ferry designed to transport ordinary citizens between downtown and the urban islands of Christianshavn and Amager.

For visitors to Copenhagen - or residents who need an inexpensive adventure -  the harbor bus can take you from tourist trap to high culture to party culture, f...

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When I mentioned going to Esbjerg for a few days off this spring, many of my friends in Copenhagen said - why? Esbjerg doesn’t have a reputation as a vacation spot, even though its fifth-largest city in Denmark and the youngest big city. 

For Copenhagen snobs, Esbjerg is a fishing town, which it was 50 years ago but isn’t really anymore. It’s an oil and wind energy town, industrial but very modern.

I like Esbjerg, perhaps because i...

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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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March 24, 2021 8 min

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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February 21, 2021 6 min

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 5 min

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 3 min

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 4 min

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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July 13, 2020 5 min

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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