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

March 24, 2024 7 mins

A story I’ve heard over and over again when I talk to internationals working in Denmark is this: They thought they were going to get fired.

They’d been working for a year or so at professional-level job in Denmark, often one they’d been recruited for, but they’d never heard any positive comments from their manager.

They started to worry. They were doing their best, but maybe it just wasn’t good enough.

Were they going to lose the j...

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Denmark’s doing a big recruitment campaign now, trying to get young professionals to bring their skills to Denmark, and a lot of them are single when they arrive.

If they want to meet someone and don’t meet someone, and if they want a serious relationship and a family but can’t get started, they often go home again.

So, in the name of economic development, here are my tips on romance in Denmark.

Bringing your own dating culture...

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Many internationals newly arrived in Denmark struggle with the long Danish winter. 

The darkness that starts to fall in the early afternoon means that 5pm looks just like 8pm, which looks just like midnight, which looks just like 5am.

Dense, inky black sky.

During the daytime there’s a dim grey light, sometimes accompanied by a soupy fog of tiny rai...

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December 26, 2023 6 mins

It’s almost Week 1, in the weekly numbering system that’s widely used in Northern Europe, where the year starts with week 1 and runs through to Week 52 or 53, depending on the calendar. It’s very efficient for planning, so you don’t have to say something messy like “What about that week that starts Monday June 3…”

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December 18, 2023 6 mins

If you are an international who lives in Denmark, or someone who wants to, you have to learn the Danish way of dealing with conflict. This might be with a colleague, or your upstairs neighbors, or the authorities at the commune.

In these cases, it’s very important not to lose your temper or raise your voice. And this c...

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September 29, 2023 5 mins

Denmark is getting rich selling pharmaceuticals to other countries, but within Denmark itself, the approach is inconsistent. Getting illegal drugs doesn't seem to be too difficult, but getting legal drugs from your doctor can be.

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August 27, 2023 7 mins

When I first arrived in Denmark, you could shut down any dispute in Denmark by appealing to equality and the common good. Solidarity - “ Read more

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Many people who visit Denmark are fans of the Vikings, the colloquial name for Scandinavians before the medieval era, although technically speaking the Viking raiders were at their peak in the years 800-1100. 

There are plenty of opportunities, especially now during tourist season, to see modern-day Danes dressed up as Vikings, building wooden ships, cooking over open fires, and fighting with swords and shields. Exhibitions like th...

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In Denmark, the right to a long summer vacation is enshrined into law - the national vacation law, which states that all employees have a right to three weeks’ vacation between May and September.

Shops clo...

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May 26, 2023 7 mins

Denmark is a rich country, but does it have rich people? It does, but Denmark’s wealthy tend to keep a low profile, due to the informal Jante Law in Denmark that prohibits too much showing off. 

That said, spring and summer is great time to see...

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April 30, 2023 6 mins

When you’ve been an international in Denmark for a while, as I have, you sometimes forget what it was like to arrive here for the first time and know nothing.

I remember arriving just about this time of year and being astonished by all the public holidays in spring. I’d arrived to work, but the office kept shutting down.

Now one of my various gigs is cultural training for newcomers, paid for by the big corporations that bring them ...

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April 10, 2023 6 mins

The hottest competitive sport in Denmark over the past year hasn’t been handball, or football, or badminton. It’s been chasing cheap butter in the supermarket.

Recent inflation has doubled the price of butter – in some places, up to 30 kroner – but if you rush, you can get…a package of butter for 10 kroner at one supermarket…wait, only three packages per customer…hey, this competing supermarket has matched the price…look, this othe...

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September 21, 2022 7 mins

It seems as if every country has a city or region that it is the butt of jokes. The rest of the country makes fun of the locals’ unattractive accents and supposedly low-end behavior. In Denmark, that city is Randers.

Randers is a city in Northern Jutland, about a half hour away from Aarhus. It used to be bigger than Aarhus, and bigger than Aalborg too, but it was a manufacturing town, and when manufacturing fell apart in Denmark af...

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September 1, 2022 7 mins

A country like Denmark, with so much coastline and water, needs a lot of bridges - and there have been 5 new colorful, stylish bridges built in Copenhagen alone in the past decade.

And because this is Denmark, and people l...

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After some time out of Denmark, Kay returns and finds a whole new list of things to love.

Swimming in Copenhagen harbour is a delight - the once-industrial waterway has been cleaned up enough to become a giant swimming zone. 

The wild blackberry bushes are ready for harvest, and there are plenty in public spaces - like near the railway and S-train tracks - where the blackberries are totally free, first come, first serve. Wash them ...

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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 ...

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