Committing to another country is a big deal. It means to unroot yourself from the place that saw you born and plant new roots in a country you don’t know and don’t fully understand. If you want to take it to the next level, I suggest getting children in the foreign country in question with a native. Doing so will be like signing a life commitment to this new country, so before doing so, it’s a good idea to make sure you enjoy it! For me, getting children in Denmark was really the last step towards admitting to myself that I had chosen Denmark as my new home as it meant that no matter where we’d lived, Denmark would always be our children's home country.
Denmark is not a magical fairy land, but to me Denmark is a great country because of the sum of its parts - the positive parts that is. Now before I go on, please note that this post focuses on the positive parts of Denmark. I have consciously decided to leave the negative parts out. That being said, every coin has two sides and don’t go thinking that I am naive and only see the good bits… But for today, I am an optimist and want to focus on what makes me happy about this country.
We all have heard that Denmark is one of the happiest places on earth, but I didn’t decide to become a Dane in hope of being happier. The hurdles and the process to get Danish citizenship should have the opposite effect on anyone as it is a lengthy and depressing process to go through. It is not a happy road to take, but it’s a road nonetheless.
15 years ago, I moved to Denmark. What was supposed to be a short-term relocation has turned into a life project and I am now a naturalized Dane. The overall process to integrate this country wasn’t easy. I actually wrote an article about my struggles to make friends in Denmark. If you have not read it, you can find it here.
When that is said, becoming a Dane - on paper that it - took me 13 years and 2 weeks to be exact. That is the time it took from landing in Denmark to receiving my Danish citizenship. Regardless of these 13 years spent learning Danish, studying, working and paying taxes, many Danes don’t consider me a “real” dane as I wasn’t born here. The point of this article is not to debate what is a “real” Dane or discuss how many generations it takes for immigrants to become “real” danes. The point of this article is to present why I chose Denmark to be my home. Regardless of whether I am a “real” Dane or not, on paper I am Danish and very proud to be. I know there is no consensus on this matter, but I am proud to have made it all the way and to share the Danish nationality with both my spouse and my children. I also know that many expats and internationals find it hard to integrate Denmark and that the country doesn’t resonate with all. That being said, I truly and deeply love Denmark and it is my country of adoption. Coming from abroad, I also appreciate and don’t take for granted many aspects of the Danish culture and the Danish system, many of which Danes don’t take notice of, as to them this is just how things are, how they’ve always been and how they will always be. But for me, as a naturalized Dane and an expat, I have the pleasure and advantage of noticing these gems that make Denmark the sum of its parts. In light of this, to both show expats why Denmark can be great if you give it a shot and to remind Danes why their country is adopted by so many internationals, here are some of the reasons I decided to become Danish. None of these reasons on their own make Denmark a great place to be, but together they make Denmark a fantastic country according to me. Here is my list of the things I love about Denmark:
Danish humor: What can I say, I love sarcasm and dark humor. I was once told at summer camp in the USA that I was too sarcastic, that people didn’t always get it and that I should tone it down. I didn’t… Instead I moved to Denmark where my sarcasm is understood and accepted.
Bikes: As a North american who used to drive everywhere including to the mall that was less than 1 km away from my house, you have no idea how much I love living somewhere where biking is the norm. So much healthier and better for the environment.
Low worry culture: I love how Danes don’t worry too easily about things. There is this overall consensus that things will be fine and it’s actually very peaceful to live somewhere where people expect things to be ok.
Hygge: who wouldn’t like some hygge?
LGBTQIA+: Same-sex activity was legalized in 1933 in Denmark and no one cares that my children have two moms.
Traditions: I come from a place where there aren’t as many traditions as in Denmark. I have learned to really appreciate Danish traditions as they bring people together and create a strong sense of belonging. I used to find some of them strage, but most have grown on me, including one of my favorites: birthday beheading when the birthday cake is beheaded! What a crazy tradition and yet so much fun! :)
Concerts and live music: living in Copenhagen is a dream for the music lover in me. So many concerts, live gigs and festivals!
Wearing black: black is my favorite color for clothes and everyone in Denmark wears black. I fit right in!
Danish street style: over the years I have become so accustomed to danish street style that I even forget how well people dress here. But every now and again I travel back to north america and then I see it… I see the north american street style and I am reminded of how great Danes dress in general. (please note that I agree there are exceptions on both sides though)
Planning weeks ahead: when I moved to Denmark, I was appalled by the lack of spontaneity. Everything is planned weeks ahead! What I thought was insane has grown on me and now I love this cultural trait. I know what I will do 6 weeks ahead and this really brings me a sense of calm.
Punctuality: I have always hated people who are late. Denmark is heaven to me as punctuality is common practice
Public nakedness: as a north american, going to the changing room at the pool was quite a shock. Everyone showers together naked. I was petrified. Now that I have kids, I appreciate this so much. My children see naked bodies in all shapes and forms and being naked isn’t something they even think about. I believe this is a much healthier way of living compared to the north american prude approach I was brought up in.
Jumping into the new year: That’s still just weird… but I enjoy the idea of physically entering the new year.
High school graduation in June: for a week every year in June, I wish I was a high school graduate or that I had graduated high school here! Instead, I went to prom! Yes yes, like in the american movies. I wore this dress (which I hated) and we had a fancy dinner with some awards and dancing. It wasn’t a party but an awkward formal event with not a drop of alcohol served! Danish graduation has nothing to envy to prom!
Going to people’s houses and hosting people: In Denmark, it is common practice to invite people to your house. I love that! Where I come from, you meet others at the restaurant or a cafe. Going to people’s place is invasive. In Denmark it’s common and there is a lot of hygge in hosting or being hosted.
Cake, always cake: there are no celebrations without cake in Denmark and I love cake!
Christmas calendar: a whole country watches the same tv show before christmas? That’s a crazy tradition but one I’ve grown to love. It prepares everyone for the holidays and it’s a great way to create special family time
Work life balance: I don’t know about you, but I find that my overall work life balance is pretty neat. When I compare to family and friends back in North America, I have nothing to envy.
Vacation: 5 weeks minimum? I remember my brother being happy to get 2 weeks when he started at PWC in Canada.
Flat hierarchy: I find that the danish workplace culture is great. The flat hierarchy makes it possible for everyone to voice their opinions, for ideas to emerge at any level and people are respected no matter where they stand and who they report to. Many startups around the world are imitating the Danish/Scandinavian model for low power distance and flat hierarchy. I think the Danes are onto something here...
Informal tone of communication: It follows the above. Informal tone of communication allows people to speak up and it creates a much more casual work environment
Subsidized lunches: for many Danes this is just common practice, but honestly, subsidized lunches in a super neat cafeteria are not normalized globally. I remember trying to explain this to my family 10 years ago and the concept didn't make any sense to them. You don’t have to bring your lunch? You don’t go to a nearby food court to eat? You have a cafeteria with super healthy dishes on site? Really?
Casual clothing: people dress well but in a casual way at work and I love it. I have been on business trips and going to foreign offices where everyone wore a suit and a tie and I am happy to live somewhere where casual clothing is the norm.
Democratic management style: although we all have bosses, the danish management style is somewhat democratic. Many decisions at work are made across functions, through steering committees, advisory boards, etc. Although at times I feel that it creates a more lengthy process, I appreciate that there is no dictatorship in the workplace culture.
Directness: Danes are quite direct and so am I. Although they usually don’t like confrontation, they still have the ability to be direct. It takes time to get used to it, but once you have, it makes life pretty easy. There is no need to read between the lines, it’s just how it is said.
There are many great things about the Danish system. Most of which the Danes take for granted because they were born and raised with it and believe it’s the norm. It might be here, but it isn’t everywhere. The welfare system works well, Denmark is safe, there is low corruption and a huge focus on renewable energy, which is something I care deeply about. And then there is this crazy thing I had no idea existed before I moved here, district heating! Burning trash to convert that into heated water for people to heat their houses? Really? Although burning trash generates CO2, it does less than burying it in the ground as many other countries do. Food for thoughts.
I admit that I wasn't impressed by Danish food at first. Frikadeller, boller i karry, tarteletter? Let’s be honest, this is not haute cuisine! The staples of Danish cuisine aren’t great and 15 years later I still feel that way about it. That being said, there are some gems in danish cuisine, some of which I would find difficult to live without. Those are:
Beers: not Carlsberg, but danish micro breweries
Christmas food: I can’t help it but I have grown to be a huge fan of Christmas duck and risalamande. I love that it’s also such a strong tradition you are certain to eat it every year!
Danish pastry: no comments needed...
Fredags slik: my son is 2 and already knows and understands the concept. Talk about a strongly anchored tradition. As I have learned to like liquorice, I like this tradition even more! The child in me loves pick-and-mix!
Danish butter: for Danes, danish butter is normal, but for me as a foreigner, I still remember the amazement of discovering smørbar and that cold butter could be smooth! What a revelation! No more frustration trying to spread hard rock butter on a piece of bread! Also, it’s ok here to put a lot of butter on your bread!
Smørrebrød: I don’t have to comment here, smørrebrød is awesome, especially when it’s with æg og rejer.
Grød: Danes eat a lot of porridge and I have come to love it. It’s a huge part of my diet and such a simple food item. Sometimes great things don’t have to be complicated. P.S. and yes, I have been asked and I have learned to say “Rød grød med fløde”.
Rugbrød: it took me a long time to learn to enjoy rye bread. Probably because I was a poor student when I moved here so I only bought the cheap kind. That’s ok, but not great. And then one day I discovered high quality rugbrøg and it changed everything.
Sild: marinated herring is my guilty pleasure. I can eat it straight out of the jar. I just love it!
Remoulade: I don’t know what to say about remoulade except that it’s important. Fish filets aren’t the same without it….
Pålægschokolade: what a weird but yet genius concept to have chocolate for buns not to spread but simple pallets.
Lakrids (by Bülow): my all time favorite sweet treat!
Flødeboller: believe it or not, I didn’t like flødeboller for years… but I’m a convert now and never say no to one! What a great treat!
Salt: everyone in Denmark uses salt, often putting it on the dish even before tasting it. Danes love very salty food. The best part about salt in Denmark is that there is very great salt, especially Læsø salt. If you haven’t tried it or believe all salts are of the same quality, think again… Try Læsø salt and tell me what you think.
I know, I know...the weather in Denmark can be quite horrible. Winters are dark, rainy and long. That being said, on the positive side of the spectrum, Denmark is magnificent on a warm summer day. The changing of seasons and the amazing light in the summer makes everyone appreciate time in Denmark in a way that is impossible if you live somewhere without seasons. In addition, Denmark is surrounded by the sea, there is low air pollution and clean water in the Copenhagen harbour for people to swim. Finally, the wind… there is always wind in Denmark. As much as it can frustrate all the bikers, I love the wind, it powers so much of this country and as an employee of Vestas, I think wind is a fantastic natural resource!
Finally, there are a few random things I love about Denmark. Most of these things are so normal for Danes, they wouldn’t know most foreigners were left perplexed when they discovered them. Such random things are for example single duvets on double beds (what?!?), all the walls in apartments and houses are painted white, before christmas the drillenisse (a christmas elf) will move into your house and play pranks and finally my favorite “Puha”. Danes say “puha” all the time and over the years I’ve learned to appreciate how much “puha” can mean. It can express discomfort, disgust, something troublesome, difficult and it can express relief. It is such a great expression that I have surprised myself using it a few times!
Now, before I conclude this very lengthy article (puha!), I want to end on one of my favorite things: Danes who translate into english Danish expressions and use them with non-Danes as if the expression and the meaning was common knowledge. This has happened to me at work so many times and I love those moments where all international faces mimic discomfort and incomprehension when Danes say in english things such as:
No cow on the ice
It’s blowing a half pelican
Have hair on the chest
Don’t come here and play king carrot
Walking like a cat around hot porridge or Standing with your hair in the mailbox!
I know I have drunk the kool aid and I am a convert. I love Denmark even when the weather sucks. Although it has its faults, it's a great place and I am happy to call myself a Canadian by birth and a Dane by choice.