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April Fool's in Denmark, and the rough game of Danish humor

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 Danishness. But it doesn’t mean that the intersection of...


Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers

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 not have access to health care, might not be able to send...


The sound of Denmark? Quiet. Very quiet

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, totally quiet. This Danish quiet can freak out a lot of...


Tips for Living with a Danish Family

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 about to change. Danish families generally don’t have...


Alone for the holidays: What to do for Christmas in Denmark when you're on your own

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.


Christmas gift giving in Denmark: Package games, Almond Gifts, and Why It's OK to Exchange Whatever You Get

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.


Autumn in Denmark: The slow fading of the light

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.


The story behind the How to Live in Denmark Podcast: Fifth anniversary episode

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 been really helpful for you in adjusting to Denmark. I’m so...


Is learning to speak Danish worth it?

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 than just the basic pleasantries in Danish?


What to wear to work in Denmark: Fashion in blue, black, grey, and for the adventurous - beige

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 the preferred style. Obvious designer labels are considered...


Your first day at work in Denmark: Flowers, handshakes, passwords, and several people named Mette

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 passwords. Someone will probably be appointed as your...


Can I date my Danish colleague?

Many Danes meet their future spouses at work. Yet there are also strict laws in Denmark against sexual harassment. Where do you draw a line between harassment and two adults developing tender feelings for each other? -------------- Given the Danes’ fondness for alcohol, many inter-office romances start at the annual Christmas party. Ms. X and Mr. Y drink a bottle of wine or two, wiggle suggestively together on the dance floor, and depart to one or the other’s home in a taxi to complete...


Understanding your Danish boss: Less like a general, more like a sports coach

In an anti-authoritarian country like Denmark, being a boss is a precarious (social) position. Danish bosses don’t like to flaunt their authority. In fact, when you enter a room of Danes, it is often difficult to tell which one is the boss. The social cues that point to a big cheese in other cultures – the flashy watch, the oversize office, the glamorous yet servile executive assistant – are considered poor taste in egalitarian Denmark. So are the booming, take-charge personalities many...


The Danish Flag: 800 years old and going out fashion?

People visiting Denmark can’t help but notice that the Danish flag is everywhere. Christmas trees here are decorated with little Danish flags. Cucumbers in the supermarket have Danish flags on them to show they’re grown in Denmark. Whenever a member of the Danish royal family has a birthday, two little Danish flags are stuck on the front of every Copenhagen bus. The Danish flag is closely associated with Danish birthdays. If you have a birthday when you’re working in a Danish office, one...


Your free daily banana and five weeks off: Job benefits in Denmark

On-the-job benefits in Denmark come in three categories: the kind every Danish worker gets, the kind everyone at your company gets, and the kind everyone at a certain level in your company gets. When you talk with a future employer, you can negotiate your salary, but there’s not all that much room for negotiation on benefits. In most cases, as American kindergarteners say, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Fortunately, the benefits tend to be generous. This is a chapter from...


Danish gangsters: Night-time helicopters and the risks of a knit hat

If you live in Denmark or follow the Danish media, you’ll know there’s been a lot of talk of gangsters over the past week. One Danish gang is trying to expand at the expense of another gang, and this summer there have been about 25 shootings in Copenhagen, generally in the northern neighborhoods – my neighbourhood. Somebody was shot outside my supermarket, somebody else was shot outside the school near my house, and a couple of people have been shot just walking down the street. Most of...


The Trailing Spouse in Denmark

A generation ago, expat spouses in Denmark were mostly “cookie pushers” – stay-at-home-wives who supported their husbands’ careers with chic little cocktail parties for his business associates. They ran the house and the family while he ran the world. Spouses today are different. Most come to Denmark after finishing their advanced educations, and they are sometimes mid-career. A good portion are men. A lot of contemporary spouses don’t want to stay at home, and even if they did, that’s...


Why job titles aren't important in Denmark

One of the most important words in the Danish language is "ligestilling" – equality. The belief that all (Danish) people are basically equal permeates every relationship and every interaction. Fancy job titles do not fit into that passion for equality. They suggest you think you’re better than someone else. Which you might actually be, if you’ve worked your way to the top of your field, but that admission is slightly embarrassing. If you do have an impressive job title, it's considered...


Danish union vs A-kasse: What's the difference?

When you first arrive in Denmark to work or look for work, the last thing you need is another monthly expense. So many foreigners “save money” by not joining a union. And I was one of them. To be honest, joining a union never even occurred to me. In the US, unions are either for hands-on workers – steelworkers, hotel maids – or for civil servants, like schoolteachers and cops. Knowledge workers and creative types are almost never unionized. But that’s not true in Denmark, where engineers,...


Networking in Denmark: 5 useful tips for making Danish business contacts

Networking in Denmark is tough, even for Danes. This is a culture where it’s considered bad manners to talk to someone you don’t know, unless you’re drunk, in which case all bets are off. That said, most jobs in Denmark are found via networks. Somebody mentions on their LinkedIn profile that they’re looking for a new team member and the cv’s from friends of friends and old classmates start flowing in. And since “fitting in” is such an important part of the Danish work culture, someone from...