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How to Live in Denmark

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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...


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...


No more cookie pushers: Spouses and your work assignment 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...


How to Work in Denmark Part 8: 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...


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...


It's all about the cake: The secrets of socializing with your Danish colleagues

When you work in a Danish office, you’ll often find yourself invited to impromptu in-office social events with your Danish colleagues. Somebody’s birthday, someone’s having a baby, somebody has been with the company for 10 years, someone is going on vacation the next day. And they almost all involve cake. Cake is very important in Denmark. Cake builds bridges. Cake makes friends. And when there’s cake on offer, as a foreigner, it’s a good idea to show up and accept it. When I first...


The Danish Art of Taking Time Off

When I first began working in Denmark, people used to start saying around April or May, “So – are you taking three or four?” What they meant was, are you taking three or four weeks off for your summer vacation? Now, in the United States, where I come from, even taking two weeks off is extravagant. You always have the feeling that if you’re gone too long, there may not be a job waiting for you when you get back. In Denmark, a long summer vacation is legally required. If you have a...


Getting a Job in Denmark Part 4: The Danish Job Interview

If you’ve been asked for a job interview at a Danish company, congratulations. Danish companies don’t like to waste time, so they wouldn’t be setting aside time to meet you if they didn’t think there was a solid chance they might hire you. Job interviewing in Denmark is a difficult balance, because the Jantelov makes all forms of bragging or self-promotion distasteful to the Danes. You’ve got to convince the person interviewing you that you’re skilled and capable without sounding like a...


Find a Job in Denmark Part 3: Cover Letters, LinkedIn, plus two magic words

When I give presentations to job hunters in Denmark, I tell them there are two words you can add to your cover letter that will virtually guarantee that it will be carefully read. What are those two words? The name of someone you know who already works at the company. Of course, you should only use a current employee’s name with his or her permission, and ask each time you use it. There’s always the chance that your contact and this particular hiring manager may be bitter enemies, or that...


Finding a Job in Denmark Part 2: Your Danish cv

When you're putting together a cv for Denmark, titles and grades and long descriptions of examinations (unless they’re required for the job, as they are for accountants, architects and engineers) aren’t a golden ticket to employment, even if you’ve attended an excellent school. Your Danish cv should focus on projects you've worked on, and how your contributions to those projects relate to the job at hand.


Finding a job in Denmark, Part 1

Foreigners in general are often trying to look for a job in a way that works well in their home country, not Denmark. Basically, this works as about as well as trying to tell your new girlfriend the same jokes that made your old girlfriend laugh. If the setting is Denmark, the approach has to be Danish. Danish jobs are all about independence and teamwork. It’s not like they need a red Lego brick and you have to convince them you’re a red Lego brick to get the job. The employer has a...


How to date a Dane: The two-speed bicycle and the flexible word

In Denmark, romance is like a two-speed bike. Speed one is casual sexual affairs with someone you may never see again: speed two is a serious relationship where you’ll be expected to go to all your partner’s dull family events. There’s not much of a middle. And what there definitely is not is dating.


Danes and Beauty: Miss Denmark, the Empty Museum, and Why You Shouldn't Expect Compliments

If you really want to get a Dane all hot and bothered, start talking about somethingthat is beautifully designed. In Denmark, beauty is usually found in something practical that has been very well designed. Housewares, particularly kitchenwares, are a Danish design favorite. They don’t have to be from expensive materials, but they have to be simple, streamlined, and work flawlessly. The beauty is in the usefulness.


Arriving in Denmark: Some tips from my experience

August in Denmark brings the first signs of fall: a crisp chill in the air, the changing color of the leaves, the annual posters warning drivers to be aware of small children riding their bikes to school for the first time. And foreign university students in the local 7-11, asking that their buns be warmed up. I saw a newly-arrived young American student in my local 7-11 this morning, asking that her newly-purchased bun be warmed. The 7-11 clerk told her sorry, but there were no...