Ten first impressions of Denmark

The Local's new intern Agustin Millan arrived in Denmark knowing next to nothing about the place. Here are some things about life in Denmark that made the biggest impression on the Spaniard during his first weeks in the country.

I arrived in Copenhagen just a few weeks ago with minimal background knowledge about the city and Denmark in general; in fact, most of what I knew about Denmark was based on Borgen.
I soon realized that there is a whole lot more to life in Denmark than political intrigue, mumbling and dimmed lighting however. Having lived in Spain my whole life, there were a lot of things that initially took some getting used to, and there are still some aspects of Danish culture that I just don't get.
1. Silence

A few words man can fit in Denmark. Photo: Crash:candy
A man of few words can find himself at home in Denmark. Photo: Crash:candy/Flickr
That’s all you hear when you land in Copenhagen Airport – nothing at all. I later discovered that the quiet atmosphere applies to the entire city. I'm considered a quiet person in Spain, where everything and everyone is loud, but here in Copenhagen I haven't been asked to raise my voice once – and that's really unusual. People here seem to be really comfortable with the silence, and I definitely can't complain. 
2. The heat
Summer weather in Denmark is always changing. Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/ Scanpix
Summer weather in Denmark is incredibly fickle. Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/Scanpix
I know, my first week here wasn’t an accurate representation of the Danish summer, which I learned pretty quickly. But all you hear about Denmark is that it's cold, so I was half-anticipating having to wear a jacket all summer. I know now that you only need a jacket for about two-thirds of it. A week after I arrived in June, I was standing at a bus stop in a raincoat, miserably thinking about that first week. It's apparently part of the price you pay for living in Denmark, although I find it hard to accept that I've also had to wear that raincoat so often throughout July as well.
3. Danes really love their parks
The grill is a must at every Danish park. Photo: Thomas Rousing/Flickr
The grill is a must at every Danish park. Photo: Thomas Rousing/Flickr

During the so-called ‘heat wave' (hah!), I saw lots of big parks around Copenhagen packed with people drinking beer, playing games, or just hanging out. I think it's great that Danes clearly make the best of those few days where the weather allows them to do that, and you could really see the satisfaction on their faces. Many of them were just gathered around a BBQ, having a good time and probably getting sunburned.
4. Kroner are confusing
Don't overuse your credit card. Photo: Nadir Hashimi
Keep an eye on your bank account. Photo: Nadir Hashimi/Flickr

I miss the Euro. As everybody knows, Denmark isn’t a cheap country to live in. But switching to kroner makes it all even more confusing, because you’re not quite sure how much you’re actually paying for something. I ended up paying 105 DKK at a kiosk for a six-pack of King beer (not the best beer you can find in Denmark) and a bag of chips, thinking that surely that wasn’t more than €10. Turned out it was €14. Being able to pay with your credit card anywhere makes it even harder to keep track of the money haemorrhaging out of your account.

5. Danes are pretty chilled
Danes know how to relax. Photo: Anna/Flickr
Danes know how to relax. Photo: Anna/Flickr

It’s probably because I arrived in Denmark during the holiday season, but I didn’t see any stressed people in the street or shoving their way onto a bus. Instead, I only noticed calm and steady flows of people strolling towards their destination, studiously avoiding physical contact with one another. There doesn’t appear to be any formal rules behind it either; everyone just walks around in their own little world, minding their own business.

6. It's a vegetarian paradise
Green peas are a thing in Denmark. Photo:Sophie&cie
Eating a carrot and maybe some green peas for lunch is a thing here. Photo: Sophie&cie/Flickr

I’m not one myself, but I’m not surprised that there are so many vegetarians in Denmark. It’s so easy! There seem to be vegetarian and vegan restaurants everywhere you look and nearly all restaurants in Denmark appear to have at least a few vegetarian dishes on the menu. In every supermarket you can also easy find products for vegans like tofu and soy milk, as well as a lot of totally animal free alternatives to meat dishes. Copenhageners generally seem to be really concerned about what they eat. And I have to admit that green peas, which can be bought everywhere, are definitely a good snack. I could get used to that.

7. Danes travel a lot
Danes are used to travel worldwide. Photo: Patrick Rasenberg
They may not be Vikings anymore, but Danes still love to travel the world. Photo: Patrick Rasenberg/Flickr

The vast majority of Danish people I’ve met so far have lived abroad, and I don’t mean Germany or Sweden; I mean spending years in exotic places like El Salvador or Cambodia. One of my colleagues even told me about the Danish word ‘udlængsel’, which translates as a longing to go abroad. Some people have said that they travel abroad because there’s really not much else to experience in Denmark if you’ve lived in one part of the country. In any case, I think that’s one of the reasons why Danes seem so cosmopolitan and open-minded.

8. Danish humour
Trying to get used to Danish jokes. Photo: Thomas Hoyrup
Am I supposed to laugh now? Photo: Thomas Hoyrup/Flickr
I just don’t get it.
9. Open sandwich
Danes, there's a whole world besides open sandwiches. Photo: Eugene Phoen
Danes, there are so many other things to eat for lunch than this – honestly! Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr

A classic Danish lunch that no one besides the Danes can pronounce – smørrebrød. I can’t really understand how they don’t get bored of eating it. It’s a different kind of sandwich everyday – but it’s still a sandwich everyday. I don’t want to argue about the huge variety of sauces, pork, cheese and other toppings to put onto your sandwich – or in what order! – but I’m just saying that it’s a piece of rye bread with stuff on it. I don’t expect Danes to be foodie experts or obsessed with Master Chef like people in Spain are, but surely there must come a point when even they get tired of eating this?

10. Elegant cyclists
Cycling makes people more attractive. Photo: Colville-Andersen/Flickr
When Danes hop on a bike, they do it in style. Photo: Colville-Andersen/Flickr

There’s something about the ease with which a Dane rides a bike, which may be part of what makes them look so elegant. Especially the women have it down to an art. I mean, how can you manage to simultaneously keep an eye on the traffic, avoid hitting other bikes, while also texting a friend with one hand, and still look so graceful?


Do you agree with the author? What were some of your first impressions in Denmark? Let us know in the comments below.

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Copenhagen, Stockholm given dismal rankings in expat city survey

Distant locals and a difficult housing market are among the factors resulting in a poor ranking for Scandinavian capitals in a survey on life for internationals in major cities.

Copenhagen, Stockholm given dismal rankings in expat city survey
Copenhagen and Stockholm. Composite: TunedIn61, mdurinik/Depositphotos

Copenhagen was ranked 54th and Stockholm 69th overall in the Expat City Ranking, based on a survey conducted by InterNations, a worldwide community for expats.

The Danish and Swedish capitals both ranked in the bottom 10 for finance and housing in the list of 72 cities, placing 63rd and 71st respectively.

Although Copenhagen in particular fared far better in the work-life balance category, rating in 1st place while Stockholm was 24th, that was not enough to save the overall disappointing ranking for the two cities.

Difficulty in settling as a newcomer was a further element of the survey in which the two cities did poorly: Copenhagen was found to be 61st and Stockholm 69th most difficult city in which to settle.

The ranking, based on survey responses from 18,000 people living and working abroad, is “one of the most extensive expat studies in the world”, InterNations wrote in a press release issued with the publication of the results.

Graphic: InterNations

The survey ranks the 72 cities by a variety of factors including quality of urban living, getting settled, urban work life, and finance and housing.

The top ten cities on the 2018 ranking are Taipei, Singapore, Manama, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Aachen, Prague, Madrid and Muscat.

With its 54th place overall, Copenhagen landed in the top ten in for urban work life and the bottom ten for finance and housing.

Quality of life and work-life balance were both rated highly by respondents: more than four in five respondents (84 percent) were satisfied with this aspect of life abroad (compared to 61 percent globally). Almost half (47 percent) said it could ‘not be any better’ (compared to 20 percent globally).

The same is true for working hours, with Copenhagen placing second worldwide, beaten only by German city Aachen. More than four in five expats in the Danish capital (83 percent) rate their working hours positively, compared to 62 percent worldwide.

READ ALSO: Denmark tops EU survey on work-life balance

Copenhagen boasts the highest job security out of the Nordic cities included in the ranking: 67 percent of expats are happy with this factor, followed by Stockholm (62 percent) and Helsinki (61 percent).

Copenhagen is the best Nordic city for income in relation to living expenses, although it ranks only 43rd out of 72 cities worldwide for this factor. In fact, more than three in five expats (62 percent) are unhappy with the local cost of living, compared to a global average of 37 percent.

Not a single respondent said that it was ‘very easy’ for expats to find housing in Copenhagen (18 percent globally), while more than two in five (41 percent) consider it extremely hard (11 percent globally).

Copenhagen ranks 68th worldwide for housing, only ahead of Geneva, Munich, Dublin and Stockholm.

The Swedish capital is the worst-rated of the three Nordic cities included in the survey and was placed 69th overall, ahead of only three other cities worldwide: Rome, Jeddah and Riyadh.

Stockholm shows a particularly poor performance for getting settled (69th) and finance and housing (71st). More than four in five respondents (81 percent) said that housing is not affordable in Stockholm, compared to 44 percent globally.

Continuing a trend for housing to impact the overall ranking, 79 percent said it was not easy to find housing in Stockholm (compared to 30 percent globally).

The majority of expats in Stockholm (65 percent) also rated the local cost of living negatively (compared to 37 percent globally).

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to rent in Sweden?

When it comes to urban work life, respondents in Stockholm are happy with their working hours: seven in ten (70 percent) rate this positively, compared to 62 percent globally. However, Stockholm is still the worst-rated Nordic city for this factor (15th), ranking behind Copenhagen (2nd) and Helsinki (5th).

While expats are happy with their working hours, they report a lack of socializing and leisure activities to pursue in their free time: more than two in five (41 percent) rate them negatively, compared to less than one in five globally (19 percent). In fact, just 32 percent of expats in Stockholm are happy with their social life, compared to 57 percent globally.

This might be due to the lack of friendliness perceived amongst Stockholmers: the Swedish capital ranks 71st for this aspect of life abroad, outperforming only Riyadh.

When it comes to the quality of urban living, expats are not only dissatisfied with the leisure options but also with the weather in Stockholm: less than one-quarter (24 percent) rate the local climate and weather positively, compared to more than half of internationals globally (55 percent). On the bright side, Stockholm comes in second place for the quality of its urban environment.

In total, the responses used for the city ranking represent 11,966 people living as foreign citizens living in 55 countries. For a city to be featured in the Expat City Ranking 2018, a sample size of at least 45 survey participants per city was required; 72 cities in 47 different countries made this threshold in 2018.

READ ALSO: Sweden's housing shortage an obstacle to integration: report