I appreciate the help that Facebook and similar online forums offer for new expats but increasingly it seems that rather than take control and find out information themselves, people simply ask others online. It’s often the same question over and over again, typically about things that would take seconds to Google, even if you need the aid of a translate tool, or half an hour outside on the streets to find the answer.
I regularly help out with questions when I can see there is an urgent need, but there is a big difference between this and asking very basic general questions. This is what frustrates me. It is easy to become mired in the expat negativity that can occur on these forums as well as the proliferation of misinformation. It also breeds a fear of exploration and creates a closed way of thinking about ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The Twitter generation of expats are quickly becoming helpless toddlers who need constant hand-holding to get through the basics of life. I have no doubt these people manage to function in their own countries. Strangely the people with the most questions seem to be Europeans or North Americans, to whom Denmark is not so different on a basic level from their own countries. Looking for a passport photo booth? Try all the places you would normally find this in your home country and you are likely to hit gold.
Copenhagen is not a scary city and almost everyone speaks English and is happy to help when asked - just get out there and try it.
When I first moved to Copenhagen eight years ago smartphones, Facebook groups and Google Translate were completely unknown. But I still managed to figure things out. It may have taken a little longer but in the search for one thing I found about 50 other useful or interesting places to store away for the future. I took a map from the tourist office with bus routes marked on it (I went through a lot of these in the first year), a pocket English-Danish dictionary, put on my most comfortable shoes and hit the streets.
My fellow newly arrived friends at language school and I shared things we had discovered and bonded over it. One classmate had a little leather bound book that she wrote things down in so she would remember the recommendations, especially as street names were still something of an enigma. I walked the streets around my apartment to see what was there so when I needed a key made I knew where to go. In the process, I found loads of lovely spots to enjoy a beer with my husband in the evening.
I asked the young lad in Irma about food and made a valuable contact who happily shared more information about the area and also a curiosity about England. I poked my head into shops to see what they sold. I spoke to my Danish neighbours. I absorbed my local environment and felt excited about the city I lived in. I asked about everything I saw that I was curious about.
The big part of this information sourcing was the role that real people played in it. I was still asking some questions but most information was gained by observation. I felt less lonely and isolated as I was talking to people face to face, even if most were random strangers. It is easy to feel supported by people online and this does have a valuable role but it doesn't help you meet local people or get a real sense of the city and culture you live in. You can’t do that in your apartment in front of a screen.
I love meeting new people and sharing experiences and I also write on my blog about the less obvious intricacies of life here.
Before you ask an obvious question online, walk out your door with your eyes open and if you still can't find the answer try stopping someone passing by. Sure, you’ll sometimes encounter rude people but in general most locals are happy to help. And there are places like International House in Copenhagen or your local municipality where people are just sitting waiting for your questions and will give you more than just the one answer you are looking for.
Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Denmark on her blog Dejlige Days.