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EXPAT

How to manage the expectations of expat life

Relocation expert Melanie Haynes gives readers tips on how to deal with the two areas that give new arrivals the biggest headaches.

How to manage the expectations of expat life
Life in a new country isn't always filled with sunshine. Photo: Colourbox
Managing expectations is the name of the game for successful relocation. It is very easy to fall into the trap of constant comparisons and conversions to everything 'back home'. There are two key areas that people struggle with that can cause major problems in relocating: space and cost. Both of these require a change of mindset and a big dose of reality, something that is often resisted by newer expats.
 
Firstly, space. For many people moving from the UK or the US one significant issue is coming to terms with a smaller living space, especially in regard to bathrooms. A lot of people in the UK will be lucky enough to have at least two bathrooms in their home and understandably take this for granted. They will have a shower and a bath, tons of storage space for all those tubes of cosmetics and face creams we seem to accumulate. 
 
Unless you are looking at a modern apartment in Copenhagen your bathroom is most likely to consist of a wet room less than two square metres including a sink, a small cupboard and the toilet – all neatly and cleverly fitted into the compact space. The shock on the faces of guests from the States when they see the bathroom spaces in Danish apartments is always a sight to behold.
 
The cost of living in Denmark is the next big issue. If I had a krone for every time I hear how expensive things are here I would be a very wealthy woman. There are even people who claim that due to the expensive nature of goods here that they simply ship everything they need from cheaper countries and never spend even a øre in Danish stores if they can help it (not a great way to support your local economy).
 
But with a change of expectations and behaviour you realise that a lot of what you spent your money on at home was totally unnecessary, throwaway junk that you simply didn't need. I am ashamed to admit that I would easily spend hundreds of pounds on a monthly basis on cheap throwaway fashion when I lived in the UK.
 
I would fill my aforementioned bathroom cabinets with the latest wonder anti-ageing cream and forget about it the next week. Being faced with a more expensive price tag for non essential items has helped me pick and choose a lot more carefully and actually use and wear all the things I own. 
 
I have stopped chasing the latest thing for that temporary emotional high and changed my values about consumption. I buy more expensive beauty products but use them until the jar is empty – something I never did with all the cheap ones in the UK. We meal plan and eat all we buy (as much as possible), we don't fill our apartment with stuff we don't need or enjoy. We don't have a TV in every room. And we don't feel we are missing out.
 
It is very easy to get caught up in comparing prices between your home country and your new country and coming to the conclusion that the latter is very expensive. Budgeting is important, but so is realism. Things cost what they cost, so unless you can find an alternative source through friends and family or the internet, you need to decide if you want something bad enough to pay the price.
 
I hear people say that a washing machine would be half the price 'back home', true as this may be you can't buy it there and ship it over so you need to find the best price here. That is an essential element of dealing with the price of things here – shopping around to find the best deal – whether that is on appliances or a litre of milk. 
 
Quite a while ago I started doing my smaller grocery purchases (I use Nemlig for the convenience for the majority) in budget supermarkets like Netto, Aldi and Lidl and our bank balance is showing the difference.
 
I was recently listening to a podcast with blogger Jen Gale who advocates a healthy approach to consumption and a more ‘make do and mend’ lifestyle and she put it perfectly – once you replace ‘I need’ with ‘I want’ you can start to assess what is really important and essential to live a contented lifestyle and not one based on consumption.
 
It was a change that living here forced me make and it made life a lot easier with less resentment. 
 
Melanie HaynesMelanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at helping expats called Dejlige Days Welcome. Her ebook, Dejlige Days: A Guide to relocation, will be published in February.

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EXPAT

Ten surprising things that happened to me after moving to Denmark

Relocation expert Melanie Haynes shares ten things she wasn’t prepared for when she joined the Danes.

Ten surprising things that happened to me after moving to Denmark
A shameless approach to public nudity caught the author off-guard. Photo: CandyBox Images/Iris
Moving to Denmark is a great experience but there are some things that catch most expats out at some point. So here are ten of the things that have surprised me most in my first few years here.
 
1. I had a hard time mastering the local lingo
 
Remember that episode of ‘Friends’ when Joey thinks he is speaking French? That will most probably be you at the start of learning a new language. You hear what your teacher says, repeat it exactly how you think it sounds but she still looks at you with a complete lack of comprehension. Eventually it gets better, and you might even be ‘complimented’ by being told that you sound like a peasant or a Norwegian (even though you are neither).
 
2. I learned that not everything is as it seems
 
Careful what you pour in there! Photo: dimakp/Iris
Careful what you pour in there! Photo: dimakp/Iris
 
Things at the supermarket look like they should until you get home, ready for a hot drink and find yoghurt plopping into your well deserved caffeine injection. Yep, Europeans love yoghurt and it comes in litre cartons, just like their milk, so be vigilant.
 
3. I found out suppositories are a thing
 
You're putting my medicine WHERE?!? Photo: erllre/Iris
You're putting my medicine WHERE?!? Photo: erllre/Iris
 
Babies are not given oral medication. Yes, that means paracetamol for your baby (and up to the age of two) needs to be administered at the other end. My shock at this was not understood by my doctor.
 
4. I got hooked on salty food

Pass the salt, please! Photo: Sebastian/Iris
 
When I first moved to Denmark I found the food excessively salty. Now I immediately reach for the salt on the table when in the UK as I moan about the lack of seasoning.
 
5. I had to accept that nudity is no big deal
 
Danes have a relaxed attitude toward nudity. Photo: Dmitri Maruta/Iris
Danes have a relaxed attitude toward nudity. Photo: Dmitri Maruta/Iris
 
Changing in a Danish swimming pool can be an awkward experience for people from more conservative countries as there are rarely many or any private changing areas and the changing rooms are full of naked women (or men) wandering around, showering and enjoying a sauna. Eyes down is the best policy if you are shy and remember no one is looking at anyone else – we all have the same bits. And try not to be bothered by the mums who look like super models in bikinis at the baby swim classes.
 
6. I discovered that doing laundry can be an eye-opening experience
 
Shared laundry rooms can tell you more about your neighbour than you'd care to know. Photo: Brenda Carson/Iris
Shared laundry rooms can tell you more about your neighbour than you'd care to know. Photo: Brenda Carson/Iris
 
In some old apartment buildings in Northern Europe you have a communal laundry room with drying lines. You’ll never look your staid neighbour in the face again after seeing her sexy undies on the line.
 
7. I have no shame when it comes to getting what I want
 
You may have to occasionally go to extreme lengths to get your point across. Photo: zoryanchik/Iris
You may have to occasionally go to extreme lengths to get your point across. Photo: zoryanchik/Iris
 
I mimed being a duck (with added quacking) at a Berlin department store butcher’s counter when they couldn’t understand me when I was out shopping for our Christmas dinner. The assistant didn’t even crack a smile but showed me where they were. Luckily here in Denmark this is less of an issue.
 
8. I learned to prepare early
 
Want champagne for New Year's Eve? Best to be safe and buy it in early December. Photo: tiero/Iris
 
Shops selling champagne will be closed by 4pm on New Year’s Eve and those that are open will be sold out. But you will still be able to buy fireworks to fire off on the streets, willy nilly. Before any public holiday make sure you have what you need as many shops will be closed.
 
9. I found the search for everyday things to be harder than expected
 
I just want one of these – how hard can it be??? Photo: Pabkov/Iris
 
The search for an everyday item like a drying rack can become a mission of epic proportions with people in shops looking at the picture of what you want as if you are looking for a mythical creature. Two weeks later you haemorrhage a huge amount of money for one in the best department store in Europe as it’s the only place you find one.
 
10. I learned to be wary of the Danish love of liquorice
 
Danes not only eat liquorice by the handful, they also sneak it into everything from ice cream to beer. Photo: cyclonebill/Flickr
 
Ice cream that looks like Oreo cookies? Nope, that’s liquorice. Ice lollies that are called Kung Fu that look fun? Again liquorice. Learn the word lakrids before any other when moving to Denmark to avoid inelegantly spitting out something you hoped would be lovely or having wailing children with mouths on fire.
 
Melanie HaynesMelanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at expats called Dejlige Days Welcome and works with Copenhagen Housing to offer an integrated settling-in and home search service. Her ebook, 'Dejlige Days: A Guide to Relocation', is available now.
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