The author and his daughter on the island of Funen. Photo: Signe Cremer
The beauty of Copenhagen and the allure of the water never faded over seven years.
Well, this is it. After nearly seven years of living in Denmark and covering the Danish news in English, I’m on my way back to the US. I already know there are a lot of things I’ll miss about this wonderful country and its people – and things I won’t, but we’ll save those for another day – but I’m sure the real impact won’t be felt until I’ve been gone for a few months. For now, here are the ten things that definitely make my list.
1. Biking everywhere
The author biking over Bryggebroen. Photo: Cody Robinson
It may sound like a small thing, but I’ve come to truly appreciate starting every morning on my bike rather than fighting traffic in a car. Whether escorting my kids to school and daycare or biking to the train station for the short ride into Copenhagen (where, in a true sign that I became semi-Danish, I had a second bike waiting for me), I love the fresh air, moderate exercise and sense of freedom that comes with riding a bike. I even developed a strange fondness for biking in the snow and rain, although I never could accept the strong winds that seemed to blast me in the face no matter which direction I faced.
2. Work-life balance
Plenty of time for ice cream with the kids when you live and work in Denmark. Photo: Signe Cremer
Long before I left for Denmark, I was incredibly put off by the hyper-competitive nature of the American workplace. In one of my jobs back home, there seemed to be a sick contest between employees over who could work the longest hours. Ironically, those who often “won” that contest were the same people dicking around during much of the traditional work day.
I much prefer the Danish method of getting down to business during work hours and then getting the hell out of the office when 4pm (or earlier) rolls around. And in Denmark, you don’t get dirty looks when you have to leave the office early to take your kids to swimming class and you don’t need to try to curry professional favour by staying late. Your boss wouldn’t even notice anyway, as he/she was probably out the door at 3pm with the rest of them.
I should clarify here that I WON’T miss the word ‘hygge’, which has become so overused that it has lost its meaning, especially after being co-opted by a publishing industry eager to capitalize on its popularity.
But I will miss what ‘hygge’ means to me, which is putting in the effort to make any given situation more enjoyable and cozy.
While there are of course exceptions, I’m always struck by how different my get-togethers with friends are in the US when compared to Denmark. When meeting with American friends, whether in their homes or at a bar, there always seems to be a television screen on that sucks attention from the people you are supposedly there to see. Hell, in some American bars and restaurants you can’t even escape the ubiquitous TV screen in the bathroom. Add in the smartphone in everyone’s hand, and you have a recipe for very superficial and not particularly satisfying conversations.
Call me crazy, but I’ve come to expect actually speaking to the people I’m out with rather than grunting a few exchanges during the commercial break of some random televised sporting event.
4. Water, water everywhere
The author and his daughter on the island of Funen. Photo: Signe Cremer
I grew up in completely landlocked Iowa so living in Denmark has given me all sorts of opportunities to quench my longing for the sea. Many of my fondest memories include the water, whether it’s just a run-of-the-mill summer afternoon drinking beers and diving into the harbour at Islands Brygge or the family holidays we’ve had in Æro, Funen, Bornholm and northern Jutland. Yes, on some of those occasions the water was so damn cold that I got sick a few days later but it was worth it.
5. The beauty of Copenhagen
Even after spending the better part of a decade in the Danish capital, I was still regularly struck by how truly wonderful Copenhagen is (just as the 1952 song by Danny Kaye promised). Coming from the aforementioned Iowa – which is actually a lovely place, I promise – I constantly marvelled at the fact that people came from all over the world to take in the sights that I see everyday. I tried to maintain that sense of appreciation throughout my time here and between the city’s hidden gems and well-known attractions, that wasn’t hard to do.
6. The music scene
It became a tradition to celebrate 4th of July at Roskilde. Photo: Justin Cremer
It’s only February and I’m already bummed that I’ll miss this summer’s Roskilde Festival after attending for six consecutive years. I’ve also had to unfollow all of the Copenhagen music venues on Facebook because I keep seeing upcoming concerts that I can’t attend. The Danish capital is a great music city – just ask all the Swedes who regularly cross the bridge for shows – and I’ve been able to check act after act off my ‘must-see’ list and discover all kinds of new favourites.
6. An efficient and technically-advanced society
Danes love to complain about rail operator DSB and I certainly have joined in the chorus myself, but overall things in Denmark, including public transport, are quite efficient. From the multitude of ways to pay for your goods, almost none of which include something as old fashioned as cash or cheques (I could hardly contain my shock when the landlord of our new house in New York suggested that I write her one) to a personal ID number that is used for pretty much everything, I’ve grown used to things just working like they are supposed to.
7. (Complaining about) the weather
“Enjoying” the Danish summer.
Can I truly say that I’ll miss Danish weather? No. But complaining about the weather is something of a national sport and I got quite good at it over the years. I’ve also found that I appreciate those perfect summer days more when they’re rare than I do when long sunny and warm stretches are just the norm. Ok, ok, you got me. I needed an extra item to get to the nice round number of ten. I won’t miss the Danish weather at all!
8. My love/hate relationship with the Danish language
I have a Danish wife and two half-Danish kids, so leaving Denmark does not mean that I’ll escape the language that I’ve so struggled to learn. But it does mean that I will obviously use it much less than I do now and likely forget much of what I learned. That’s a shame; Danish is a damn hard language, but it has some true gems that work better than their English equivalents, if one even exists.
9. A society that's so well-functioning that people have to go looking for problems
The Danes are a generally happy and proud people, and they have good reason to be. Photo: Justin Cremer
There was a 2015 headline in the left-leaning Politiken newspaper, which has been my paper of choice during my time here, that has really stuck with me: ‘Hvorfor skal det altid være synd for nogen i Politikens spalter?’, ‘Why is it always a shame for someone in Politiken’s columns?’ it asks. Basically, the author argues that Danes are so well off that they constantly create ‘problems’ that aren’t there. After seven years here, I agree. Of course Denmark, like any country, has its issues but life here is generally so good that some of the things people find to complain about are rather petty. That, frankly, strikes me as a pretty good indicator that Danes have this whole life thing pretty much down. After all, all of those ‘world’s happiest people’ designations have to count for something, right?
10. Delivering the news in English
Before I brought The Local to Denmark in 2014, I spent around three and a half years as the news editor of a competing English-language publication. During the six-plus years of covering Danish news, I’ve heard from countless readers who’ve expressed their thanks for helping them understand their new home and I’ve been featured by media around the world who were interested in my insight into what was happening in Denmark.
Denmark has an enormous inferiority complex, but it shouldn’t. There is great interest out there in what goes on in this small, but important and fascinating, country. I truly enjoyed doing my part over the years to help get those stories out there – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Justin Cremer has been The Local Denmark’s editor since the site launched in June 2014 and has also operated The Local Norway since November 2015. He will be moving to upstate New York and if all goes according to plan will return to Copenhagen in 2019. You can contact him at [email protected] and/or on Twitter at @MrJustinCremer.