‘I’m trying to find my way into the etiquette of friendships here’

We spoke to American freelance photographer Rocco Peditto, who moved from Philadelphia to Aalborg in 2017, for the second article of our series on the everyday lives of internationals in Denmark.

‘I’m trying to find my way into the etiquette of friendships here’
Rocco Peditto moved to Denmark from the Unites States in 2017. Photo: supplied

Peditto and his Danish wife, who met each other through voluntary work in the United States, decided to move to Denmark while expecting their first child. The 25-year-old spoke to The Local about international relocation during impending parenthood, Danish friendship culture, and establishing his photography business in North Jutland.

What was your situation before you came to Denmark?

“We’d known each other for two years prior to moving here. We’d been staying in touch over Facetime and just had visits where she’d come over to me and I’d come out here to visit her, so we had a few of those trips back and forth.”

How does Aalborg compare to Philadelphia?

“That was one of the adjustments, just getting used to the physical space being smaller, but also the industry and the network of people, everybody seems to know each other here.

“I actually did some research on Google for the five or six months prior to moving here and found some people I thought could potentially be helpful for my freelance work and also in the long term, so I sent some emails hoping to pick up sponsors. There were people I didn’t hear back from, but from the few that did it proved to be fortuitous for me, not just in a business sense but also in a personal sense because I’ve been able to make friends with some of these people that I would otherwise probably not have met.”

Have there been other things that have helped you to settle?

“Under the terms of my residency I have to take language classes, and because of that of course I’m meeting people from all over the world. I’ve actually just finished those classes and they’ve been great, and we have different reasons for being here but are all new to Denmark and that’s something that’s kind of bonded us.”

Do you have any Danish friends?

“I think by reaching out early on to people I thought could be business partners or colleagues or whatever you want to call it, the friends I made there have slowly incorporated me into their friend groups and I’m trying to find my way into how to understand the etiquette of friendships here. I’ve been more observant than anything, just trying to understand how relationships grow over time here. I see how they’ve developed from an early age for people that grew up here, so I’m trying to work my way into friend groups without being too overbearing.”

You and your wife chose to settle in Denmark while expecting a child. What factors were involved in that decision?

“We’d played around with the idea back and forth, and the pros and cons (compared to the US) of laying roots either in a new place for her or a new place for me. I guess I took a big leap in trying it, but I think learning more about the Danish social structure and family structure, I think it was a safe bet in the sense that we’re much more comfortable economically speaking in not having to stress as much as we might have been in the States.

“The first three days (after the birth) we spent in the hospital, because it was funded through taxes, we didn’t have to pay anything out of our own pockets. In the States, whether or not we had insurance, there would have been some pretty high costs. From day one, that was something that made a huge difference to me.”

How do you find working in Denmark?

“I’m the only American photographer I know in Aalborg, to the best of my research. Not just that, my work just looks different. I mean, I come from a fine arts background due to the education I have from Philadelphia, but in Aalborg they don’t emphasise so much on the arts in a degree programme sense. You have these different schools where you can study but you don’t really come out with a degree, I think having spent four years studying photography it gives me a bit of an advantage, I’d say.”

How has Denmark changed your lifestyle?

“I think that brings me back to what I was saying before about being observant. I think because, on the surface, things look very similar in a lot of ways to the States – I go on the streets and I see companies from America and that’s been a sort of comfort, but underneath all that there’s this unknown culture to me, that I’ve just wanted to listen to.

“I don’t think I’ve ever spoken so little as I do at dinner parties at relatives’ homes in Denmark. Because of the language barriers of course, but also just really wanting to try to understand and out of respect for people here I want to learn as much as I can, because they’ve been so good to me so far.”

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Meet the group building bridges between Danes and foreign residents

Moving to Denmark as an expat often turns out to be more difficult than you would expect. Snigdha Bansal, a student at Aarhus University's Mundus Journalism program, writes about the Facebook group trying to build bridges with Danes.

Meet the group building bridges between Danes and foreign residents
The group has six active admins, from both Denmark and elsewhere. Photo: Tine H. Jorgensen
Moving to Denmark as an expat, one looks forward to embracing Danish culture and getting integrated into one of the world’s happiest societies. However, it often turns out to be more difficult than you would expect. 
Established in 2019, ‘Beyond Stereotypes: Danes & Internationals’ seeks to facilitate interactions between expats and locals in Denmark
‘Difficult to integrate with the Danes’
Poulomi Deb Bose, 33, moved to Denmark from India with her husband in June 2019. She says Danes have been very helpful in everyday interactions – at supermarkets, or at bus stops, helping her find her way in English. However, it has been integrating with them that has proved difficult.
“My interaction with Danes is limited to my landlord or people at the local kommune. It’s even difficult to spot them around, unless at the gym, where it never goes beyond a smile. It is a lot easier to talk to other internationals”, she says.
A couple months ago, a friend told her about a Facebook group with not just internationals but also Danes. Up until then, she had only been part of the groups with Internationals and this was the first of its kind where both communities were encouraged to interact with each other.
‘Building bridges’
Beyond Stereotypes: Danes & Internationals is a Facebook group with over 2,400 members.
The group was formed by Tine H. Jorgensen, a 56-year old academic and practitioner. While it acts as a meeting point for expats in Denmark and Danes, members are also invited to share their own unique experiences of interactions within the community to inspire and help others.
The idea of the group was sparked in early 2019 by a conversation Jorgensen had after a radio show in Aarhus where she was performing clairvoyance on air. The host of the show, Houda Naji from Morocco, and Enas Elgarhy, another invitee from Egypt, told her of their experiences of getting married to Danes and settling in Denmark.
“They talked about how difficult it was to make Danish friends, how long it took to get a CPR number which was needed for basic things like going to the gym, and other issues that made me realise how ridiculous it was for internationals. I asked myself what I could do about this.”
She decided the least she could do was to start a Facebook group, and invited both Naji and Elgarhy to join her as admins.
As the group has grown, its “bridge-building” role has become clearer, says Jorgensen, as more International and Danish admins come on board. 
The group organises monthly meet-ups for members to interact. Photo: Tine H. Jorgensen
‘Challenging our own biases’
Marta Gabriela Rodriguez-Karpowicz is a 38-year old life coach from Poland who recently started her own practice after working at the Danish corporation Vestas for almost 10 years.
She recently became a Danish citizen after 12 years of living in the country and is also an admin of the group. She took on the role because she believed that it would be “a worthwhile effort to build bridges between Danes and Internationals, which doesn’t appear to be happening naturally.” She wanted to be a part of this initiative owing to her own struggles to integrate and her experience of having grown past that phase, using which she could help others. 
“I also wanted to identify which biases I still had myself, so I could challenge them and grow beyond stereotypes”, she says.
‘Overcoming challenges’
The group connects people across Denmark by organising hobby-based meet-ups, providing a platform to discuss travel stories around Denmark as well as social issues such as racism. Job postings and job-seeking posts are also welcome, which some would say is the biggest challenge. 
Both Bose and Rodriguez-Karpowicz accompanied their husbands who found jobs in Denmark, and did not expect the difficulties they would face while finding jobs for themselves.
Bose associates it with the trust factor that is deeply ingrained in Danes. “I have realised they can be quite rigid in trusting outsiders for jobs or with references”, she says. 
This is also an area Rodriguez-Karpowicz believes she can help members with, since she found it difficult to get a job despite being “highly educated and experienced”, but eventually managed.
Integration in a new country can be difficult, but expats shouldn’t give up, according to Jorgensen. 
She acknowledges that racism does exist in Denmark, but at the same time, there are a lot of Danes who are very welcoming, and that’s the Danish attitude she wanted to highlight.
“I wanted to do my little bit to bring that forward, and connect people in a practical way.”