Six things I wish Danes knew about Americans who live in Denmark

Life as an American in Denmark does not always conform to preconceptions.

Six things I wish Danes knew about Americans who live in Denmark
File photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

As an American who has lived in Denmark for a number of years, I still feel there are some things that I just wish Denmark knew about us. The secrets are about to be revealed!

We don’t always want to talk about politics

Now, I know that most Danes love to talk politics. When the US was voting for a president, I felt that the news in Denmark talked about it almost as much as they would in the US. I couldn’t believe it!

Just because that is a hot topic here, please don’t assume that since I’m American, you can talk about American politics (or God forbid, Donald Trump) with me.

My husband once mentioned to me that he doesn’t like Americans discussing Danish politics with him. Go figure! I guess everyone has their ideas of what should be in a casual conversation.

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There are probably plenty of other Americans out there who would love to have this discussion with you, but assuming that all the Americans you meet are the ones who like it, isn’t a good idea.

There are some of us who stick to the old tradition of never talking about three specific topics with people we don’t know very well. These topics are Religion, Politics and Money.

Maybe I am very old school in saying this, but I feel that it is a good way for me to get to know people without certain beliefs getting in the way. I have seen these topics tear families apart and that is no way to start a new relationship.

File photo: Bax Lindhardt/Ritzau Scanpix

Americans are friendly

Even the most introverted American is still very friendly and wants to be your friend. I know that Danes like to get to know people before they become “friends” with them. This might even take a lifetime for some Danes who are comfortable in their already-formed social circles, and we want you to know that we don’t understand that at all.

We smile at you and say ‘hi’, even if we don’t know you. This isn’t to bother you; it is to make friends. We will invite you over to our homes and share our treats with you. We will laugh when we talk. We will learn the names of your kids and your dogs, and we’ll ask about them and want to be their friends.

We aren’t weird. We are just friendly. We might be standing in line to use the bathroom at a crowded place and start conversations with complete strangers as if we have known them our entire lives. If you are our neighbours, we will treat you like family. We want you to like us. We will love Danish holidays and traditions. We love to have a reason to celebrate and have fun. Have fun with us! What is it, then, that I’m trying to say? Don’t be afraid to become friends with an American. We don’t bite!

The American section of the grocery store needs a bit of work

It would be great if supermarkets actually discussed with local Americans living in their area about what they would like to see on these shelves and what the majority of us actually eat.

I know you can’t please all the people all the time, but can we get real for a moment? I’ve seen pop (soda) brands on these shelves that I have never heard of before.

There are also always McDonald’s condiments on the shelves. I’ve never seen those before in the States! And where in the world did you find that brand of Mac-N-Cheese? Sure, that might have been something we would buy to fill up our college dorm rooms because we were living on a budget, but when we desperately need a reminder of home, we’re thinking more of the good stuff that we know and love (Kraft). We also don’t understand why most of the section is junk food… like candy bars.

Photo: weyo/Depositphotos

Things labelled ‘American’ are not always so

When Americans hear the word ‘Danish’, we often think of a pastry that isn’t actually from Denmark. I’m willing to change if you are!

I know that it isn’t the fault of Denmark that Doritos have an ‘American flavour’. I’m not sure what an American would taste like, actually, but I have a feeling it isn’t ‘cool ranch’, which is what we call the same flavour in the US.

It doesn’t just stop there. I have also seen Christmas decorations that are labelled ‘American decor’. They tend to be decorations that we might have used in the 80’s and are also a bit on the tacky side. I get it.

When Danes live abroad and have a Danish flag on the table for a birthday, another Dane can see it and smile, knowing what it represents. I can guarantee that not one of my family members would see this Santa decoration and internally feel some comfort or connection for the mother country.

Now, If I saw a bandana with an American flag printed on it, I might! You can sell those and label them American scarves. I’m okay with that!

Our driving licenses are real

Denmark allows Americans to exchange their driver’s license for a Danish one. This is wonderful, since it wasn’t always this way. People from other countries have, in the past, had to take a driver’s test to get a license.

Thank you very much, Denmark for being so wonderful in letting me have a Danish driver’s license without taking a test. I live in a fantastic community with wonderful people who saw no problems with exchanging my USA driver’s license for a Danish one.

However, it can sometimes be a complicated process having authorities in Denmark convert American driver’s licenses to Danish ones.

I guess there is a misconception that Americans drive around with fake licenses. I don’t know where this idea comes from, but I think Hollywood really messed it up for us over here. All those movies with teenagers getting fake IDs must have really influenced the Danish authorities.

But we do have occasional difficulty with road signs…

Photo: Lars Helsinghof Bæk/Ritzau Scanpix

This is probably going to get me into trouble, but we can’t avoid the elephant in the room any longer. Though driving in Denmark is very similar to driving in the US, I have to say that one of the most important things Denmark should know about Americans is that we have no idea what the road signs mean! There. I said it. 

Perhaps it is just me, but I really think that when Denmark allows the driver’s licenses to be exchanged, they should give us a cheat sheet for what the signs mean along with our Danish driver’s license.

I live in a very small town. The blue sign with the white arrow was pretty much the one I saw most often. I figured that one out right away, but when I had to drive to a bigger city, I have to say that the panic set in when I saw a sign I was very confused by. I didn’t know if it was referring to a one-way or something to do with parking. Needless to say, I just avoided that area.

Maybe I am not a typical American in this regard, and every other American is very well aware of what these signs mean. If that is the case, I apologize for dragging you down in the mud with me!

Kelly Kristensen moved to Denmark in 2016 and lives in central Jutland. She documents Danish life as a US citizen in her blog, which you can find here



READ ALSO: Five things to bring with you if you are moving to Denmark

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Essential rain gear for a wet Danish winter (and autumn, spring and summer)

Winter in Denmark is a shock to the system, particularly for those of us who come from warmer, drier climes. But if you know where to look, you can find the right rain gear to keep the Danish drops off your head.

Bicycling in wet Danish weather doesn't have to be
Bicycling in wet Danish weather doesn't have to be "træls" (bothersome) if you're kitted out in the right water resistant gear. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

This roundup is unsponsored and the fruits of much googling, review-reading, and recommendation-begging by a sad, damp American.

Where to shop? 

To try things on, the best places are Intersport, Spejder Sport (home to Columbia, Patagonia, Asivik and FjällRaven) and Eventyr Sport, as well as outdoor outfitter Friluftsland.  

To shop the Danish way, put in the hours combing the racks at your local second hand or charity shop. If you strike out there, search by brand on or Facebook marketplace.

Rain jackets: Regnjakker

Your rain jacket is your second skin in Denmark during the damp winter months. Helly Hansen is a go-to brand, according to a Johannes, a Jutland native who offered his recommendation to The Local. The Norwegian company offers well-made jackets at a reasonable price point, ranging between 600 and about 1,500 kroner. These can be ordered direct from the manufacturer or on (the German one) for delivery in Denmark—if you want to try before you buy, go to Eventyr Sport.  

A budget pick is McKinley, which you can pick up at Intersport. These cost between 200-400 kroner.

The classic Scandinavian splurge rain jacket is Fjällräven—these are available in stand-alone Fjällräven stores, Friluftsland, Eventyr, and Spejder Sport, and cost a not-unsubstantial percentage of your rent starting at about 2,500 kroner and climbing north of 6,000 kroner.

Rain pants: regnbukser

Rain pants are a novelty to those of us who don’t come from bike cultures, but after your first rainy day cycling commute leaves you at the office with drenched trousers you’ll understand the appeal.

The New York Times’ product review service Wirecutter highlights the Marmot PreCip Eco Pant as the best pick—here in Denmark, they’re available for men and women at outdoor gear purveyor Friluftsland for about 700-800 kroner.

McKinley also makes rain pants that will set you back around 200 kroner.  

Some of Patagonia’s rain pants, which we found at Spejder Sport, have side zippers for ventilation—if you’re on the sweatier side, this may be a good call. (Their website also proudly reports these rainpants roll up to the “size of a corncob.”)

Rain sets: regnsæt

Also on the market are rain sets, which are coordinating jacket-pant combos like this one from Asivik. It’s cheaper to buy the set rather than both pieces separately, but for many people it makes more sense to invest in a higher-quality rain jacket and go for a more affordable rain pant.

Backpack rain covers: regnslag til rygsæk

Backpack rain covers are an easy buy and cost orders of magnitude less than the laptops and other electronics they protect. Snag one on the way out the door at Intersport, Spejder Sport, or most anywhere that sells rain gear. Expect to pay about 60-180 kroner—just make sure it fits your backpack.

Gloves: Handsker

Your favourite fluffy mittens may not be well suited for your bike commute. GripGrab, a Danish company popular all over the world, offers a variety of waterproof and winterproof gloves— including the lobster style, which has split fingers that allow you the dexterity to ring your bell, pull your hand break and do a Spock impression at a moment’s notice. These are available at specialty cycling stores.

Rain boots: Gummistøvler

Perfectly serviceable budget rainboots are available at the same retail stores discussed above—though for longevity, look for boots made from rubber rather than PVC.

At a higher price point, Hunter rainboots are sold by Danish online retail giant Zalando and keep you dry and in style.

Tretorn is a Swedish brand over a hundred years old—their rain boots are available for both men and women through Spejder Sport and, of course, their website.

For women: available on the German Amazon website is the Asgard Women’s Short Rain Waterproof Chelsea Boot, one of the best reviewed women’s rain boots that doesn’t make you feel like you’re wearing clown shoes.