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Five things about life in Denmark you’ll probably never get used to

Adapting to Danish life takes some practice and a lot of patience, but with good will and a little bit of luck, you can get there. Some things can still stump you, though, even after many settled years.

Try saying
Try saying "fiskeri frarådes" and then tell me the Danish language isn't surprisingly difficult. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Like every country, Denmark has laws and cultural norms, both written and unwritten, that many new arrivals —and even some older ones — have a hard time getting used to.

Do you agree with the examples we discuss in this article? Are we being too harsh? Praising too enthusiastically? Have we missed something major? Let us know – if we receive enough responses, we’ll write a follow up article.

The language

It’s perhaps an obvious one to start with, but no less relevant for it. Learning to speak Danish is a challenge, albeit one that varies in difficulty depending on the languages you already speak.

READ ALSO: Is the Danish language really that hard to learn?

Although many will tell you Danish is a hard language to learn, I’d contend that it is in fact quite a ‘learnable’ language, with fairly logical grammar and sentences. The pronunciation is what makes Danish difficult.

And when someone judges your Danish proficiency on your ability to say rød grød med fløde, they’re not testing you very rigorously. Other words and phrases, like krydderier, forældre, Fredericia – basically, anything with more than one ‘r’ followed by different vowel sounds – are what I struggle the most with.

The above is based on personal experience of course, and probably only really accurate for native English speakers. Others may experience learning Danish quite differently.

The numbers 

Before we leave the subject of language… the numbers. They are hard to remember, hard to pronounce, and follow a mind-blowingly arcane system.

READ ALSO: How did the Danish language end up with its crazy numbers?

Even after speaking Danish as a second language for years, my brain still stalls when trying to process telephone numbers relayed as two-digit clusters. I don’t think it will ever become easy to immediately understand and write each set down. (‘Did they say 67? 77? 76? I’m going to need to ask them to repeat it…’)

Even Norwegians and Swedes, whose languages have perfectly normal numbering systems, will readily admit to finding numbers baffling in their Scandinavian sister tongue. 

High prices

The whole of Europe is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, and Denmark – an expensive country at the best of times – is no exception. And some economists believe that the high inflation levels that plagued the Danish economy last year could spill in 2023, too, making life even more costly.

READ ALSO: How much will rising prices cost Danish families each month?

There are regional variations in how much things cost – perhaps most notably the cost of renting housing in Copenhagen compared to elsewhere in the country – but high prices will be felt by almost anyone arriving in Denmark from other parts of Europe or the world. 

Anything from buying a drink at a bar, a sandwich at a café, running a car, deposits and rent up front when moving to a new flat, insurance, and of course taxes will feel like it’s hitting you in the pocket hard, even if higher wages offset this to some extent.

Reserved responses from residents… or not?

Danes typically aren’t outgoing, joie de vivre types. This is probably just as well known as the high prices, so you could argue it shouldn’t count as a surprise. Especially when the number of people who have point blank ignored you, when a simple ‘hej’ would have been a lot less awkward, has reached the thousands.

But I’m going to include it here, because I’ve also crossed paths with people who have confounded the stereotype and displayed memorable friendliness and neighbourly spirit towards me as a stranger.

A few years back, an octogenarian man who lived in my building offered me his tickets to a jazz concert because he had a bad back and couldn’t go. It was last minute notice so he couldn’t give the ticket to anyone further away, so decided to knock on my door. They were not cheap tickets nor easy to come by, but he went out of his way to give them away for nothing.

Another neighbour, whom I barely knew, gave me some pavement drawing chalk as a present for my 1-year-old daughter when we moved out. The neighbour had noticed her fascination with the colours doodled by her own child in our building’s back yard.

You might continue to be surprised and even frustrated by the reserved nature of people in Denmark, where friendly gestures are not given away cheaply. But when they do come along, you’ll perhaps be even more surprised at how thoughtful they are.

The well-functioning state 

Things that surprise you about Denmark don’t have to be problems. I’m still impressed by how well-functioning the social safety net is and the stability of the political system and society. In fact, I get more impressed with it as the years go by.

People who live in Denmark can take a university education up to postgraduate level for free. They are fully covered by the public health system if they get sick, apart from dental visits and other paramedical things like physiotherapy, but even these are easy to substantially discount through an opt-in, cheap private insurance. Childcare is accessible and people on lower incomes can have their rent subsidised by applying to their municipality.

During the coronavirus crisis, the government was able to compensate the majority of businesses that lost revenue, setting the country up for a quick economic recovery after restrictions were lifted.

It’s a society with problems, like everywhere, but how well Denmark works continues to make an impression on me and even sometimes surprise me.

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Sick leave, citizenship for children and energy providers: Essential articles for life in Denmark

Your rights to take sick leave, how homeowners might be able to cash in on high interest rates, the school system, citizenship rights for Danish-born children, how to use parental leave, and how to decide on an energy provider... here are six must-reads from The Local about life in Denmark.

Sick leave, citizenship for children and energy providers: Essential articles for life in Denmark

If you are unwell and unable to work, Danish employment law allows you to take sick leave if you are in employment, self-employed or receiving social welfare credit.

Mental health conditions such as depression or stress are treated on equal footing with injuries and physical illnesses.

Taking sick leave under the Danish employment provisions might seem difficult to grasp, especially if you are a foreigner in Denmark and used to having different rules or practices in your home country. But if you are legitimately ill, then you are entitled and indeed expected to take sick leave in these situations.

Denmark’s unique borrowing system enabled thousands of people to restructure their mortgages in 2022. High interest rates caused a drop in the market value of covered bonds and in some cases homeowners have been able to cash in.

High interest rates are still with us in 2023, which means the possible benefits are too.

We explain how it all works and how you can potentially pay off a sum of your mortgage.

Education is compulsory in Denmark for everyone between the ages of six or seven and 16. But where you are educated is the choice of the parent, with options of private, state-run or ‘free’ schools.

Most children in Denmark attend state-run schools, which are free. These are called folkeskole and gymnasium. 

Other options include the private ‘free schools’ or friskoler, which cost fees for tuition, although the fees are subsidised meaning they might seem cheap compared to what foreign residents are used to from other countries.

Denmark also has the unique efterskole and højskole, boarding schools where teenagers, young people and adults can attend for short or extended periods to specialise in particular subjects.

Unlike in other countries such as the United States, people born in Denmark do not automatically gain Danish citizenship, so certain criteria apply to children born in Denmark to foreign parents.

Denmark allows dual citizenship, however, meaning it is possible for foreign residents including children to be a dual national, if their country of origin also permits dual citizenship.

In 2022, Denmark’s parliament rubber-stamped a new law to reform parental leave rules by guaranteeing each parent 11 weeks at home with their newborn child.

The new law means that each parent gets 11 weeks of non-transferable parental leave after their child is born.

One parent cannot transfer any of the ‘earmarked’ leave to the other, meaning if they do not use the full 11 weeks, they eventually lapse.

Energy price fluctuations may mean it might be worth switching to a different electricity plan. How do you go about this?

Electricity providers offer both fixed-rate (fastpris) and variable (variabel) plans. Variable plans allow consumers to take advantage of lower prices at off peak times, such as at night.

The rate you are charged can change by the hour and can be around five times lower at its lowest than when it peaks. If the market price gets very high, though, your hourly rate will go up correspondingly.

So how do you check your plan and decide whether it would benefit you to change?