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Five things about Denmark that make me smile

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Five things about Denmark that make me smile
Denmark loves cakes... and so do I. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

From person-shaped cakes to rain trousers, The Local's Denmark editor Michael Barrett runs through some of the things about life in Denmark that warm his heart.

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The love of cakes 

Denmark has a voracious appetite for cake, and as a hopeless sweet-tooth this is something that has made me smile over and over again.

It goes further than the sticky pastries for which the country is famous. It’s your birthday? Everyone at work gets some cake. Easter lunch with the family? You can be sure there’s some incredible cheesecake on offer. A trip to South Jutland, you say? There won’t just be one cake, but an actual “cake table” or kagebord which, as its name suggests, is a table crowded with different types of cake to which guests can help themselves, and there’s always more than enough to go around.

There is even such a cake as a kagemand or kagekone (“cake man” or “cake woman”), a huge cake in the shape of a man or woman that would have a mere gingerbread man running away in fear. Why? Because in Denmark, a cake anything makes sense.

READ ALSO: Five classic Danish cakes you need to try

Toddlers in winter overalls 

Der findes ikke dårligt vejr, kun dårlig påklædning: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes."

If you've spent a winter in Denmark as a foreigner, you've almost certainly heard this Danish saying several times.

It's true, and particularly true of the gangs of toddlers you'll see out in the snow in parks and preschool playgrounds across the country, wearing the colourful winter overalls that look almost like little space suits. 

You may be spending the dark Danish winter largely cooped up in well-heated apartments, but it's heartening to see that they, at least, are not. And that always makes me smile. 

READ ALSO: How to dress your child for the cold, wet Danish winter

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Adults in rain trousers

 This is basically a grown-up version of the above point, but I get a huge sense of satisfaction from seeing well-prepared cyclists get one over on the Danish weather by staying dry when conditions are at their wettest.

Kitted out in a regnsæt or “rain set”, which consists of matching waterproof jacket and trousers, along with a hat and sometimes gaiters with the obligatory regnstøvler (Wellington or gumboots), you see them pedalling through downpours unaffected by the drizzly winter, or indeed summer, conditions.

As a foreigner who grew up in a country that also has unpredictable weather, but less all-round use of bicycles, I’ve had many a soaking on my bike in Denmark and take my (rain) hat off to those who are so good at avoiding it.

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

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Vibrant democracy

Denmark has around a dozen different political parties represented in parliament (give or take depending on the most recent MP defections and newly-formed parties).

As such, there’s a party for almost any viewpoint on the political spectrum you might happen to hold.

Generally, this means a lot of compromise is needed to pass laws, because no one party ever holds a majority. It also means parties are less likely to get dragged away from their traditional ideologies (although this still happens to some extent), and that voters are more likely to change their vote from one party to another, because they have more options. 

There are, of course, plenty of scandals and problems in Danish politics just like anywhere else.

Former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen handed out flyers at Nørreport Station in Copenhagen during the last general election campaign, one of several party leaders who did similar.

In the run-up to elections, you will see stands in town centres where you can go and talk politics with local party members, often the most senior ones who are nationally recognisable MPs or MEPs. These things generally happen without visible security and the sense that you are invited to discuss things with people you strongly disagree with – and that all this can happen in a completely civil manner.

READ ALSO: 'The state takes care of you': Why Denmark is such a 'happy' country

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The use of handy design products (good and bad)

Certain design elements, including but not limited to kitchen utensils, are sworn by in Danish homes and seem to be a non-negotiable, regardless of how well they work. The ones that I enjoy the most can be either useful or useless (in my opinion) but I certainly hadn’t encountered them before I lived here.

The flatbed toaster, for example, is a great way to toast something thicker than a slice of bread without having to turn on the oven or think about timing.

The ostehøvl or cheese slicer on the other hand, I would gladly never see again in my life. Just give me some firmer cheese than the stuff Danes seem to love, and a knife – you know, those things that can actually cut in a straight line.

On the whole, the utility items that seem to be in every home are highly functional, reflecting the country’s affinity for both practicality and design. Other types include the  svanehals (swan’s neck) fitting used to suspend a pendant lamp, inbuilt bicycle locks and foldable hazard triangles for cars. But there are many more examples which I’m sure save time and effort every day.

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