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6 things I’ve learned from Denmark

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6 things I’ve learned from Denmark

I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for almost 3 years. I feel a little bit Danish now as there are many situations that constantly remind me how much Denmark has changed me for the better. I had a love/hate relationship with the country, since I love many aspects of the society, but Danish winter is not for me. I am more the sunflower kind of person (I need to see the sun every day and do things outside) and for being happy in Denmark you need to be more the orchid type, not worrying about being inside way too much for my Mediterranean standards.

6 things I've learned from the DanesDenmark is not an easy country to adapt as a foreigner (20% of the expats leave after just 2 years), but there are so many things everybody could learn from Danish culture. I have to admit most of the things I used to complain about when I was living there are the ones I appreciate the most from the Danes now.

1. Equality. Like Jante Law says (more or less), it’s not good in Danish culture trying to be too cool for school.  Above all else, the Danes value equality and community. You need to do your best to fit in and adapt. The best part of this in my opinion is the lack of prejudice. As Denmark is a social welfare state, it is guaranteed that every citizen is educated equally well (theoretically) and the care you get from every doctor is equally good. Denmark doesn’t have a big gap between the rich and the poor. I have the feeling everybody treats you the same way in Denmark, it doesn’t matter if you wear fancy clothes or just sneakers. 

UPDATE: I wanna make clear I mean equality if you are Danish. Some people in their comments reminded me how, sadly, if you are a foreign or don’t speak Danish you won’t be treated equal. I experienced that myself (but I will talk about it in a future article)

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2. No drama. Well, Danish people are brilliant at avoiding conflicts (which can be both a blessing and a curse). They don’t normally take things personally, trying to be optimistic and are pretty laid-back. Some would say they have a lack of passion and are not good at expressing their feelings… But I guess nobody is perfect. It’s so hard to piss off a Dane, or at least to see them mad (except if they are drunk, when they are drunk they talk more about how they feel).

Danish people typically assume that you have good intentions. Trust plays an integral role in Danish society, which makes for a very good work environment! They encourage you to give feedback and be honest. It wasn’t until I was working in Spain again that I fully appreciated this. For instance, this summer my boss in Spain took many of my concerns and comments as negative criticism, but I was only trying to provide constructive feedback like the Danes had taught me. 

how to be danish

3. Straight to the point and productivity. If they need to tell you something, they will in a very straight forward way – no beating around the bush! They are not so used to small-talk and sometimes sound very rude and direct, just don’t take it personal. Time is money and they don’t like to waste their time with bullshit. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why they are so productive. What some of us would call “lack of social skills” is probably one of the reasons the Danish economy is so healthy.  Also, when they are done with work, they really are. In Spain we are used to working overtime. In Denmark, you work 37 hours a week: it’s your duty to finish your things within that time, normally you can organize yourself as you prefer. This means you start working at 8 or 9 and leave around 16 or 17, so you can spend time with your family.

4. To travel is to live. I love this quote from the most famous Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen. Danes have around 5 or 6 weeks of holidays and they travel a lot, far away, and usually start very young. Probably because Danish winter really depresses you if you don’t get some sun (we had 9 hours of sun in the whole month of January)

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,To gain all while you give,To roam the roads of lands remote,To travel is to live.” (1)

It’s really common to take one gap year before university or in the middle of it. They are lucky to live in a welfare society that encourages that. I was very jealous when my Danish friends were telling me about their exotic trips, so I decided to imitate them. Thanks to Denmark, I became a globetrotter and I love it!

5. Design. Esthetics are important. Now I care much more about the design and the quality of products. Once you get used to the amazing Danish designs it’s hard to get back to a budget life. I used to love Ikea ages ago, but now that I have learned about Nordic design, I absolutely love it. Probably because they spend so much time inside the house due to the shitty weather, they invest a lot of money in expensive and beautiful objects for their houses.

Hygge

6. Hygge. Hygge is fucking awesome. Hygge means “coziness”, but it’s much more than that. It’s making every experience as enjoyable as you can. Some do this by lighting candles in the cafes, your house, eating and drinking and enjoying the serenity. It’s a word you cannot really translate (I really tried), but it’s a really nice feeling that you can experience alone or with your family or friends. It’s another way to survive the cold Danish winter, having a nice atmosphere inside the house and taking things easy.

Thanks for reading, if you are Danish or live in Denmark don’t hesitate to tell us what you think about this article! We are looking forward to hearing your feedback!

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19 Comments

  • Faheem Asghar

    Hey Maira,

    Really informative and true article about danes, I have lived in DK for almost 5.5 years.

    All the best for your next article,
    ¨Kind regards,
    Faheem
    P.S) No junk emails on my email address given here, please.

    05/11/2015 at 2:57 pm
    • María Arlandis

      Thank you Faheem! I’m glad you liked the article! no worries about the junk emails!

      11/11/2015 at 10:50 am
  • Aqua

    Hello, its very nice to read and reminisce living in Denmark.. Yeah, all of that are really true.. But I want to add that Danes are very friendly and approachable.. Im living now in Norway after 2 years in Denmark, and I really see the differences among them.. My 2 years living in Denmark was very significant in my life wherein I experience most of the first times in my life, especially the guy that I loved and still I loved him but we dont communicate at all now but still he remains in my heart and mind.. Its pretty weird but I can manage to move on.. 😊

    06/11/2015 at 8:52 pm
    • María Arlandis

      Thank you for you comment! It’s interesting your point of view from a Norwegian perspective! Scandinavian man are pretty special as you say. I hope you will have a happy ending in your story

      11/11/2015 at 10:51 am
  • Sara

    First of all (and more importantly) I am really happy that you (as a Spaniard like me) have enjoyed Denmark; I honestly think that is the best comment I could give.

    My first country living abroad was Denmark (CPH) and I felt like my experience was a personal failure. Then I realized that Denmark is just NOT for me. I could pin point almost all the “things you’ve learnt” and critize them, but that would be the old (living in Denmark) me.

    However (and on a much lighter note) design??? It’s white over white over white!

    Keep enjoying DK and keep travelling!

    09/11/2015 at 1:30 pm
    • María Arlandis

      Hi Sara, I know what you mean about the “failure”. I thought mine was a failure too when I decided to move back to Spain… but I try to think about it as a learning experience. I’m sure you learned a lot from your time in Denmark too. I like Denmark in many ways but in the long run I don’t think it’s the best country for me. I need the sun!!
      You are right about the white over white haha, but they have nice furniture too, don’t you think?

      11/11/2015 at 10:54 am
  • Pedro Fonseca

    Excelent article

    10/11/2015 at 8:15 am
  • Nina

    Quite good article 🙂
    I’m a Dane and mostly agree on what you have written, the only thing missing, in my opinion, is our food. Why not mention that?

    10/11/2015 at 5:53 pm
    • María Arlandis

      thank you Nina! well, the food… mmm haha I like some aspects of Danish food, but it’s not my favorite part. Danish new cuisine it’s pretty awesome, but the food you can buy in the supermarket it could have much better quality!! But my favourite Danish food is the one you find in the bakery! I’m obsessed about Danish pastry!

      11/11/2015 at 11:00 am
  • Christina

    Hi.
    I’m a Dane, and it is great to hear how you feel about our country, though I would like to point out that not all Danes treat foreigners unecual. That is one of the things to split the Danes and make them “passionated” in a debate. And also many older people might seem rude to foreigners, but often it’s because they don’t speak English as well as a lot of the younger ones.
    I hope you will return to our little country! :’)

    10/11/2015 at 10:04 pm
    • María Arlandis

      Thank you so much for your comment Christina! I have most of the time a good experience with the Danes, but I’ve got some comments from people who didn’t and I thought it would be a good idea to clarify than the equality I talk refers “inside” the Danes society. As a foreign I had a good experience in Denmark, but if you are Danish of course you get more benefits from the welfare society. If this is fair or not it’s a different issue 😉

      11/11/2015 at 10:29 am
  • Charlie

    Hi Maria. I am Danish but living in Portugal. I love the article and I notice being different and doing things differently. Taken for rude because I am straight forward and non pacient because I skip most of the non useable phrases we I want to make my point 😊 friends know me though, my husband swallowed it – I like Portugal because of the sun BUT now I want the darkness and shitty weather for the “hygge stunder” which this time of the year is for 😊 and if I could I would move my family HOME tomorrow…….. Love my country. The perfect place doesn’t exist but Denmark has things that makes it special nice……

    11/11/2015 at 1:47 pm
  • Frederikke

    I absolutley love your article.
    I am a dane, and it’s funny to read how other countrys are seein us.
    I love that you think it’s great, We have free medical treatment, especially because many Danes wants to pay to go the ordinary doctor… Don’t freaking get it, it’s a huge previlegde.

    Thank you for the positive words! I am proud to be Danish!

    11/11/2015 at 2:11 pm
  • Christine

    But isn’t it fair that the Danish are the ones to get the benefits from the welfare society? They are the ones who pay for it.

    16/11/2015 at 12:53 pm
  • Tuni

    Funny, I agree with all of your points after living in Denmark for over 2 years 😀
    Especially the word “hygge”, it basically describes the whole Danish lifestyle !

    I wrote a similiar blog post myself, please let me know if you agreee with me or made the same experiences aswell 🙂

    http://metropolife.net/what-i-have-learned-about-denmark/

    21/11/2015 at 9:32 pm
  • Andreas

    Nice article. I am Danish myself and the only thing I really could not agree with was hos Danish people view Work hours. I feel its rare seeing someone who has a 37 hours work week actually only using 37 hours on it. At least half the people I know with regular work often leaves work late or works extra in the weekend. I myself work 50-100 hours per week with a mix of teaching graphics design, making art, bartending and doing volunteer work, and even though I know I work more hours per week than most Danes, my impression after having lived here my entire life, is that most people have a hard time only working 37 hours per week, because they want to do things perfect and not half hearted, and are affraid of not appearing totally prepared. So my guess would be that the averange Dane works somewhere between 150-200% more hours than the 37 hours they are supposed to work

    20/12/2015 at 3:57 pm
  • jessica

    Hola Maria, que bello tu blog, me encantó, yo soy italiana y estoy en una relación con un danés hace 2 años y ahora me pidió que me vaya con él!! me genera un poco de incertidumbre ya que nosotros europeos podemos estar solamente 6 meses en el país si somos capaz de comprobar que estamos buscando trabajo, No nos vamos a casar asi que me da un poco de miedo dejar todo y tener que volver a Italia luego de 6 meses, sabes tu si por vivir juntos puedo solicitar el permiso de residencia? yo se que tu también habias conocido a tu chico ahi…saludos desde Roma

    13/07/2016 at 4:10 pm
  • María Arlandis

    Hola Jessica, no tendrás problemas si puedes demostrar que tienes fondos para mantenerte. mucha suerte con tu chico, te encantará la experiencia

    15/07/2016 at 10:36 am

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