Show cover of How to Live in Denmark

How to Live in Denmark

Life as an international in Denmark, one of the world's most homogenous countries, isn't always easy. In Denmark’s longest-running English-language podcast, Kay Xander Mellish, an American who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade, offers tips for enjoying your time in “the world’s happiest country” plus insights on Danish culture and how to build friendships with Danes.


Randers is not a joke
It seems as if every country has a city or region that it is the butt of jokes. The rest of the country makes fun of the locals’ unattractive accents and supposedly low-end behavior. In Denmark, that city is Randers. Randers is a city in Northern Jutland, about a half hour away from Aarhus. It used to be bigger than Aarhus, and bigger than Aalborg too, but it was a manufacturing town, and when manufacturing fell apart in Denmark after the Second World War, so did Randers. The stereotype of Randers today is...muscle meatheads, possibly criminal... possibly in some sort of motorcycle gang... with a rough, gravelly accent... lots of tattoos and leather. And that’s just the women. The men are the same but with shorter haircuts. Listen to hear more about Randers and how Danish urban planners ruined what was once a very nice medieval town into a paradise for very fast cars and Mokaï, a canned alcoholic fruit cider sometimes called "Randers champagne." Find out how you can spend more than DK1000 on a pair of gloves in Randers, and how you can visit a full replica of Elvis Presley's mansion Graceland nearby. 
07:51 09/21/2022
The Bridges of Denmark
A country like Denmark, with so much coastline and water, needs a lot of bridges - and there have been 5 new colorful, stylish bridges built in Copenhagen alone in the past decade. And because this is Denmark, and people love design, each bridge has its own special look. You can’t just put up a few bridge supports and a deck on top for traffic. You need style, and you need a colorful name. Consider, for example, the multicolored Kissing Bridge in Copenhagen. It’s not named that because you’re supposed to kiss on the bridge, although you can if you like. It’s named that because it breaks in half on a regular basis to let ships through, and then it’s supposed to come together again like a kiss. The Kissing Bridge has needed to visit a relationship counselor, however, because there have been constant problems getting it to kiss. It wasn’t quite aligned the way it was supposed to be. It seems to work now, although it’s rather steep and a difficult ride for bicyclists, which is rather a shame, because it is a bicycle and pedestrian bridge only. There are no cars on it. The Bicycle Snake and the Brewing Bridge a little further down the harbor are also just for cyclists and walkers, and so is the Little Langebro bridge.
07:48 09/01/2022
On returning to Denmark: Swimming in Copenhagen harbor, picking wild blackberries, and admiring Danish law and order
After some time out of Denmark, Kay returns and finds a whole new list of things to love. Swimming in Copenhagen harbour is a delight - the once-industrial waterway has been cleaned up enough to become a giant swimming zone.  The wild blackberry bushes are ready for harvest, and there are plenty in public spaces - like near the railway and S-train tracks - where the blackberries are totally free, first come, first serve. Wash them well and they make for a wonderful blackberry pie,  a blackberry crumble, or even a blackberry smoothie. And Kay even finds something to admire about the Danish cops, who are more likely to approach miscreants with sarcasm than with guns drawn.  
06:26 08/17/2022
Ballad of the Danish Royal Teenagers
It’s hard to be a teenager no matter who you are or where you live, but spare a thought for the two teenagers of the Danish Royal Family. 16-year-old Christian - the future King Christian XI - and 15-year-old Isabella have to deal with family photo calls and media events, leaked Tik Tok videos, and a TV documentary this week accusing their boarding school of being a toxic environment.
07:39 05/14/2022
Tivoli vs Bakken: How two amusement parks show the two sides of Denmark
Denmark has several amusement parks, including the original Legoland, but the ones I know best are the ones in Copenhagen - Tivoli Gardens and Bakken. Tivoli and Bakken show two different sides of the Danish character.   Tivoli is the sleek, confident, high-end image that Denmark likes to present to the world: it has exquisite flower gardens, fancy shops and restaurants, and a theater that hosts world-class performers. Bakken is more homey, more quirky, a little shabby, and a bit more hyggelig, under my own definition of hygge as “unambitious enjoyment”.  The differences between the two parks also illustrates the class differences in Denmark – even though Danes like to pretend there are no class differences in egalitarian Denmark.
06:30 04/28/2022
On the Road: Copenhagen Northwest, beyond the cherry trees
It’s springtime, and the cherry trees are about to bloom in Copenhagen Northwest, which is usually the only time people who live outside Northwest bother to go there. Northwest is a working class neighborhood, so much so that the streets are named after working-class occupations. While other Copenhagen neighborhoods have streets named after kings and queens and generals, Northwest has brick-maker street, and book-binder street, and rope-maker street, and a barrel-maker street.   But there are other things to see in Northwest besides the cherry trees, which have become a bit of a crowd scene since they were reported on by a national news network.
05:36 03/19/2022
The Secret Strategy for Practicing Spoken Danish
Newcomers to Denmark often complain that the locals aren’t chatty. Danes don’t want to converse on the bus, or on the train, or in line at the supermarket, or really anyplace that isn’t a designated social zone. Like the company canteen at lunch, or a dinner party at home to which they have invited a precise number of people to match the number of chairs that they own. In general, Danes rarely talk to strangers unless they are drunk, but there is one exception: Danish people over 75 years old. Danes over 75, or even 70 or 65, often live alone, and they are often eager for conversation. Some don't speak much English, which means that spending time with them is an ideal opportunity for practicing your spoken Danish.  Danish municipalities, sensing a match, have even set up special programs to bring internationals and the elderly together.
06:08 03/02/2022
Queen Margrethe, Denmark's good-humored, much-loved monarch
No matter how they feel about the institution of royalty, almost everyone likes Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, who is celebrating 50 years on the throne this week. Every New Year’s Eve, the streets of Denmark go quiet as the Queen makes her annual televised speech to her subjects. I find the speeches pretty much the same every year, they’re about being kind to each other, taking care of the environment, and such. The real entertainment is in the Queen’s wardrobe - she designs her own clothes, and often chooses rather un-Danishly bright colors -  and whether she’ll get her carefully written note cards mixed up.  Every year she thanks the Danish military for its work, and every year she makes sure to shout out to the Faroe Islands and Greenland, the farthest flung parts of her kingdom. And she ends every annual speech with “GUD BEVARE DANMARK” – God Save Denmark.  The Queen is the head of the Danish state church, and the Danish state – she still signs all the laws, including the specific law that made me a citizen.  But the Queen is also an artist. She paints, and draws, and has designed stage sets for the Royal Ballet.     
06:00 01/14/2022
The Non-Drinkers' Guide to Danish Christmas parties
Drinking, and drinking heavily, is common in Denmark at holiday time. Whether it's the traditional "gløgg" - hot spiced wine with nuts, orange peel and a little brandy - or the specially-made (and specially-strong) Christmas beers, you'll be offered a great deal of alcohol at almost every seasonal social event. But what if you're a nondrinker, or a light drinker? In this episode we'll tell you how to enjoy Christmas in Denmark while avoiding alcohol. 
06:03 11/11/2021
Denmark's Big and Wonderful Second Hand Economy
Denmark has a thriving second-hand economy, in part because people generally don't look down on second-hand goods here. The Danes are practical people – why should something be thrown out when it can be used again? And their passion for sustainability means it’s cool to reuse something that already exists instead of manufacturing something new. There is a network of “genbrug” (recycling) stations all over all over the country, where people can leave stuff they don’t want and other people can take it for free. And there's a thriving market for second-hand furniture in the classic Danish design style. 
07:13 10/18/2021
On the Road: The Tunnel to Germany
Getting to Sweden from Copenhagen is easy: you take a quick trip across the Øresund Bridge in your car or on the train. Getting to Norway from Copenhagen isn’t too hard: there’s a ferry that runs every day from Nordhavn. Getting to Germany from Copenhagen, on the other hand, is a headache. But in 2029, a new direct tunnel will open between Denmark and Germany. The Danes are building it with very little help from the Germans, who originally weren't too interested in a tunnel that went through an obscure and neglected part of their country.  Thousands of construction workers will be required to build this tunnel to Germany, and many of them will be internationals. But what will this influx and money and people mean to the southern Danish island of Lolland, which is currently one of the poorest parts of Denmark?
06:54 09/26/2021
On the Road: Riding Copenhagen's big yellow "Harbor Bus" ferry
One of Denmark’s cheapest and most colorful vacations is a few hours riding back and forth on Copenhagen’s big yellow Harbor Bus, or “Havnebussen”, a commuter ferry designed to transport ordinary citizens between downtown and the urban islands of Christianshavn and Amager. For visitors to Copenhagen - or residents who need an inexpensive adventure -  the harbor bus can take you from tourist trap to high culture to party culture, from shabby little wood shacks to neighborhoods of chic glass apartment houses with their own private beach. All for as little as 14 kroner, 2 dollars, or 2 euro. Enjoy this audio tour of 7 of the "Harbor Bus" stops - if you like, you can take it along and listen as you ride the waves.
18:06 08/08/2021
On the Road in Denmark: Esbjerg, Ribe, and Fanø
When I mentioned going to Esbjerg for a few days off this spring, many of my friends in Copenhagen said - why? Esbjerg doesn’t have a reputation as a vacation spot, even though its fifth-largest city in Denmark and the youngest big city.  For Copenhagen snobs, Esbjerg is a fishing town, which it was 50 years ago but isn’t really anymore. It’s an oil and wind energy town, industrial but very modern. I like Esbjerg, perhaps because it is a very masculine town. If you’re a woman who likes men, if you’re a guy who likes men, really rough and ready type men, Esbjerg is your town, because it is the home base for the oil workers and windmill mechanics who work on the North Sea coast of Denmark.  In addition, all that oil makes for great museums, and Esbjerg is also a great base for visiting the Viking town of Ribe and Fanø, a picturesque fishing island turned tourist attraction. 
06:46 05/19/2021
Saving money in Denmark: How to get around for less
No matter what the tourist brochures suggest, you probably won’t go *everywhere* on a bike in Denmark. And along with food and housing, getting around is a big part of the cost of living in Denmark. Here are a few tips to save money on trains, buses, cars, and even bike maintenance.
07:29 04/26/2021
Saving money on food in Denmark
Anyone who has spent time living in Denmark knows that it’s one of the most expensive countries around. That’s true when it comes to food shopping, too. One Dane who had lived in the US explained it this way: “In Denmark, every supermarket is priced like Whole Foods.” For those of you who haven’t visited the States, Whole Foods is a high-end grocery chain nicknamed “Whole Wallet” or “Whole Paycheck.” But there are a few creative ways to save money on food in Denmark. Danes hate food waste, so the prices of some food in grocery stores actually drops near the end of the day or right before the item's expiration date.  You can visit farmer's markets, or if you live near the border, go shopping in Sweden or Germany to save cash.
08:43 03/24/2021
Books about Denmark from the second hand store
I love old books. I love the kind of old books you get at antique bookstores or on the Internet Archive. And I have a good collection of old books about Denmark. I like old travel guides, most of which are still pretty useful because Denmark doesn’t tear a lot of things down the way they do, in say, Los Angeles or Hong Kong. In Denmark you’ll pretty much fine most castles and monuments right where somebody left them hundreds of years ago.  If you want to see a famous church or square or the Jelling Stone, your Baedecker guidebook from 1895 will work just fine for you in most cases.  But I can also recommend two great old books on Denmark, which you can probably find at your local antique book shop, or on DBA, the Danish auction site owned by eBay. 
06:33 02/27/2021
Practical tips for moving to Denmark
While I’m not an authority on the Danish visa or immigration systems, I’m often asked for practical tips about moving to Denmark. So here are a few things to think about when you’re packing your suitcases or, if you’re doing a corporate move, packing your shipping container. Number one, make sure you bring money. Denmark is an expensive place to live where you will own less stuff, but better stuff. That said, there’s no need to bring much furniture, even mores if your furniture is nothing special. You can often buy Danish design furniture cheap at local second-hand stores and flea markets, and for everything else, there's always IKEA - in Denmark, or across the water in IKEA's homeland of Sweden. 
06:19 02/21/2021
Gender equality in Denmark
Denmark has had two female prime ministers and about forty percent of the people elected to the Folketing, the Danish Parliament, are women.  But when it comes to private industry, Danish women have one of the lowest participation rates in management in Europe. According to the OECD, only 26.5% of managers in Denmark are female, compared to 39.8% in the US. It’s not unusual to see a senior management team made up entirely of Danish males, with perhaps a Swedish or German male thrown in for diversity.  That said, the majority of adult Danish women hold paying jobs. The Danish tax system makes it very difficult for a couple to survive on one income, even a hefty one. 
05:04 02/13/2021
Driving in Denmark
I like to drive. I like to be on the open road, like in the American Southwest - Arizona, Nevada, Utah. Put your pedal to the metal, no one in front of you, no one in the rear view mirror. Just you and the road. You will not get that experience much in Denmark, a small country with a lot of people packed into a small area. There’s not a lot of open land here, not much living off the grid. Which doesn’t mean drivers don’t long for it. You’ll see those open roads in Arizona and Nevada in a lot of Danish TV advertisements. It’s frequently said about Denmark that it’s not a car country. You hear a lot of well-meaning internationals say that in Denmark you don’t need a car that you can bicycle everywhere you want to go.  That is true in the big cities - I don’t own a car myself. But most of my Copenhagen neighbors do. And cars are pretty much a necessity in the countryside. There are now 2.5 million cars in use in Denmark, roughly one for every other resident over age 18. 
04:17 02/06/2021
Dining in Denmark: From crispy fried pork to flower juice with champagne
When visiting Denmark, you’ll be offered Danish food, and expressing enthusiasm for it will go a long way towards generating harmony with your Danish friends. The good news is, Danish cuisine offers something for everyone.  If you’re a carnivore, don’t miss the Danish pork dishes, particularly "flæskesteg". That’s a crispy, fatty fried pork that’s the official national food. For people who prefer fish, there’s a great selection in this country surrounded by water. Curried herring and fried plaice are popular, and so are many types of salmon. Vegans can enjoy a wide choice of root vegetables, wonderful fresh Danish berries, or the sweet elderflower juice that is sometimes blended with vodka or champagne.
05:27 01/30/2021
Animals and Denmark: Swans, pigs, and horses
Among the many cultural questions I ask audiences during my How to Live in Denmark Game Show is “Which animal represents Denmark best?”? There never seems to be an obvious or generally agreed-upon answer. Sure, the bear represents Russia, the elephant Thailand, and the bald eagle the United States. But what about Denmark? Denmark does have a national animal – the mute swan (Cygnus olor) – but an image of a swan doesn’t provoke the kind of immediate association with Denmark that, say, a koala bear does with Australia. That said, mute swans are easy to find in Denmark. You can see them sailing down the quiet streams of the country’s historical parks, such as the vold in Fredericia or Utterslev Mose in suburban Copenhagen. But these strong, individualist, and often angry animals are a strange fit for a country that prides itself on co-operation and peacefulness. They’re also not really mute – in fact, they have a noisy hiss that can signal an attack if they feel their nest is threatened. Given that these muscular birds are about a meter tall and their wingspan can be twice that, you may feel threatened too.
07:12 05/08/2020
The Danish Alcohol Culture
Alcohol has a long history in Denmark. The Vikings brewed four types of beverages: ale, mead, fruit wine, and syra, a fermented milk – and for many centuries Danish babies have eaten øllebrød, which is a mix of old bread scraps and beer. Fast forward a few centuries, and alcohol is still part of almost every Danish gathering. Early in 2020, the EU Commission reported that Denmark placed an unhappy first in Europe in binge drinking and that it was one of the reasons Danes have the shortest expected lifespan in Western Europe. According to the report, 37% of adult Danes said they had “regular major alcohol usage,” which was nearly double the EU average of 20%.
08:04 03/17/2020
Debt in Denmark
January, February, and March are some of the dreariest months in Denmark – it’s dark, with no Christmas lights to pep it up – and many people are dealing with a heavy load of year-end debt from traveling, parties, dining out, and gifts. Along with religion, personal finance is a topic that is rarely discussed in Denmark. But the country has one of the highest rates of household debt in the world.  And once you get into debt in Denmark, it can be very difficult to get out.   Mortgages, credit cards, text-message loans Much of the debt in Denmark is mortgage debt, since buying a home has tax advantages and prices in the big cities are six times what they were 20 years ago.
06:38 01/22/2020
Making Danish friends: A few tips based on experience
If you’re newly arrived in Denmark, making Danish friends is not easy – in fact, surveys show that one of the main reasons internationals end up leaving is the difficulty of building a network. The irony is that Danes are actually very good at friendship. Their friendships are strong, reliable, and deep-rooted. Friends can count on each other. But because Danes take friendships so seriously, they like to keep their number of friendships under control. They don’t want to take on more friends than they can keep their deep commitment to. The statement “I just don’t have room for any more friends” sounds perfectly sensible to Danes, and utterly stunning to foreigners. When internationals ask me how they can make Danish friends, I have one primary piece of advice. It is: find a Dane who did not grow up in the part of Denmark where you live now.
07:24 12/01/2019
Nudity in Denmark: The naked truth
The relaxed approach to nudity in Denmark can be a surprise for many newcomers. It’s something they’re often confronted with at the local swimming hall, where a very large and strong attendant insists that they take off their entire swimsuit and shower thoroughly before going into the pool. Stripping off in front of strangers is new for a lot of internationals, and some try to place it a larger context of Danish morality. It hasn’t been entirely forgotten that Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography in 1967. Some people still think of Denmark as a place where there is easy sex available and a generous display of naked boobs and butts.  
05:29 11/02/2019
Politeness in Denmark: Some thoughts on Danish etiquette
“Is there politeness in Denmark?”  That was the question I was recently invited on a national TV show to discuss. The implication was that I was supposed to say that Danes were not at all polite, because effusive praise and cheerful agreement make for a rather dull TV show. But Danes are not impolite. They have their own version of courteous behaviour, which is based on reinforcing aspects of their culture that they care about.
05:31 10/12/2019
What I say when I'm welcoming newcomers to Denmark
One of my favorite types of speaking engagement is introducing Denmark to some of the smart, motivated young people arriving from around the world to study at Danish universities. Since the publication of my first book, How to Live in Denmark, I’ve been speaking regularly to audiences of new arrivals, and I probably learn as much from them as they learn from me. Among the things I’ve learned is that the aspects of Danish culture that the Danes are most proud of can be troublesome for newcomers.
07:58 09/01/2019
Summer Vacation in Denmark: The Agony and the Ecstasy
Planning your summer vacation in Denmark is like playing the lottery. You could hit it lucky, with golden days and long, warm evenings, when you can sit with friends in the soft light and drink hyldeblomst cocktails. Or you could get grey day after grey day, interspersed with a little rain whenever it is least convenient. The weather could be chilly, leaving your cute new summer clothes to sit disappointed in your closet while you wear your boring long trousers again and again. I find that locals tend to base their decision about whether to stay in Denmark for the summer on the previous year’s weather. Last year’s summer was great for anyone who is not a farmer: it was unusually hot and dry. This year, so far, the weather has been very good for farmers with crops that need a lot of rain, and not so great for anybody else.
04:39 07/02/2019
April Fool's in Denmark, and the rough game of Danish humor
April 1st is April Fool’s Day – Aprilsnar in Danish – and each Danish newspaper will feature a clever but false story for the unwary to be fooled by. To some extent every day is April Fool’s Day in Denmark, because Danish humor is a rough humor. Danes show affection by making fun of each other. And, as an international, they might make fun of you too. This is a good thing: that means they have accepted you into the circle of Danishness. But it doesn’t mean that the intersection of non-Danes and Danish humor is entirely painless. If you come from a culture where you are easily offended – and that, unfortunately, includes the American culture these days – you may spend a lot of time with your feelings hurt. If you come from a culture where honor or face is prized, the Danish insistence on taking nothing seriously and taking everyone down a peg can be shocking.
07:08 03/31/2019
Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers
Motivating Danish employees is very different than motivating other groups of people because there are two big factors missing – hierarchy and fear.  We don’t like to talk about the fear part in our various countries of origin, but the fact is true that in the US, UK, China, India, and in parts of Europe, someone who loses their job can be in a lot of trouble. They may have trouble paying their bills, might lose their house, might not have access to health care, might not be able to send their kids to university. That’s not the case in Denmark. Everybody pays for those services through their taxes, so losing your job doesn’t mean you lose access to these things the way it might mean elsewhere in the world. And that means that employees aren’t slightly afraid of their boss the way they might be elsewhere in the world - and they’re much more willing to speak up. They’re not going to do what you say just because you’re the boss. Hierarchy exists in Denmark, despite what the Danes sometimes want to believe, but you don’t always get a lot of respect from being at the top of the hierarchy. In this society where egalitarianism is a deep and cherished value, the person standing on a pedestal is kind of assumed to be a buffoon. You’ve heard of the famous "Janteloven" that informally governs Danish culture – and one of its rules is "don’t think you’re better than us". In a Danish environment, you’re going to have to convince your employees that what you suggest is the right course of action. They’re not just going to do it because you’re the boss.
06:27 03/03/2019