Hans Christian Andersen, danishes, Carlsberg, interior design. Just a few things most people think when they consider Denmark. Part of Scandinavia, of which Finland is NOT… little geography lesson there…Denmark sits perched right on top of Germany and is divided into three main areas, Zealand, Funen and Jutland. Copenhagen, the capital city, sits in Zealand just across the harbor from Malmö, Sweden.
It was in the fall of 2007 when I was at work and my phone rang. It was Brad, the EMEA director based in Denmark calling to catch up. He had a very important question to ask me, a question I never imagined would be tossed my way. He asked if I’d be interested in moving to Copenhagen to fill a role that needed filling. They decided to try to fill the role with an internal hire if possible because it required a lot of internal institutional knowledge. I was gobsmacked. Me? Denmark? I had always considered living internationally again after my experience in Prague but I had buried that thought deep into the recesses of my brain in a dark corner. After all, I had just purchased a condo and did some renovations, decorated and furnished it, leased a new car and settled into my life.
I told him I would think about it but my gut reaction was, NOPE! It was just not the right timing plus I had a partner to consider. When I got home that evening and shared the news with Mario he was over the top excited about the prospect and encouraged me to pursue. The rest of the evening was spent turning over all the rocks and inspecting what we found underneath. What do we do with the condo? The car? Our obligations? Our dog? His job? Too many big questions to consider and I was overwhelmed. But for reasons I will never know the universe decided it liked the idea of us going to Denmark because all the big “what do we do” questions seemed to work out easily without much fanfare.
I departed on my birthday on an evening flight. My parents came up to celebrate the day with me and once I blew out my candles and enjoyed a piece of mom’s famous banana cake I was dropped off at Logan Airport. It happened so fast. One moment I was picking out paint colors and throw pillows to accent the neutral furniture for my condo and the next I was in an airplane cruising at 36,000 feet on my way to the land of The Little Mermaid.
Once there, it took A LOT of time to get settled. Culture shock was indeed very real. Since it was winter, the sun didn’t rise until late in the morning and it was easily after 9 AM before it felt light enough outside to be called day. Adjusting to life in Denmark wasn’t easy. The first few weeks were replete with homesickness, cultural hurdles and oh so many jaw dropping moments over the cost of EVERYTHING. But, this post is ultimately about the fun little surprises I learned along the way. I didn’t want to write a post about “what to see and do”. You can get that information from many resources. I didn’t want to fill this post with photos of tourist attractions. Again, you can easily find those pictures online. Instead, I wanted to share what I discovered as an expat living amongst the Danes.
Some lessons from my experience:
Danes like fire. Candles, torches, firepits, fire places, bonfires, fire is everywhere. When so much of the year is dark and gray one way to combat those doldrums is by lighting the world around you. Every place I went, every restaurant, every store, every café, every office had some type of open flame. Either candles were placed inside throughout the room on tables, window ledges and counters or torches were affixed to the exterior stucco or metal fire balls (not sure what you’d call them) were placed on the cobblestone street casting their shadows on the façade of the entryway. Note, there is only one color candle in the entire country. WHITE.
Pacifiers grow on trees. I am not sure who the first person to decide to do this but some time ago a person took their child’s pacifier and tied it like a Christmas ornament on a tree in Frederiksberg park. I suppose it was meant to be a tribute to their child. Immortalizing their infancy through the process of this unusual decorating tradition. Eventually, more and more people followed suit and now the tree is the home of hundreds of formally suckled pacifiers.
(The Pacifier Tree)
Shopping baskets don’t have to cut into your arm. Why is it that we go our entire lives and never question the way something is. It never crosses our mind that there could be a better way. Except if you are Danish. I imagine one day a housewife came home complaining after having put her heavy milk, apples, slab of beef and perhaps a bottle or two of wine, into her shopping basket and it cutting into her arm leaving indentations in her skin. Over a roasting pan of herring it came to her! Why not add an artificial arm? Lo and behold the invention was born. I loved this little convenience and I took advantage of it every time I went food shopping.
Summer = sunshine + 50 degrees Fahrenheit. My idea of summer doesn’t seem aligned with most residents of Copenhagen. After a long, dark, dreary winter when the first day of blue skies and sunshine blossomed and where the temperature ticked up over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the entire world of Copenhagen flung open their doors and windows and exploded into the city. A major past time? Grabbing some friends, some food and some disposable grills to set up a picnic in the park.
(Mario, Camila and friends picnicking in the park)
EVERYTHING IS WHITE! Danish design is world renowned. Design companies and furniture stores are ubiquitous. But, almost every interior I entered was almost entirely white.
(My 2nd flat, all in white)
When Danes graduate school, they do it big! Once the end of school rolled around we began to see bus after bus each decorated more elaborately than the one prior cruising through the streets of Copenhagen. Music was pumping, people were dancing and graduation celebrations were in full swing. I guess having your own parade is one way to mark a major milestone!
(A graduation celebration)
Bikes, bikes and more bikes. Biking is not a past time in Denmark. It is a legitimate alternative form of transportation. Hot or cold, rain or shine, hail or snow, solo or trailing a brood of children and groceries behind, biking is BIG. Every street had a bike lane demarcated by a curb. All the traffic signals are outfitted with bike icons to indicate when it is time for cars to proceed and when it is time for the bikers to proceed. If you plan to spend more than a few days in Copenhagen, I strongly recommend renting a bike.
(Bikes, bikes everywhere!)
Lego is Danish and is derived from the Danish words leg godt meaning “play well”. The original Legoland is located in Billund about 3 hours from Copenhagen.
(One of the many Lego toys Mario put together)
Every home or office I went to had the same types of windows. Danes love very deep windowsills and all the windows open out instead of up and down. It makes a nice perch for a chihuahua who likes to bask in the sun.
(Priscilla enjoying the sunshine)
Danes like beer! Beer is everywhere and Calrsberg beer is especially everywhere. On any day when the sun is shining and the temperature mild you will find the canal area of Nyhavn packed with tourists and locals alike. This is the place to come people watch. But, the trick I learned as a “local” is not to go to the overpriced tourist places along the way. Instead, you go a block or so over into a market, buy a six-pack or 12-pack or however-many-pack for a fraction of the price, along with some ice cream and you go sit along the canal with everyone else.
(A Saturday afternoon drinking beer in Nyhavn)
There is a treasure trove of memories of other fun things I learned along the way but I will stop here before this post becomes a short story. I may have to do a part 2 to this entry. After all, I never got to mention anything about onsdagssnegle!Share this post