Denmark: The Exit Interview

I've lived in Denmark for the last five and a half years.

My time here encompasses two cities, eight apartments, one dormitory, six bikes, two trips to the emergency room and twice my body weight in misplaced hats, gloves and scarves.

It's impossible to live in a foreign country without developing a love-hate relationship with it. Anything you spend that much time with becomes like a sibling.

You spend years learning how to navigate and survive it, and you only realize later how the effort has changed you, for better or worse.

Denmark's a firmly admirable place.It's the world's example of how the state can deliberately create a culture and administration around social justice.

There's basically no poor people here. The working culture is the best in the world, and my professional experience here has solidified my commitment never to move back to the US.

The density of the cities and the safety of bike-commuting makes a huge impact on quality of life.

Between social benefits, free healthcare, free education and never having to sit in traffic or clamor for a parking space, there's almost nothing to stress out about. Thank God the weather is so shitty.

That said, Denmark has some serious problems.

The world sees Denmark as a model of 'how things are supposed to work', and Danes see themselves like that too.

This 'we are awesome so we don't have to try' attitude translates into a society-wide smugness that can be hard to thaw.

The ethnic discrimination, for example, which is as severe here as anywhere in Europe, is ignored by the popular and political culture. Domestic politicians are more interested in blocking immigration than developing Denmark's international competitiveness.

Homogeneity and social harmony are prized as principles in themselves, and social engagements sometimes feel like you're living in Pleasantville.

This culture of staying silent unless you can think of something to say that no one could disagree with has created a nation of introverts

People have fewer friends here than in the more small-talk-equipped countries I've lived in, and the friendships tend to be the bilateral, rather than networked, kind.

This means that, as a foreigner, it's not hard to meet friends here, it's just hard to meet your friends' friends.

If you're an extrovert when you move here, Denmark will make you an introvert. If you're already an introvert, Denmark will make you a spinster.

I don't know if Berlin is any different. But at least being in a new country gives me an excuse to pretend I don't know the rules.

And enjoy Berlin while it's still an acquaintance.


Filed under Denmark, Pictures, Serious

14 responses to “Denmark: The Exit Interview

  1. Great post and good luck in Berlin!

  2. I couldn’t agree more or think of a better way to sum it up. After 9 years here and the current climate around immigration, your post leaves me with just one thought: I’ve got to get out of this place.

  3. It’s true – when you live in any country for a while you do seem to develop a different view in terms of the love and hate thing, fabulous pictures though!!

  4. I lived in Majorca for 10 years before moving to Denmark, I really thought that Majorca would be the only place I would want to be in terms of living, however, what appealed to me when I moved their, didn’t at the end of 10 years and became more of an annoyance. I have lived now in Denmark for more than 15 years, and I have to say I love it.

  5. Great photo’s and write up of Denmark. It is interesting to hear that there are little in the way of poor people in Denmark and that the working culture is thought of as one of the best in the world. I live in England, and the working culture over here is nothing to brag about, whilst I have worked all my life, I have found that many people are totally reliant on state benefits and will not get jobs due to the fact that they would not earn as much in a job as they would receive off the state. Really sad but a big reality over here.

    • The working culture here is not great. You have a job for less than a year and then they fire you/lay you off because of one reason or another. For the most it’s because the business closes for the winter or they don’t have as much business during the winter so they don’t need as many people. How anyone makes it here financially is beyond me since it’s a huge problem for many.

  6. When leaving a country to move on to the next, it can be not only scary but exciting too. I love the way you have taken pictures of Denmark, it is really important to remember a country as it was when you lived there, as when you return some years later, it will have no doubt progressed and changed quite dramatically. Love the picture of the trainers on the pylon wires. This is often seen where there is a big student population, and on visiting Sheffield earlier this year in the UK, these sorts of sights were seen in abundance.

  7. Great pictures, I have to say that having traveled the world and lived in many different places, it is so difficult not to get attached to a place, even if you haven’t enjoyed your time there much. I lived in Greece for a while, didn’t much like it, but I had made lots of great friends and I missed that aspect. Although, I have moved on and now live happily in Cyprus, it is great however, to be able to go back to Greece and visit old friends, knowing that I no longer have to stay there on a permanent basis.

  8. a country, place.. my next destination to study.. as soon as posibly

  9. Am Danish and agree with most you write… Maybe we are a bit smug…but hey – our system really works! LOL! 🙂
    I live in the UK but miss Denmark pretty much every day of the year and only ever feel fully recharged and happy when I have been home for a “dose” of Denmark!
    Great pics and great post!

  10. I’m Danish! I have always wanted to go to Denmark because my grandma talks about it all the time in her adorable Danish accent. AND this was posted on my birthday. Awesome(:

    • This is interesting — I’m working on a new book where the two main characters have moved to Copenhagen to get away from the US and its growing insanity, and this post gives me an interesting counterpoint to how much they like it there. I’ve never been to Denmark but I do want to go, just to see how it is. This helps me a lot. thank you.

  11. Pingback: What’s it like living in Denmark as a foreigner – part 2/2 - Hej Sønderborg

  12. This is a lot of how I feel about Denmark after living here for 8 months (and visiting for three years before that). I never realised the division of friends thing was a Danish thing. My bf has two best friends, one from growing up, one from college. They all lived in Aarhus for 7 years and never met. Now one is the parish priest of the town where the other grew up. They still haven’t met.