DiscoverHow to Live in Denmark
How to Live in Denmark
Claim Ownership

How to Live in Denmark

Author: Kay Xander Mellish

Subscribed: 400Played: 6,485


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.
121 Episodes
Rich in Denmark

Rich in Denmark


Denmark is a rich country, but does it have rich people? It does, but Denmark’s wealthy tend to keep a low profile, due to the informal Jante Law in Denmark that prohibits too much showing off.  That said, spring and summer is great time to see Danish rich people in their natural habitat. That’s when they put the roof down on their expensive German cars and drive through the medieval old towns, drink rosé chilled in silver buckets at fancy outdoor cafés, or sail through the harbor on their personal boats of various sizes. In the summer, Denmark’s rich come out to play.  There are two types of wealth in Denmark, old wealth and new wealth. Old wealth is the leftovers of Denmark’s nobility, Dukes and Counts and Barons, even though noble privileges were officially abolished in 1849. Many of these families still own their old castles and country houses, some of which have been turned into hotels or fancy restaurants. You can stay there for a weekend with your sweetheart, very romantic. And then there’s new wealth. Denmark’s richest man owns Bestseller, a fast fashion chain that owns names like Vero Moda and Jack & Jones. The heirs to LEGO, which is less than 100 years old, are also quite well off, and so are the heirs to the Ecco shoe fortune. Finance types and entrepreneurs also figure on the list of richest people in Denmark. Every year, one of the local newspapers publishes a list of Denmark’s top taxpayers – the people and companies who have paid the most taxes. In 2020, the top individual was a successful hedge fund guy who somehow ended up paying more taxes than Danske Bank, Denmark's largest bank.  In 2021, the list featured a man who got rich selling COVID quick tests.  While there are small wealthy neighborhoods in Odense and Aarhus, most of Denmark’s rich live in the Whisky Belt, which is the area along the coast north of Copenhagen. It’s called the whisky belt because back in the day, whisky was the most expensive alcoholic drink. Poor people drank beer and schnapps.
When you’ve been an international in Denmark for a while, as I have, you sometimes forget what it was like to arrive here for the first time and know nothing. I remember arriving just about this time of year and being astonished by all the public holidays in spring. I’d arrived to work, but the office kept shutting down. Now one of my various gigs is cultural training for newcomers, paid for by the big corporations that bring them here. The questions they ask bring me back to the time when I first arrived. One of the most popular questions is pretty basic: How do I send a letter in Denmark? What does a postbox look like? Where do I buy a stamp? I also get a lot of questions about Danish bicycle culture, which the Danish government promotes so heavily in its tourist campaigns. A nice man newly-arrived from Russia asked me: Will it be possible for me to get a bicycle in Denmark? I said yes, it would. But hey, there are no dumb questions. (Would it be possible for me, Kay, to get a bicycle in Moscow? I have no idea.) Bicycle culture is often exaggerated in Denmark – the truth is, the number of kilometers cycled each year keeps falling, and the number of cars keeps increasing, even thought it is very expensive. You can still get by with only a bike in Copenhagen and Aarhus, but in the less urban parts of Denmark, life will be uncomfortable without a car.
The hottest competitive sport in Denmark over the past year hasn’t been handball, or football, or badminton. It’s been chasing cheap butter in the supermarket. Recent inflation has doubled the price of butter – in some places, up to 30 kroner – but if you rush, you can get…a package of butter for 10 kroner at one supermarket…wait, only three packages per customer…hey, this competing supermarket has matched the price…look, this other one has it for only 5 kroner…ohhhhhh, it’s sold out for today. Better come earlier tomorrow. Butter chasing is how even high-achieving, high-earning Danes have been spending their time. Nobody wants to pay 30 kroner for butter. ----- Butter is a part of the Danish soul. The Danish word for butter is smør…you might be familiar with smørrebrød, the famous open-faced Danish sandwiches. Smørrebrød means buttered bread. So even though inflation has hit Denmark recently just like everyplace else in the world, supermarkets use low, low butter prices to bring in customers who will buy their other goods. Butter is big business in Denmark – it is one of the world’s top 10 butter exporters – and dairy in general is a big part of the traditional Danish diet. There used to be corner shops called mejeri, dairy shops, that only sold dairy goods and eggs. Evolutionists would tell you that Scandinavians evolved to get more Vitamin D from food, since they don’t get much from the sun for most of the year. ----- If you’re learning Danish, look up all the expressions that begin with the word “smør.” I counted about 30 in Den Danske Ordbog, Denmark’s official online dictionary. One well-known expression is smørgris – butter pig. That’s someone who loves butter so much that they eat great amounts of it, with gusto. Or smørhul, butter hole. A butter hole takes its name from the hole in the middle of a bowl of oatmeal. You make a hole so you can put the butter inside. But smørhul has a bigger meaning. A ”butter hole” or smørhul, is a way to describe a very nice place, safe from the tumultuous world around it. A “butter hole” is the way many Danes see Denmark itself.
Randers is not a joke

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. 
The Bridges of Denmark

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.
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.  
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.     
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. 
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. 
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?
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.
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. 
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.
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.
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. 
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. 
Comments (1)

Ensieh Noroozi

Thank you so much for your detailed information about Denmark. Very useful and interesting! How will be for an Iranian pharmacist to immigrate Denmark?

Apr 19th
Download from Google Play
Download from App Store