Visiting Copenhagen on the Explore Europe podcast

Earlier in the summer I was interviewed for a great podcast called Explore Europe, which is aimed mainly at US Service people based in Germany and the UK. They talk about places to visit within easy reach of these places and it is interesting and useful to many other people, especially those of us based in Denmark.

I was delighted to be invited to give an introduction to visiting Copenhagen and a lot of the content is equally useful for people planning to move here or newly arrived.

You can listen below or in any of your pod catchers, I would certainly recommend listening to more than just my interview.

Tale of two Danes

It is interesting to hear from people about how their Danish language skills or lack of them are received by Danes.

Whilst I think it is very important to at least have a basic grounding in the language of your new country to help you feel more settled, as time goes on here it seems increasingly hard to actually use your Danish language skills as so many people will immediately switch to English if they detect a non native accent. So it is slightly ‘amusing’ (and I have put that in inverted commas) that there are certain sections of Danish society who are aggressive in their insistence that all immigrants and expats must speak and understand Danish yet in the main we struggle to even use our Danish, thanks to the helpful nature of people who want to speak English to us (and this isn’t actually always a help especially if you have spoken first in Danish). The current government has also made it harder for newcomers to Denmark to get these language skills by taking away free Danish lessons and then penalising the same people for not speaking Danish or integrating sufficiently.

Recently, and on the same evening, I encountered two very different attitudes to the acquisition of Danish. The two people were both the same age of around 70 but their opinions couldn’t have been more different.

The first one was an elderly gentleman on a motorised scooter. I was waiting at the bus stop near my home and he called out – Hvad klokken er det? (What time is it?) I checked my watch and replied (in Danish in my Norwegian accent). He asked, again in Danish, where I was from. Again I answered in Danish and supplied some more details about how long I’d lived here. He immediately switched to English (perfect in pronunciation) to tell me all about his connections with the UK and also to express surprise at my proficiency in Danish. He also talked about what he saw as the importance of international experiences, both from the point of view of Danes travelling outside of Denmark but also of the value that people from other countries can give to a small nation like Denmark. We have to look outwards, he said, not inwards and to stop preserving a solely Danish experience without seeing the benefits of other nationalities. My bus arrived and I sadly left the conversation.

I was still mulling it over when I arrived at my destination. I run a crafting group and we have a monthly meeting. At this point we used a community room close to Carlsbergbyen. It was a warm evening and we had the doors open. There were about fifteen people sat around the tables having a hyggeligt time. We speak in English at our group as we have members from all over the world and it is a shared language. A slightly grumpy looking woman (around the same age as the gentleman I had encountered earlier) poked her head in the door. She asked loudly in Danish if we were a knitting group. The women closest to the door didn’t understand so I got up and explained in Danish what we were doing. She snapped at me and said that as this was Denmark we should be speaking Danish. I explained where everyone came from and that English was a common language plus it was a private arrangement. She repeated her statement and stood looking confrontationally at me. I just smiled and returned to my table and she soon took her leave no doubt muttering to herself.

I thought later about the difference of approaches to expats and immigrants. How one section of society see newcomers as a constant threat, ready to erode all that is good about the culture and the other side of the coin, who see the benefits of bringing new ideas, thoughts and experiences into Denmark and feel that the Danish culture is strong enough to be able to accept this without losing all identity.

What is important about this story is that both protagonists were of a similar age and from the same generation yet had such polar ideas. Yes, as newcomers we do have a responsibility to try and adapt to the new country we live in but we can do this with respect to both our new country and that of our origins. We can bring in positive things to a new country and we should be welcomed to do this.

The current government is slowly and quite insidiously bringing in laws and changes that are blatant in their attempt to alienate newcomers and to actively prevent them from integrating and then punishing them for the lack of integration. The refrain from the right is that if you don’t like it, go back to where you came from. Now for privileged expats this is an option but for many people living here from other parts of the world, they are not economically able to just leave and move elsewhere. Democracy is letting this section of the community down. The idea that you can change the country you live in through the ballot box is a laudable one but with Danish citizenship increasingly hard to obtain and thus the right to vote in national parliamentary election and make a change so it is down to open minded Danes, like the first gentleman, make a change for us.

Facts about the Danish health service {podcast interview}

As regular readers know I have had a lot of experience of the health service here, from emergency room visits for my son and I, a few trips in ambulances (with lights and sirens), long term prescriptions, surgeries and having a baby with a complicated birth to name a few.

There is a lot of misinformation about how the public and private health service works here, especially around 1813 and emergency rooms. As well as my own experience I did plenty of research when I was invited back to the Expat Focus podcast to talk about all you need to know about the health service as a newcomer to Denmark.

You can listen here or if you prefer read the transcript of the interview.

The slaughter of Storm P’s childhood home

As regular readers will know I do like to start a post with a reminisce about when I first moved to Copenhagen. Back in 2008 Vesterbro was a very different animal to the one we see now. On our first afternoon living in Frederiksberg we set off on a hunt for lightbulbs and we ended up outside an old row of buildings on Enghavevej close to Tove Ditlevsen’s Mindehave (a century old restaurant which apparently is now a big selling point for the area).

Fast forward to 2018 and this historic row of buildings are a pile of rubble waiting to be replaced by a development of luxury apartments, townhouses and cafes called Toves Gård. The irony of an affluent new development replacing a historic working class one and naming it after a very famous writer whose work concentrated on her experiences growing up in working class Vesterbro is not lost on its detractors.

So a bit more history of these buildings. They were known as Slagtergårdene or the Slaughter Yards. Build around 1860 the backyard was used to slaughter livestock and the row houses at the front were homes to the slaughtermen and their families. After the slaughter of animals stopped the buildings became homes and businesses. This was all at a time when Vesterbro was still a working class area before the rapid gentrification of the area began (you can read more of my thoughts about this here). In fact one of these houses was the childhood home of Storm P, the famous Danish cartoonist, satirist, actor and writer.

When the demolition of Slagtergårdene was proposed there was an immediate backlash from residents and community groups who believed that the historic integrity of these century old buildings should be preserved. A petition was started and a campaign Facebook group. The petition gained over 11,000 signatures but the city council still decided to allow developers to demolish the area and replace it with just over 100 new homes and five businesses.

When I passed by the demolition site a few weeks ago I commented to the older lady next to me on the bus that it was sad to see the buildings go. She retorted that people need somewhere to live. I didn’t get into a debate with her but I doubt people who can afford the price tag of 3.2m Danish Krone for a 68sq metre apartment or up to 10m Danish Krone for 170sq metre family house are short of options for places to live unlike the women who use Cafe Klare, an overnight shelter for women just a ten minute walk away.

NOTE all these photos were taken from public areas and I did not enter the demolition area or any private property.

Royal Copenhagen Christmas tables 2018

I went along to see the Royal Copenhagen Christmas tables a few days after they opened. I think this year’s are the best for a long time. I love paper crafts and flowers so these were perfect for me! It was hard to pick a favourite – which one do you like best?

Each artist has created a decoration that you can buy in the shop so you can take a little bit of your favourite one home!

I was also delighted to see the delicate and beautiful creations from Leckerbaer featuring heavily in the displays.

Don’t forget to get your hands on my guide to Christmas and New Year in Denmark here!

Now onto the tables!

Effi Pingel, fleuriste

Marianne Eriksen Scott-Hansen, paper artist

Helene Blanche, textile designer

Leif Sigersen, florist and interior design

Rasmus Andersen, metalwork artist

Helene Schjerbeck and Simone Bendix, artist duo Edition Poshette.

Another positive hospital story

I thought today I would share another positive experience we have had with the public health service here. If you read any of the main expat blogs here you will undoubtedly hear a lot of negativity about the health service here. I am not, in any way, saying that these are not legitimate experiences but we often simply hear the negatives as people rarely share positive ones, for a number of reasons.So now my disclaimer is out-of-the-way on to the story.

On Sunday morning my son and my husband went up to Amager Strand for my son to try out his new (to him as I bought them on a Mødrehjælpen second hand shop) roller blades. He is a relatively competent ice skater and enjoyed an afternoon at a roller disco last month. Within the first few minutes he took a tumble but got back up and continued. He returned home and complained a little that his wrist hurt. We left it until after lunch (and homework) to see if it settled down. It didn’t so at 1.30pm I called 1813. My call was answered immediately and the medical advisor happily spoke with me in English. We were given an appointment an hour later at Amager Hospital for an x-ray and consultation.

On arrival we were told that it could be an additional hour’s wait so we sat down in a busy waiting room ready for this. Ten minutes after our original time we were called in to see a nurse. He did a few physical checks and then at 2.50pm we were dispatched downstairs for an x ray. Again my son went in straightaway and then ten minutes later we were back with the nurse upstairs.

Sadly my son had a hairline fracture and he was plastered up. We left the hospital. all finished, almost exactly an hour from our original appointment. Throughout we were dealt with efficiently and kindly.

A number of friends on my private social media commented on how happy my son looked in the photos I snapped of him being put into the light plaster cast. Some commented that he didn’t look that bothered by it and was enjoying the attention (they were not commenting spitefully but observationally). I would say this is partly his fascination with all things medical but the main reason was how kindly and cheerfully he was dealt with by the medical staff there. He didn’t feel scared or worried at any time. To be fair he did cry immediately after one picture was taken and knowing him well you can see he was just about holding back the tears in the picture.

The point of writing this is to show that not all experiences of the somewhat overstretched medical services here are negative and for people not to be put off contacting 1813 or seeking medical attention. And yet again to give a big thanks to the staff at the Skadestuen at Amager Hospital and the operators at 1813.


Get your hands on my FREE guide to Christmas and New Year in Denmark

Christmas is less than two months away and the start of Advent a lot closer. If this is your first Christmas in Denmark or you want to know a bit more about how to celebrate in a more Danish way then my seventeen page ebook is what you need. It also includes handy tips to find ‘food from home’.

New Year’s Eve can also be somewhat of an eyeopener if it is your first time!

To get hold of this free guide click here!