I’ve been working hard this week in a number of projects so it was lovely to spend the whole afternoon into the evening in Tivoli with my son. I love the seasonal openings in the park and this Halloween was no exception. Tivoli is opening for another two weeks until November 6th. But be warned next week is the Swedish school holidays so it will be a lot busier than my photos here!
Over the last month or so I’ve been busy writing for other places (or been interviewed) so I thought I’d gather them here.
Seven reasons why you should launch your startup in Copenhagen (on the Huffington Post)
Meet the expat spicing up Danes’ dinner tables (in The Local)
New Copenhagen project will ‘try to change the world’ (in The Local)
I regularly see on the expat forums women asking for a decent hairdresser who does a great job at a fair price. So I thought I would take a moment to recommend my hairdresser, Sharon from Sienna Rae. Sharon is a mobile hairdresser, a concept that is relatively rare in Denmark, but very popular in the UK. It means that she comes to you.
She does a great job at cutting both women and children’s hair (and I’m sure men’s as well). She listens to what you want and you actually get it. She advises you if what you want won’t work and I have been delighted by every cut she has done for me and my son. Recently I wanted a change of image with a different cut and colour and she took lots of time making sure it was what I wanted, which I appreciated, so if you are looking for a great hairdresser look no further than Sharon.
She comes to your home and offers a great service at a very reasonable price. I can’t recommend her enough.
So the DMI and media outlets are warning that this winter is going to be the coldest since 2009/10 and I can attest that winter was a harsh one but with the plus point of plenty of snow.
For me it is the dark that really takes it toll so for fear of repetition from last winter my daylight lamp is a crucial part of making winter bearable. I use it to wake up naturally in the morning and also for a blast of daylight during the day. I really do believe that it makes a difference to my mood and general energy levels over the winter. They are not cheap but are definitely worth the investment.
On the subject of darkness, our bodies can really start to miss Vitamin D over the winter so it is well worth considering taking either a Vitamin D supplement from the autumn onwards or a decent multivitamin including Vit D. These can be bought relatively inexpensively from the pharmacies and you can buy very specific combinations depending on your age etc. Although my son eats a varied, healthy diet I have decided this year to supplement this to try and keep the sniffles at bay.
Flu jabs are another thing to consider seriously. Many workplaces offer these for free and if you fall into specific categories you can get the jab for free from your doctor (over 65, pregnancy after the 12th week, obese, have heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and other health complications which you can discuss with your doctor). Last year I paid for my jab at the pharmacy (they advertise dates and times) and they were happy to give it to me, however they refused my husband and directed him his doctor. One way or another you can get this done easily and its worth it to avoid really suffering.
Lastly for comfort and warmth make sure you have a decent pair of warm, waterproof boots, a longer length winter coat, warm hat and gloves, ear muffs so you can enjoy the winter without freezing. If you are newly moved here from the UK whatever you would wear normally in the winter will not be enough if we do indeed get another winter like 2009/10 as is being predicted so it’s time to part with a fair chunk of money, but like the daylight lamp, good quality is a worthwhile investment.
Following the section about my move to Berlin taken from my book , this is the positive things I learnt from it (amongst many others)
From my tough experience in Berlin I can understand how much isolation and the lack of having a concrete place to call home can really bash you down. It is important to see that a relocation isn’t always a bed of roses, and that some very simple things can help. Being kind to yourself is the most important thing. There will be people who find the move to a new place simple, but even if you do there are some days when things are anything but easy. The feeling of isolation is one that expats regularly suffer from, and it is easy to get into a spiral of isolation and loneliness. There are ways you can take control and fight this.
Get out of the house every day
I forced myself to go out somewhere every day with my son – whether it was a walk in the park, a wander around the local market, to a child-friendly cafe or to run an errand. In hindsight, when we were living in temporary housing in Berlin, I pushed myself too much and this led to some of the exhaustion I suffered, but I still believe that getting out of the house is essential and once you are in a permanent location helps you find your feet in your new area. It is essential for your health and sanity as it serves as a distraction from everything that can be overwhelming you, and gives you an immediate focus.
Especially if you are a parent at home with a child, joining groups gives you a purpose and the chance to meet other people. We joined groups and went to music classes, and even though I wasn’t my normal self I made efforts to make friends or at least speak to people.You may not make bosom buddies but you will get to speak to others. There are loads of Meetup groups in every city, covering a multitude of interests. Picking a couple to join gives you the chance to do something you like and also the chance to talk to like-minded people, at least for a few hours.
Ask for help
I am terrible at this but the Berlin experience made me realise I need to be better at it. It is amazing how many people are happy and willing to help you if you ask. You may find some people will be less willing to help, but most will.
Sharing worries and problems really does make them easier to deal with – I know it’s a cliché, but it is true. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling down and talk to your loved ones; they will want to help you even if they too are struggling with your move. I made the choice to hide how hard I found our move to Berlin from loved ones far away, but I should have been more open and got more support. Don’t box yourself in with your fears and worries. Let your partner in on how you are feeling. They will probably be feeling some, if not all, of the same emotions and you can support each other.
Join online groups for other expats or parents in your new city. Talk to baristas in your local coffee house – sounds weird but these guys are usually friendly and have their finger on the pulse of your neighbourhood, and will always have a smile for you. No matter how tough it seems, you need to get out there even if it is only in a virtual way at first.
Take one step at a time but stay focused
You won’t be able to do everything at once, especially if you are struggling emotionally. Each day or week make a list of the top few things you need to do, things that must be done even if they seem really trivial, like walk to the local supermarket and see what they sell. Get hold of something you need to make daily life easier, for example, go online and download public transport maps. Locate all the amenities you need in your local area and then spread out this research further afield. Think: local hospital accident and emergency department, local taxi firms, supermarkets that open longer hours, pharmacies, hairdressers that speak your language, florists for brightening up your space, DIY stores, local playgrounds, parks, coffee shops. This research also helps get you out of the house but equally can be done online. It also means you if you need this information quickly you are not rushing to find it.
Do fun stuff
Sometimes, when the going gets tough, the fun things fall by the wayside. Enjoyable activities enrich your life, and although these things may not seem as essential as finding a permanent home or unpacking boxes they will make you more comfortable in the long run. Find a local museum to visit for a few hours (with kids or alone), go to a local coffee shop and order a big slice of cake and people-watch. Buy some magazines that interest you. You may not be able to read much if you can’t speak the language, but the pictures are fun to look at and you get an idea of the new culture you live in, especially when it comes to fashion.
Don’t give up!
There is a cliché, ‘This too shall pass’, and whilst at the time it feels like a prison sentence if you are struggling with a relocation, I promise you it gets better, it really does. After a time things seem easier, more familiar and less daunting – you may still not like where you live but maybe you will hate it a little less all the time. For some this takes a few months, for others a few years, and it is gradual. All of a sudden you will be looking back on the tough times as a distant memory, and you won’t even see when the turning point was but it will come, I promise.
Five years ago Mariam Mistry opened Serenity Cupcakes and immediately, and ever since, it has been the place to go in the city for the best cupcakes (and for a while the only cupcakes). She was always in the shop and it was totally her, from the decor to the cakes. I also attended one of her cupcake making classes and it was a wonderful evening. She is a warm and wonderfully welcoming host and the cakes are just superb. Over recent years she has been running the shop, baking the cakes and also building the Serenity brand. She contributed a recipe to this book and was named as one of Elle Danmark’s 100 women to watch. Now she has announced that the shop will be closing on the 29 October 2016 so she can concentrate on developing her business further and bringing her cakes to more people.This is some of what she shared with her followers on Instagram:
What a ride! 5 amazing years making cupcakes in the most beautiful surroundings, surrounded by amazing employees and the most wonderful customers! What more can you wish for ~ almost nothing, except more time, time to follow your dreams, time to expand, time to develop and time to get Serenity out there! Therefore I have made a tough decision and decided to close down the shop on Grønnegade from 1/11-2016! I have for a long time been wanting to develop Serenity – but had no time, as running the shop takes up a lot of time. I feel the time now is right and I’m ready for this next chapter to begin.
She emphasised that it is just the shop that is closing and that Serenity Cupcakes will be continuing. I have found Mariam a real inspiration over the years – to see how she has built this business from just a dream to a reality; put so much of herself into it and how simply bloody hard she has worked to achieve this but how she still always had a smile and kind word for customers, many of whom became friends of hers.
I have no doubt that the future ahead of her is full of even more wonderful achievements and I hope to share more of this with readers as we need more people like Mariam in the world to inspire people with dreams and also for little girls to see that there is a place in the business world for them.
So you have until 29 October to enjoy one of Mariam’s wonderful cakes in the sweet and hyggeligt shop on Grønnegade. We popped in this week and I will try and get in again before the end of the month but I am sure it won’t be the last time I taste one of these delicious cakes. I raise a glass (and a cake) to her future!
Today I thought I’d share the first part of the chapter about my painful experience relocating to Berlin in 2011. This is one of only two personal story chapters in the book, the rest is practical advice. I wrote this, and the one about my positive relocation to Copenhagen, to put the rest of the book in context and to assure readers that they are not alone if they have a negative reaction to relocation. Whilst I realise that my experience is not unique as many encounter the same feelings, it is very isolating and difficult and it is positive to know that you are not alone in this experience. Next week I’ll share one of the more practical sections of the book.
To read the rest, you guessed it, you need to buy the book!I wanted to share my personal and painful experience of moving from Copenhagen to Berlin. We were settled in Copenhagen and my son was just 18 months old, life was good and we were making plans for our future when my husband’s company dropped a bombshell. They were closing their entire operation in Denmark and everyone would be losing their jobs. He had been with the company for almost 14 years and was valued. They gave him (and us) the Easter weekend to consider taking a position in their Berlin office. I remember walking around Frederiksberg with our son sleeping in the pram talking and talking about what to do. We made a decision that seemed right at the time (and even in hindsight it was still the right one at that time with the information we had available and without a crystal ball), and he took the offer to move. The financial crisis meant that jobs were not so easy to get and with a child and no other income coming in it seemed like a no-brainer. I thought, ’How bad can it be?’
Things started moving quickly as they wanted him to start in September. We started to search online for apartments and we were allocated a relocation consultant on the ground in Berlin. She appeared disorganised from the start and didn’t seem to really listen or understand what we needed. We had an idea of the areas we wanted to live in as Berlin is a big city and we didn’t want to live too far from my husband’s workplace. She gave us no advice on other neighbourhoods, despite the fact that the ones we were looking at were very popular. After a disastrous week-long trip to find a home in August, where she walked us around a number of unsuitable properties in over 30 degree temperatures, we were still no closer to finding a home. Nothing really met with the criteria we had discussed and she didn’t acknowledge this. The icing on the cake was when she showed us a dark and gloomy apartment metres away from a suspended busy railway line and declared how much she liked the sound of trains. A silent screaming doesn’t even begin to describe my inward reaction.
From about this time I started to lose weight but continued to try and have a positive outlook. With the time of my husband’s new start date looming it seemed we had little choice but to arrange temporary housing, have our belongings stored and look for something once we were there. My son and I stayed at my parents’ place in France for a week whilst my husband oversaw the packers and moved to the temporary place. The reality hit me one night at my parents’ place. My son was asleep and I just sat at the kitchen table with huge tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t actually cry or make a noise, I just wept. I felt rootless – we had no home to go to or to go back to.
Once settled in the temporary housing a week later, we realised the relocation consultant had messed up again. We had a choice of several temporary places and she had pushed us towards this one as in her opinion it was best for families. It was located in a former Stasi office block, and whilst the little apartment was functional, it was soulless. It was also impractical for us. The wifi was hopeless (our lifeline for finding an apartment as our relocation consultant seemed to be half-hearted in her service to us), and it was located in a less than nice part of town, as was illustrated by the drug addicts hanging around outside the local supermarket and shooting up in the lift at the U Bahn station. We needed tokens for the washing machines and the office was open for a tiny window of time every week to buy them, and despite the building being full of non-Germans, the woman in the office refused to even attempt to meet me halfway with any English.
My weight continue to plummet and I started to have issues with tinnitus (which I now know was brought on by stress). I would sit in the evening after an exhausting day of fruitless apartment searches and trying to keep some level of normalcy for my son and just weep. I wanted to go home but as my husband kindly said, this is home now, we can’t go back.
I realised that when I had thought, ’How bad can it be?’, I had no idea.
Spoiler alert: it all ends up ok! But I learnt a lot of lessons from this experience which I share in the book.
At the weekend my son and I went along, at the invitation of one of his class friends, to see a play at the Anemone Theatre called Frøken Ignora eksploderer. My Danish is up at this kind of entertainment but my son has quite limited Danish language skills at present. I was curious as to how much he would enjoy it. He was rapt all the way through, refusing my whispered offers to explain what was going on. It is only fifty minutes long so perfect for children. It runs until the beginning of November so it may be something to consider for the autumn holidays as there are still tickets available. Don’t be put off if your child doesn’t understand much Danish as the play is very visual and fun (that said it is a bit bizarre so understanding the Danish still didn’t help me really get the whole thing).
The Anemone Theatre has been around for a long time, funnily enough I mentioned it to someone today who recalled going when they were a child when visiting relatives in Copenhagen decades ago. Like my son she didn’t understand much Danish at the time yet still enjoyed the performance she saw. They have an interesting programme of productions aimed at different ages of children so well worth keeping your eye out for other future performances.
Address: Suhmsgade 4, 1125 København K
On Friday my first book – Dejlige Days – My Guide to a Successful Relocation – was available to buy on all the Amazon platforms (links here US, UK and Europe (Germany and France). I was sitting my co working space when I got the news and I must admit I felt a little tearful. It was almost 5 years to the day since we had moved to Berlin, it felt right that this was the bookend to that.
This book has been in my mind for over four years and this year I finally pulled together all the chapters dotted around my hard drive and the yet unwritten ones in my brain. It’s not a huge tome but it covers all the things I have learned over the years of relocating to Denmark and Germany. Things I wish someone had told me and other things I realised I wish I had known. The book is personal and has a lot of me in it – it is my voice and my thoughts (as well as a chapter with advice from other expats). People who have read the sample chapters and the few people who read the full manuscript said that it was like a friend sharing their advice and thoughts through the page.
There are a two very personal chapters, one which I still feel emotional when I read it, where I share how I felt during the two major relocations and these stories feed into why I wrote this book. I will share an excerpt later in the week from the Berlin chapter.
The book aims to help people when they are right at the beginning of their relocation journey through the first six months to a year. My hope is that it is a book that readers can go back to when they reach different stages of their relocation for more advice and help. Even as a refresher if they are relocating again. It is a book for everyone but if I am honest it is a book that will help spouses more, especially in the stage of relocation when you have arrived in your new home.
It is also the time (in an Oscar speech kind of way) to thank everyone who has supported me through this writing journey. My family of course but without my close friend and mentor Janet Murray, it would still be sitting on my computer.
If you enjoy my blog, then this book will be for you. Happy reading.
I’ve had few pieces published on the internet this last week or so, so in case you don’t follow Dejlige Days on Facebook (and why not? Click here if you want to, I am posting up lots of interesting events I spot around town there now so its pretty useful) here is a quick summary here.
Here is my piece in the Huffington Post – 10 funny things that can happen when you move to a new country.
And another one – How to nail Scandi style this winter
And over on The Local.dk – My Danish Career with Alison O’Keeffe and New Copenhagen project will ‘try to change the world’
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