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.

Shoes off please, you’re in Denmark

I understand that there is some debate between people from different countries as to whether one should wear outdoor shoes inside. I grew up in a shoes off household as did all of my friends in the UK. I personally find the idea of walking filth from the street into your house quite revolting especially if you have carpets. When I lived in Berlin my feet would be filthy after a walk in flip flops in our relatively clean neighbourhood so imagine how much dirt builds up on shoe soles!

So I had no problem when our first landlords in our Danish apartment stipulated shoes off whilst we lived there. It is the norm in Denmark for both residents and guests to remove their shoes at the door and either go in socked feet, your own slippers or borrowed ones from the host. I hear people, mainly from the US, complaining they are ashamed of their socks or feet. Easy answer – throw out old holey socks or do an at home pedicure. They also argue it feels too intimate but isn’t being invited into someone’s home an act of intimacy? Even tradespeople such as chimney sweeps take off their shoes or put on little plastic covers when entering a Danish home.

There were a few reasons our landlords gave, as perhaps they felt they needed to justify their demand, firstly they had spent a lot of time and money on their beautiful wooden floor and didn’t want scuffs or heel marks. Secondly the sound of shoes on the floor is disturbing to the neighbours below. Finally it is the cultural norm in a country where it is wet or snowy a lot of the year. Although they didn’t say so it’s about respect and also comfort.

I know people argue that as the floors are generally uncarpeted that they are easy to clean. Yes this is true but unless you run around behind people with a mop, there will be a build up of dirt. Danes entertain at home a lot but it’s more about the people, the food and the hygge than image so forget about showing off your Laboutins and get yourself a pair of hyggelig slippers – no one says they need to be boring!

Time for Spring (please!)

Yesterday this was our view as we enjoyed a warm(ish) walk on the beach near where we live. It was a sunglasses, coat open kind of day and we even saw some brave kids paddling bare-chested in the sea (this was a bit of a stretch as far as I was concerned). We have been wearing winter coats for the last six months and for the last few months it has been sub-zero and snowy. We woke up on the first day of the summer term with more snow coming down and actually settling, in April! My son summed it up this morning when he said that yesterday at the beach was the trailer for the forthcoming Spring. A ‘look what you can win’ glimpse into the future. At least I hope so.

I read somewhere that instead of jokingly asking what is up with the weather, we should actually consider what is happening to the climate and think about actions, big and small, that are impacting on the changes in our climate and those actions we can take to try to make positive change.On another note we had a lovely relaxing Easter break, although I think I indulged more over this holiday than Christmas. My husband loves to cook when he has the time and we enjoyed a homemade beef and ale pie, homemade hot cross buns (which were amazing and as they are something I really miss from the UK, very welcome) and a sous vide leg of lamb, which finally converted me to enjoy this meat. Easter holds a lot less expectation than Christmas and therefore seems much more relaxed. Unless your expectation is that the winter will be over!Anyway, we are into April and hopefully warmer days are ahead. I have been feeling a little disconnected with the city so I have a long list of places to explore and share once it warms up so watch this space. Finally I invite you to join my mailing list, I usually send out a couple of emails a month; one is a newsletter type one with lots of interesting stuff happening around the city, news etc and then the odd one through the month if there is something relevant to share. I don’t use your information for anything other than this purpose and you can, of course, unsubscribe at any time (but as I have said before, hopefully you will find it all useful stuff that you want to see in your inbox).

To subscribe click here and follow the instructions (if it seems a little onerous that is so I can make sure I protect your data), I look forward to welcoming you!

 

 

What’s with all the army green winter jumpsuits?

We have just had Copenhagen Fashion Week and the international press have gone crazy for Danish homegrown fashion ( see this Vogue article) but recently I have noticed a strange street style phenomenon here in Copenhagen, which seems at odds with the usual Danish style. At first I thought it was just one person but then I started to spot it elsewhere. In fact yesterday there was a woman on my bus sporting this style and I wanted to ask her about it. It is the latest style of wearing a full winter work wear or army style thermal suit usually in a dark khaki, army green or tan. I was eaten up with curiosity as to the origin of this style. It is, of course practical in the wet, snowy and cold weather especially when cycling. One of the brands of these thermal work suits (Termoheldragt) I have spotted is Carthartt. Last year their woollen hats were popular. Did  a woman enter one of these utilitarian shops to buy a hat and be suddenly taken with the shapeless but practical warm all over jumpsuits, thinking this will be perfect for the winter, buying it without a thought to a new fashion phenomena she was inadvertently starting? Has a celebrity worn something similar? Did someone put their partner’s one on the pop out on a cold day and thus kick starting the trend? Is it part of the current zeitgeist of the feminist movement? So many questions… It fasciantes me how something can just appear as if from nowhere –  from the street and suddenly become ubiquitous.

Clearly I was not alone in my curiosity and had I not been recovering from my operation and written about this sooner I would have got there before the main stream media! I found this article on the BT written a few weeks ago about this very phenomenon and it appears to have stemmed from the designer shop Mads Nørgaard on Strøget and also from Danish designers Baum und Pferdgarten in 2014/5. It is deemed as a bit anti fashion and by the interviews in the article seen as very practical but not something everyone wants to embrace. So the mystery of the origin is solved!

I’d love to hear if you think this is a fashion you’d embrace or not?

Should adverts always be in Danish in Denmark?

First up I’d like to say that I think the actual content on the Oatly marketing campaign popping up all over Copenhagen (and other European cities) is inspired, eye-catching and disruptive. However my beef is that the adverts are all written in English regardless of which country they are in.Every time I see them (and it is every day at the moment) I feel slightly irritated by the in your face nature of the English language in a country where it is not the first language. I asked on Instagram what people thought about this and the comments were interesting. One person agreed that the blanket use of English in the adverts was lazy but as someone who doesn’t speak a lot of Danish she appreciated being able to understand an advert. It is comforting to see something you understand in a sea of things you don’t but surely the target audience isn’t a minority of people who can’t speak the local language. Others weren’t that bothered and others felt it was incongruous.

I suppose I am playing devil’s advocate somewhat as I’m not Danish. However as someone who moved here almost ten years ago when there was hardly anything written in English  (for example now many websites have the choice of English or Danish this simply didn’t happen then) it forced me (although I was a willing participant) to learn Danish to be able to understand most things. With the move towards more English language materials and also the spoken word, the perceived need to understand Danish as a foreigner is diminishing.

There is a question mark about what this means in the long-term for the Danish language. With freedom of movement in Europe, more and more companies are operating in English to attract talent, which economically is understandable. But at the same time when the choice comes between a Danish speaker (but not necessarily a Dane) and a non Danish speaker the former often gets the job in some companies.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this especially if you are from Germany or France where these adverts also appear in English. Is it a worrying precedence or doesn’t it matter? Should it be considered inevitable that the languages of smaller countries will become second to a more widely spoken language such as English? Tell me what you think.

 

 

Sankt Hans Aften – a Danish midsummer tradition

 You may have heard people talking about Sankt Hans Aften (St John’s Eve) or seen posters advertising events for the evening of the 23 June. It is the midsummer celebration in Denmark, which is typically marked by the burning of huge bonfires with a witch atop close to water. Across the beaches and lake areas on this evening there are big public and private gatherings with speeches, picnics and traditional songs which culminate with the burning of the bonfire.
It is a little confusing for some people from outside Denmark as the summer solstice is celebrated in astronomical terms on the 21st June. In Sweden midsummer is celebrated on the Friday or weekend closest to the solstice, and Danes and Norwegians will observe it on the 23rd.
 

We have been to the event in Frederiksberg Have a number of times and it gets very crowded but is great fun, even if the speeches do seem to go on for ever (and longer if your Danish isn’t great). Not sure how it will pan out if the weather continues to be cold and wet but the Danes are nothing if not resourceful. The legend says if the fire can’t be burnt then there will be less hazelnuts come the autumn.

Find your local celebration and enjoy a real Danish midsummer (hopefully without rain, we need our hazelnuts!)

 

 
 
 
 

Hello 2017 – please be kind to us

Happy New Year!  I hope the holidays have left you refreshed and ready to tackle the new year.New year roses2016  in the wider world was something of a tough year but to all those people breathing a sigh of relief that the year is over, we can’t kid ourselves as the decisions made in the US election and Brexit referendum will define the year we are now in even more than they did 2016. I think that for the first time in a long time the events of the world really stressed me, it felt like it was one thing after another last year and very few good. This year I need to try to take a step back and concentrate on what is close to me and what I can have an impact on.

So I’m back after a two week break from this blog however it feels a lot longer. The end of last year was hard for me in many ways and I have neglected this blog somewhat.

I have been lucky enough to be busy with Dejlige Days Welcome and some other PR consultancy work in the last quarter of the year. We also moved from our apartment into a temporary place and then we’ll move again in March to our proper new home. Whilst old hands at moving it is still time consuming and disruptive. I also made the decision to stop taking morphine for my pain and there were certainly a few Trainspotting moments (showing my age here) as I reduced the dose. So 2017 sees me clean of opioids, much more refreshed and ready to take on 2017.

I don’t believe in resolutions but I do believe in goals. It is a coincidence that my health is improving as the date changes but I am now in a position to make further health changes. I am making a green smoothie from this book to have each morning in an attempt to get lots of vitamins and also to stop my habit of a coffee and an apple tart from Andersens in the morning (if you are not trying to be healthy they are amazing and you need them in your life!). I also want to lose a little bit of weight, this is again for health reasons but also vanity. After my accident I put on a fair bit of weight and due to my medications this has been had to shift. I don’t look how I like to and so that will change too. I have been letting little health things slide in the face of a bigger health issue so these will also need to be tackled.

I have been feeling that my creative side needs more of an outlet. I am a big believer in the idea that if you want something no one else is offering then do it yourself. You may know that I am now the organiser for Craftenhagen (check our Facebook page for more info) and we have some fun, informal monthly events planned. However I am extending Craftenhagen to offer more formal taught craft and creative classes in 2017. These will be offered in English. The first one is scheduled for April. If this sounds like something you might be interested in I have a mailing list you can add your name to here.

Finally Dejlige Days Welcome. My relocation service has been growing slowly over 2016 but this year I hope to see it flourish even more. I am dedicating the first quarter of this year to this, promoting my book and my blog. I will have more news about the changes to my packages and also extensions to the current service in the next few weeks. Also be sure to like my Facebook page as I shall be sharing a lot more about news and events in the city there. I am also on Twitter and Instagram (and very active on both) in case you’d like to follow me there too.

So all that leaves me to say is here’s to 2017, treat us kinder than 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every dollar (or Kroner) spent is a vote

When I was at the opening of think.dk, there was a quote that stuck with me.

“Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in.”

This Christmas I took this to heart. Many gifts I have bought have been from Etsy, handmade or vintage and from small businesses (where apparently an actual person does a happy dance). If I have bought a book, it has been either a very old favourite or well-chosen book that I hope the recipient will enjoy. For friends I created something they will enjoy but not clutter up the house after Christmas. My son will, as usual, hand make something for his grandparents.screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-21-05-01

This year I also gave myself a budget for charitable donations. I donated to Danske Folkehjælp Christmas fundraiser after reading this article. I also donated to Snap og Sokker, who are raising money to buy socks for homeless men in Vesterbro (read more here, their fundraiser is nearly over so don’t delay). A friend of mine instagrammed this photo and I popped over to The Fmly Store and bought one of their cool Christmas jumpers which they donate half the price to Save the Children.screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-21-06-32 Finally, each morning we see a homeless man who has been sleeping at Sydhavn Station and has such an awful cough. He has clearly been living on the street for a long time. I bought a hot coffee and a cheese roll for him on a cold morning last week. I got a smile for the coffee but the cheese roll resulted in the widest, most genuine smile I have been lucky to receive in a long while.

In the wider scheme of Christmas, when I am very aware of how fortunate and privileged my family is, these small things really make my money vote for a world I want to live in.

Is winter swimming crazy?

I was walking along the beach on Amager today and although the air temperature was well below freezing I still spotted a winter swimmer. Whilst I gather my thoughts for new posts this month (it been a bit quiet here whilst I’ve had my mum staying), I thought I’d share this post from last year about winter swimming.

Last week I found myself in the well-to-do suburb of Hellerup as I was craving a browse around a book shop for some Christmas gift inspiration. I found myself drawn down one of the side roads leading to the front as the sun was actually shining and glittering off the sea. I was sitting looking out towards Sweden when I realised that I was sitting right by the Vinterbad or winter swimming area. A young woman emerged from the wooden building (which I now know is the sauna) wrapped in a small towel, which she discarded at the end of the jetty and jumped stark naked into the cold sea. She swam around for about thirty seconds, dipped her head under the water and then climbed out of the sea, wrapped herself in the towel and disappeared back inside, looking pretty pleased with herself.

IMG_2594A number of things struck me about this scene (although not the first time I have witnessed winter swimming). One was the complete comfort she had in being naked, she wasn’t super skinny or an exhibitionist, but seemed completely at ease. There was a building site nearby and not one builder even glanced over. Secondly was the total lack of hesitation in jumping into the sea which at a guess was probably well below 5 degrees in temperature. I ease myself into even a heated pool, shocked at the cold. And finally the sheer joy she seemed to have after the swim.

There are 80 official winter swimming clubs in Denmark with 20,000 registered members. Most official clubs, which seem to have saunas in a lot of cases, are full but you can be added to a waiting list.

The oldest club (I think) in Copenhagen is Det Kolde Gys (The Cold Thrill or Shiver) based at Helgoland baths since 1929 and there is a new one at Sluseholmen in the newish harbour baths there with a sauna and a special rotating ice breaker in the main pool. I believe they also have a waiting list. But don’t let waiting lists stop you, there are plenty of jetties all along the coast just waiting for you to dive in to the icy seas. You just won’t have the luxury of a sauna. Last winter I saw a number of winter swimmers at Bellevue coming from their cars in dressing gowns, disrobing, diving in and then returning to their cars to go home.IMG_2595I made me think that perhaps I was missing out on the Viking experience of winter swimming. I love swimming in the sea and the liberating aspect of it but only on a hot day. I have been warned that starting winter swimming is not a whim thing. If you are new to it, it’s best to start at the end of the summer so your body gets used to the gradual change in the seasonal temperature of the water. They say the sea never gets colder than minus 2 degrees otherwise it freezes, although the surface may freeze and need to be broken before you can dive in – you definitely need to be feeling brave. But is it worth it?

There are supposed health benefits to winter swimming even if you only dive in for a few seconds. It invigorates blood circulations, raises your metabolism and flushes out your system of toxins add onto that the amazing natural high that can last for up to four hours afterwards due to the release of endorphins, there is no wonder it is so popular here.

Are you a winter swimmer or is it a step too far into the Viking way of life?

A version of this post appear in The Huffington Post

Getting ready for winter {health}

Winters here can seem very long and dark at the best of times and you need to start preparing your health reserves early.surviving winter

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.

For more ways to survive winter once it arrives, here is something I wrote last year. Also bringing hygge into your home this winter,  and how to take on winter like a true viking.