Celebrating St Lucia

13th December in Denmark (as well as other Scandinavian countries) is St Lucia Day. It was thought to be the shortest day of the year before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar and in schools there is a tradition on a St Lucia procession with girls dressed in white, carrying candles to bring light to the dark. The first girl traditionally wears a crown of four candles. It is not a big celebration outside of schools but in conversation with Danish friends who had been the St Lucia bride leading the procession when they were little – it is a very special and magical memory. santa lucia main  Recently I learnt a lot more about the story of St Lucia (or St Lucy) from my son. He is fascinated by the traditional stories he is told at school from the story of Diwali to this one (I really believe the teaching of different celebrations is really enriching his knowledge and understanding of different cultures). The story is St Lucy secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome, who were forced underground into the catacombs. Lucy would wear a crown of candles so she could use both of her hands to carry items. This article tells a lot more about the Swedish tradition and how to celebrate.

A big part of a traditional celebration is food, of course and traditionally St Lucia breads are made. There are special shaped sweet breads flavoured with saffron. I made them a few years ago and I used the recipe in this book and will definitely try them again.

How to give more this Christmas

Christmas is a time for giving and not just to friends and families. Christmas is a time when the difference between affluent people and those less well off become apparent. I have read so many heartbreaking stories of children who dread going back to school after the summer holidays and the Christmas break as their holidays have been very different to many of their classmates. Although Denmark is a relatively affluent country in comparison to many others, there are still a huge number of people in economic need, whether they are homeless, single parents, elderly people or those new to Denmark, they are still here.I have heard the argument that many people who access gifts, support and services offered at Christmas are ‘on the take’. Yes of course there are a minority of people like this but I’d rather take the risk that a donation of a food item may go to one of these people than not give at all to the majority of genuine people.

The Danish People’s Church has produced a really handy web page outlining many of the main charities looking for charitable help over the Christmas period – this is the link.

You may also notice in shops and supermarket little slips of paper you can add to your shop that give support to some of the main charities offering Christmas assistance. I bought a 25dkk one in Netto to support one such charity.

If you are thinking of volunteering your time over Christmas, which is always needed, this website has information about opportunities for this.

I have merely scratched the surface of this but I hope it gives you an idea of how to help, if you wish to. Please do comment here or on my Facebook page if you have any other great suggestions and I will do my best to incorporate them here.

Finally for more of a lowdown on Christmas in Denmark don’t forget to sign up for my guide and also get a holiday and celebrations printable for 2018 featuring illustrations by Charlotte Rule.

Interview with Charlotte Rule, talented local artist

Many of you may have already signed up for my Christmas guide and dates printable (if you haven’t, why not do it now 🙂 – here is the link) and you will have seen the lovely cute little illustrations on the dates printable. I was delighted to work with a talented local artist, Charlotte Rule, on this project and I thought today I would share a little interview with Charlotte. Charlotte and I met with the monthly crafting get together, Craftenhagen, which I host and I love her creativity. She has shared so much with us as a group and we have learnt a lot of new skills from her.Charlotte is originally from Stevenage but grew up in a small market town in Norfolk, England and has been living in Copenhagen for the last few years. She went to the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, where she studied for a BA HONS in Visual Communication, specialising in Illustraton. She is currently a part time freelance illustrator, working alongside that as a window dresser for a well known clothing brand.

So over to Charlotte…

Do you find inspiration in any favourite places in Copenhagen? Can you tell us about these places and how they inspire you.

CR: There are quite a few places in and around the city that I find inspirational. These ar places that, after I have visited them, I find I am suddenly in the mood to create something, as well as places that inspire my work in a more direct way.
I love to draw animals, so I have a year card to the zoo which is a great way to observe the animals and get ideas. As well as this I enjoy being in nature, so the botanical gardens and Dyrehaven out in Klampenborg are also great spots for me.
I also like to visit the Design Museum and SMK art museum for ideas on techniques.
 Where can people see more of your work?
CR: You can have a look at my work on my website, where I have a variety of finished projects I have worked on. I also have a Facebook and Instagram page which are a more informal way to see works in progress and doodles or ideas. I sell original pieces on my Etsy page, such as my Lino Prints and on my Society6 page you can find lots of my prints on different types of products, such as phone cases and cushion covers.
Christmas is just around the corner, what are your favourite things about Christmas in Denmark?
CR: I love the different traditions I get to experience, dancing around the Christmas tree and celebrating Christmas late into the evening of the 24th are some things that I really enjoy. I also like the preparation leading up to the big day, making konfekt and the buzzing atmosphere of the city.
You are originally from the UK, can you share a funny story about settling here in Copenhagen.

CR: When I moved to Denmark it was mid March and the daffodils were just beginning to bloom. I came with one suitcase and was ready to start the Spring! Unfortunately the Danish weather did not agree with me and my first day at work greeted me with the type of snow that would make everything stop in the UK. I think it was very obvious that I was new in the country by the clothes that I had to wear! Since then I have definitely learned to prepare for the unexpected…

So what does 2018 hold for you?
CR: I am looking towards bringing to life a new brand idea that I have been thinking about over the last year, and I hope to continue developing my artwork and enjoying life here in Copenhagen.
So, don’t forget to check out Charlotte’s work elsewhere on the internet for some unique Christmas gifts and cards…

How I made friends in a new city

I am something of an introvert and enjoy my own company but like everyone I do need friends. As it is often said Danes are hard to make friends with and if I am honest I have a mixture of friends from Danes to other expats. But how and where to make friends?Neighbours

I still see my first Danish next door neighbour and whilst neither of us still live in that apartment building and many things have changed for both of us over the last ten years, I still love to have a chat with her. We are connected on social media and delight in the good things that happen to each other and commiserate the less good. We became friends simply because we are both friendly people. I recall, apprehensively asking her in for coffee and cakes one afternoon because I liked her and wanted to get to know her better. It was quite an unDanish thing to do in the early stages of acquaintance but we ended up really talking until it started to get dark (so probably 3pm as it was winter) and our husbands came home. After that I had a friend in the building and we had our children a year apart which helped cement the friendship. My son thinks she is lovely but has no recollection of the times she stood in our kitchen giving him big cuddles when he was a little baby whilst I did other things around them. We helped each other out especially in regard to the shared washing machines when one of our kids had a nappy blow out or was sick on their favourite soft toy. Shared experiences and making the first move resulted in friendship.

Making the first move

Just like above another good friend was made through being brave and making the first move.

One afternoon during our first week living in Denmark I was in our local supermarket I heard a very clear English voice and I bravely walked up to a very statuesque woman and introduced myself. This was my first friend. She had also just moved to Copenhagen. We met for coffee later in the week and I noticed she carried a little leather-bound notebook into which she wrote down recommendations and information she discovered. I liked this and her. We parted without making another date and I wasn’t sure we would meet again.

Fast forward a few weeks and guess who was in my first Danish class? We became good friends and even ended up having our sons within a few weeks of each other a few years later. I was glad I made the bold step of speaking to her in the supermarket.

Although we both moved away from Denmark for a year or so, now we are both back, have our kids in the same class at school and that easy friendship has continued.Language School

This was the place where I made the most friends in the early days, again through shared experiences. I have lost touch with almost all the people I sat in that classroom at VUF three hours a day, four days a week. But although I rarely see the people I am in touch with due to work, children or location, when I do it is lovely. Situational friends have an important place in our lives for that time but do take an effort to maintain when you are no longer in that situation.

School parents

This one is an obvious one if you have children. When your child starts school or daycare they have a new group of people to befriend and so do you. I have a great friend I made through my son’s school (sadly she has moved back to Australia). I can’t even remember how we started our friendship  it just seemed to evolve naturally into a wonderful honest friendship. I also know that there are other people who share experiences with our kids and who will help each other out, whether that is sharing books, lending tools or picking up children from school if someone is sick.Hobbies

A big piece of advice for making friends in Denmark is to join a club and that theme running through this whole post is about shared experiences. I am the least sporty person so any kind of active club would be a big no no for me. When I moved back to Denmark from Germany many of my old friends had moved out of the city or left the country. Through a blogger I knew I spotted a crafting group hosted a someone’s home. I love craft so I went along. I then went to every single one after, even when I could use my hand after my accident I still went for the social aspect. Through this group I made about five great friends as well as loads more casual friends. I now run the group as the lady who hosted it when I started going has moved back to the US and it has such meaning for me (and I hope) others. Incidentally the lady became an amazing friend, who gave me masses of support after my accident, inspired me through her work ethic, parenting and just general kick ass approach to life.

Through this blog

This one of course isn’t an opportunity for everyone but social media can offer the same chances. Back in 2013 when I first started writing this blog, I got a really sweet email from nervous British lady who had just moved to Copenhagen with her Danish partner and their daughter. She was feeling daunted by the move and just kept seeing negativity in the expat forums and her partner had found my blog and said she should contact me. She just wanted some tips via email but I suggested a coffee. Fast forward four years and we are great friends. She is another person who inspires with her approach to life here and all she has achieved.

So if you are struggling to make friends don’t give up hope!

Also don’t forget to get your hands on my guide to Christmas in Copenhagen – just click here for your free copy

7 Quirks of Danish life

Moving to a new country means there are plenty of unexpected quirks to discover. I thought I’d share a few that surprised me when I moved here.

Half loavesDanes love their bakeries and there are a number of different breads you can buy, however they are all pretty big. For ages I didn’t know (and speaking to a friend who has lived here a long time who just discovered this) you can ask for a half loaf. So goodbye to food waste and also arguments about which bread to get.

Animal noisesIn Denmark even the animals speak differently as you may discover of you have a younger child in a Danish daycare or school. Dogs don’t go woof but vov vow, pigs don’t oink but øf-øf. No cock a doodle dos here but kykyliky (good luck with that one). Rap rap goes the duck. Of course this isn’t unusual (see this fun article here) but still comes as a surprise.

Chocolate pålæg

These are the thin chocolate slices you find in the jam and spreads section of the supermarkets. They are laid on the top of a piece of bread in the same way you would use jam and not just a treat for kids. In France and other countries it is usual to find chocolate and bread combined such as for French children as an after school snack (see here)  but still not something you would see in the UK or US.

Address layout

This one isn’t unusual if you come from many other mainland European countries but the number of our houses or buildings comes at the end after the street name and the postcode (which is simply four numbers) comes before the city or town. And then there is the other funny addition for people at home, the 1tv. or 1th. (for example) after the house number. People are never quite sure if they come after the house number with a comma between or gets its own line in the address. So an example – Bulowsvej 38, 1th, 1870 Frederiksberg.

In case you are reading this and don’t live here that designates the floor number and which side of the hall (left or right). In many cases there are only two apartments on each floor.

Comma and not a dot in numbers

This one scares me still when I am transferring money online. In Denmark we would write 75,00dkk not 75.00dkk. I’m still terrified that the number will default so it thinks I mean seven thousand five hundred not just 75. I am something of a number dunce but I doubt I am alone in this one.

Sanitary bags in public toilets

In the UK you will see big bins with strange one way trays to dispose of your feminine hygiene products. First time in a Danish public loo I was surprised to see a plastic bag positioned on a giant hairclip type thing attached the wall. This is where they go. A practical solution as the cleaners just take the bag off and put it in with other rubbish for incineration. No need to a big smelly, overflowing bin to stick around whilst they wait for the truck to take it away and replace it.

Light fittings

When you move to a Danish home you will not have lights already fitted in as the previous owner/tenant will have taken them away. You may find a small plug type socket in the ceiling with a round hole in it. This is where you connect your own lights with their own fittings. Danes often use very long cables and position their lights for optimum hygge. It looks hazardous but isn’t. There is no need to get an electrician to fit them either although you may need a tall step ladder.

I am sure there are tons more….post below if you have one to share.

Also don’t forget to get your hands on my guide to Christmas in Copenhagen – just click here for your free copy

A gift from me to you! Guide to Christmas in Copenhagen

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year but celebrating it is a country which is not your own can pose some challenges as well as new and exciting traditions to discover. I was talking to a former client of mine recently and she suggested doing a post about how to celebrate Christmas in Copenhagen would be a good idea. Whilst my son was sick as few weeks ago with a tummy bug, I sat with him on the bed and wrote a mini guide to Christmas in Copenhagen. It was a little too long for a blog post so I made it into an ebook. It is  short guide which gives you information about where to get hold of Christmas food, what are traditional Danish treats, how to celebrate like a Dane and things to do to enjoy the season to its fullest.

I had been working on a two page printable with next year’s public holidays and celebrations on. Whether you save it on your computer or device or print out and stick on your fridge, you’ll never miss an important date next year. It features some key events celebrated in Denmark, with a little bit of information about each. You’ll no longer wonder why your child needs a costume for Fastelavn or even what it is. The mystery of why there are so many ducks and geese for sale in supermarkets in November will be solved. 

I am delighted to have some original artwork on the printable by a talented, Copenhagen based artist, Charlotte Rule. Find out more about her work at her website here.

I decided the combine to two as a little free Christmas gift for my readers, followers and anyone who would find it useful.To get hold of your free copy of both direct to your inbox simply click here to sign up for it.

I hope you like this little free gift and wishing you season’s greetings!

“Gentrification” of Valby

So back in 2016 I wrote this blog post about Valby as an alternative to central city living. In it I said (which was true at the time) “Valby is not the place for hipsters or trendsetters” and “It is not a slick and trendy part of town”.

A few weeks ago I had to meet with some parents from my son’s school at a cafe on the main street in Valby. I’d not been down to this part of Valby for some months and the change was significant and noticeable. There were a number of older businesses which had closed down and there was activity inside the shops indicating a new business would be opening soon. But mainly I was surprised to see a Wokshop, Lagkagehuset and also a Riccos coffee shop within stone’s throws of each other. All are places I like but their new presence in a previously pretty old school Danish area is a definite indicator as to the changes afoot there.

I’m not sure that the term gentrification can be applied to what is happening in central Valby but it certainly looks like gentrification-lite. These businesses start popping up where there is a demand or potential demand for them. Valby is certainly an area where more affluent people are starting to live due to the housing situation in nearby Vesterbro and Frederiksberg but it is often a chicken and egg situation. In the UK it is referred to as the *Waitrose effect’ (here is a recent article about this), whereby if a branch of this expensive supermarket opened up in your neighbourhood you knew that house prices would be on the rise and the face of the neighbourhood would begin to change. But also in seeing places like Waitrose or in the case of Valby, Wokshop, opening up prospective residents will see it as more of an exciting area than if there is a Netto, an old style bakery, pizza shop and a clothing shop for big men.

And what does this mean for rents and house prices? Undoubtedly rents will rise as will demand from people to live here, pushing current residents and businesses out of the area in time. Of course this is capitalism but it doesn’t make it any more palatable. Over the last few decades areas such as Vesterbro and some parts of Nørrebro have gone through a painful change and as long term residents found themselves priced out of living in Vesterbro, they moved out to Valby and Sydhavn and now these two areas are beginning to gentrify, where will these people end up? The issue of displacement is one which should not be ignored. The cycle keeps going until all the city areas are the same, with the same types of coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants, same types of people with the same affluence and  the city is only for well off people.

Copenhagen is a long way off becoming as homogenised as some towns and cities in the UK but the writing is on the wall. I’ve said it before but every Krone you spend is a vote for the kind of city you want to live in. Support for individual and local businesses helps them survive and also ultimately keeps a city alive and unique. When I read about businesses in Amager for example which have been there for three or four generations, I wonder how many of the current businesses du jour, such as Gorms, Cocks and Cow, Wokshop, Jagger to name a few will still be in business in ten or even five years time? With the fast Twitter generation cycle of life where things are soon discarded for something newer and shinier makes me think none of the above.

I’m not against change but when change benefits the few and not the many, I wonder how positive it is.

Although not about European cities this podcast about the gentrification of parts of Los Angeles and also Brooklyn, New York make for fascinating if not disturbing listening. The issues they explore are not unique to the US. Also this piece in the recent issue of The Murmur about Copenhagen is an interesting read

Danish {and Scandinavian} cookbooks in English

Christmas will be here before we know it and what better gift to yourself or someone else than a Danish or Scandinavian cookbook. Cookbooks are a great way to really get a handle on the cuisine of a country – with both traditional and modern foods and recipes.

I have compiled a list of books I like or would like to get my hands on for some inspiration.

First of all any book by Trine Hahnemann is a surefire winner. Trine is considered to be akin to a Danish Delia Smith. She has appeared on the Great British Bake Off a few years ago and also had a number of recipes serialised in The Telegraph. She is all about comfort food, baking and the real meaning of hygge. I have written about her before hereand I interviewed her here.

Scandinavian Comfort Food – Trine Hahnemann

Scandinavian Baking – Trine Hahnemann

The Scandinavian Cookbook – Trine Hahnemann

Bronte Aurell is another food author some people may have heard of already. She is the founder of Sacndikitchen, a a café, grocery shop, online store and wholesale business based in London. As a Danish native she know something about the food scene and her first book The Scandi Kitchen  is well worth getting. She has a number of other books worth checking out here.

Danish Food and Cooking by John Nielsen and Judith H Dern was my food bible when I first moved here. It is a super introduction to all the really traditional Danish foods.

Signe Johansen is the Norwegian author behind the Scandilicious brand of cook books. A friend of mine had the baking one and I loved looking through it when I visited her.

Secret of Scandinavian Cooking…Scandilicious – Signe Johansen

Scandilicious Baking – Signe Johansen

Claus Meyer is a household name in Denmark having been instrumental in the New Nordic food revolution – get a bite of it in his books.

The Nordic Kitchen – Claus Meyer

Meyer’s Bakery – Claus Meyer

Finally a book I’ve not read or look through but one I love the sound of. Nordic Light by Simon Bajada

Help in understanding customs duties

Many of us have been stung with a bill for VAT and customs charges for gifts or purchases from outside the EU. It is frustrating (and costly) if you are not expecting this and also there is a carrier charge applied in addition to the costs from SKAT (the tax office) which can exceed the cost of the VAT and duty charges. You need to pay the entire bill to get your parcel released from customs.I don’t want to repeat the information from SKAT as I want it to be as accurate as possible for you so this is the link to look at so you understand the implications of buying from outside the EU and also receiving gifts. Here is the link to the SKAT webpage in English.

It is important to note that if you buy from a website based inside the EU these charges do not apply and you will be subject to appropriate VAT when you make your purchase – whether that is with Amazon or any other business in the EU which will deliver here.

When you receive the notice from the mail carrier i.e. PostNord or DHL, you can pay via a website and then the parcel will be released for collection at a local post office drop off for you to collect.

It is important to take these costs in to considering, especially around Christmas when people do a lot of online shopping. One particular place to be aware of these charges is Etsy, as many of the small producers on this website are based outside the EU so make sure you check where the item will be sent from before you order.

You may also find this post about using postal services useful.