Is Denmark as bad as everyone makes it seem?

Denmark. Denmark. Denmark.

My country (the UK), is currently having an internet love affair with Denmark. The UK is excited by the very flattering photos Denmark keeps sending, with the camera angle oddly chosen to point down all the time with really quite bright lights. They have also read its dating profile over and over. Some of the lovely things Denmark says it does are really quite lovely! And exciting!

Imaging living there! The journalists who are invited to Copenhagen by the Danish tourist industry which in this analogy is probably a first date, right? Yeah, let’s go with that. The journalists from the UK have only nice things to say! The venue chosen by Denmark for the first date was really nice and Denmark was totally on Denmark’s best behaviour all evening. They totally took the UK back to its place and showed it some hygge. IN ALL THE POSSIBLE WAYS.

Naturally, after such a courtship, one’s thoughts turn to co-habitation. A quick once-over with the old google internet search engine and … Christ… well, if I wanted to doggedly continue with this over stretched analogy… would be a bit like coming across someone’s myspace blog about a breakup with the person you were courting. Or their Tumblr, if we want to be all twenty-teens about it.

A lot of people living in Denmark have written on the internet “OMG WHAT THE FUCK?” whilst in the midst of a culture shock driven breakdown. Others have written “No seriously, what the fuck?” when the culture shock has worn off and they are still not impressed.

There are plenty of foreigners who never write anything because they feel reasonably content (for a given range of contentedness) and there are a few foreigners who only write up the good stuff. These foreigners and their blogs are aggressively pushed to would-be “expats” by the government and that is when my metaphor is no longer of use because I guess it would be like when an internet dating prospect sends you to their wedding photos flickr album to show you their first marriage to prove they are capable of giving and receiving love. And as far as I know, this is not a trend on internet dating sites. Even OKCupid.

But yeah. There is a remarkable amount of shit-listing of Denmark going on.

Is it fair?

I am going to go ahead and say “yes” but with some caveats.

Denmark is probably ok. It is a reasonably well off country with mediocre services, medium-to-high taxes, medium-to-very good standard of living, currently quite cushy terms of employment. No one starves. No one gets cholera. No one is tortured for their beliefs*. But as I have said before. This is setting the bar waaaaaaaay too low.

Compared to similar countries, let’s go ahead and say France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands (let’s leave the other Scandies to one side for now), it’s not really anything to shout about. Remember, expats can move anywhere. That’s their thing. Compared to similar countries, Denmark does not come out very well.

The schools are a bit in need of an overhaul. Health care is variable. The borough councils are unhinged. Crime is high. The terms of employment are being made progressively more shitty.

But for the expat, the main concern is “will I experience happiness and enjoyment?” and the answer is “Unless you put an extraordinary level of effort into entertaining yourself: no”

The language barrier is a serious impediment to happiness which is not really improved by saying “Well, obvs it’s Denmark. You should speak Danish.” That does not, with the best will in the world, get your pipes fixed when you are fresh of the boat and need a plumber.

Then there is the thorny question of social interactions. If you are coming to Denmark to marry a Dane or for study, you might be ok. It can be a lottery. Even very outgoing, friendly people who have had no problem making friends anywhere else, can find it hard to make friends in the Danish community. This is partly because they often do not speak Danish well enough to develop a friendship but mostly because Danes are just not that into us.

Not that Danes make a lot of new friends of any background after they finish their educations. If you go to a party with two groups of Danes who know the host from two different places (say: badminton club and sailing club), it is unlikely these groups will blend. Everyone at the party is the type you get might back home where the guest is just too shy to go talk to others and must wait for other guests to come to them. If everyone is like that, no one is coming to anyone.

Throw having a guest with a different culture into the mix and you might as well forget about them socialising beyond the old “Immigration Interview” conversation (When did you come? Why did you come? How is your language coming on? When are you leaving? )

And that is only if they even get invited to a party.

If you come to Denmark, your social life is over. All your friends will be foreign or mates of your Danish spouse. (Unless you happen to like doing sport)

If you like having friends, then yes, Denmark IS as bad as everyone is saying.

Meanwhile, even though they are most definitely not “all like that”, the only Danes you are really going to get any interaction with are the ones who are like that. They shove you in the street, they treat you like a twat when you try to speak their language, they push in front of you in shops, they leave their dog shit on your doorstep, they tell you off for talking to your kids. It can get quite fraught because although you do not want to become racist, you are facing a reality where you are effectively having to take it on trust that they are not all like that.

And if you have to interact with the authorities, it’s time to flip a coin. Heads: they will treat you like a human being. Tails: they won’t.

So. Yes. It is as bad as everyone is saying. It’s not paradise and it’s not hell. And you just need to be ready for that if you are serious about moving here.

*Denmark has been implicated in torture a few times since the war on “terror” began. But frankly, who the fuck hasn’t? It’s a shitty state of affairs that my team turned out to be the Storm Troopers when I thought they were the Rebels but I am literally powerless to do anything about it. I’m not a fucking ewok, am I? I’m not even Lando pigging Calrissian. You know the school teacher in the storm trooper clone factory they never made an adventure about? I’m that one.

14 thoughts on “Is Denmark as bad as everyone makes it seem?

  1. “Throw having a guest with a different culture into the mix and you might as well forget about them socialising beyond the old “Immigration Interview” conversation (When did you come? Why did you come? How is your language coming on? When are you leaving? )”

    This part is ridiculously true and have had it happen so many times, I think the next time I get this line of conversation I am going to make up some silly story about being a legal alien (apparently, an English one, and in New York… sing along if you know the song), just for kicks (and in the hope that it stops happening in future).


      1. I used to be thankful that they would even speak to me, so tolerated the immigration stuff, but now it is time to throw them off my case and maybe ask if they considered taking the plunge and living abroad and how they think it would be…


      2. I don’t MIND it, if it is a spring board to “Oh, so really?! Wow, how interesting, here is a follow up question so we can have another conversation about something you/I/we both find fascinating” but it all too often just ends in sullen silence.


    1. I think any story you make up will be greeted with the same nordic indifference.

      OH! I had an idea. Insist you are fluent in Danish. Then demonstrate your Danish. Keep INSISTING you are totally fluent. This will be comedy bronze, silver and gold. Because your Danish is p good, right but it’s not fluent? They will be so conflicted about how to break it to you about your level of Danish. OMG, I’m going to start doing that just to eff with them.


    1. Why THANK you. Just as long as you knew what an ewok was, that’s ok.

      Thanks for the link. I’m eating right now, so I won’t read it until I’ve finished digesting :)


  2. Strangers talk to me all the time in the UK. It took me a little while to get used to after living in Denmark. I wasn’t very good at the easy small-talk at first, but I’d like to think I’m getting better now. One of the first things I noticed was how friendly and chatty the cashiers were. :) People in pubs are quick to strike up a conversation as well (especially if you, like me, hang out with the smokers who have to go outside every once in a while). And just yesterday evening I had a nice chat with some guy while we were both unlocking our bikes to go home after work. It’s brilliant how people are so easy going that way, like they already know you. :D


    1. It’s really nice! It does mean you get stuck in conversations with very delusional mentally ill people occasionally. But shit man, they’re almost always not dangerous and they need a friendly chat as much as anyone else, so it’s fine.


  3. This is AMAZING and largely true. I have the unfortunate problem of barely being able to speak any Danish and Danish people actually attempting to engage in conversation with me all the time. I can’t even go flip my laundry without two people trying to talk to me.

    But, it is bad and I don’t like it one bit! If we weren’t waiting out my husband’s American visa, I would have been out of here in the first month.


  4. I’m not so sure that you can find that much negative stuff on Denmark with a casual search using google. A lot of the hits I get are the standard spin. What search terms do you use?

    Of course a devoted search will lead you to sites like fid where the archive section can be an eye opener, and then there’s the Cph. post but folks at expat in denmark and other places have been remarkably good at covering up the reality of the situation with their spin. Of course people come and eventually get it, but then they’ve wasted 18 months of their lives and put their marriages in jeopardy (among other things).


    1. Oh, in fb groups and stuff there is a lot of shitlisting. I think if people google “Danish racist” they might get a lot… Plus, on Copenhagen Post, the comments are wall to wall
      “STAY AWAY OMG” with the occasional “Will you STOP bashing DK?!”


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