Should I Move to Denmark: Sprouts of Progress

When I first got here in 2008, there was many an initiative to keep highly-trained “expats” in the country. Not that I benefited from any of them, I worked in a state school in a town which had not really thought to attract international talent at that time. I was only on the periphery of it but I observed several attempts to recruit and retain foreign workers.

I am not sure what they were saying to the employers, it was not information I was looking for. But I remember what they were saying to me: if you don’t like it, it is because you are a dick.

There was a blog run by the government which seemed to be telling me everything was cupcakes and unicorn rainbows. And that anything I had to say on the contrary was because I was a bloody bastard. There were events, which I think are still going, about how to adapt to Danish culture. I have never been to one but I think the take-home message is supposed to be “lower your expectations”. Occasionally, they would ask Freshies to make presentations about how to integrate, for other foreigners or to Danish companies. They only asked people who had a proven track record for only addressing the issue in the most “positive” way. Note: not “constructive”, I do not mean someone who notes challenges and explains how to overcome them but people who reject critical thought entirely in order to promote the idea that only bloody bastards have problems getting along in Denmark.

Pictured: The expat experience of Denmark as described by the Danish government (Photo credit: Totally Severe)

And hey, it did not work. The issue with recruiting and retaining international workers remained. There was a huge problem with staff turn-over, people come and then leave before their contract is up. Maybe they say things like “high taxes” or “not much choice in the shops” but they were never going to tell you other reasons so long as they have been primed with “if you have other criticisms it is because you have not tried hard enough”.

I remember a really good blog entry by a psychologist about how to make your staff leave early, tongue in cheek, about the shitty things companies inadvertently do that make their workers unhappy. I cannot find it anymore but it was really good, you guys!

Stuff like:- Always speak Danish. Let them sink or swim. Forget about their spouse.

I move in different circles now and I saw a magazine bearing a cover girl that I sort of know. So I picked it up and imagine my surprise at the content!

The magazine is aimed not at The Internationals but their employers. It is written in English. It has interviews with expats. And it has guidelines for recruiting and retaining!


Guidelines such as “be honest about challenges before they get there”, “get your other employees to speak English at lunch and in meetings”, “change all your signs/information into English”, “make sure the spouse is happy”, “help them with bureaucracy” etc etc

You know, the shit that got me called “negative” when I talk about it… That stuff.

What seems to be happening now is that foreigners in Denmark who arrived after me are a lot happier. They are socialising, they are happier in their jobs, their children are being educated, their spouses are finding things to do, it is all good times.

Sure, they do not want to stay longer than the three or five years they promised their company. But they do not want to leave early. That is good. It is also gratifying that every survey I filled in, where I outlined the issues as I saw them, has been addressed.

I really want to move up to Aarhus, it looks like a much better situation for me up there. I do not want to stay in Denmark forever but at least life is actively being made more bearable. Maybe I do not need to warn people about here quite as strenuously.

4 thoughts on “Should I Move to Denmark: Sprouts of Progress

  1. Dear Kelly

    Congratulations on the amazing blog. I came across your posts this week and have been hooked up since, reading them non-stop and having that “OMG, I am not alone in this world” kinda feeling. Your blog SAVED ME and I would like to tell you why.

    I am a Brazilian born/British (naturalized) who has moved to Norway 8 months ago. Yes, Norway, not Denmark, but nevertheless Scandinavia. The first 6 months in Oslo landed me in psychotherapy (no kidding!!!) because the cultural shock and that “WTF is wrong with this country?” feeling was so overwhelming that I started doubting my abilities to “integrate” (I hate that word sometimes) and started getting convinced that the problem HAD to be me. After all wasn’t this the #1 country to live according to the UN (not the reason why I moved here though), wasn’t Norway the free thinking, liberal, feminist and tolerant society everyone is always raving about? I couldn’t understand that a well-travelled citizen like me, who has lived in 4 different countries (or 5 if you consider 3 months in the USA as “living”), who speaks 3 languages fluently, who absolutely adores foreign cultures and has made friends with people from all over the world, could actually NOT be liking Norway.
    The feeling of loneliness in the first 6 months was horrible. Despite being surrounded by family (my husband and his family are from here and I have 2 children as well) I could not help but think that this country was actually a bit of a shithole (excuse my French :-). Never had I been confronted with so much xenophobia, blindness, complacency, rudeness and lack of debate. In 6 months I was verbally abused about 6 times in the most ridiculous occasions, which ranged from talking loud (which I was not!!!) at the Munch museum as I explained the paintings to my mom, to being told off by a crazy bitch at the passport office that I don’t know how to look after my children, because they were crying ( I swear to God, she used those exact words). In one situation I became so enraged that I started running after the lady who had offended me…my husband had to run after me to make me stop. I guess I would have beaten her up, if I had not been stopped, and that is a very scary thought, cause I have never been able to harm a fly!

    What is even more scary is that I know my experiences are being somehow “cushioned”. I work in a corporate environment, so supposedly with the educated “crème de la crème” well-travelled people who have seen the world and learned from it. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be like if I were not earning the big bucks and were instead confined to a low paid job. But being in the Norwegian corporate world has not actually stopped me from hearing the most ridiculous abusive “jokes” about women and immigrants that would get a person in the UK easily fired. And all in name of the good “Norwegian humor”…See, the problem is me, who don’t get jokes and am too sensitive, so I am told :-/

    The thing with Norway is, racism and xenophobia are so infiltrated in their everyday lives, that nobody sees it anymore. Government wants to pass a law to deport Roma citizens because they beg on the street? Sure, no problem. Advertising a job in English but not awarding the job to a foreigner (and I mean EU, white, blue eyed foreigner) because he/she does not speak Norwegian? Fine. Being so happy about having a Culture Minister (who is daughter of immigrants but born and raised in Norway) who is seen as a “foreign role model”? No, not contradictory at all. Transparency seems to be the motto of this country. People are invisible to each other, rudeness is the order of the day. Smiling and being nice to your fellow human being is overrated (or American).

    By reading your posts, I have the impression I could easily replace the word Denmark by Norway, your name by mine and the blog would become a record of my experiences instead (I promise if I do that and become famous and rich, I will pay you the royalties, hahaha). As a consequence, your blog inspired me to start writing about my experiences and maybe reach other people in Norway (or Scandinavia) who are going through the same.

    I do not know how long I will manage to stay here, before going back to the UK (or Germany, or Brazil, or USA – the only 4 options I am considering at the moment). So while I cannot decide (or leave) I want to make the most of my time here and try to be happy. But not in a “suppressing my feelings and pretending this is the paradise” way, but rather by engaging in the fight with the best weapons I have: my brain and my critical thinking.

    Thank you Kelly for taking the time to share your experiences with the rest of us. I will repeat: your blog SAVED ME…

    Lots of love from Oslo



      1. Maybe better than Denmark, but still pretty bad for those who have lived outside Scandinavia once in their lives :-)
        Will definitely send you the link to my blog once it is up and running…


    1. :(((((

      I am so sorry to hear all your bad experiences, Fernanda.

      I lived in Norway for a year in 2009-2010 and I honestly believe that my experience there was a lot better than here. I dunno if I was just lucky or because I was treated differently (I was speaking Danish all the time to every one – I guess Norwegians are friendlier toward fellow Scandinavians – a bit off topic: In a way Norway is fairer than DK because they knew I was from the Danish office, I speak Danish and they thought I was Danish, period, despite my yellow complexion).

      But yes, hearing your experiences, you can just change the country name from Norway and to Denmark and it still fits perfectly.


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