Carlsberg Export, Lego, bacon, butter, pastries, the Little Mermaid and the Danish heroism in helping the Jews during World War II were about the only things I knew about Denmark before I agreed to live there with my Danish fiancÃ© (now my husband). My husband was kind enough to buy me a copy of XenophobeÂ’s Guide To The Danes (The Globe Pequot Press) and this little book has become my constant reference manual while I try to adjust to the new culture IÂ’ve found myself living in.
Denmark is made up of 406 islands, including Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. Greenland and the Faroe Islands in the Atlantic are part of the Kingdom of Denmark but have both been granted home rule. Denmark has a population of about 5,432,335 and life expectancy is between 75 to 80 years (source: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications...ok/geos/da.html
We live on the peninsula connected to Germany, called Jutland. The area we live in is called Djursland . We are surrounded by wind turbines, beautiful rolling countryside and forests and are only a short drive away from countless beaches.
ItÂ’s very hard to imagine that the cultured, quietly spoken and dignified people I see walking or cycling around town or sitting in coffee houses were once helmeted warriors intent on pillaging and colonising Britain. This is especially hard to imagine since IÂ’ve learnt of the DaneÂ’s need for hygge, a word without a direct English translation but meaning something akin to cosy or snug or ambience or intimacy. The lighting in Danish homes is soft and dim and is supplemented with the use of candles and real fireplaces. In fact, the use of candles in creating hygge extends way beyond the home and into shops and even our local municipal offices. As a newby to Denmark, I think that huggelig best describes the Danish culture.
However, hugge ends when the Danes go shopping! Then it is push and shove and everyone for him/herself. Neat orderly queues and waiting oneÂ’s turn is obviously a British phenomenon and a totally foreign concept to the Danes. After spending five years in polite Britain, this rudeness takes quite some getting used to. In fact, if I accidentally bump into someone and say undskylde, I get some very strange looks!
One of the travel guides I read before coming to Denmark had an entire chapter dedicated to food. Food and drink play a big role in the DanesÂ’ culture. The travel guide warned that it is a good idea to pace oneself whilst enjoying a meal as more is sure to follow. I have since learned that this is very wise advice. The smÃ¸rrebrÃ¸d is standard fare at lunch (or brunch or supper in our case). This is an open sandwich liberally topped with all sorts of delicious concoctions. Herring, in a variety of different marinades, is often the Â“starterÂ” and usually served on a very rough rye bread. Throughout the meal, there will be the need to drink a skÃ¥l (cheers). At the start of a meal, it is usually a skÃ¥l with a Danish bitter, a drink made with numerous bitter herbs & spices (think the yuckiest cough mixture youÂ’ve ever tasted). Bitter is even drunk with breakfast!
In South Africa I was spoilt when going grocery shopping by having a packer pack my groceries into bags. In Denmark, there are no packers and no free shopping bags. This means that you need to remember to either take a trolley, even if you only need a bit more than an arm-full of groceries, or remember to take your own bags. I also only discovered that money is rounded up to the next Krone when I foolishly stood waiting for my change. These are things that should be put into some sort of manual for newbies to a country.
As Britain gets tough with new anti-smoking laws, it is quite strange to be in a country where smoking is still so socially accepted. The Danes still smoke comfortably in most public places. One of our local supermarkets has baskets of cigarettes for sale at the cash tills, as you would see chocolates or razor blades on sale in Britain or South Africa. Cigarettes are also relatively cheap compared with prices in Britain.
At the moment I am unable to offer any views on learning Danish or working in Denmark. I am in the limbo state of waiting for my Residence Permit to be granted. EU nationals have the right to remain in Denmark for three months. However, anyone wishing to reside, work or study and remain in Denmark for longer needs to apply for a Residence Permit or Certificate through The Danish Immigration Service. Once this has been granted I will be expected to attend Danish School.