Kelly: Adventures and Japes
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Denmark, etc.
I am a British teacher who came to Denmark to work seven years ago but ended up meeting a Danish guy here at a party I crashed and buying a house with him.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I was already blogging before I came to Denmark. At the time, I was living in London and not having any fun. I was getting up and then working solidly until I went to bed and started the cycle again. Burnout was imminent. I started the blog to set myself monthly and yearly challenges: go to the theatre, read a specific book, learn to dance. One of my first challenges was ‘move countries’, so I carried on blogging about my progress on that.
I still haven’t learned to dance.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favourite is “Newbies: Winter Survival Guide”, where I use Game of Thrones to showcase the different archetypes of immigrants.
My readers’ favourite (going on stats) is “Five Arguments Which Are Wrong About Racism”.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Denmark differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I very much went through culture shock and I was lucky enough to be able to document it fully online. On the surface, the UK and Denmark are the same country but with a different language. They’re western, they’re basically social democracies, they’re historically Christian, they have similar climates.
But, in the UK, ‘rudeness’ is policed by everyone. If you act in a rude way, British people will stop you with social pressure. So people act in a much more considerate way on average. In Denmark, it is even ruder to step in and enforce the unwritten rules. This means that jerks can do whatever they want with zero consequence.
For the longest time I could not work out if things were actually ‘rude’ in Denmark or considered neutral or polite. It took about 18 months before I found out that jumping in line is still rude in Denmark, even though no one does anything about it (back home, people get stabbed to death for doing it. An overreaction, for sure but it does have a chilling effect on the practice). Then again, there are things that are definitely not ‘rude’ here that you would never get away with back home, like not holding doors open for others. So, it was quite the learning curve for this polite Brit.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Denmark? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was about as unprepared as a person can be without having being dropped off by parachute with nothing in their pockets.
What I would change: I would have hired a Danish tutor and had some lessons before I came. I thought I would be immersed and fluent within three months. I was not immersed and I am not fluent seven years later. I would have lowered my expectations. I was expecting this left wing paradise where everyone was equal and happy and people took care of each other. I don’t know why I was so naïve (other than every single resource I read about Denmark told me it was exactly how I was naively imagining.)
But then again, if I changed anything about my process for coming to Denmark: (two backpacks, one pocket dictionary, no clue), I would never have become the person I am or had the opportunities I have had.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
This was the best thing that ever happened: my best friend had a Danish boyfriend who was a bit of an idiot. It was Christmas and my Mum was visiting. So, to set the scene: my Mum, my best friend, her father, her daughter, me and this idiot boyfriend all having Christmas dinner. My Mum speaks English, my best friend speaks Danish, English and Greek, her dad speaks Greek, her daughter speaks Greek and Danish, I speak Danish and English. A real challenge to keep the conversation going but my Mum lives for these situations. She’s miming to the Greek dad and speaking slowly to the Danish boyfriend. He keeps insisting that everything good in the world came from Denmark and the Danes have nothing to learn from the outside world. Every topic gets turned to this and my Mum is valiantly trying to keep the conversation from turning down this side road every two minutes.
She says “so, you guys don’t really have roast potatoes, do you like them?” and the boyfriend says
“We have roast potatoes here.”
My best friend and I are shaking our heads “no, you’re thinking of brown potatoes. You don’t really have that.”
“Of course we do! We have RECIPE BOOKS here in Denmark.”
Well, my Mum is not deterred by this.
“So, you Danes are the best at everything.”
He does not sense a trap. “Yes. That’s right.”
“Who were your biggest villains? Who is the biggest sh*thead this world has ever seen from Denmark?”
“Well, the Vikings…”
“No, come on, that was ages ago. We’re over it. Which individual really stands out in this area?”
And he was totally stumped. It was awesome.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Denmark?
- Lower your expectations. It’s alright here but it’s not really the happiest country
- Cultivate some indoor hobbies, winters are long and everyone hibernates
- Cultivate some group hobbies, you are going to need to join a club to meet people because that’s the ‘third space’ outside of work/home
How is the expat community in Denmark? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a constant flow of newbies. You get to have a lot of the same conversations. I’ve not had a hard time finding people to be friends but you have to be prepared to lose them every few years.
Also, people really suffer in the winter and there are annual expat battles on social networking sites, where they take out their frustrations on each other. I prefer to keep it real these days to avoid that.
I have a few Danish friends but they are spread out all over the country, so I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like.
How would you summarize your expat life in Denmark in a single, catchy sentence?
Not What I Expected.