So you’re coming to Denmark. Lucky you! What a beautiful country full of gorgeous wide open spaces, castles, Vikings and a capital chock-full of fairy tale charm where royals still rule and mermaids may swim. But, what is life actually like here in Denmark? Not sure what else to expect? Here to help. Here’s a little list of 65 decidedly Danish things that I have learned while living in Denmark for the past two and half years.
Take a gander. Or a duckling. Even the ugly ones are pretty here.
65 Things I’ve Learned While Living In Denmark
EATING IN DENMARK | NOT JUST NEW NORDIC
Sandwiches have no tops, nor do some bathers at the beach.
Smørrebrød means buttered bread. But it rarely is. This classisk open-faced sandwich can be topped with anything. Like pickled herrings. Or potatoes. Or fried fish. Or shrimps in mayonnaise. Or raw beef and raw egg. It’s delicious. You should try it.
Danishes as you know them are not called danishes here. They are called wienerbrød. Vienna bread. They are not actually Danish. Surprise!
Porridge is a category of cuisine in and of itself.
Bread is dark and brown, grainy and chewy.
A loaf of rugbrød, this dark rye bread, could be used possibly as a weapon if needed. It’s that dense.
Milk is sold in nothing larger than 1-liter cartons.
There are 8,192 different varieties of yogurt products for sale. (I counted. Just kidding.)
Fish eggs are a delicacy here.
Burgers are big here, not their size, but popularity. You only eat them with a knife and fork and rarely during the meal will you put down your utensils, potentially even using them as an extension of your conversation. The knife, not the burger.
You MUST put down the divider after your groceries on the belt at the shop. Seriously. It’s a rule. That no one tells you.
DANISH HOME LIFE
When you rent an apartment, it comes devoid of any light fixtures. A slight challenge when you move in December and there are only 7 hours of daylight.
All home interiors are painted the same shade of white. Maybe to combat that lack of daylight issue come winter.
Danes take home decor very seriously. And they are exceptionally good at it.
Signs outside apartment buildings that kindly ask for no dog poop, usually get the most piles of poop on the street.
IT’S JUST LIKE RIDING A BIKE
Everyone knows how to ride a bike here. Over 50% of people commute to work/school by bike.
As soon as you learn to walk, you are thrust atop a strider bike to learn the balance.
I have never seen a bike with training wheels, but the tiniest humans zip by on the littlest cycles.
There are specific signals for biking here. They’re not what you think. They are actually very straightforward. Use them. Or get dinged. The bell is real.
Don’t walk onto the bike lane without looking. It’s dangerous. For us all.
There are more bicycles than humans in Copenhagen.
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE
Everyone speaks English. Unless you are in small town in Jutland.
The Danglish accent is not definitive. It depends on where you learned English.
Danish lessons are free when you move here.
To say hello you say hej. Sounds like “hi.” To say goodbye you say hej hej. Or just hej. Don’t get confused.
In Danish, y’s are pronounced like the letter u. Nyhavn is not NIGH-HAVEN. It’s more like nu-hown. G’s are pronounced like y’s. And don’t get me started trying to pronounce d’s. There is no correlation. You just have to learn it.
You can express agreement by sucking in air here. It is a gasping sound, that at first, makes you think the person is shocked. They’re not. It’s a Danish way of nodding. Yep, I’m listening. Gasp.
Swearing is perfectly acceptable. Danes favorite English word is F*#k.
Danes don’t have a word for please. But they have a thousand ways to say thank you. Tak. Thanks. Tusind tak. A thousand thanks. (My personal favorite.) Mange tak. Many thanks. Tak for sidst. Thanks for the last time. Tak for mad. Thanks for the food. And on and on.
Tak for kaffee doesn’t really mean thanks for the coffee. It’s more like OMG in Danish. No way. Yes! Way.
To use a public swimming pool, there are explicit instructions on how to correctly wash all your bits. It’s communally enforced.
But public urination is ok.
Public nakedness is ok. No washing required.
Public drinking is ok.
These may or may not be mutually exclusive.
Rated R movies are perfectly acceptable for anyone aged 15+ here.
You can buy alcohol at 16, but you can’t go into a bar until 18. But public drinking is ok. Remember?
You don’t cross the street here when the light is red. Even if there is nary a car ANYWHERE in sight. It’s the rules.
Despite the love of structure and following the rules here, Danes are not great at queuing for the bus or train. It’s first come first serve around here.
WANT TO LOOK LIKE A DANE?
The wardrobe is black. Unless it’s white. Maybe dark, dark grey.
Buying used clothing is acceptable. Vintage is better. But the shoes. Those are BRAND NEW. Don’t mess with my trainers.
Oversized clothing is the norm. Unless it’s jeans. Then those are painted on. Jeggings work on men and women.
And don’t forget the shades. Those are key. And must be cool.
You can wear your heels while biking. And fur. And dresses and suits. Lycra? That’s for the weekend. And the other bike.
LIVING IN DENMARK
Your Danish CPR card allows you access to all the wonderful government afforded programs, like free healthcare.
Your CPR card is not only your medical card, but your library card, your tax number, your only access to a bank account, a cell phone contract and even an apartment lease. Big brother can track nearly every aspect of your life with that little number. Don’t lose your yellow card.
Every Friday is for candy. You make an outing to procure Fredagslik. Danes have some of the highest per capita consumptions of candy in the world. (This statistic does not include chocolate. Just candy.)
It feels like half of the candy sold here is some form of black licorice. That makes about half of the people here happy.
You can buy sweet licorice, salty licorice, licorice caramel, licorice gummies, licorice mints, licorice gum, licorice ice cream, licorice cookies, licorice pastries, licorice cough drops, licorice tea, licorice flavored nuts, dates with licorice, licorice jam, licorice liqueurs and just plain licorice powder to add to all of your recipes to make them taste like like – you guessed it – licorice.
To combat all that sugar consumption, there is luckily a lot of organic produce readily available. At the grocery store, the organic options are packed in plastic to keep it from touching the conventional counterparts.
All that plastic and the rest of your garbage is burned here. That heats up water which is then pumped into your house and heats your home. Those pipes are sometimes too hot to touch.
There are advertisements on the bus for plastic surgery centers which include several real life examples of bare breasts to choose from.
Mads Mikkelsen is everyone’s favorite actor. (Ok, maybe just mine currently.) But he’s Danish didn’t you know?
When the sun is out – no matter the season – Danes are outside with faces turned skyward. They will eat outside bundled in wool and scarves and fleece blankets to get that vitamin D.
CELEBRATING THE YEAR IN DENMARK
New Year’s Day is the only public holiday in Denmark that isn’t connected to an important church day. Still, most Danes are not actively religious.
Kristi Himmelfart’s Day is a public holiday, but it doesn’t celebrate a famous Dane named Kristi. See point above.
It is not a proper celebration in Denmark if it doesn’t involve kage. Cake. And singing.
Halloween did not exist in Denmark until about 10 years ago. Danes have Fastelavn which they celebrate before Lent in February where children dress in costumes and play the ancient ritual – beat the cat out of a barrel. Or they used to. Now they just whack barrels filled with candy. Lucky cats.
If you break part of the barrel first, you are the kattedronning. Cat Queen. If you break the last board down, you are the kattekonge. Cat King. Both win a paper crown to wear for the day.
You can go your whole life and never win Cat Queen or Cat King. Or find the whole almond in the risalamande at Christmas. But it’s ok. You have hygge. You are happy. It’s Denmark.
Hygge is real. Candy can be part of it. But not all of it.
Candles help. You survive the dark winter.
Danish Christmas rocks. If you accept the ritual. Don’t mess with Danish Christmas.
Winter bathing is a thing here. Even when water temps reach near freezing. It’s good for the circulation and it makes you glad i låget! Happy in the lid.
Danes may seem private, a challenge to befriend or even downright aloof. But keep trying. They don’t chat at the grocery store. Or on the bus. But once you get to know them, they are truly super interesting, funny, warm, crazy generous, loyal and up for most anything. At least once.
Velkommen til Danmark. Welcome to Denmark.