something rockin' in the state of Denmark?
January 3, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Is Denmark (specifically Copenhagen) a terrible or awesome place to live as an expat?

I recently got excited about the prospect of living in Copenhagen for a while (this would be further down the pipeline, but in any case the logistics aren't part of the question); I was most enthralled by the bike and ped infrastructure, which is my field of study/practice as well as a huge factor in my personal quality of life. But the more I looked into Denmark, the more it seemed that fellow foreigners had only bad things to say about their experience there-- that the people were cold, aloof, and unwelcoming, that it was too expensive, that the social scene was boring and impenetrable, etc. Does this ring true with others? Most of what I had read about the city made it seem amazing, until I read the actual thoughts of expats.

Is this just a symptom of Self-Selecting Whiners Syndrome? Or is Denmark really not a nice place to be for people who are somewhere between tourist and lifer? I've lived in a few other countries before, so I'm familiar with the general and typically-surmountable frustrations of culture shock. Is this more than that? I'm very much the type to make a great effort to learn the language and culture when I'm living abroad, and I also tend to have a pretty optimistic, good-humored attitude and thick skin when it comes to experiencing new places and people. Also of note is that many of those who I read comments from seemed to have been living in less cosmopolitan areas, outside Copenhagen-- maybe that is a factor.

I'm a mid-20s, single, US male.

posted by threeants to Travel & Transportation around Copenhagen, Denmark (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I lived there for a year. I loved it. But that was coming after living in Germany as an expat, which I did find cold and unfriendly. I found the Danes much easier going. I liked the free Danish lessons that new immigrants get. I found the city (Aarhus) pleasant to live in. But it was expensive to live there, and I'm not really into night life or anything.

My other immigrant friends there who were black, asian or otherwise noticeably not Scandinavian, had a MUCH harder time. There is a lot of xenophobia.
posted by lollusc at 8:03 PM on January 3, 2012

So I haven't lived in Denmark, but I have lived in Scandinavia, travel to various countries there, and still work with a variety of Scandinavians, so I think I have enough of a sense to make some generalizations that'd be of some use.

The people. How can I describe them? You can ride on a subway during rush hour and hear a pin drop. It's almost funereal in its silence. Working in a Scandinavian country was the only time I've not been annoyed by an open-plan office, because there was very little talking and chatter unless someone was on the phone. They're sort of the classic strong, silent type and if you're used to being fairly open and expressive in your emotions (the way Americans are), it can be like running into a brick wall.

They're not rude, persay, but you have to get to know them before they'll open up to you and they're not into histronics and expressiveness. They can also be very blunt with things in a way that'd be considered rude here in the States, but they're not being rude intentionally. They're just direct.

Now, once you get to know them, they are very warm and friendly and incredibly good friends, but you have to put in the time to get there and they don't open up as easily as people do here in the States.

Cost of living is going to be high and taxes are going to be quite high, especially if you're used to US prices. I've lived in some of the most expensive cities in the US barring New York and prices over there still make my eyes water.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:03 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find that the Danes are more warm and friendly than other Scandinavians (I say this as someone married to a Swede, so I have spent lots of time in Sweden as well as living in Denmark). It feels like they are a population of introverts, but friendly ones. Which is fine, because I am a friendly introvert too. If you are not, you might find it tricky.
posted by lollusc at 8:14 PM on January 3, 2012

I have a friend who lived in Copenhagen for a while. She's very into bikes, and said that the city is amazing for somebody with that interest. In general, she's spoken very highly of the experience.

Also, you know about Copenhagen Cycle Chic, right? I mean, it's a famous blog so you probably do if you have expertise in bike/ped stuff and are thinking about moving to CPH but just in case you don't....
posted by richyoung at 9:26 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of ex-pats in Germany describe Germans as being "cold, aloof and unwelcoming", which I've found to be completely untrue, and had I read those descriptions before I moved here, I probably would have been wary, too (I mean, who wants to live in a country full of miserable people?). But the ex-pats who say that about Germans are typically not very good at speaking German or otherwise not very well integrated, or they live in a large city like Berlin where everyone is cold and unfriendly, German or otherwise. So I think you should take ex-pat descriptions of places with quite a large grain of salt - the personality and flexibility of the ex-pat has as much to do with their perception of people as the people do.

Anyway, I suggest you go off to Denmark and do what a single young man in his mid-20s is supposed to do: take some risks and have an adventure. Maybe you won't want to stay there for the rest of your life, but you sound like you have the right kind of personality and I highly doubt you'll regret it.

It is expensive, though. Keep that in mind as you're sorting out the job and living situation.
posted by cmonkey at 10:37 PM on January 3, 2012

For a while I worked with a Copenhagen firm but did not live there, would just stay in their corporate apt on visits. Compared to experiences with similar work in Sweden and living in Finland, Copenhagen was the most cosmopolitan. While they too have the 'tall poppy syndrome' and equitable society, with their immigrant neighbourhoods, there's also an undercurrent of anarchic thought in their society that imho makes a subtle difference, particularly in the creative fields. Minority challenges may be there but my experience was more in Sweden (much worse) and Finland (not Scandinavian culture) and I probably was a little more coddled due to the shorter visits.

I'll second cmonkey's advice though

Anyway, I suggest you go off to Denmark and do what a single young man in his mid-20s is supposed to do: take some risks and have an adventure. Maybe you won't want to stay there for the rest of your life, but you sound like you have the right kind of personality and I highly doubt you'll regret it.

It is expensive, though. Keep that in mind as you're sorting out the job and living situation.

posted by infini at 11:53 PM on January 3, 2012

Have close Dane and German friends. Neither cold nor aloof. Met a lot of people in Denmark, they were wonderful.

Once a friend and I were riding bikes through Aarhus. He spotted his Grandma and he brought me over to meet her. She asked me if I liked Denmark and where else I was I going to visit. I said I did and that I was going to meet another friend in Hamburg, Germany. Grandma got a strange look in her eye, smiled and nudged me. "Oh Hamburg, I bet you will have a nice time there, no?" She was referring to the prostitutes.

So ah, they're not uptight about sex.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:54 PM on January 3, 2012

I'm Norwegian, and we generally consider Danes to be warm and welcoming compared to us (but then again, most people are!)

I've had some experience dealing with expats, and to me it seems like the biggest obstacle to feeling included is language. Yes, almost all Danes would be happy to speak English with you, but you should (as you indicated you would) make an effort to learn the language anyways. There are some subtle effects to not speaking the local language: a) people have to go slightly out of their comfort zone to speak to you, even if they are excellent English speakers, b) when you approach your local friends and they're already speaking to each other, i.e. at lunch, they have to remember to switch languages to include you, c) you won't pick up clues from people speaking around you, and d) you don't seem to be making an effort if you're not trying to learn the local language.

Danish isn't very hard for an English speaker, I think. You'll probably do fine.

Is this just a symptom of Self-Selecting Whiners Syndrome?

Yeah, I think it probably is. Just go! You know you'll regret it if you don't.
posted by Harald74 at 1:35 AM on January 4, 2012

From a German-living in-West-Swededn-ish perspective, Copenhagen strikes me as feeling like it's part of the world, as opposed to a remote kindergarden in the woods, with people generally much more open and accessible than the Swedes around where I live. When I worked there, I lived in various privately rented rooms near the city centre, and the landlords were all jolly, helpful and reasonable, occasionally even chatty. You wouldn't find the same level of openness in Gothenburg, for example.
My problem with Denmark is that I can't understand their English. Compare the level of clarity of information at, say, Schiphol airport with what comes out of the speakers at Castrup.

Other than that I found Copenhagen a beautiful city.
posted by Namlit at 2:45 AM on January 4, 2012

The people who love living in Copenhagen probably aren't making blogs about it, they are out living their new Danish life!

There is a subspecies of expats that tends to complain about the people around them and the place they are living, no matter how awesome the place is. I've seen them everywhere as an expat myself, in three different continents. You notice them because they are the ones who are proud to be and stay expats, to only hang out with other foreigners, to never learn the local language, and to generally keep their distance. You want to be the other kind of expat: has local friends, visits all the villages and their weird historical things, and knows his neighborhood better than the people who have spent a lifetime in it.

If you are getting second thoughts after reading the opinions of other expats in Copenhagen, take it with a grain of salt. Consider those as potentially true downsides to the location, for particular people. Every place has its downsides, even if overall you love-love-love it.
posted by whatzit at 3:25 AM on January 4, 2012

Sorry but only anecdotal evidence from a brief holiday trip to Copenhagen; It seemed really cool, cycling aspect is pretty amazing and most of the people that we had dealings with were quite friendly.

Its true that it is a 'relatively' expensive for Europe - compared to say Berlin, but similar to other places in the North.

How long might the placement be? If its only a year or so, I would think the benefits and experiences easily outweigh any other concerns.
posted by mary8nne at 3:35 AM on January 4, 2012

I have only visited Denmark, but have a Danish sister in law and she explained a me when I visited that the Danes, in her experience as someone that had lived in both Australia and Denmark, were a lot more reserved, she actually compared them to the Japanese. Not aloof as they might appear but they have a big fear about appearing rude and so will take a little time to open up to people. They found Australians/Americans and the like a bit overly familiar too soon.

If you go there and will only speak English you will have a hard time as while I found while there most Danish people speak very good English I was informed by my SIL most of them won't as they are worried they will make a mistake. My even attempting some Danish and being willing to make a LOT of mistakes(Danish is hard) immediately helped to break the ice.

You have to be willing to go to pubs and coffee shops, which is no great hardship as these places are great in Copenhagen. You won't be welcomed with the OMG a foreigner how exciting we must all get to know you vibe you get when you go to some countries that makes making friends so easy when traveling, but once you get past the polite reserve there are some fun times to be had. I drank some great drinks and had the best ham, cheese, marzipan and coffee of my life in Copenhagen.

I am only going on what my Sister in Law has told me and what I observed while traveling around Denmark.
posted by wwax at 7:44 AM on January 4, 2012

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