Denmark 101 – The Secret to Meeting Danes – Episode 6

Perhaps THE most common question among recently arrived internationals in Denmark is, “How do I meet Danes?”.

In this video I delve into the topic, offer suggestions and a few comments that should ease you in the process and help you better understand why building Danish friendships can, at times, require an entirely different approach than you may be familiar with in your home culture.

Don’t miss Episode 7 which builds on this video with specific advice on how to make Danish friends. See it here.

Sorry about the light! Sun came out and overwhelmed the camera.

Want to start at the beginning of the series? Jump to episode 1.

Denmark and it’s residents are a fascinating group. In this video series I leverage my observations and research to share with you insights into how to get the most of your interactions with the Danes and your time in Denmark regardless of the duration of your visit. One day or ten years – my goal is to share observations I’ve made from my 5 years of living, studying, and working among the Danes.

If you’re Danish, hopefully you’ll find this series interesting, a bit informative, and not too outlandishly inaccurate. So far the feedback and input has been great and I look forward to continuing to further exploring Danish culture with you.

If you’re a foreigner coming to Denmark, I hope this helps you build upon observations and insights the rest of us had to find out the hard way.

Topics that will be covered include the Danish approach to nudity, how to make Danish friends, how to meet Danes, Danish manners, studying in Denmark, working here, traditions, key behaviors, taxes, dating and even a look at Janteloven.

Stay tuned for future updates – this is just the beginning!  Can’t wait?  Jump to YouTube and view all of the latest episodes and while there make sure to Subscribe!

Discover Your True Self – #Studyabroadbecause

From time to time I’m asked to do interviews about my travel or study abroad experiences.  In the past I’ve been bad about sharing those here on VirtualWayfarer.  These interviews surface a different side of my travel experience and offer me a chance to offer advice through a slightly different lens.  As a result, I’ll aim to be better about linking to the most content rich of these interviews when I do them. The latest of which was an invitation to weigh in on why people should study abroad while simultaneously sharing my own study abroad story. I’ve re-produced the first two questions in the Q&A here. Make sure to click over to Wandering Educators for the full interview.

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

My story is fairly complex. As a kid, my parents homeschooled my brother and I in place of 5th and 7th grade. 5th grade was spent backpacking Europe. 7th grade was spent in a 32-foot 5th-wheel trailer as we took a year and drove across the United States. I did my first study abroad the summer of my Freshman year of College. I was incredibly nervous despite the childhood trips. It was a 6.5 week Honors study abroad program in the British Isles. I debated doing a full semester or year and really wanted to, but could never work up the nerve. The summer program ended up being a great experience. Despite loving it and really flexing my travel muscle, I still never quite worked up the courage over the remaining 3 years of my BA to do a full semester or year abroad.

When I graduated, I turned around and tossed caution to the wind. After 4 years of being worried about doing a solo semester abroad, I closed my eyes and jumped into a 3 month solo trip through Europe. I figured it was now or never. It was amazing. I returned to a full-time job in Mergers and Acquisitions, where I managed two 16-21 day trips a year for the next 3 years. Then, tired of Arizona and eager to return for a Master’s, I applied to a number of schools selected based purely on reputation, the appeal of their location, and if they had a communication program. My methodology? A list of the top 50 Universities in the world and an afternoon of research. I ended up with 8 Universities split between 4 PhD programs (trying to skip the MA) and 4 MA programs. Of these, 3 were in Europe. All of the PhDs rejected me and the MA decision came down to Georgetown in D.C. or the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Georgetown wanted $30k in tuition a year. University of Copenhagen offered me a complete tuition waiver…as well as a 2 year visa to live in and explore Europe. The opportunity to do what I hadn’t had the nerve to do previously was too enticing to resist (and that tuition waiver helped).

Despite having only spent 2 days in Denmark during a trip the year before, I relocated figuring I’d see what happened and give it a go. It was one of the best and most pivotal decisions of my life.

Nordic Conversations Are Different

Silence. It is something Americans hate. In your typical American conversation you’ll rarely find such a thing as a comfortable silence, a reflective silence, or a natural silence.  For the average American in a normal conversation there’s really only one type of silence and that is awkward silence. A type of silence that we’re taught from childhood to avoid at all costs. This stems in large part from the American conversational approach which I think can best be described as conversational layering with each person quickly layering on new overlapping information in rapid succession. Add in the fast-paced rapid-fire approach to speaking common among most Americans and you’ve got a recipe for frustration and perceived arrogance when talking to Nordics / Scandinavians (and other internationals). 

Ducks in Love – Weekly Travel Photo

Young Girl, Ducks in Flight

Situated five minutes walk from the Forum Metro station in Copenhagen there is a gorgeous little oasis.  The small park and botanical garden sits alongside the University of Copenhagen’s campus and is home to a wonderful assortment of green space, vibrant flowers, and even a small pond complete with a sprawling willow at the end of a short causeway. In late June I found myself relaxing in the park, enjoying a sunny day, and the brilliant allure of a rare summer day in Copenhagen.  Families, lovers, and friends could all be found wandering, relaxing, and reclining throughout the park. As I worked my way from Tulip bed to Tulip bed documenting the rich colors and creative patterns crafted by the gardeners a slight commotion caught my attention.

Over the giggle of a small girl who was playfully running circles on the green, the flap of duck wings, and a honk of vexation re-centered my focus on two male Mallard ducks battling for the attentions of a female. While seemingly open to one of the duck’s attentions, she was anything but willing to entertain the proximity of the other.  The result was a game of chase that led the three ducks around the pond, out of the water, into the air, and back again.  As the offending male followed in hot pursuit, flying immediately in front of the little girl, I snapped my camera up to my face and fired off a few photos.  This was the end result.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Life Abroad and the Loss of Innocence

Old Woman By Fountain

As I stepped off of the curb and down onto an old cobblestone street in the historic district of Innsbruck, I found myself musing.  A few minutes earlier a light mist, far too mild to even be considered rain, had begun to drift down.  I was surrounded by old buildings full of character, each with a wealth of stories locked away behind oft re-painted and restored walls.  As my eyes scanned the street they settled on an old woman standing beside a water fountain.  It was one of those postcard perfect moments.  The type you travel for; that brings to life all of the magic moments you fawned over, dreamed of, and were raised upon.  I paused and soaked up the details of it. It wasn’t until several days later, as I touched down in Istanbul and found myself wandering the storied city’s ancient and exotic streets, that I realized that perfect scene had been the harbinger of a significant realization.

When I made the choice to re-locate to Copenhagen for a two-year Masters program, I knew that a lot of things would change.  Chief among those was me as an individual.  One thing I never thought about or expected to change drastically was my relationship as a whole with Europe.  True, I expected it to become more familiar, but I think at a certain level I expected that I’d just have more time to relish its magic and cultural diversity.

I now realize that in re-locating to Denmark, a large chunk of Europe has lost part of the exotic mystery that made it such an exhilarating and spectacular place to visit as a child and young adult. This shift hasn’t come entirely from the year and a half I’ve lived in Denmark. If I’m to be honest I think I can trace it as a gradual progression as I took each European trip.

The last year and a half has stripped away my innocence.  It has, in a way, mirrored the shift we go through as we grow up and realize that parents can be wrong, that Santa Claus is mythological fiction, and that special effects are constructs and not reality.  I hesitate to say that the magical has become mundane, because that would be a major simplification and, in truth, grossly inaccurate. Yet, it may, in part, get at the heart of what I’ve come to realize.

Istanbul offered me something that Innsbruck did not.  That taste of discomfort, the raw unknown, the alien. It offered the exotic, the strange, the curious all in addition to the pleasures of exploring a typical city. There was a time when Innsbruck and the other German, Nordic, and British cities harbored that same allure.  Now, though, they’ve become part of me.  The architecture differs, but only slightly.  The languages and people are different, but still close enough of a kind that they feel like kindred populations, strange cousins of a sort.

I suppose what I am getting at is that after nearly two years spent living in Denmark, that once-magical-fairytale land that was Northern and Western Europe has become an extension of the United States in my mind.  Just as a trip from Arizona to Florida offered a taste of the exotic, but remained still very much a part of the world of experiences and flavor that is the United States. The same has happened for me within Europe be it Denmark, Austria, Prague or England.

It’s not a bad thing really. If anything it is a chance to better connect with and relate to these countries.  I’m also not implying that Austria and Denmark are the same.  Far from it.  Yet, a part of me is slightly sad to see that period of innocent wonder lost…not unlike the loss of the innocence and wonder of youth. It also comes with the realization that to feed my addiction to the new, to the exotic, and to that sense of mystery – I’ll have to continue to explore other parts of the world I have thus far neglected.

As Asia, Far Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of South America call to me I cannot help but be excited for the feast that is fresh discovery.  Still, I cannot help but realize that it will never be the same as my early love affair with Europe.  It is where my wanderlust was birthed, nurtured, and matured.

The lady by the fountain and countless moments like it also put my mind at ease.  It reminded me that there are still an abundance of intimate moments to be experienced here in Europe. It is a wonderous place full of incredible experiences, delectable food, new surprises, and a lifestyle that most Hollywood directors would refuse to craft into their films, claiming it to be far to ideal to be believable.

This post isn’t about regret, far from it. It is merely about the realization of lost innocence. I would make the move to Copenhagen again in a heart beat. I am love with my lifestyle, with the city, and derive endless pleasure from exploring Europe’s historic districts, winding streets, and cozy alleyways.  While every brick may no longer ooze mystery, the opportunity to spend my days casually wandering through real-life paintings is a true blessing.

In discussing this realization with friends who have pursued or are currently on a similar path, i’ve discovered that I am (perhaps unsurprisingly) not alone in this realization.  It is, in a way, inevitable.

To those of you who are dreaming of, considering, or in the process of pursuing expat life – it is a wonderful, informative, and inspiring thing.  Just be prepared and go into it striving to enjoy each and every moment while you can.  Those memories are the foundations upon which great memories and life’s context are built.

For now, I’m off to toss my headphones on, listen to some classical music, and let it serve as a soundtrack to my next adventure.

The open road calls …

Denmark – Shame on You

The Streets of Copenhagen

There are moments when dealing with bureaucratic nonsense that leave you so stupefied you have trouble believing that what you’re seeing and experiencing is real and not some complex miscommunication.  After all, no person/organization/group or agency could be that daft, right?  You want to believe that some semblance of common sense must, at some point, enter into the equation.  Or so one would think.  Of course, as experience perpetually reminds us – there are a wealth of areas out there where common sense and good taste were banished decades ago.

While I absolutely love Denmark, and the Copenhagen area, there are aspects of the Danish system that not only drive me up a wall, but for which the Danish government should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed.  In the past I’ve discussed issues related to student housing for internationals in Copenhagen, about the general apathy and incompetence of the Visa Department, about the incompetence of the Danish banks when it comes to certified checks, and how half of the stores in Denmark only accept Visa cards from Danish banks.  Today though, let’s talk packages, customs, and fees.

Last week I received a package notification slip which in and of itself was a small miracle.  You see, the Danish Post is generally incompetent. For a country the size of Arizona they seem to have a surprising level of difficulty getting packages delivered on time, or to the right location.  If your package is coming from overseas…well…good luck.  It’s destined to spend more time sitting in warehouses and lost in customs than total time in transit.

I wasn’t completely sure what the slip was for, but assumed it had to do with a product sample a US-based company had sent me to review on VirtualWayfarer. By the time I reached the post office and queued up in a long line, I had a few minutes to puzzle over the package/customs slip I’d received in the mail.  It listed some 199 DKK ($35) in fees and taxes for the package.  Knowing that the complimentary sample I’d been sent was only priced at $28 USD or 150 DKK, I was more than a little puzzled about what it might be.  Had they decided to send additional samples?  Had a mistake been made?  Had someone sent a care package from the US that I didn’t know about?

After reaching the counter, I handed over the slip and proof of identification.  The post office employee then spent the next 5 minutes searching the shelves for the package before finally finding the smushed and partially abused USPS flat rate envelope.  I confirmed that it was, in fact, the product sample which included a very visible customs declaration form  highlighting the $28 value of the item.  The package was also wrapped in the red customs tape which I’ve come to associate with some sort of VAT tax or fee.

To my surprise, I was then informed that I’d need to pay 199DKK in VAT and unavoidable fees if I wanted to pick up the package. While paying a VAT tax on the item might make sense and wouldn’t overly aggravate me – paying a 160 DKK combined fee and VAT on that fee (yup, Denmark charges taxes on fees and taxes) is ridiculous.  Annoyed, I insisted that there must be some sort of mistake.  After all, it would take a profound level of mean-spirited corruption and/or general incompetence to create a fee and tax system that would result in taxes and fees that were 130% of the cost of the actual item being sent, right?

The clerk shrugged. I rephrased my complaint.  He shrugged again. Then he told me if I didn’t want to pay the fees, I could refuse the package and have it returned to the sender. The default answer I’ve gotten from the postal folks every time I’ve mentioned the issue.  I asked him what the point was of having someone send an order or a package if you didn’t intend to actually pick it up. It generally presupposes that if you’re receiving a package that you might, you know, need that package, right? He shrugged again. Then gave me a number to call, but told me they wouldn’t do anything.

He was right.  The lady I reached when calling Post Danmark quickly explained that it was a flat, tiered fee.  I asked what the fee was for? Apparently an unavoidable import tax and VAT.  I asked if paying the VAT when shipping the package would make it possible to avoid the fee, and if the fee was a punishment designed to discourage people from paying at pickup.  Her answer?  Nope.  The fee is unavoidable and VAT etc. can only be paid when the package is received. Flabbergasted, I asked her how they could justify charging a fee that was well in excess of the original price of an item.  She didn’t care – the fee was the fee.

This isn’t just a Post Danmark and Danish Customs issue, it’s a regulatory and governmental issue.  The fact that things like this are allowed and built into the system is not only idiotic, but it ought to be criminal given the profoundly exploitative nature of it.

What possible, viable, or credible justification can there be for charging 130% fee in excess of the original purchase price AND cost of shipping on an item that is not available in any way/shape/or form in Denmark or from a Danish company?

In expressing my frustration and outrage over the incident to friends, they’ve all noted similar experiences. In short, it’s just viewed as part of the system. To me, it looks like a legal alternative to the types of bribery and extortion you’d find in many 3rd-world countries.

So, again I say Denmark, shame on you.