Sunday, 17 November 2013

Just speak it. My progress with Danish contd.

I've lived in Denmark for one year and twenty days. When I first got here I could, thanks to a Teach Yourself series and my husband, hold a very basic conversation if the person spoke slowly. How are you, my name is, etc etc. Now, according to my husband, I am borderline fluent in the language. I didn't think it would be this quick (and please note that I say "borderline") but I am obviously pretty proud of that achievement, so I thought I would share how I managed this. A follow up from this post.

If you have read previous posts on the blog you will know that I have a Danish husband. Before we moved to Copenhagen he taught me some basic Danish. He thought that I could have soaked up more but to be honest, with a full time job working in London this just wasn't possible. Of course if I put my mind to it and dedicated all of my spare time to it, there's no doubt I would have been better equipped when I moved over. Nevertheless, I had a bit more of a head start than a lot of people which is definitely better than nothing. If you do not have the luxury of being with a Danish partner or friend in your first days of the move, or before you have moved, then Google online courses. is a good one.

This preparation held me in good stead for language school. Like many expats here, I wasn't able to land a job before moving over to Copenhagen so once my CPR number was in order, I registered to go to language class four times a week so I could up my Danish as much as possible. The first couple of modules in language class gave me a really good grounding in terms of grammar and Danish etiquette. I also went to the Sprog Cafe they ran every Monday so I could practice what I had learnt in class with other expats and volunteers from Røde Kors (Red Cross). Considering the amount of people at the school, not a great percentage of people showed up for this which is a shame as just speaking the language is the best opportunity. If your language school offers something like this, go for it. If not, you can advertise on websites such as Couchsurfing or InterNations for a language swap - particularly if your first language is not English - or you can advertise in local cafes. Quite a few of my Danish circle are interested in other languages, particularly the Romance languages. Give it a go. If you don't have this opportunity or if it is not successful, there are meet-up groups such as The Danish Language Speakers where you meet Danes and other expats and have everyday conversations, but in Danish.

Saying that, I have now given up language school. I completed modules 1-3 and got near to the end of module 4 but I found it was no longer benefitting me. By the time I had gotten to module 4 I had switched to evening school on account of my (then new) job so I had two very long days twice a week. But it wasn't just that. Because I was putting my Danish into practice wherever I could, the stuff we were learning at language school just wasn't cutting it for me anymore. I got so much more out of, for example, picking up phrases from my sister-in-law in an evening and speaking with my in-laws whenever I could. Watching the Danish news everyday out of habit also really really helped. Back to talking about school, I also had a fairly patronising teacher - there was a German guy in my class who spoke Danish very well as he spoke it at work, however he wanted to improve his written skills. One assignment we had was to write a short story - fair enough, this will help in terms of improving one's writing skills - however when my German classmate had to read it aloud, our Danish teacher started gasping at 'exciting' parts and kept saying "woooow!" all the way through. At the end, instead of feeding back something constructive, she said to the whole class: "wow! Vi har vores egen H.C Andersen!"
Maybe it's just me, but I don't need that sort of crap when learning a language, certainly not at the age I'm at and certainly not at the level we were at where most of us were fairly proficient already in terms of what I call advanced conversational Danish. Like I said, I was picking up most things from my family and the television. The last straw for me with language school was the teacher bringing in this really old fashioned kiddie bingo game where we had to describe what was on the card. The sort of crap that we were doing in module 2 (and I found it patronising back then too). It was the last Danish lesson I went to and I don't regret it one bit.

I said in an early post of mine that language school will not be the golden ticket to fluency and I really do stand by that. There is only so much that you will pick up in a classroom environment - for me it was the basics. I then pretty much took the language and ran with it. I just spoke it. I am now at a stage where I can reserve a table at a restaurant over the phone, I have most conversations with Danish friends and family in Danish and people very very rarely now switch to English whereas a year ago it would be the source of many a frustration in the supermarket, restaurant, etc. It wasn't easy to get to the standard that I am at and I still have quite a way to go before I consider myself completely fluent but I did get over the hump just through sheer perseverance. If you feel you haven't quite gotten over that hump then you just need to keep going.

Keep practising. Keep talking. You'll get there - just speak it.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Expat experiences of a native Dane (who also happens to be my husband)

Wow, I've not written for a while. I have started a couple of posts with random musings but I'm not happy enough with them to post them. So in order to get this up and active again, I asked my husband to write a post. Before we get into this, let me introduce him a little so you have an idea of what he's like.

Philip comes from Frederiksberg. For those of you that don't know Copenhagen, Frederiksberg is a municipality in Copenhagen. Philip has lived abroad three times (USA, Italy and the UK) and is very well travelled - we actually met in a Manila hostel. We now live in Vesterbro (soon relocating to Frederiksberg) and Philip works from home as a translator. So, his own expat experience coupled with 1) him being a native Dane and 2) his talent for writing I thought made him a good candidate for a guest post. Here he writes about his experiences when he lived in Southern Italy. Enjoy!

"When Nicola asked me to write this, I agreed immediately. Then I started wondering what I had gotten myself into. After all, what did I know about relocating to Denmark? I thought for a while about writing from my own point of view about expats I had met in Denmark, where they had gone right and wrong, but it seemed awfully pompous. Then it dawned on me that I actually had relocated to Denmark. Back in 2002 and 2003 I spent about nine months studying English in Washington, two years later I went to Italy for three months to teach English, and then about six years after that, in 2011, I lived in London for about a year and a half. Each time I came back to Copenhagen, in effect relocating.

As I’m sure you can guess, returning to my home country was not much of a shock. The time I spent in southern Italy, however, was. I consider these three months one of the most challenging, frustrating, and rewarding experiences of my entire life. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t have any contacts that I had met in person, and I was going to teach for the first time in my life. I had signed up for something called the Comenius program, an internship as an assistant teacher, and all I had was a place to live and a women’s bicycle with Winnie the Pooh stickers on it to take me the 2.5 kilometers to school and back. As I discovered, life in southern Italy is quite different from northern Europe. The days were brutally hot, the nights were warm and soothing. I found people to be very friendly, almost exclusively, but they rarely spoke any English, and my Italian was clumsy at best.

I decided to sign up for Italian classes. They were free, and at first they seemed perfect. The teacher spoke nothing but Italian. She was friendly, yet strict about pronunciation and grammar. But she did have a habit of being on her phone a lot. Even after the lessons had officially started, she would leave the room to talk on the phone, sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes. Adding to the problem, she had been burdened by some cost-saving decisions by the school management, which meant she had to accept a few Italian people, aged sixty or seventy, who were illiterate. They were kind people, trying to make up for lost time, but every class had a portion allocated to them – our teacher would write letters on the blackboard, which frankly was a waste of time for the rest of us. This went on for a few weeks, until further cost-cutting led to more newcomers. This time it was “people with problems” as our teacher called it, people of lower than average IQ. They were not there to learn per se, simply to be watched. Every once in a while one of them, Vito, would get up in the middle of class and leave, and our teacher had to chase him down the hallway, telling him: “Vito, no.” It was getting so that we barely had any time to learn in class, so I decided to quit. I still had Italian TV. I still had a beginner’s and an intermediate Italian book, which I would read many times over. Also, whenever I went to this one café to use their internet and have a coffee, the owners would talk to me, perfectly happy that I didn’t say much and often had to ask them to repeat themselves. They knew that I taught at the local high school, which somehow made them like me. One of them would talk at great lengths about the Roman empire, getting into complex grammar and speculation, which caused me problems. Sentences like: “If the Roman empire had not fallen, then…” Another guy working there had trouble understanding why I wasn’t fluent in Italian. He had a theory that words in Italian mirrored what they meant. “Cavallo!” he would say with a majestic air, as if it were obvious that it meant “horse”. A third person was always exasperated with the second person, asking me to forgive him.

As this was all in Italian, I was continually at a disadvantage. I would miss parts of sentences, sometimes vital parts. Embarrassment would ensue. But I kept getting a little bit better. This turned out to be an advantage in my job as a teacher. For example, I was initially thrown by the fact that my students got the words “time” and “weather” mixed up, until I learned that they were both “tempo” in Italian. Sometimes, people would invite me for social gatherings and the Italian that I had picked up would once again be a considerable advantage. At the end of the three months I had made a few friends (none of whom I have any contact with today, but I still consider them friends), and I was able to converse with people in Italian if they spoke slowly.

Relocating to Denmark is challenging in a different way. People tend to be very willing to speak English, which can be a disadvantage when you want to learn Danish. It might be harder to find that place where they’ll talk to you in Danish non-stop. But there are always ways, there are books, there is television, there is risking embarrassment to get better at a foreign language. People tend to pick up on it if you’re willing to invest your time and energy in learning the language of their country, and from there on all elements feed off one another. Knowing Danish makes reading Danish more fun, it makes watching Danish television more satisfying, it makes it easier to meet new people. The frustration might still poke its head out, but you will progress. And if something truly isn’t working – like lessons – face up to it and find a different way. 

Sometimes that’s where the fun lies."

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Expectations: part 1 - service

Even before I moved to Denmark, I tried to get actively involved in the online expat community. I distinctly remember an expat here writing "you wait until you get here ... " in response to one of my posts, I imagine with a virtual wagging finger and evil cackle. Apparently I was naive in stating that my experience with Danes had been positive. Apparently that was impossible. Apparently service is just DREADFUL. Apparently this. Apparently that.

To be honest, I'm unsure what people expect. Service wise, the majority of arguments I have read cite the kassedame at Netto/Bilka/Brugsen etc., or people who work in the kommune. Friends wise, I have heard too many arguments on those oh-so-cold Danes. Jobs wise, I should be shocked that I got a job as a foreigner given how workplaces here will never give up a precious job opening to a foreigner. Costs wise, I should probably be surprised that I'm not pleading poverty.

So - I'm going to share my experiences and thoughts. So I'll start with service. My Danish husband and I enjoy good service. Nay, we as the customer deserve good service. But our expectations of what good service actually is differs from place to place. I work in retention marketing (and love it) and it is my job to provide a good user experience and customer service so I have very high standards, depending on the place and what I expect to get from the experience. My husband is just ever so slightly more forgiving than me, but it's a fine line.

Anyway, back to topic, let's talk food shopping. When doing the food shop, I have absolutely no desire to talk to anyone. My goal is to go in, get food, pay, pack, cycle home. I don't go in to make friends. I don't go in for conversation. Am I strange for this? I have read so many people moaning about how the service is bad in supermarkets. But what should we be expecting here? A full on conversation? How's your day going/how are the kids/etc? Don't think so. The cashiers in my local supermarkets (I'm in the Vesterbro district of Copenhagen) will always say "hav en god dag!" with a smile before quickly moving onto the next customer which I think is nice enough - like I say, I'm not in there to make friends and a miserable face at the till will not make me boycott a supermarket.I have to say though - the service in the independent places close to me, such as the greengrocers and smaller delis, tends to be great. Particularly a lovely little French deli near Frederiksberg called Le Gourmand, especially if the older guy is behind the counter.

Now for restaurants/bars/hotels. THIS is where I want good service. I'm not in there to make friends, but I am in there to potentially make a long term relationship with the place. If I get bad service in a bar/restaurant etc., I will and have boycotted places. The only places in terms of this sort of service where I'm more forgiving are the bodegas. You need to be tough to run one of those bad boys and I actually quite like the rough around the edges feel about it. A sweet smile just wouldn't feel right. From a restaurant I expect to be welcomed with a smile, I expect menus to be handed to me - not shoved or thrown - and I expect to have the full attention from whoever is serving. I think that's fair. On my part, I always go in with a smile as well. I pay particular attention to service in these establishments and I always remember good service. Always. It makes me want to go back. Anyway, my experiences here in Copenhagen haven't actually been that bad. I can count on one hand the number of places I have boycotted due to bad service. But, particularly recently, I have had a lot of brilliant service. Maybe it's because I've been paying more attention recently and so I've made more of a mental note, but who cares why. The fact is that good service does exist here. So, I've listed the places at the end of the blog where I have had good service, because 1) I think they deserve to be visited and 2) they do an excellent job of rebutting the broken record of "Denmark = bad service". Copenhagen isn't that bad. Trust me. I do however need to maintain that we as the customer have our part to play in service too, albeit smaller - always go in with a smile and good manners.
With bars my expectations are a little lower than restaurants but still high - I once went to a bar with my friend visiting from the UK and it took approximately three minutes before I was served, even though I was the only one there. One girl was crouching down behind the till, fiddling with the bar's iPod, and the guy standing behind the bar had his back to the beer taps and was chatting away to his co-worker. When I finally got served it was almost with a look of annoyance. Needless to say, we drank our beers and then got the hell out of there. I haven't been back since. (To be fair however I tend to stick with bodegas in terms of bars so I don't have *that* much experience with bars so I hope they're not all like that!)
Hotels ... well, as I live here I haven't had that much need for a hotel. However I did stay in Hotel Kong Arthur in the centre of Copenhagen for my wedding, and we've recently come back from a short trip to Jutland - we stayed in a hotel just outside Horsens for one night. But in both (very different) hotels, the service we received was great. Hotel Kong Arthur were extremely professional and very friendly - my parents stayed at the same hotel for five nights and were very happy with the service there. No rudeness. The hotel in Horsens was a different but just as pleasant experience - the girl on reception when we arrived was genuinely friendly and the guy on reception on checkout was just as friendly. As soon as he learnt that I was from the UK he switched to English but not because he thought I didn't understand Danish (as it was, his accent was quite difficult to understand so I was relieved!) but because he seemed quite proud that he had lived there for a while and just wanted to converse. I was made to feel very welcome in different ways by both hotels.

Service businesses e.g. cycle shops/mechanics. I expect to be treated with respect here - I'm the customer and they are the expert. We don't own a car so we don't use mechanics but we have used three cycle places since moving here. Two out of the three offered professional help, one in particular was very friendly, and the third one were just plain rude (we haven't been back there either).

I could go on, I really could. I've been making a point of paying real attention to the service I get in different places this month - I have to admit that I've had more good than bad. But then again - I research the hell out of pretty much everything, especially restaurants. TripAdvisor is my bible in that regards. If there are too many comments about bad service then I won't risk it.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to reassure people that it's not all bad here. Good service doesn't lack - you just need to know where to go. To help, here are the eateries where I got good service - and good food.

Spisehuset 56
Les Trois Cochons
Marv & Ben
Peder Oxe
Pintxos Tapas


Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Another post about networking

Whether you are already an expat in Denmark or whether you are still thinking of moving to Denmark, you will probably have read on every single expat website the importance of building a network. My blog is not excluded from this - I have mentioned in past posts about the job hunt that networking is important. The thing is, you read about building networks so much that it almost seems like flippant advice. Take it from me, though - it's not flippant. It genuinely is important.

How do I find work in Denmark? 
<insert generic job sites>, <government websites>, oh, and networking is important.
Oh. No new info, I guess.

So yes, many many posts on why networking is important in your job hunt, but fewer posts on how to do it. When I have mentioned the importance of networking to people in person, I can see that they have heard that advice many times and it is often met with a slight nod of the head, a yes-I-have-heard-that-already answer, or even an eye roll (this actually happened to me once). But what the eye-roller and many others didn't and don't seem to realise is that by talking to me and/or others, be it at language school or an expat event, they are networking. Every time you shake hands with somebody new, every time you are introduced to somebody even in a casual way, every time you chat with people at language school, you are networking.

Take the eye-roller. That irritated me. I had been asked a question and I had tried to give practical advice, which was met with what I think is an incredibly rude gesture. But what if I had actually been in a position to help this person? As far as this lady was concerned, I was just another expat in Denmark at language school, learning the complicated language that Danish is. But for all she knew, I could have worked in recruitment. She could have had the skill set for a job I was trying to fill. But after being met with that attitude, I didn't really want anything further to do with her other than be civil. It's the way I feel about bad service - treat me badly and I will put up with a bad waiter (for example) for as long as I am forced to, but once our time is over I will not come back and certainly not recommend the establishment. I'll give another example closer to what we're talking about, in one of my old jobs I had an assistant. She started out well but then started to come in late, started to come back from lunch nearly drunk and then got into the habit of coming in hungover. She soon left, and I was relieved. A few months down the road she applied for a job where a lady worked with whom I had a very strong professional relationship with strong mutual trust. She had gotten the CV and saw the old workplace, where she knew I worked. She called me for a recommendation and of course I could not give a glowing one, after the behaviour I had seen. We call that burning bridges.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the frustrations of job hunting in Denmark and I know it's difficult - I was unemployed for seven months with very little to apply for, let alone have a chance of interview. However, even if you have heard the old networking advice for the umpteenth time do not eye-roll, do not dismiss -  for when you are talking, no matter where you are, you are networking without realising.

Still with me? Good.

So yes, I believe that you are nearly always networking. Whether posting on an expat forum, LinkedIn (especially if you are posting on LinkedIn), going along to an expat event or language school then you are networking.

Please do not get sucked into the downward spiral of moaning and eye-rolling, no matter how frustrated you are with the job search as, again, you do not know who might be able to help you. You won't be able to help feeling frustrated but use this energy in the search for a job. I got SO frustrated but every knock back just made me more determined. I got rejected from one job after the first interview stage and when I spoke to the interviewer for feedback I asked him at the end of the conversation if he minded me adding him on LinkedIn and he was happy to oblige - as I kept it professional and friendly, I knew that if I heard of another opening in that company then I would be able to contact him and ask him about it.

And what would a blog post of mine be without a list? Here's a very quick guide on how to network at different places.

1. LinkedIn (ok, so you may have read this before - I always write about it)
- Join Denmark based groups relevant to your job field
- Introduce yourself and explain your career experience but do NOT use this introduction to ask for a job
- Participate in discussions - this is your chance to shine and show off your knowledge. By doing this you are getting your name out there and showing the Danish job market what you are made of and what you can offer
- beg for a job in your first post
- simply click 'Add Connection' without any personal message as you will more than likely be ignored, and I fully agree with this. I hold my hands up as guilty for when I first arrived - I thought that simply by trying to add people in similar circles that I would really up my network. Some people added me without questioning but one day somebody simply said: "we have a policy of not connecting with people we do not know" - was taken aback at first but I now agree. Networking is not just about having 500+ on LinkedIn - it's about what you do with the existing ones you have, and building up quality contacts over time - not quantity.

2. Expat events*
- If, like me, you are a member of InterNations then try to research who will be at the event
- Again referring to InterNations, message one of the guests to tell them that you noticed they worked for Company X/have experience in Y/etc .. and would they like to meet at the meet up for half an hour? There, you can exchange email addresses and LinkedIn info
- For all expat events; look for somebody on their own. They will be willing to talk to you and it will be less scary than trying to infiltrate a group conversation. Introduce yourself confidently, smile, explain what brought you to Denmark, what you are doing now, and what you would like to do in the future. Perhaps they know somebody ...
- Firm handshake. Always a firm handshake.
- If there are no meet-up groups that suit you, why not start your own? I met a very good professional contact of mine via a marketing professionals meet up group that he started. Before I got my permanent job I was seriously considering going freelance - I happened to mention this to him and he suggested that he make some introductions for me (two weeks after that conversation I got a permanent job but it is a good connection to have there)
- stand alone. Do not wait for people to come to you but at the same time, do not force yourself on a group either. Introduce yourself with "hi, would you mind if I joined you?" - nobody will mind.
- get into the habit of slagging off Denmark. No matter how you feel about the place, this is not the time nor place to do it.

3. Language school
- Smile!
- Talk to your classmates in the break. Put down your phone and talk to people. Get to know them. Eventually you'll know what their professional background is, they'll know yours, you can exchange details for Facebook but also get their LinkedIn details. Use each others' networks. Who knows who knows who.
- see the second DO NOT under 'Expat events'. Although language school is more relaxed, if you get into the habit of slagging off Denmark/Danes with others, you'll get sucked down into a negative spiral and it'll start to show in the way you present yourself. By all means, voice a frustration but come back with a solution: "I feel X way, but to rectify this, I shall do Y .. " etc.

4. Online forums inc. expat groups on Facebook
- similar to LinkedIn. Introduce yourself and give a little bit about your professional background, why you are in Denmark
- start a relevant thread that is relevant for you. Do not piggy back onto the back of somebody else's thread. Otherwise who exactly are responders supposed to give advice to?
- always acknowledge when somebody has replied to you. Remember that nobody is obliged to give you any advice so when they do, thank them for it. When people ignore my advice on online forums, it is tantamount to the eye rolling girl - I do not like it as I believe this to be rude, and will be very unlikely to help them again (I will however give the poster the benefit of the doubt as they may have not seen it the first time)
- ignore people's advice

There you go. It's been (another) long post, but I hope you found it useful. Any other tips please leave below.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Things on the bicycle lanes

 I'm a relatively new cyclist in Copenhagen. Before I moved to Copenhagen I hadn't been on a bike for 17 years. And that was at an outdoor pursuits week in Wales. Not the same. It took a while before I was able to head out on the bike on my own but I'm a lot better than when I first started. However the Copenhagen cycle lanes are not filled just with everyday cyclists. No no. I have made a list of ten things that I have seen (well, nine I have seen ... the last one is a tale told to me by my husband) on the lanes local to me.

Some of these are quite impressive, some of these are dangerous. Obviously do not try these yourself. Especially drunk cycling - I am vehemently against this.

1. Someone rolling up a cigarette
2. Someone sending an SMS
3. People who dismount the bike with that graceful arabesque - I CANNOT get the hang of that.
4. People who carry the weekly food shop on the handlebars
5. A man cycling in flimsy flip-flops
6. A lady cycling in stiletto heels
7. A very drunk guy who could barely walk unlock his bike and then cycle away in a straight line
8. Roller bladers and mopeds (I HATE the mopeds on the bike lanes - get onto the road!)
9. Eating a gelato whilst cycling one-handed
10. My husband also told me a "legendary" story of a guy he invited to a party at his old college dorm. My husband had asked him to bring some spare chair, the guy turns up with two wooden, non-foldable chairs. Husband asks whether he drove; no. Husband asks whether he cabbed it; no. Husband asks how he carried them; the guy had hung them off his forearm and cycled up. Impressive (but not recommended).

Anyone seen anything impressive, funny or just downright weird?

Friday, 31 May 2013

Getting a job in Denmark

Ok, I'm slightly later with this post than I thought I'd be. I haven't got any excuses. But I am back!

I would like to state that this blog post isn't going to be yet another post which is just littered with tips you've already heard about getting a job in Denmark. I've mentioned my top ones in this post and I'll also add more tips at the end of this post. The aim of this post is to be about what you have the potential to be in Denmark. Read on.

I start my job on Monday. I'm really looking forward to it and I'm really looking forward to becoming part of the work force again. I'm going to be working in a similar role to the role I had back in London and I am hoping I'll be able to bring something positive to the team, drawing on past experience. I now joke to my Danish friends that I'll be paying for my own Danish lessons now - this is technically true as I'll be a tax payer. Trust me, this is the ONLY time I'll be excited about paying Danish tax.

Anyway, I was sitting in language class a couple of weeks ago. It was a module 3 class and it consisted of very experienced and highly educated women. All of whom had perfect English and a module 3 level of Danish which is to say, intermediate. All of them are capable of holding a decent conversation in Danish. The lesson we were on was, I think, about job descriptions and CV writing. I think. This particular teacher is of an older generation and isn't very exciting. I tended to drift in her lessons, which was a shame. I did try not to. But I digress.

So as I said, the lesson was about work, in some form. If I recall correctly, we were playing 'spot the odd one out' within the jobs. Ridiculously easy for a module 3 class, but hey ho. One of the jobs that came up was rengøringsassistent. For those of you that don't speak any Danish, this means 'cleaning assistant'. Our teacher read it out and said "this is probably going to be the first job that you get in Denmark".

It STUNG. Did I mention the make up of our class on that day? All of us there were highly educated, professional women, who had professional backgrounds and careers that we had formed in our home countries. We ranged from IT engineers to sales and marketing managers. We had gone over this in class when describing our education. Did I mention that the level of English was very high and that we all had the ability to hold a decent conversation in Danish? And that all of the other ladies spoke at least one other European language? And yet, despite all of this, our language teacher was flippantly just telling us that cleaning was the first job we would probably get?

I object!

Now, I don't usually get drawn into these arguments. I am certainly not going to use this as an excuse and finger point the Danes as being ignorant as this was just one person, and I'm not going to judge an entire country on this person. I'm not a fan of popular sweeping generalisations. But, speaking to others, this is a misconception held by some (mainly older) Danes. It grated me. It's a problem when highly educated foreigners are not seen as such, with these sorts of assumptions made without even asking about individual backgrounds. I know, I know .. I was lucky in that I had the financial backing of my husband, and also my own savings. I know that not all foreigners who move to Denmark have this and that, ok, sometimes in order to pay the bills one will have to get a more menial job to make ends meet. But I don't think that this is where people should start, if you have a professional career with high qualifications to back this up.

However my main issue here is the fact that the sentence was "this will probably be your first job in Denmark". Why 'probably'? Why not "if you can't get into your profession and need to pay the bills, you may want to consider doing X, Y or Z". I feel there should be a little more understanding and encouragement, particularly from language schools who are surrounded by foreigners every day. It was the flippancy of the comment that annoyed me more than anything. People who work with expats everyday need to understand that we ARE educated, we HAD careers at home, we ARE experienced and we CAN contribute a lot to the country. Therefore people who work with expats should be more encouraging, don't you think? I'm the sort of person who, if told that I can't do something, will happily ignore that person and try my hardest to prove them wrong. I have proved my teacher wrong with the fact that I got that job. I never wanted to give up and it has paid off. But not everyone is like me.

What I will say to anyone reading this who is thinking about moving to Denmark who wish to further their career here, please please please do as much research as you can before applying for that visa/buying that plane ticket etc. I strongly believe that highly educated foreigners can contribute a lot to Denmark and can continue their careers here but it will not happen overnight. We are still in crisis and we will, most of the time, be competing against highly educated and experienced Danes who have an established network here. No-one has a right to a job over anyone but it is dog eat dog, and you need to be prepared for it. Here's how to research.

Any highly educated professional worth their salt will have an up to date and detailed LinkedIn profile. Make sure that you list your responsibilities and, if applicable, the results you achieved. Really sell yourself on your personal profile. There's no time for being overly modest. Really tell the world what you have achieved. Always question: why should Denmark hire me? What can I offer? Also join Denmark based groups which are based around your profession. For example, my career is in marketing. I therefore joined a Scandinavia based marketing group, and a Denmark based direct marketing group. Join in on discussions and get your name out there. My key piece of advice here is do not simply join these groups asking for a job. This is a key time to showcase your skills and expertise. Show these companies what you can offer - treat it like a stage.

Online expat groups
Join as many as you can and be active. See if you can find like minded professionals in these groups who are in your field of expertise and ask them how they found their job, do they have any advice to give, are there any specific pointers that they can give? I would advise against private messaging anyone at random - I get several people private messaging me on one forum, asking me questions which I cannot answer as they are not relevant to me. One person asked me how to make it as a masseuse in Denmark - I haven't the faintest idea as it's not my field. What I did advise is that he posted the question on the main forums where he could meet people who knew. Once you find somebody like this, then I think it's ok to private message them (but ask their permission first). Here's a few groups which are good for newcomers and would-be arrivals. A quick google will bring up similar groups - I don't think you can join too many. (this one is great as there are a lot of Danes here too)

Get a feel for the job market
Before you even consider applying for a visa, before you even consider spending money on a plane ticket, check out the job market. Look at your field and see if there are any patterns in what companies are looking for. Is there anything in your skill set that you could add before you move to Denmark? Remember that employers of any nationality like to see initiative. For example, the Danish marketing scene required a lot of people who knew about search engine optimisation (SEO for short). Although I knew the concept, I didn't know more than that. And so, this blog was born. I wanted to see if I could improve my skills (and also keep my web analytics skills sharp). So although I didn't have concrete experience in a work environment, I was and am able to show that I had the initiative to fill that gap in one way or another. Is there anything similar that you could do? Could you start a blog about your thoughts on your field and where it's going? It could get your name out there. Just a suggestion.
Jobsites on this post and more useful links here (scroll down to the comments as there are loads more suggestions).

So, in a nutshell - if you want to continue your career over here then aim for that! Do not listen to anyone who tells you that your first job will "probably" be something menial. If you are qualified and able, then you are more than capable over here, trust me. However, at the same time, it is still difficult - so please do as much research as you can. Don't move over blind.

EDIT: Very important to state that furthering your career here will very much be industry dependent. Furthering a marketing career will be easier (not necessarily easy, but easier) than furthering a law career. I don't think I need to explain why. But again, I will reiterate that it is absolutely vital to do as much research as you can before even thinking about applying for a visa. Lots of research will not guarantee you an immediate job but it is a lot better than moving over in the dark.

That's the end of that post ... feels good to get back into writing again. As always, do share your thoughts and experiences.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

I'm back from honeymoon and ready to blog!

Just not right this minute. I have so much to talk about and am planning to write over the weekend, if not this evening.

Good news, though - I got a job! A real marketing job and everything! I really am so pleased. More details on that to follow.

Will write soon,


Friday, 12 April 2013

Reason for my brief hiatus

I have not posted for ages! Reason is -. I got married at the weekend! All my energy has been thrown into the last minute jobs and seeing friends and family for the first time in a long, long time. It was a brilliant day and a mix of both Danish and British traditions. I'll write something more extensive when things have calmed down a bit but for now, have a picture:

Monday, 25 March 2013

Recommended websites for an expat in Denmark

Hi everyone,

I frequent many expat online communities and have found that I am posting the same links in all of them. Sooooo, I thought it might be helpful if I had a post which contains recommended reading for any expat, whether new, old or would-be. I hope this will be of use.

If you are already an expat in Denmark, chances are that you have already heard of Dagmar Fink, the woman behind Worktrotter. The Worktrotter website has plenty of great advice for the newly arrived expat or indeed the expat who might be finding settling in Denmark a challenge (who hasn't). Dagmar has also written two very useful guides - the Worktrotters Guide to Denmark and Business Dances With Danes - Decoding Danish Workplace Culture. Dagmar has helped many an expat settle into life here and regularly gives talks - keep your eye out for her, she is an inspiring woman.

Expat In Denmark - blog
The website itself has very similar links to the Worktrotter website. However I really love the blog on this website. The contributors are made up of both Danes and expats alike and the blog posts give both personal experience and advice at the same time. My favourites are this post by Hannah West regarding starting your own business and this post by Anna, who documents her experiences of being a "trailing spouse".

Københavns Kommune
Local government website for Copenhagen. If you are living in other parts of Denmark then look up the city name followed by 'kommune' e.g. Aarhus kommune. The ones I know of all have their websites in English as well as Danish so I would think it is the same throughout.

Job portal for Denmark. All in Danish however a few of the job postings, particularly within sales and marketing, can be found in English.

Have I missed any obvious ones out? Feel free to leave them below.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Language progress and a bit of punctuality

So, yesterday and today were all about my Danish 3.2 exam which I, me being me, absolutely cacked myself over (not literally) due to nerves, even though I know my Danish is good. If you haven't already, read my previous post on me and the Danish language.

Anyway, I passed. Woohoo! The ladies examining us complimented me on having just a slight accent which I am very pleased with - the soft d and letter ø drive me nuts. Not sounds one has in English. I don't care about having an accent, though. It's the only time I, as an English speaker from Essex, can have an exotic accent.

After my verbal exam this morning, I realised I was late for a hairdresser appointment. My friends and family know that I HATE being late. I am never late. Never. Whenever my friend Amanda throws a house party she always bets with her husband that I will be the first guest, even if I am 15 minutes fashionably late. She's right - I always am. It's one thing I like about Denmark too and I guess you could say that I have always had one Danish characteristic within. But yes, in Denmark you throw a house party and say 7pm, your doorbell goes at 7pm. Anyone coming later will text or call. I like that. You know where you are. Though it did throw me the first time I threw a party here. I naively assumed British fashionable lateness of one hour and then found myself greeting friends with my hands covered in minced pork as the food wasn't ready (I was making Filipino lumpia - they are brilliant) and so had to entertain my guests by talking to them from my corner station of the kitchen by the deep fat fryer when I wanted to be preparing a cocktail for them. Brilliant hostess skills. That taught me a valuable lesson.

Anyway, back to today and back to the Danish language. After realising I was leaving school at the time when my appointment was booked for I panicked, called the hairdresser and when the phone was answered I blabbered an apology, said I had been delayed, said I was on my way and apologised again ... in Danish. Why am I telling you this? Because it was the natural language my mind chose, if I can put it like that. I didn't consciously think: Right. 'Forsinkset' means 'late' and bestilt en tid is the equivalent of have an appointment. Let's hash something together, oh brain of mine. It was subsconscious. Almost inevitably, there came a time where I had to switch to English as I just didn't have the Danish vocabulary (or indeed the time) to root around in my memory for the word ... well, I can't remember what it was. Whatever word it was has since crept back into my memory but I hope you get the point in that the fact that I subconsciously chose Danish as the go-to language whilst my brain was in panic mode.

I have a Danish fiancé with whom I practice speaking and, to a lesser extent, reading (I always feel like a child when I read aloud to him ... just feels a bit wrong). I know that I am lucky in that respect. However, I also do other thing on my own. Ladies and gentlemen, please find below Another Blogger's Guide To Learning Danish.

  • Treat language school as a language tool and not your golden ticket to fluency. I do flourish in a classroom environment but due to the fact that it's very much A Lesson, you may not speak that naturally there and perhaps place more focus on getting everything correct instead of relaxing into a conversation. I use my lessons for learning the grammar and, of course, practising my speech but I simply see it as a necessary learning tool. Not a sure fire way to get fluent.
  • Label everything in your flat/house with the Danish word for whatever it is. I took Scotch tape and wrote on that in permanent marker. Pictures in this post here. It goes without saying to make sure it's not the sort of tape that pulls paint from walls.
  • Actively think in Danish. This is more for those who take lessons at language school or are following an at home program which teaches you common sentences. It won't come naturally (hence "actively think") so  start with little sentences like jeg kan godt lide pasta (I like pasta) when eating pasta or jeg skal i sprogskole nu (I'm going to language school now) when you leave for language class. Admittedly this takes a little more knowledge of the language. But when you do learn these phrases from school/CD-ROM/internet, just try to insert them into your brain in everyday life. It does work.
  • Speak, speak, speak, speak, speak. Yep, it's very easy to get by in Denmark without speaking a single word of the language. Most Danes, particularly here in Copenhagen, speak great English, if not fluently. But it's like a you-don't-ask-you-don't-get sort of thing. If you don't speak Danish, you don't hear Danish. If a shopkeeper/hairdresser/waiter/svigermor/friends reply to your Danish in English, be stubborn and reply in Danish. If they persist, simply tell them that you would like to practice. Speaking from my own experience, when Danes switch to English to you this is not a sign of frustration, it is actually a sign of politeness. I have asked Danes about why they switch and they always answer: because it would be easier for that person to understand me than if I speak Danish. However, they would be happy to help in Danish. Just ask!
  • Get a tandem partner. My friend from language school got herself two tandem partners by putting a notice up in a local café. This is easier for people who have a language other than English. I think what she does is great - she tells them not to teach her grammar, as she learns this from school, but to just speak. Her conversational level is great, I think. Ask on Couchsurfing, Internations, etc. (By the way, if anyone wants to learn Danish in exchange for Italian, let me know - I have one very interested Dane who would be very interested in swapping languages this way!)
  • Language exchange. My Language Exchange was posted by my language school on Facebook. There's also the Meetup group for Danish speakers.
  • Immerse yourself in the Danish language. Watch TV. Listen to the radio. Rent Danish films from your local library. Listen to people in cafés. Read children's books. Make sure you're taking it in all the time. It needs to constantly be going through your head.

Wow. This was only meant to be a quick post but that is some length (snigger). I hope you can see that, despite rumours, the Danish language is not impossible to learn. Any further tips on learning Danish would be very much appreciated. Just leave below and we'll continue the discussion.

Over to you ....

Saturday, 16 March 2013

You won't feel upbeat all the time ... and that's ok

I know. My last post was about how one should choose to flourish in Denmark, well any country that isn't 'home', as long as one applied a positive attitude. I still mean that. However even though I do maintain that having a positive attitude will get you further than fuelling negativity, even positive people like myself will get moments of feeling a little lost and sometimes a little hopeless. It doesn't mean that I'm going to give up - that's not in my vocabulary for one thing - but it is ok to have these feelings as you can use them to spur you on.

Even though my last post is less than a week old, I have been feeling pinches of uncertainty since I was on my flying visit to the UK four weeks ago. I'm sure that many can relate to feeling like you just don't quite belong back home. I guess I found myself in limbo. Although I'm happy in Copenhagen it's still very much 'belongs' to my fiancé; however when I was in London I didn't feel at home either, I'm not certain on the reason why but probably a lot to do with the fact that I don't have a base there anymore. I was very much London's guest.

I was inspired to write this post early this morning - I'm talking 3.30am early due to my inconsiderate overboer inviting their noisy drunk friends back to their place to carry on drinking above our heads - I couldn't sleep so I looked at the time on my phone and, because I couldn't sleep, I checked all manner of social media for an hour. Including LinkedIn. One of my former colleagues, who I think very highly of indeed, had changed her title. She has been promoted. In fact, three of them have. When I left we were all on the same level. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy for her because she really deserves it. But, and I don't know whether this was due to me tired and emotionally strung due to the inconsiderate neighbours,it reminded me that despite all my determination to be employed within two months I had been well and truly left behind in the professional sense. Being awake too early has got to be the worst time for these sorts of thoughts as you have so much time to process them and hence, not go back to sleep. It's annoying. But it still irked me. And then the "ifs" came wading in. "If I'd stayed I probably would have been promoted too", "if I'd stayed then I'd still be in the 'marketing loop'", "if I'd stayed ... etc".

But would I be happy? I don't know. The last job (where three people have been promoted) I had I was in tears at home and in the office at least twice a week and that includes my last week there. Had I been promoted, there's a chance that would have meant even longer hours, more work from home after hours and more stress.
So am I seeing things through rose tinted glasses because I still haven't settled properly? Maybe. Probably. In fact, I know I am.
Do  I feel stupid that I haven't got a job yet? Stupid, no. Disappointed, yes. Frustrated, definitely. But it IS tough. The last place I called for feedback following yet another rejection told me that I had made it down to the final 15 out of a couple of hundred applications. I just didn't quite make it due to the tough competition. So it's not because I am unemployable.

The good thing is (there's that positive attitude!) that I am happier since leaving London. I have found my love of writing, I am keeping up to date with marketing tools by volunteering at an expat initiative and I am learning a new language - being bilingual is something I have wanted to do since I was 8 years old. And I'm fulfilling that. It's very easy to look at things we haven't got and get upset but it doesn't help if that's one's sole focus. However having a little weep from time to time is fine. It's normal. I am positive but that doesn't mean I walk around with a smile plastered on all the time. As long as you take action from it and remember why you made the move in the first place. When people, be they expats here, Danes or friends in UK, ask me how I'm finding Copenhagen I will answer honestly, and if I am feeling down about something when the question is posed I will, without fail, also tell them what I am doing in order to start turning the negativity around. I have written the two major worries I have when I have these moments of doubt. I hope that you will be able to gain something from them in some way.

The longer I am unemployed the longer people will think that I'm no longer current in marketing
I am still current in marketing. In fact, probably more up to date than I ever have been as I have more time to read articles, go to seminars and practice the skills. This blog is not only for blogging my experiences as an expat but also to keep my Google Analytics skills in check. As it turns out I have taught myself how to set 'goals' and enable Webmaster properties - there's something I didn't know when I was doing it for a living! Now I can get more indepth because it's my own website.

People are moving on and I feel like I have plateaued
I think about everything I have achieved since moving here. Ok, I haven't secured employment yet but due to my commitment to the language, I am at a stage with Danish now where I can understand the gist of most conversations and can now effectively have a proper conversation in another language. I am getting closer every day to fulfilling my dream of being bilingual. I have also lost 5kg since moving here as I naturally feel more healthy. I have progressed - just in a way I don't necessarily think of.

So, you see, it's not a bad thing to have moments of negativity and lack of self esteem. Just make sure you take action.

What do you think? Can you relate to anything from that massive stream of consciousness? What have been your worst moments and how did you overcome?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Flounder or flourish?

Det er nødvendigt at have en positiv holdning.

I wrote this fill-the-blank sentence and read it aloud in Danish class yesterday. My teacher cocked her head to the side, eyes to the sky in brief thought, and said (in Danish) "yes ... but it isn't completely necessary to have a positive attitude". Of course, she is right. Technically. If one were to fill in the blanks of "it is necessary to ... ", I don't think a common ending would be " ... to have a positive attitude". It's not technically necessary to have a positive attitude to live (if it were, the world's population would be significantly fewer) but I deem it absolutely necessary if one is to flourish.

If you don't have a positive attitude as an expat, be that towards the language or the people of your new country, you are going to flounder. I of course write with reference to my experiences in Denmark but it should be applicable to wherever you are 'expatting'. 

Being an expat in Denmark I have stumbled across many negative attitudes within the expat community, both in person and in online forums. A scary amount. I am rather saddened that I appear to be amongst the few expats who do have a positive attitude towards our new home.

Well, rather than whine about how some people are stuck in a negative vacuum, I thought I would address some of the common problems I have stumbled across in conversation and show you how a positive attitude can start to turn any problem on its head.

This is gonna be a long one. Grab a cup of tea and come back.

Common problem #1
Danes are not open. They are close minded, hate other cultures and I cannot make friends with them.

My opinion
Danes are indeed a little like us Brits - they tend to keep themselves to themselves and they made their friends back at school or university. There is also more of a culture of going to friends' houses to eat and/or drink so although I am not saying Danes do not go out at all, a lot of them also stay in and go out when the house beer has run out. I also majorly disagree that Danes hate other cultures. My Danish friends are incredibly well travelled and have a lot of respect for other cultures.

Application of a positive attitude
Ok, so it is not easy. But, like learning the language, it is not impossible either. Sitting with other expats who fuel discussion about how awful the Danes are at making friends is not going to help. Surrounding yourself with negativity is detrimental. Making friends here is not going to be as easy as it is in other countries but where there is a will there is a way. I'm not going to drone on about joining sports clubs as although that is of course an option, it's quite a tired one. Join networks, both professional and social. Here are a few that I have joined, though having only been here for four months I have not yet taken advantage of all of them:
I am also in the middle of planning a wedding - blog post will definitely follow on that post wedding - so there is also the wedding planning forum which has a 'small talk' section. I don't know if there are meet ups but if there are, I will try to be in attendance.
So you see, there are ways. It will take time, however - friendship here, in my opinion, is an investment which I agree with. A real friendship needs to be cemented in trust which you won't get in five minutes. Once you have a friend in a Dane, you have a friend for life.
In short: put yourself out there, keep talking, keep smiling and be patient. Friendship wasn't built in a day.

Common problem #2
Getting a job is impossible. Only Danes get jobs. I can't get a job because I don't speak Danish.

My opinion
Myth - busted. Well, almost. Here's my take.
It's a difficult time for Europe at the moment. Danes are struggling. LEGO had to lay off around 400 workers in Billund very recently due to the outsourcing of production to other countries. Ok, so the unemployment rate is relatively low in comparison to some of our Southern European counterparts but the current rate of 7.9%* in comparison to 3.3%* just five years ago in 2008 means that the streets of Denmark are hardly paved with gold for Danes and expats alike. The language of course will be a barrier but this surely has to be expected. I would never move to a country and expect to simply get by with my fluent English. Of course I can survive, but I cannot flourish. Therefore I am throwing myself into the language and will not stop until I reach my goal of fluency.

Application of the positive attitude
It's difficult. It is SO difficult. I myself have been here for four months and have not yet secured employment (although I came pant wettingly close only for the agency to have the recruitment budget slashed ... sad times). But instead of wiling away the hours, pounding my fist on the table whilst slagging off the Danish workplace I actively look for things which will benefit me. And, because I am a very decent person, here is my advice:
  • Network - I've said it before but I'll say it again. Pimp your profile on LinkedIn. Join groups. Partake in discussions. Get your name out there. Via LinkedIn I have found out about recruitment open days and also free seminars, part of which were given by Google. Fantastic opportunities. I'll list some the networking sites at the end of this post.
  • Jobsites - no need to go into this. Keep applying via this route. I have listed job sites in an earlier post.
  • Adjusting to culture - there will almost certainly be differences in the way you work in your home country in comparison to the way things work in Denmark. There is no easy way to be fully prepared for this but I would recommend that you read up on this first. The best source of reading I can recommend is Business Dances With Danes by Dagmar Fink. It has invaluable tips on how to get by in the Danish workplace.
  • Go it alone - Denmark is a fantastic place for entrepreneurs and there is a lot of opportunity. If you keep an eye on career fairs and the like, there will be awesome opportunity to gain knowledge for FREE. How good is that? If you have an idea and you see a gap in the market, why not go for it? What have you got to lose? A great post that inspired me is by Hannah West about creating a new box.
Above all, don't lose hope. It is difficult. But it's the same everywhere in Europe. I don't think I would even expect to walk into a job in England right now although admittedly it would be easier as I know the expectations of UK companies. I have had rejections and ignored applications which are extremely frustrating. But instead of letting this drag me down, I am getting back on the horse. For me, there is no other way to handle things. What should I do instead; sit at home and moan how things are working against me? No way. I choose to flourish.
In short: Very simple. Don't give up. Keep applying. Talk to everyone. Expand that network.

Common problem #3
It is impossible for me to pick up Danish. They eat their consonants and people speak English to me when they see I am not Danish.

My opinion
Oh gosh, I agree with the difficulty. But I do not agree with the word 'impossible'. My feelings on this are in my post about languages. I also appreciate the fact that many come over to Denmark as it is apparently marketed as an international country. Herein lies a problem and I do think that is a problem. It is a problem if the country is advertised as international - where one would assume that English is fine - only for expats to find that they really do need to learn that language. However, as much as that is a problem we are all still here. And we are not going to get anywhere by complaining about the said problem. What we can do is add the Danish language as another arrow to our bow.

Application of positive attitude
First of all, banish the "I'll never get it" attitude from your mind as this will hinder you. Swap "I'll never get it" for "I WILL get this one day". Tell yourself out loud if you have to. And then practice, practice, practice. I fully understand the frustration of wanting to practice Danish in a shop or cafe, only for the person behind the counter to switch to English in order to help the both of you. Again, like everything else, it is not impossible if you adapt a positive attitude. There is a Meetup group called The Copenhagen Danish Language Practice Meetup Group, for example. It consists of both Danes and expats (providing another argument as to how Danes really don't hate other cultures) and they have regular "hygge" evenings where people speak Danish. There are also evenings out as well. So you might even get some Danish friends!
Also use your network. Do you have expat friends who are friends with Danes? If so, say that you would love to be introduced as you would love to practice Danish with them. What have you got to lose? There are also websites such as where you 'swap' languages with another user. Don't be worried about making mistakes. It happens to the best of us and it is perfectly normal.
Oh, and maybe tell a fib and say "Undskyld, jeg taler ikke engelsk" when the English language is switched to. I haven't had the balls to do so yet but my English accent is detectable!
In short: think positively and treat mistakes as a learning experience. You will get there.

I know there are many more. Please do continue the discussion below. I haven't covered everything as otherwise the post would have been far too long and you wouldn't still be sitting here reading. I would be interested to hear from you all.

What do you think? Do you have other problems or pre-conceived ideas about Denmark that you would like to share? Please do leave comments below so the discussion can continue.

*source - Eurostat and The Guardian Online

Helpful websites
Expat In Denmark
LinkedIn Expat Network Denmark

Friday, 1 March 2013

English expat in Denmark: Cost of living

I am surrounded by shopping receipts. Because of this I have just found out that we were accidentally not charged for the 500g bag of basmati rice that we bought (well, more like 'took' as it turns out) from Netto yesterday. Feel a bit bad but hey, these things happen. All in the name of research. Which brings me to ...

... the cost of living. I touched upon it briefly here. Such a common discussion amongst expats here in Copenhagen. It's been documented more than once that Denmark is one of, if not the, most expensive country in the EU*. I can vouch for this. A half litre of Tuborg, for example, in the cafe bar round the corner from me in Vesterbro costs 40kr (approx £4.50) - which actually isn't that bad by Copenhagen standards. However the actual cost of living, not including what I class as luxuries such as going out to drink/eat, is working out to be cheaper for us than it was living in London. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that London is far cheaper than Copenhagen so, I've been doing what I do best and playing with numbers.Take a look below.

DKK converted to £ on 
The above table displays outgoings based on how much the above would cost on monthly. Note that utilities are paid quarterly and food weekly; I have therefore worked out what the figures would be on a monthly basis. I have also tried to be fair in comparing food shopping: fellow Brit expats will know that it would not be fair to compare Waitrose to Netto, so I've compared similar supermarkets (Waitrose v. Føtex for example). 

What a difference. And maybe surprising? The reason my transport is so little is because I walk everywhere. A three zone klippekort lasts me for two months, maybe even longer. London Underground, on the other hand, I totally relied on. We are lucky enough to be able to survive on one salary in our apartment here. That's something we never could have done in London without really struggling. Where am I going with this, you ask? Well, the point of this blog post is to hopefully show you that living in Copenhagen doesn't have to be that bad. It's not all wallet draining. At least from a British expat point of view, I admit.

Oh, and I forgot: add another £88 onto the London total.

Completely forgot about council tax.


Have I been fair in my calculations? Have I missed anything vital? If you think anything could be presented differently please leave a comment below. It's such a common subject amongst expats and open to debate.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Cost of living: postponed to next week

Hi everyone,

I've decided to postpone the cost of living post until next week; I'm in the process of comparing receipts from Føtex to a comparable supermarket in the UK and I need more stats (can you tell I have a background in data marketing?) in order to do the post properly. So, just a rundown of what it will contain:

  • Shopping bills
  • Rent
  • Transport
  • Utility bills
  • Internet and mobile

If you can think of anything else, please leave a comment. I'm not counting anything that would come out of one's disposable income yet as I don't consider that under cost of living. I'm only talking essentials.

Anyway, I'm off to London today! The weather (yes, the weather - I'm British) last week was really sunny in London, or at least according to Facebook it was. Here in Copenhagen it was a bit drab. Typically as I'm off to the airport the sun is shining in Copenhagen and it is DRAB with a capital 'D' in London. Never mind. It's not like it's tropical in either city.

Anyway - I'll write again next week. Until then.


English Expat in Denmark: Cost of Living will now be published on Friday 2nd March

Sunday, 17 February 2013

'Cheaper' doesn't mean 'cheap'

Just a little vent here. A moan, if you will.

Why oh WHY does hardly anyone believe me when I say that my expenses have actually gone dramatically down since moving from London to Copenhagen? I'll be writing a full blog post on the cost of living in the next installment of my "English Expat: a series" but this has been irritating me recently. I've had a few conversations with both fellow expats and Danes in response to me saying how much cheaper it is in Copenhagen in comparison to London, said conversations go along the lines of "Copenhagen isn't cheap". No, it isn't. I never professed that it was. For you see, the words "cheap" and "cheaper", although born to the same lexical family, are different.

For our flat in East London we paid just over £1,000 (c. €1,160/ 8,650kr) for a small one-bed flat (c. 55m2) where we could hardly breathe. To get to the bedside cabinet next to the bed, one had to crawl onto the bed and ninja roll down. Or take a run up and ninja jump over the mattress. Our kitchen was in the same living area as the living room and was a strip of lino with all your necessities. Our bathroom was ... cosy. But, you know, you could see the Olympic Park - surely that was the reason as to why I paid so much? Not really. Our landlord was actually not allowed to raise the rent that much for the Olympics plus I did some serious haggling in order to keep it as low as possible.

Anyway, onto Copenhagen. For a large flat (c. 65m2) with large kitchen slash eating area, decent sized living room with two sofas and, ok, a just about bigger bathroom, we are paying just over half of that. Admittedly we do have a good deal with reasonable landlords but having completed quick and dirty research by comparing properties on (London) to (Copenhagen), one cannot say that either city is cheap, however one can say that Copenhagen is cheaper, at least in this regard.

Of course, having just quickly looked at the first website I saw for Berlin properties and I wanted to weep into my leverpostej.


English Expat in Denmark: Cost Of Living will be published on Thursday 21st February 2013.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

English expat in Denmark: The Danish Language - it's all in the attitude

Ah, for helvede. Det danske sprog.

Not an easy one to master, by any means. I've been learning it for two years and although my passive vocabulary is quite large for someone that has only been here for three months, I still have a way to go before I reach fluency.

The Danish language is, 9 times out of 10, a piece of conversational priority when meeting fellow expats here in Copenhagen ... sooner or later you will be asked "so ... do you take Danish classes?". More often than not in my experience, the conversation is then led into a serious discussion of how difficult it is and how one can get by with just English; or the question is met with a flippant "oh I'll NEVER learn it!" with a toss of the head and an embarrassed chuckle. I'm not laying scorn, by the way. I've done both those things. I concur. It's definitely not an easy language to learn. But it's also not impossible. I mean, what language IS easy to learn? If a Brit moved to Spain, would we all be speaking it within the year? I doubt it. Every language has its .. let's say 'quirks'.

Half the battle with fluency in another language is mindset, no matter how many languages you speak. Being in Denmark, most Danes and most expats will speak very good English. Does that mean that English is easy to learn? I have heard that it is not. Our prepositions are all over the place, verbs need to be conjugated in accordance with who the speaker is, the same combination of a couple of letters can sound different in different words (cough through a ghost, anyone?). Yet a LOT of people pick English up. Yes, English is everywhere. Computer games, movies, TV, music. But, being in Denmark, so is Danish. You have children's television. Grown up television. The news. Danish movies. Danish radio. Free online Danish courses. Not to mention free Danish classes (if your CPR number is all in order) and actual Danes to practice on (though this admittedly takes balls .. gets easier though, promise). But if, even if your arsenal is bulging with all of the above, if you don't possess a positive attitude towards the language then you are setting yourself up for failure. I'm not pretending to be profound in any way as it's just common sense - but if you constantly tell yourself you will never know when to say 'til' instead of 'for or 'i' instead of 'på' then of course you won't know. Because you won't be surprised when you do make the mistake, hence 'proving' that you were right all along. Self fulfilling prophecy.

Well, I'll leave it there. Whether you have already started Danish classes or are planning to enrol and are wondering just how you'll ever 'get' it my best advice is simple - keep at it! Be inventive as well. Pictures below. Sad, maybe. But it all helps.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

English expat in Denmark: Dealing With Homesickness

I think I was homesick before I even moved out of my flat. As you may know, I lived in East London during the 2012 Olympics. I could hear the drums and see the fireworks from my living room (see Hashtag Olympics for the pic). I had friends over. We ate pizza and we drank wine, cider, beer. We cheered, we laughed and I think a couple of us may have even cried - the ceremony was quite emotional, it was the first time in a while since any of us had felt any sense of patriotism. It was a good night.

For me, the emotion ran deeper than the natural high of the Olympic Ceremony. I knew that this would probably be the last time that we would have people over to our (albeit tiny) London flat. I knew that we were moving to Copenhagen in a matter of months and, as much as it was an exciting move, it was also a scary thing. As much as I complained about the flat, the rental costs, the attitude of the London commuter (that includes you, London cyclists), I really loved living there. When it came to a month beforehand we sold our furniture. I cried, without fail, every time a piece of furniture left the flat (Philip tells me that the most ridiculous thing I cried over was the £10 Argos shoerack bidding us farewell). Perhaps not all of you are as emotional as I am but moving abroad was, and still is, the biggest thing I have ever done. The furthest away I had lived from my family was just outside West London when they lived just outside East London. I have always been at least one hour by train to my friends. This was, and is, very different. If you are on the cusp of moving then you may well know these feelings. You may react differently - I'll be the first to admit that I'm more emotional than your average Joe - but you will start to notice things around you that you perhaps didn't before. If you've already moved then you're either nodding in agreement or rolling your eyes. I feel that there is no middle ground.

I won't go into the goodbyes and the like. Just know that they were emotional, all in their own way.

Prior to the move I had been to Copenhagen about six times. And I had loved it more and more each time. Once I made the move to Copenhagen it took me about six weeks, despite the constant job hunting, to properly realise that I wasn't on holiday. It hit me pretty hard at first - I was jobless, relying on Philip for money, I couldn't properly speak the language and I discovered a downside to social media where you see how all your friends who you left behind are still having the same life but without you in it. All sounds incredibly melodramatic, I know - I promise I wasn't thinking this deeply at the time, it's only now that I'm documenting it all that I can explain it as it was. Still, I had two choices.
1) I could keep on lamenting about not living in London, in my comfort zone, how I felt I would never make friends and make 'my own' Copenhagen. I could have complained about the job market and about how my friends would forget about me. I could have complained about the lack of Marmite and that it just wasn't England.
2) I could embrace my new city with all it has to offer. I could appreciate the hell out of the fact that our friends live so close together. I could be happy with the fact that I will fulfill a long term dream of mine to be fluent in a second language. I could see every single inch of opportunity that lay before me. I could choose to see Copenhagen not as a pit of depression with everything missing but as a blank canvas that I could make into whatever I wanted.

Needless to say, I choose option 2. It is pointless heading for option 1. Why would you want to spend all your time in a country feeling miserable that it's not like home? Because of course it's not going to be like home - surely that is part of why you moved. But that is also part of the excitement of a move abroad - you can see new things, learn new things and meet new people. That is not to say I don't get homesick at all now because I do. But I know how to deal with it now. Other than what I have written in option 2, which is the attitude to adopt, here are my top tips for dealing with homesickness:

1) Email a friend. In detail. They'll love to receive a long email and you will also look forward to a long response back. It worked wonders for when Philip and I did long distance for a year (that is a whole other story which I will not bother you with)
2) Arrange Skype dates with friends and/or family. No need to expand on that one.
3) On your bike! If you have already moved here or are thinking of doing so you will already know that Denmark is one of THE most bike friendly places in the world. If you have a bike it's a great way to see the diversity of Copenhagen - the beach, the lakes, the city, the churches .. it's wonderful (see what I did there?). Exploring your new city and getting familiar with it will soon help you settle into your new home. If you don't have a bike then you can walk, particularly in Copenhagen.
4) Discover something new about the city that you like at least once a week and write it down or say it out loud to somebody. e.g. "I like living in Copenhagen because you can go out at 10pm and still take it easy"
5) Find events that are going on in the city. Or even take yourself out of the city. Check out Visit Denmark for your first port of call.
6) QI reruns. Ok, very specific to British expats but it is so useful for me. It's on most days on BBC Entertainment. They usually have loads of them on Sundays which is just perfect hangover television

Homesickness will happen to most, if not all, expats. It gets easier. And I'm writing this as somebody who still goes through it from time to time. Trust me.

(Saying all of the above though, I will ALWAYS miss Marmite) 

(Next in the series - The Danish Language. 14th February 2013)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

An English expat in Denmark: a series

Having been a Copenhagen resident for over three months now, I feel I am somewhat qualified to know the questions that go through the heads of future expats. What is the Danish job market like? What about the language? Is the culture different? Although I won't be able to personally get anyone a job, teach anyone Danish or magic any homesickness away, I will be able to offer practical advice.

And although I am a Brit, the topics covered in the series will be able to reach out to people of all backgrounds. Regardless of background, we're all human.

So, watch this space. I'll be starting with Dealing With Homesickness which will be published on Thursday 7th February.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The job hunt in Denmark

Or job hunting in Copenhagen. Finding work in Copenhagen. Working in Denmark. However you want to describe it, the job hunt here is a tough old game, no matter whether you are a new graduate or, like me, an experienced professional. I have networked effectively and applied to as many jobs as possible but still no luck. I'm not giving up hope, I have had enough interviews to know that I am not unemployable. The websites and other resources I have utilised are the following:

Used this to extend my network, research like-minded professionals in the same field as me and see what companies they work for. Look up said company's website, apply for any jobs they have or send in a speculative application.

Standard jobsite

Standard jobsite - have not found anything on here however that I haven't found on jobindex

Jobs In Copenhagen
Jobsite apparently for English speaking professionals however more often than not, a lot of the jobs require English and another European language. I haven't been able to apply for any jobs here.

I also apply to jobs that 'require' higher education such as a Masters (I'm educated to Bachelor level only). Having spoken to a lot of recruiters, you will be seen if you have the relevant experience - don't not apply because you don't have a Masters as I have been assured that skillset and mindset will win over this.

Still, with all the above combined I am still sitting here, having lived here for three months, a marketer with almost 8 years experience and still unemployed. Is it a cultural thing? Do I need to learn how to speak business in a Danish sense, and not in the linguistic sense? Perhaps. Well, I stumbled across the Worktrotter initiative, which is an incredibly helpful resource for the expat here in Denmark. Dagmar Fink, the founder, has written two books which look to be just what I, and many an expat, are crying out for. They've both been reviewed favourably by both expats and Danes alike.

The Worktrotter's Guide To Denmark

Business Dances With Danes

Let me know what you think, I know I will!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Eat well on a budget

Philip and I are not actively budgeting however we are both quite frugal by nature and this serves as well at the moment, seeing that we are living on one income and no financial benefits whilst I job hunt and learn Danish. We also love cooking and food - combine this with our frugality and hey presto, cheap and healthy meals which last.

I'm a member of a few internet forums where the European economic crisis is always called to topic; I was shocked on a recent thread on one forum where a few members had admitted that they had gone without meals in order to feed their children due to income issues.

All of which inspired this post. I'm not suggesting that one should be donning Masterchef whites and knocking up a mushroom ravioli with shaved truffles with a celeriac puree, I am saying that it is far easier to eat healthily and well on a budget than one would think.With this simple recipe, you'll find that you have both time AND money. Eating well doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming.

Pepper and tomato sauce - serves 4 adults and can be frozen
3 medium peppers of any colour
2 medium red onions or 1 large
1 can or carton chopped tomatoes
1 tsp tomato puree
Couple of rosemary sprigs
Squeeze lemon juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

What you'll need
Hand held electric blender (Wilkinson do a basic one for £4.79 or a set for £15)
Large saucepan

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Dice the peppers and peel & dice the onions. Arrange on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil so that the vegetables are covered, but not soaked. Place the rosemary sprigs on top. Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

2. When the vegetables have been roasting for 20 minutes, place the chopped tomatoes in a saucepan and heat gently. Do not bring to the boil.

3. Take the vegetables out of the oven and stir into the tomatoes. If you like, you can tear of the roasted rosemary leaves and mix them in. When fully mixed, take off the heat and blend with an electric blender to the consistency you prefer, being careful not to splatter yourself with warm vegetable juice! To get it smooth should take approx. 3 minutes. When you have it to the consistency you like, return to the heat and stir in the puree. Season to taste and add the lemon juice now, if you are using.

This sauce is perfect for:
Pasta - with a sprinkling of parmesan
Base for a classic bolognaise sauce
Prawns (recommend adding the lemon juice for this)

Ta-da! You have now made a homemade sauce which will serve four adults, though if you don't like much sauce it'll last you even longer. That's half an hour out of your day and can be made the night before. I'm planning to double the quantities above so I can freeze half of it in the freezer.

Total cost:
3 medium peppers - £1.65 (Tesco mixed peppers @ £1.65 for 3 pack)
Chopped tomatoes - £0.35 (Tesco value chopped tomatoes @ £0.35 per tin)
2 red onions - £0.40 approx (Tesco red onions loose @ £0.19 each but will depend on weight)
Tomato puree -  £0.29 (Tesco Tomato puree 142g @ £0.29 per tin)
Rosemary - £0.80 (Tesco fresh rosemary 30g @ £0.80 per packet)

Per person:
£0.90 maximum. That's £3.60 for four adults.
£0.97 max per adult portion if you add pasta - based on Tesco value pasta costing £0.39 for 500g and the average adult pasta serving being 100g.
£1.50 max per adult portion if you add pasta and bolognaise - based on Tesco value minced beef costing £2.34 for 750g

The per person is a back of a fag packet calculation as I haven't taken into account that you wouldn't use all the rosemary and tomato puree; taking this into account would make it even cheaper. To make the basic sauce is 30 minutes out of your day. If you have gotten to the bottom of this post and are thinking that you don't have 30 minutes then I challenge that - you've had time to read this, you probably have a programme that you don't know why you watch ... so why not put those minutes into cooking? Yes, straight out of a jar sauce is easier but it's not cheaper in the long run and not half as satisfying. Yes, ready meals are easier but, seeing as a ready meal seems to cost £3.50 per portion (again, based on Tesco prices), it definitely isn't cheaper. Plus, you have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what you have put into this sauce.

If you're still doubtful, just try it. I would welcome any feedback. But I will refuse to believe anyone that claims eating healthy is expensive.