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.