It’s 5th February 2018 and it is one whole year since we arrived in Copenhagen. One year!
I remember the day vividly; the whirlwind and aftermath of packing up our Sheffield home, the drive to Manchester airport, the calm flight as Lydia slept and our arrival, on a cold dark evening to a lovely welcoming, hygge home. It’s so special to not only be here, one year on, but to be living a life here. We’ve moved across three districts in the city, in three very different apartments. We’ve lived out of suitcases in between, discovered most of Copenhagen’s toddler-friendly places during the months of no childcare, we’ve navigated the Danish bureaucracy and tax system, I’ve set up a freelance business, Rich has got a permanent job in tiles and we now live in a long-term place with Lydia in a nursery and all of us speaking some Danish.
It’s been one eventful year and it’s made me realise what an undertaking it was for us to do, while giving all our energy to developing little Lydia from a 15-month old to nearly two and a half year old. Thank goodness for that ‘realistic optimist Danish gene’ in me, because it’s only now we’re through it, that I realise it isn’t for the faint hearted.
Here’s a look back at some of the year’s highlights, split into the three stages of living in Amager, Valby and Nørrebro.
Amager winter days
Valby living and a Danish summer
A Christianshavn stay and Nørrebro autumn into winter
So, in this crazy old year, what have I learnt? Here is a 10-point low-down:
1. Copenhagen is extremely easy to live in as a capital city and so very child friendly. We’ve experienced living in three districts; Amager West, Valby and Nørrebro. And each place is accessible by bike, bus, metro and train. The bike lanes are wide, huge prams are commonplace and there is space on public transport to accommodate them (although buses could be better). Playgrounds seem to be within every hundred metres and the focal point of most apartment blocks, is a courtyard with an area for children to play. Horrah for that.
2. Google Translate is a life saviour. As I’m now forming longer sentences, it’s less reliable but it really has helped me out of many situations and I use it most days. Thank you Google.
3. It didn’t, however, help in my quest to find porridge at the supermarket. After months of trying to pronounce the word “grød”, I then discovered grød is what you call cooked porridge. The word you need is “hvaregryn”, to buy the oats. Simple when you know how! So very embarrassing when your weekly shop is another attempt at saying “gruuooll??” Other supermarket learnings include the fact Weetabix is not readily available and costs £4 a packet! Hence, the need for so much porridge. And, I have yet to find anywhere that sells polish. They sell vinegar instead, which I can’t get used to.
4. The water in Copenhagen is not like Yorkshire Water. My word, my skin actually started to flake off by April last year. I have never lived anywhere with such hard water and it took me a while to realise, this is why my skin became like a reptile’s. It also means kettles and showers are full of limescale, glasses are always cloudy. Londoners are used to this but I really was not prepared. I have always invested in my skincare and used Dermalogica and their facials for over a decade. But even their super strength moisturisers were doing nothing for me. Luckily, the first beauticians I found, were brilliant and specialised in Dermalogica and IS Clinical. After a few trial and errors, it was the IS Clinical range that worked for me. This is one of those things that sounds trivial and ‘who cares’, you’re no beauty blogger Emma, but on top of everything else that comes with moving to a new country, suddenly having a case of dandruff on the face, is not ideal. Sorry, Rich says that analogy sounds gross and may be a slight exaggeration, but it was a traumatic time!
5. It’s ok to have home comforts. I felt like I would be cheating a bit if I didn’t fully embrace everything Danish, including reading Danish newspapers, watching Danish TV and eating traditional Danish food. But you can still wholly embrace living somewhere new and still drink Yorkshire tea, add a bit of Branston Pickle on your sandwich and catch up on Corrie highlights now and again. You have to go easy on yourself sometimes when everything you’re doing is out of the comfort zone.
6. Danes like rules. There are no concessions for a sob story – as I’ve found out by two fines on public transport (I did cry on one of them…and just ended up feeling like a plonker, £90 poorer) and not being able to skip the long waiting list for a nursery place. The rules are the rules and genuine mistakes, reasons for concession are just not entertained. I guess this is part of the fair system of living here. Everyone knows exactly where they stand and it’s the same for everyone, no matter what your circumstance.
7. I still do a double take when I see babies sleeping in prams outside totally unaccompanied. I like the trust and safeness there is for this to happen, they always have a monitor and it’s been well documented that the babies sleep really well outside – it’s how 0-2 year olds all nap at nurseries. But I think when you’ve not grown up with that culture, it’s very hard to switch mentality. And what I find odd is that despite bike theft being rife and everyone locking them up religiously, no one does that with a pram, empty or occupied. Most cafes and restaurants don’t let you take the pram inside so we often leave ours outside, (Lydia not included) and I find myself wondering why I don’t lock this ridiculously expensive item, when I double lock a second hand £150 bike.
8. The Danish language is like a cryptic code. I’ve grown up listening to the sound of Danish from our yearly holidays to my grandparents. I always liked the sound of it and couldn’t wait to learn it properly. But I had no idea that the pronunciation differed so much to the written word. You almost have to learn two versions – written and spoken. Some things you pick up quickly, for example ‘d’s in the middle of words are not pronounced. Well they are, but with a sort of stop of the tongue. Then there are the nuances. So the letter ø has an ‘ooh’ sound. But there are four different ways to say that ‘ooh’, depending on the word. It could be oooh, oh, or, orr. Then, when you’ve learnt these words and how to ignore most letters and pronounce the rest as funny shapes with your mouth, then…then they go and merge words together, dropping out more sounds. So you can know every word in a sentence but draw a complete blank when a native speaker puts those words together at high speed. And this is why it feels like a code. Your ear has to be so in tune with the sounds, the words, and then the way they are formed in a sentence. And your brain quick enough to then decipher those words, understand the full meaning and then come back with a response. I tell you, it is bloody hard. So many times I have been left open-mouthed at a shop counter, paralysed by the unexpected phrase that just came my way and whether to just say ‘jeg tak’, ‘nej tak’ or come clean, sorry I’m English and despite living here a year and doing the food shop every week, I don’t have a clue what you just said. Add a broken night into that scenario and you can imagine the look on my face.
9. Living in a different country can sometimes make you feel on the outside of society, especially when you don’t speak the language. But this has taught me how important it is to be inclusive in your home, familiar country. It’s easy to go through each day, thinking of immediate friends, family and your own life without noticing the parent in the park on their own, or taking the time to talk to someone who has no connection to you. But you just don’t know what a difference you may make to their day, which impacts their week, their month in a new place. As I wrote in my networking article last summer; it’s the small gestures from many people, that have made our transition so much easier and I remember each and every one. It’s given me a small glimpse into what life must be like when no one speaks your language and you feel sidelined on a regular basis. I hope I will be more aware now, to help people in that situation because everyone deserves to feel like they belong.
10. The time it takes to settle into a new country is far longer than I ever anticipated or appreciated. One year feels like we’re only just getting to know the place. But you can’t fast-forward settling in processes. You have to ride out the highs and the lows, the learning curves and the wins. It makes it so rewarding, to see how far we’ve come from my Settling In Level One post.
There are times over the year that I’ve had to pinch myself that we made it happen. Each time we see my grandparents, when we can speak a little more Danish to them and they can see how Lydia has grown; getting to know my Copenhagen family better; and watching us as a little family unit grow together. We can’t thank our immediate family enough, for the support they have given us, to actually do this.
So what will our second year of living the Danish gene bring? Well, I’m very excited to say, an even greater adventure. We are expecting our second baby in May. He/she will be born here and the Danish gene will continue. Stay tuned…!