Also featured in The Local, Denmark.
And just like that…our two-year anniversary of living in Denmark has come around. Year two has gone by in a flash. Perhaps because we’re actually living here now, as opposed to navigating how to live here. Or because we have been in the throws of newborn life again, as we welcomed Sofia into our lives. Either way, life feels more established. We have lived in one apartment for 16 months; Rich is over a year into his job and thriving, and we’re more clued up on both Danish life and parent life. One of my big worries, when deciding upon this Danish adventure, was how we’d cope if we had another baby. I wrote about it in a blog post. But we did it – we are doing it – and we feel so blessed that it’s working.
So, what do I know about my Danish genes, after two years of living in Denmark. Here we go…
*Disclaimer* I am in no way generalising a whole nation – this is only through my half Brit, half Dane perspective.
“These trousers are no good,” I was told one afternoon at nursery pick-up.
“But they’re JoJo Maman Bébé’s finest fleece-lined waterproof bottoms, bought with love from grandparents in England,” I thought.
Danes are direct and straight to the point. There are no, “do you mind if I…I just wanted to ask…could you possibly…” They say what they mean. I don’t have this gene but I would quite like it. Cut the waffle, get to the point and there’s never any misunderstanding.
So the fleece-lined waterproof trousers?
“No good. She needs the Danish ones that all the other kids have.”
Which brings me to my next point.
Danes like to conform. At our family julefrokost (Christmas dinner), I was sitting next to my Dad’s Danish cousin’s husband, who was the British Ambassador to Denmark for three years. (We used to have summer holidays at the ambassador’s residence in Copenhagen and yep – I totally milked the connection and got work experience in the press department.)
Digression aside…I was talking to the former Ambassador about Danish habits. His key observation was conformism. Look in any light shop, and you won’t find a lamp you don’t like. They are all a certain, aesthetically pleasing style. Apartment interiors are similar; the Syveren chairs, Ikea shelves, wooden floors, sheepskin rugs. He has a point. I have noticed it at nursery, because that’s the focal point of my life right now.
Children all wear the same outdoor clothes. There are even posters on the walls of Lydia’s børenhave, illustrating what the children should wear for each season – even down to recommending the brand of snowsuit (Reima brand flyverdragt if you’re interested). Perhaps the posters came as a result of me straying off convention with the fleece-lined waterproof trousers. Another off-script approach of mine is to keep Lydia at home once or twice a week (she’s 3). This was recently met with questioning from Lydia’s pædagoger (nursery teachers). Danish children attend five short days a week at nursery (vuggestue) and kindergarten (børnehave), because it’s paid for and that’s what everyone does.* Apart from the obvious, spending quality time with Lyds, I actually quite like a break from the morning rush because – my word – the Danes are punctual.
(*The state subsidises 75% of nursery fees so what you pay a month, is for full-time hours. They don’t have the option to pay per day. So parents working part-time, which aren’t many as most jobs are full-time, or those on maternity leave, will often send their pre-school children five days a week. I have since increased Lydia’s attendance to 4 short days a week and her Danish has improved rapidly.)
Pre-children and broken nights, I would allow myself 90 minutes in a morning to get ready for work, so I was dressed, fed, updated on the news and calmly ready to be on time. So I’ll claim this punctual Danish gene. But no military organisation can prevent a baby explosion poo as you head out of the door, timed with a lost glove and three year old’s sudden inability to walk. As a consequence, I have been “told off” on more than one occasion at nursery for arriving late. On the plus side, I’ve got the phrase “undskyld jeg kommer for sent” down to a T. (translation: “Sorry I’m late”).
Babies do sleep better outside.
In my one-year blog post, I described how I couldn’t get used to seeing unattended prams outside with babies sleeping in them. I can’t believe how in just another year, not only do I think it perfectly normal – I have done it. Shock horror emoji face. Sofia genuinely naps best outside in the pram. And now the weather is too cold for me to stay outside with her, and we live on a 4th floor apartment, I will park her outside a cafe and sit in the window looking out on her, with the monitor on. My baby yoga class has no space for prams inside, so they are all lined up on the street, sleeping babies and monitors included. Thankfully, the studio window looks directly onto the street. We are all international mums and you can tell by our constant twitching at that window. The thing is, the sight of a sleeping baby in a pram outside is so common in Denmark, no one bats an eyelid. There’s almost a societal trust, that this is what parents do and everyone has got each others, or the pram’s back.
Sense of community
Even though this is a capital city, there is a sense of community, thanks to the set up of apartment living. Most apartment blocks have a nice courtyard with a playground in it. The apartment block ‘leaders’ arrange cleaning days throughout the year, where everyone mucks in to clean shared areas, plant flowers and paint garden furniture. The block has resident rules (of course) and you can’t help but get to know at least a few of your neighbours this way. It is the norm for babies to sleep in prams in apartment courtyards, which are often private, safe in the knowledge your neighbours will be listening out for them too. But being eight flights of steps away from our courtyard is too much for me and most Danes agree with that one.
Despite this sense of community, Danes are reserved and can on first appearance, seem a bit rude or ‘off.’ This, I have learnt, is because they’re not in your face chatty or over-friendly to someone they don’t know. Think opposite to Yorkshire. Added with their directness, it can feel, especially to a bumbly Brit who has poor Danish, that you’re constantly offending someone. But do not despair. It just takes a bit of time for strangers to warm up to you, which is fair enough really. If you get to the friend stage, and lucky for us, we have Danish family, then you’ll find out they are warm, generous and very hospitable. Home-made baked bread is often on offer. This I need to work on.*
*I recently baked some sugar-free cupcakes for Lydia’s Danish friends. The response was a resounding “jeg kan ikke godt lide!” Translation: “I don’t like it!”
Now I’m probably jinxing a bad case of flu and gastroenteritis here, but we rarely get ill. We might have the odd cold and sore throat from nursery germs but we all manage to bat them away relatively quickly. Just before we moved here, Rich got a blood test to check everything out, as he just kept getting ill and run-down. There wasn’t anything untoward, he was just prone to picking up all the germs. That’s not the case anymore. I can count on my hand the number of paracetamol I’ve taken in two years. This is just as well because they run a tight-ship in paracetamol-selling in Denmark. Only one pack can be bought at a time and that includes Calpol (Panodil). So the day Richie’s hangover clashed with a bad bout of teething from Lydia, I was faced with the decision at the counter between husband and child. Calpol for a hangover Rich? It’s strongly urged to only give Calpol if your child has a high temperature and it has to be prescribed for babies. Ibuprofen for babies and young children is a definite doctor-approval note only. Now Google ‘Michael McIntyre Calpol sketch’ and you’ll see the English “just in case” approach to all this…!
The water surrounding Copenhagen means people swim, all year-around. We haven’t tried the infamous winter dips yet but we definitely made the most of the beaches during the summer. Having to get yourself up and down apartment steps, walk or cycle everywhere, means you’re active and outside every day. Like it or not, come rain or shine, snow or heatwave, and in my case, 39 weeks pregnant. And that, I think plays a huge factor in keeping healthy and happy. Without a car, which many Copenhageners don’t have, there is no other option, so you dress for the weather and get out. This mentality is very Danish, which is why the warm and weather-poof clothing here is so good.
And Danes look good, whatever the weather. I see girls pulling off a duvet coat with baggy trousers look and I don’t know how. They are just effortlessly cool. Those Danish genes I don’t possess sadly. But there is also the sense that people aren’t self conscious. Clothing is practical and stylish, makeup is minimal and natural. And I’ve never felt more comfortable to step out onto a busy street with what is probably not my best look, because no one frankly cares. This ties in with body confidence. You’ll find people sunbathing topless in the parks, swimming topless in the sea and you’re not allowed into the public swimming pools, unless you’ve had your communal naked shower beforehand. So transfer this over to breastfeeding attitudes and you can see why breastfeeding rates are so high here. It certainly made my feeding apron I brought over from England, look slightly silly.
Two years a Dane?
So do I feel any more Danish, having lived here for two years?
Two years sounded such a long time when we first started this adventure. And if you look at that photo from Lydia’s first flight out here, to the most recent, you can see what two years looks like. Rich and I probably thought we’d speak Danish by now, maybe feel like we’d “done” the Danish experience and I’d certainly feel like I knew what Danish genes were all about. But the reality is that we still feel very new. Time goes quickly when you’re in the thick of parenting little ones. Discovering a new culture and learning a new language is a lengthy process. And the beginning of any relocation is tough. There are hurdles and pain barriers to overcome. But as you get over them, one step at a time, one ‘settling in win’ over another, you start to see more of the country that was first hidden from your naive expat eyes. You slowly start to ingrain yourself into the culture, the practicalities, the language and the people. And that’s when the magic starts to happen. For us, it has meant growing our family in Denmark; watching Lydia truly become a bilingual child; Sofia grow as a Danish baby and us, as husband and wife, maintain our spirit of adventure, despite the piles of washing and broken nights. I don’t mention him enough but without him, none of this would work. The one without the Danish gene but the one who embraces it with his laid back optimism, hard work, realism and support. Probably the most Danish of us all. So two year-anniversary – this one’s down to you Rich.