“It is easy to underestimate the importance of the societal structures that regulate belonging. As a foreigner you are by definition the intruder, who is only accepted as a temporary guest. We can feel we need to earn our right to be more than a guest here and in that process, we sometimes lose a little of ourselves, and become a little disconnected from who we are.”
I always thought of myself as someone who would remain in Denmark for at least another 10 years or so. I thought I’d live happily amongst the happiest people on earth, riding my bike, wearing a lot of black and shacking up with a cute Dane. As life would have it though, things don’t always turn out how we plan and often the reality of a place compared to our vision for it can be a rather cold slap in the face.
So incase you’re confused as to why I jumped ship there, let me explain a few reasons for bidding farewell to that cute little land.
This is a hard one to admit. I’d like to have you all think I have crazy amounts of friends and we’re out having a ball every night, but that would be far from the truth.
Denmark can be an incredibly lonely place to be. Never have to felt so isolated in a culture as I have in Denmark.
I came to realise there that while I have a lot of wonderful individual friends, I don’t belong to a set ‘group’ of friends and that immediately cuts me out of a huge amount of social gatherings.
It seems Danes make a tight group of friends at school or boarding school and they hang out most weekends.
When I often ask people what they did on Friday or Saturday night they’ll refer to their ‘group’ of friends they hung out with. And while some of my friends can be very inclusive for special events, gaining access to these groups for regular weekday or weekend events can be rather hard.
I’ll never forget a period of around two months over winter when I had no social life for any Saturday nights. As hard as I tried to invite people over or make plans though, people were either busy with their groups of friends or with family events. It was quite a blow to my self-confidence as I expected after three and half years here that I’d at least have enough social contacts to hang out with in the weekends.
On top of this, the Danes are busy people. They’re also very family-oriented and will spend lots of time at family birthdays or other events. So it’s not like I’m seeing friends on a daily basis or we are just ‘dropping by’. Luckily I had some amazing colleagues so that was pretty much like seeing friends on a daily basis anyway.
The lack of spontaneity
I would rank the non-existence of spontaneity in Denmark as being a harder cultural barrier to overcome than the Danish winter.
Holy moly. Where do I start with this one? When I first came to Denmark this never bothered me, I guess because I was just so motivated to integrate that I was prepared to make plans six weeks in advance if that what it took to make friends.
It wasn’t until I started working full time and realised how stressful it is to have so many plans.
But let me tell you something – if you don’t book in times with your friends, then there’s a good chance you may not see them for a long time.
There are two people I know who I can call up after work and ask for a wine and they might be able to come, but the rest I know will be booked.
As Kiwis, we live our lives day to day. No ones really knows what they’re up to on the weekend yet, we just “wait and see”.
To this day, I have yet to see my parents pull out a diary. We have one calendar in the kitchen but that’s mainly used for the pretty pictures of the New Zealand mountains.
So again I guess it’s part of the vicious cycle. You don’t make plans, you don’t get to see people and therefore you get lonely. So the solution is to just make plans. However it goes against the very core of my nature to make coffee dates three weeks in advance or plan my vacation time three months in advance.
I once had a friend say to me, “I don’t think I would know how to just have a weekend at home and be spontaneous.”
And it makes me laugh because at home I’m considered rather a ‘planner’ whereas in Denmark I feel like a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants hippy.
Dating the Danes
Over the past two years I’ve said everything I need to say on this topic. However, despite the dating culture which can be navigated it was the big issues that came into play.
In my experience as a foreigner, I found Danes to be incredibly interested in you at the beginning, but due to the fact you’re from abroad, many lack seeing you as a good long term option.
There are hundreds of exceptions to this. But on the whole I would say with conviction that ‘Danes love Denmark and Danes love living in Denmark’. So anyone who would potentially take them away from their country or not accept their way of doing things would not be something they would actively pursue.
And the reason I say this is because three guys who I was pretty interested in (and who were initially interested in me) all told me or a friend of mine that ‘they just weren’t that interested in being with a foreigner’.
Now that was a tough pill to swallow.
The comfortable life
Denmark is the perfect place to live a comfortable life. It has everything you need. You can have a nice job, nice friends, a great six weeks of vacations and a great apartment. It is comfortable and nothing changes too much. So I often thought I was slightly mad for choosing to leave.
But all of those things I mentioned above once used to be small things, which eventually turned into big things.
Despite everything, it was one pretty amazing country with some wonderful people. It was my home for four years on-and-off and I don’t regret living there at all. I will miss it terribly and probably return every July to get my Danish fix once a year. But for now I will bid you farvel and hope that we meet again soon.