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.