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