DENMARK for Americans
This document is based on a page from my website that was intended for the use of Americans coming to Denmark. When I say Americans, I mean adult, English-speaking citizens of the United States of America. The information herein may be useful to others, but that's incidental to my intentions. This document contains updates not included on the website version. This document was last updated in August 2012.
A Word of Caution My application for permanent residency was rejected in 2011 due to my having been unable to “demonstrate adequate democratic development or participation in activities that would elicit good citizenship and fellowship with the norms, principles, and values of Danish culture. Apparently these qualities are inadequately demonstrated by my having lived here nine years, learned the language, married a Dane, fathered two Danish children, worked in two of Denmark’s most iconic companies (and freelanced for a third), purchased a Danish house, paid Danish income taxes, voted in local Danish elections, boosted Denmark enthusiastically all over the
web, and consumed ungodly amounts of herring, mackerel, and leverpostej. My appeal was rejected, my complaint to the immigration ministry was rejected, and in March of 2012 the parliamentary ombudsman declared himself “unable to be critical” of the government’s decisions. So although I love it here, I warn any Americans contemplating a move here that the bureaucracy is a disaster and a simple error on a government form can cast you into the abyss. I would advise against such a move until more sensible and consistent immigration and residency laws have been put into place.
There are two primary resources for anyone in Denmark, including Danes themselves. The first is AOK.dk (English version). This is basically an entertainment and recreation guide to Denmark. As a tourist, it's a valuable resource for finding restaurants, accommodations, museum exhibits, and valuable tools like a currency converter, maps, airport and train timetables, and the like. As a resident, it's like the entertainment section of your local newspaper. The second major resource is probably of limited value to visitors, but is absolutely vital for residents. That's Borger.dk (borger = citizen). It's the portal to the Danish government, and if you think access to government information isn't important then you obviously haven't yet lived in a Social Democracy. The site used to offer a useful tourism section in English but no longer does. So try these semiofficial sites in English: VisitDenmark.com and VisitCopenhagen.dk. The real value of Borger.dk is as a starting point for all serious questions about life in Denmark. It's not available in English, but by the time you're in need of these services you probably will have learned enough Danish to muddle through. But, Moron, I haven't learned enough Danish yet, and I already need these services! Well, yeah. I figured that might happen, since it happened to me. But you're luckier than I was: you can now translate Danish web pages on the fly using Google Translate, which now handles English-to-Danish and Danish-to-English translation. Add it to your Google toolbar and you're one click away from instant translation of any Danish website. (Just remember it's a free tool, and you get what you pay for. For example, here is a Google translation of a Berlingske Tidende article from May 2010: “The Icelandic volcano during glacier Eyjafjallajökull are eruptions on the 32nd days, but nothing suggests that the eruption of the land has lost steam - rather the contrary.”) If you're using any flavor of Google Mail, you can also load their translator app, enabling you to translate emails within your mail client. There are plenty of translation apps on the market. Instantaneous voice translation apps for smart phones and VOIP don't appear to be far off. As an American, you can always find help from the U.S. Embassy. The Living in Denmark page
is particularly useful, covering everything from visa and employment laws to contact information for instruction in Danish.
(And speaking of learning Danish, from personal experience I strongly recommend Studieskolen. The other big language school is K.I.S.S., with which I have no direct experience. Danish instruction has been mandatory and free for immigrants and resident aliens, but the laws, they are a-changin'...) There are more generalized sites for expats of all nationalities in Denmark, like ExpatNet.dk. Also, there are plenty of useful apps for your smartphone, most of which are intuitive enough to use even if you can't understand the Danish texts - there are TogInfo and TogInfo Pro for the iPhone, for example, and they're both excellent. I also regularly use the CPH Airport app (which is in English) and DMI's Byvejret (city weather) app. The new version of Byvejret has inexplicably dropped radar, however, so if you like near-realtime radar views, stick with the Weather Channel app. Foursquare can provide a lot of valuable tips in real time. If you're looking for work because you're moving here, or want to find a job that will make it possible for you to live here, JobsInCopenhagen is a good starting spot for English-speaking professionals. If you're an English-speaking woman new to the Copenhagen area, you might want to look into Ladies International Network København (LINK) for social networking. As a former employee of Berlingske Media, I'm a little biased as to which Danish newspapers you might want to look at. Berlingske Tidende and B.T. are my preferred Copenhagen dailies. If you're visiting or moving to Jylland, stick with Århus Stiftstidende or JydskeVestkysten. There are free dailies everywhere, but of course I'm going to recommend Urban. (As a former employee of Nordisk Film, I'm going to recommend you visit kino.dk or biozonen.dk if you want to see a movie.) There are a lot of little groups on Facebook for Americans in Denmark. I don't belong to any of them (as of this writing) even though I'm on FB, but that's probably only because there was no such thing as Facebook when I moved here, and at this point... why bother?
The frenzied tourist on a rush-visit to Copenhagen probably wants, at minimum, to see the Little Mermaid and Tivoli, take a Canal Tour, have at least one meal (or a couple of drinks) around Nyhavn, walk along Stroget, sneak a peek at (or sample the wares of) the hash peddlers of Christiania's Pusher Street, ascend Rundetårn, and see the changing of the guard at the royal residence of Amelienborg. Maybe a stroll through Frederiksberg Garden, or a picnic up in Dyrehaven followed by a visit to Bakken. Getting further out of town, you probably want to check out the Viking Museum in Roskilde, “Hamlet’s Castle” Kronborg in Helsingør, or Frederiksborg Slot in Hillerød. It’s not my intention to get too deeply into such touristy recommendations, since the net is awash in tourist guides specializing in just that. “Alternative” Copenhagen is also outside my jurisdiction. I'm not gay, I'm not a stoner, and most artsy-fartsy stuff leaves me totally cold despite my own artsy-fartsy background.
Those caveats aside, here are a few helpful tips I think I can offer my fellow Americans who are thinking about coming to Denmark, whether as weekend tourists or long-term residents.
You don't have to know where Odense is, or the names of the straits between Denmark's major land masses, but it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of Danish geography no matter how short your visit. Most importantly, contrary to what many Americans seem to think, Amsterdam is not in Denmark. Amsterdam is in the Netherlands (and sometimes Holland). Try to keep that in mind. As far as the geography of Copenhagen goes, there are maps all over the city. If you can't read a map, I can't help you. But in terms of its situation within Denmark, Copenhagen is on the central east coast of the easternmost landmass (Sjælland, or Zealand) of the nation. There's a bridge to the southernmost city of Sweden, which is visible across the sound. From Copenhagen it's about an hour's drive north to Elsinore, a couple of hours south to the ferries for Germany, and about a ninety minute drive west to the bridge for Fyn.
The Danish name for Copenhagen is København, and means "Merchants' Harbor." (You can find a history of the city here.)
Language As an English speaker, you have all the language skills required to survive in Denmark. There may be some remote corner of this little country where no one speaks English, but I've been here 8½ years, have been all over Denmark, and still haven't found it. Danes will always welcome your efforts to speak their own language, but they probably won't understand a word you say. The English-language literacy rate is probably higher in Denmark than it is in some American states. (Danish schoolchildren begin studying English in about the second or third grade.) One of the reasons Englishspeakers have such a hard time learning Danish is that the minute a Dane identifies you as an anglophone, however competent your Danish, they're going to want to switch right over to English. You can pick up the English-language weekly Copenhagen Post in most tourist-heavy areas downtown. CNN and several BBC channels are included in most cable packages. English-language programming appears on Danish channels all the time. It seems like there's almost always an episode of
CSI, Friends, Frasier, or the Simpsons on somewhere. American movies are played all over the city all the time, and most big blockbusters now open here the same day they open in the states. (Danish cinemas are very nice and at some theatres, depending on the day of the week and the screening time, you can order actual seats in advance priced according to location. And the concession stands sell beer! Good beer! On tap! -- But be sure to patronize only Nordisk Film cinemas!) Denmark televises more NFL games than any other country except America. If you were fool enough to want to, you could sit in your Copenhagen apartment sipping Diet Pepsi, eating a Dominoes Pizza, and watching an American movie you rented at Blockbuster. It sometimes seems to me that the only thing Danes enjoy more than American culture is mocking American culture.
Climate Thanks to the Gulf Stream, even though Denmark is as far north as Alaska her climate is similar to that of the Pacific Northwest, with slightly colder winters and a little more snow. It's not the weather that'll kick your American butt during winter: it's the soul-killing darkness that cloaks the land. Yes, you're paid back for it each spring and early summer when the sun shines for all your waking hours, but that sunshine can seem awfully far away from the cold, dark gloom of a January morning.
Outside of the major department stores and upscale (over-priced) tourist restaurants and boutiques, not many restaurants or retailers accept American Visa, MasterCard, or AmericanExpress cards. They look like they do, but those signs and symbols and machines are all about Dankort and EuroVisa, neither of which you are likely to possess. So bring your American ATM card (accepted by all Danish ATMs) and prepare to do most of your transactions in cash (or via debit) until you open a Danish bank account and get your own Dankort. The exchange rate you'll get from Danish ATMs
is usually better than the exchange rates you'll get at local "Currency Exchange" shops, so unless your bank levies heavy charges on you for foreign withdrawals, this is really the best way to go. (Update: I'm told American credit cards have gained much wider acceptance, but this may only apply if you've got a PIN-code on your card... in other words, if you can make your credit card behave like a debit card. I no longer have any American credit cards, so I can no longer speak from personal experience.)
How Not to Get Killed The first behavior you need to change when you arrive in Copenhagen is that you must learn to take the bike lanes into account when crossing the street as a pedestrian or taking a right turn while driving. There was even a citywide campaign a year or two ago to get people to think about bikers when they open the passenger doors of their parked cars: “Catch bikers with your eyes,” the tagline ran, “not your door.” Whenever I'm visited by someone from the states, I inevitably end up having to grab their arms and jerk them back to stop them from stepping directly in front of an oncoming bicycle. The experience is usually instructive enough not to have to be repeated. You really, really need to be aware of those bike lanes.
There's no need to tip in Denmark. That's just as well, because outside of the most upscale restaurants and tourist-traps, you'll rarely get restaurant service that makes you feel like tipping. Waiters and waitresses receive actual salaries, which is one of the reasons it's so expensive to eat out in Denmark. (Even accounting for fluctuations in the exchange rate, an ordinary meal out in Copenhagen will cost about the same as a nice meal out in Manhattan.) It's probably also why service can be so awful: your waiter's going to get paid whether or not you enjoy your dining experience.
But when I say there’s no need to tip I don’t mean you should not tip at all: I mean you shouldn’t tip as you would in America. I’ll get back to that in a moment. The no-tipping rule also applies to cabbies, porters, bartenders, and so on. (I would recommend, however, that you tip any bartender who gives you an actual pour rather than a carefully measured couple of milliliters… but not too much: you will never, ever get a bar buy in Denmark.)
On the other hand, you are welcome to round out your restaurant bill by a few extra kroner (paying 400 kroner, for example, on a 385-kroner meal), which overpayment is not considered a small tip but a friendly bit of drikkepenge, or “drinking money.” So you don’t actually tip, but you do tip. It’s all very confusing and inconsistent. I’ll try to break it down a little further by practical example, but first let me explain my own perspective so you can decide whether or not you wish to trust my judgment.
I am an over-tipper in the US, tipping below 20% of the after-tax bill only when the service is abysmal. You'd have to practically pee in my soup to get me to tip under 15%. At American bars I tip generously enough to coax a bar buy out of even the stingiest bartenders.
As someone who worked in many bars and restaurants in the early years of my adult life, I am extremely sensitive to the importance of the tip to the American services professional. But I stand by my position that American-style tipping is inappropriate in Denmark. I find support for my not-quite tipping stance here, here, and here. Two of those sites suggest a 10-30 kroner tip is "appreciated" (but not necessary). A Danish reader writes in to one site to suggest that foreigners who complain about restaurant service probably haven't tipped that extra 10-30 kroner. That doesn’t stand to reason: few foreign tourists are going to eat in any given restaurant more than once during their stay, and how can a waiter know how much (or whether) his first-time customers are going to tip him until the meal is already over? More likely, American tourists don't tip because from an American point of view, most (not all! not all!) service is—and I say this as one who loves Denmark, who cherishes living here, who loves Danes and their culture with all his heart, and is absurdly forgiving of the pressures on waiters—somewhere in the range between disappointing to oh-my-god awful. I get a lot of feedback on my advice, and this section always generates the most heat. It’s a sensitive subject. But as long as Denmark straddles this weird middle ground between a culture of actual tipping and a culture of drikkepenge, I would simply suggest you err on the side of your conscience but never lose sight of the three key elements at play: 1. 2. 3. 4.
You do not have to “tip”. Most service will not make you want to tip. You are expected to cough up a little drikkepenge to acknowledge decent service. You therefore should tip whenever you experience unusually good service.
I haven't been to every American city, so there may be a subway like this somewhere in the United States, or elsewhere in Europe, but I haven't seen it. The Metro offers a clean, smooth ride, and the stations have the airy lightness that's such a staple of Scandinavian design. If you're here for a short visit, most of your touring will be done between the stations of Nørreport, Kongens Nytorv, and Vestamager. The airport is at last accessible via Metro, too. Development continues faster than I update this page, so check the link above for the most up-to-date information. (Although Nørreport station is currently being renovated, so be aware of possible snarls there.) Train operator DSB has a useful guide to the S-Trains, which are more far-reaching than the Metro (but not as far reaching as the "normal" trains). And you can see why they’re called S-Trains here. Cabs are very expensive in Copenhagen, but at least you're paying for a quality ride in a Mercedes. Most will accept American debit or credit cards, but ask first just to be safe. Many cabs even have bike racks, meaning you can get yourself home if you biked out to a bar and got too drunk to bike home. You can also take your bike on the STrains (see more below). Buses are also clean and reliable throughout the capitol region. The primary means of transportation in Copenhagen, if not all of Denmark, is the bicycle. I can't overstate the ubiquity of the bike. The very infrastructure of the city has been tailored to accommodate bicycles: almost every street of consequence has separate bike lanes between the sidewalks and car lanes, and many intersections even have a separate set of lights for bikes. You can take your bike on the train, if you must (there are special cars for this, and
you might also need to pay a little surcharge; see the DSB page, above, for specifics). At several points in the city you can pick up a "city bike" by depositing a 20 kroner coin that's refunded when you return the bicycle to any other such point. (Update: this program seems to have died and most of the city bike racks are empty now. Although as of April 2009, I've noticed some new looking citybikes downtown, so maybe they're starting the program up again.) If you're going to ride a bike around Copenhagen, though, you had damn well better know a thing or two about bike etiquette, which Danes take very seriously. In fact, they've legislated it. First, and most importantly, do not ride at night without lights, because you could end up getting an expensive fine. Also, use handsignals whenever you turn or stop, obey all traffic lights, and note that you cannot take a direct left turn. If you're riding happily along at a leisurely pace and hear a sudden, persistent dinging behind you, there's someone behind you signalling their intent to pass on your left. Try to hug the curb and let them pass. (Similarly, if you're stuck behind someone going too slowly, ding your bell and marvel at the instinctive way they move to the right to make room for you to pass.) As a reader recently pointed out to me, you can now take a bike on the S-Train for free, although you're not allowed to embark or disembark with bikes at Nørreport during rush hours. But bikes don't just affect bikers. Their vast presence also requires some adjustments from pedestrians, so keep those “how not to killed” tips front of mind…
A changing of the guard at the royal residence of Amelienborg, above. Below: Nyhavn.
Grocery Shopping Grocery shopping in Denmark isn’t all that different from grocery shopping in the states—you get your stuff, you bring it to the register, you pay, you leave— but the few differences that do exist are worth noting. One mixed blessing about shopping in Denmark is that every price you see includes sales tax, so the price you see is the price you pay. (It’s a mixed blessing because the tax you pay is 25% on most consumer goods.) Also, no one will bag your groceries for you (there are a very few exceptions to this rule, but too few to bother with). Nor will anyone ask you “paper or plastic.” In fact, no one will even give you a bag: there are grocery bags for sale at checkout, usually in shelves under the checkout counter itself. Expect to pay about 2 kroner per bag . It’s therefore not a bad idea to bring your own bags into the store with you. You can fold a few plastic bags up and stash a couple in your coat pocket, purse, or backpack. (A hefty backpack is actually a great way to transport heavy stuff like fluids and pet food.) Because you’ll be packing yourself, crappy bags can really make your life hell. Many moons ago, the Netto shopping bag was especially recommended by a Danish reader, and my own experience to that point confirmed her opinion that Netto bags were "super-deluxe-extra-strong,” whereas in my experience Føtex bags had proved to be flimsy and unreliable things. Conditions are constantly changing, however, so I now hesitate to make any categorical statements about the relative quality of shopping bags.
Also, you'll need a 10 or 20 kroner piece if you intend to use a shopping cart, because they require a deposit for use. Some supermarkets sell “slugs” emblazoned with their logos that you can use anywhere a 20kroner coin is required. They cost 20 kroner, so you're not saving any money, but you can keep it on your keychain and always have it with you since you can't actually spend it anywhere. Smaller grocery stores--little neighborhood greengrocers and the like--won't give you a bag if you're just buying a couple of products, either, but will usually offer one if you've purchased more than can reasonably be expected to be carried or pocketed or stuck in a purse. If a merchant looks up at you and says, "Pose?" they're asking if you want a bag. (But if you just stare blankly back at them they'll probably follow up by saying, “Do you want a bag?”) Also, you will quickly notice prices that cannot be paid in actually currency: the smallest denomination coin in circulation is the half-kroner, but you will constantly see prices like 19.95. That’s the amount you will pay using a debit or credit card, but if you’re paying cash then your total bill will be rounded up or down to the nearest half-kroner. Try to pack your groceries quickly because if you take too long you’ll back up the line and people will start getting pissy. For what it’s worth, Netto, Fakta, Lidl, and Rema 1000 are discount groceries. Føtex, Super Best, Kvickly, Super Brugsen, and Spar are ordinary supermarkets. Bilka is a superstore.
Don't be an idiot in Christiania. Until fairly recently you could walk right up to a stall on Pusher Street, inspect their hash offerings, buy yourself a chunk, and light right up. The stalls are gone. I'm sure there's still hash to be had, but although I wouldn't have warned against the pursuit of hash in Christiania as recently as the winter of 2005, I can't urge you strongly enough not to pursue it today. The police are cracking down hard. (That's why the stalls are gone, although they've got one on display at the National Museum.) If you think a couple of tokes of hash are worth the risk of prison (or a large fine) then don't let me discourage you. But Christiana's got plenty of bars and cafes, and it'll be a cold day in hell before Danish cops interest themselves in how much liquor you've consumed. By all means visit Christiania, but remember that, unlike in the great Danish city of Amsterdam (heh), all the drugs being offered in Christiania are just as illegal as they are in, say, Salt Lake City-and you could find yourself in trouble.
If it's summer, go the beach. If you're an American woman, you've probably longed for the day when you could pop off your bikini top and sun your upper body in the open air, without any tan-lines or feelings of shame or exhibitionism. If you're an American man, you've probably longed for the day when you could go to the beach and see a lot of women doing just that. Visit any major beach in Denmark during the summer (i.e., the first week of August) and that's what you'll find. There's also a nude beach up in Klampenborg, if that's your thing. Haven't been there myself, but it's there. Drink beer at Nyhavn. Sooner or later every tourist goes to Nyhavn (literally New Harbor), just off Kongens Nytorv (literally The King's New Square). This is possibly the most picturesque spot in Copenhagen--and even if it isn't, it's damn sure the most photographed. Formerly the site of rancid pubs and whorehouses for sailors, it's now home to overpriced restaurants and bars. It's not illegal to walk around drinking beer in Denmark, so instead of taking a cafe table and paying 30-55 kroner (5-11 bucks) per pint of Carlsberg or Tuborg, grab a couple of beers at a kiosk and plant your ass on the “pedestrian” side of Nyhavn. (Note: this is very bad advice in winter. In winter it's probably worthwhile to go into one of those joints and order some glogg and æbleskiver, dough-ball pastries that you lather with preserves and powedered sugar.) And when you dine out… If you’re coming to Denmark to dine at Noma, the greatest restaurant in the world, then you’re in for a treat I will probably never experience. There are a lot of other fine dining experiences to be had in Denmark and you can certainly have exceptional meals with exceptional service at quite a few places. But in considering the vast majority of Denmark’s restaurants, allow me to respectfully ignore those outliers and focus on the more ordinary dining experience. I've already mentioned the unfortunate impact of servers who aren’t motivated by the desire to solicit a generous tip, but an American eating in
Copenhagen needs to be aware of a few other peculiarities of the Danish dining experience. First and foremost, it's expensive. Secondly, ethnic restaurants aren't going to be what you expect: Chinese food in Denmark has no relationship whatever to Chinese food in America. Mexican, Japanese, and South American food (if you can find it) will also disappoint. European cuisine is well represented, however, and there’s a lot of good Thai food to be had. Don't be afraid of the Pølsevogn (sausage wagons): Denmark has perfected the art of the sausage and hot dog and if you're a fan of the genre you're going to be very happy here.
Food If you're eating Danish food among Danes, don't try to put your own smørrebrød together unsupervised. You'll end up putting herring on white bread, or smoked salmon on rye, or putting the wrong toppings on things. Then the Danes will laugh at you and tell you what you ought to have done, even as they inform you that, of course, you're free to put whatever you want on your bread. Snicker, snicker.
I was recently told the story of a Dane who let a British colleague new to Denmark assemble his own smørrebrød – and watched in horror and amusement as the Brit piled a few slices of pickled herring onto what he thought was bread but was actually cake. It's much easier to allow Danes the pleasure they get from telling you what goes with what. For example: smoked salmon, cheese, and preserves always go on white bread; herring, mackerel, leverpostej, and stegtflæske always go on rye; mackerel demands mayonnaise, fried fish get lemon twists and remoulade, and--wait, I said remoulade. You may not like remoulade. Be sure to taste a little bit before you put it on anything. A reader informs me that under no circumstance must you let your spoon clink your teeth when you are eating soup among Danes. Another reader informs me that a good source for finding vegetarian eats, which are limited in Copenhagen, can be found at Happycow.com. In general, the two pillars of Danish cuisine are the pig and the potato. (Danish rye bread isn’t quite a pillar, but it’s at least a flying buttress.) You can certainly survive in Denmark if you don’t eat pork or potatoes, but the living’s a lot easier if you do. While Danish cuisine is very different from American cuisine, and while eating habits also differ, the differences are minor and globalization is eroding them day by day. But the opposite is not true, so be sure to indulge yourself in the world’s best breads and dairy products while you’re here… you’ll miss them when you get back home.
Holiday Meals Denmark is a Lutheran country and has long-standing traditions for the various Christian holidays, most of which involve a large meal and several of which also involve great amounts of alcohol. Denmark is not a strictly observant Christian country these days, but the holiday meals remain quite traditional. The most infamous of these is the julefrokost, or Christmas lunch. Families hold them, workplaces hold them, groups of friends hold them. The four weekends of Advent are rife with them. Be very careful!
Electricity You need to educate yourself about electricity if you're going to move here. You can do that here. My advice is to leave as many appliances as you can back in the states, lest your home become (as ours once was) a horrifying fire hazard of extension cords, converters, adapters, and so on. Plus you run the risk of destroying your components if you use the wrong converter. Most computers have their own power converters built into the power supply and can therefore accept European as well as American electricity: you'll just need to buy a new power cable and be sure to flick the little red switch on the back of your computer before you plug your American computer into a European outlet, or it's goodbye computer! I speak from experience: the sound of an exploding power supply is not something you
want to hear coming out of your CPU. But you're bound to ignore me, so... Brinck Electronik sells all the adapters and converters you'll need (including the aforementioned cables). They also sell, for about a $120-150, if I remember correctly, a great transformer that you can plug into a Danish wall and treat just like an American outlet--you could, for example, plop it down in your kitchen and (with the help of an American extension cord) plug in your American toaster, coffeemaker, blender, and so on. But if you're willing to spend that kind of money on a transformer, wouldn't it be easier to spend the same money on a new toaster, new coffeemaker, new blender, and so on? Plus you'd save yourself the hassle of shipping all that crap over here.
Hey Big Spender Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in the world. On top of that, there's a 25% sales tax. Some or all of that may be refundable when you leave the country, but that's hardly enough to compensate: at best, you might hope to break even. Besides, you can shop all you want back home. You're in Copenhagen. Eat, drink, and enjoy the city. The postal rates are going up more frequently than I update this page. Mail is quite expensive, compared to the states, and it's ungodly expensive (but refreshingly easy) to ship packages out of the country. Get up-do-date information at the Post website or from its mobile apps. (“Brev” is letter and “Pakke” is package, “Indland” is domestic and “Udland” is foreign, and that should be enough for you to muddle through the site without a lick of Danish, since everything else is about sizes and prices.)
Computer, WiFi, & A/V Internet Access: Internet access in Denmark is generally fast and reliable, and there are plenty of ways to get online while you’re in-country. All Danish libraries offer free access to the internet via WiFi and their own stationary computers. There can be waits at the library if you just pop in unannounced to use a computer, but you can reserve computer time beforehand to avoid the delay. You may need a library card to do so, but you can get a library card as soon as you've got a local address. A lot of cafés, bars and restaurants offer free WiFi access for their customers. McDonalds, for example, offers free WiFi-access at all their Danish locations (I can’t bring myself to call them “restaurants”). The 3G and 4G network in Denmark is good. You can buy pre-paid sim-cards for short-term periods at some of the ISP shops if you already have a USB-modem. Be sure to check the coverage maps before you buy a sim-card, though, because there are big differences in coverage. Telecom subscriptions in Denmark often commit you to a six-month contract, but
the contract periods never exceed that. So take care when you “sign on the line that is dotted,” because you’re probably going to be stuck with whatever you’re signing up for half a year. For more specific information about internet access in Denmark, including links to coverage maps, access to carriers and their shops, and the proverbial much, much more, check out the Englishlanguage guide on the Danish website Bredbåndsmatch.dk. DVDs & Videogames: For reasons understandable to others, but not to me, Europe has different DVD and console game disc standards than the United States. This means your American DVDs won't play on a standard European DVD player (and vice-versa) and your American copy of Hitman: Contracts won't play on any European X-Box or Playstation (and vice-versa). In the case of DVDs, however, you can buy (or rent) “code-free” DVD players that can accommodate both American and European DVDs. They're actually very common now. In the case of videogames, however, you're shit out of luck. Either bring your console set with you and deal with the electrical issues or leave your games behind.
Meds Bring cold and flu medicines with you, because they just don't have that many here. Danish doctors like to tell cold and flu patients to drink chamomile tea, which isn't what most Americans want to hear. Antacids haven't caught on here: if you gobble Tums or Rolaids, you're going to need to bring some along. (I still load up on Tums every time I'm in the states.) The only antacid you can get here is called “Link,” and although it’s very effective, and although you don't need a prescription, you do have to get it at the pharmacy.
If you're looking for Tylenol, you won't find it. The leading aspirin-free analgesic here is Panodil. I'm allergic to aspirin and have no
Gasoline Gas, or benzin, is expensive here—several times what you're used to paying in the states. If you're going to rent a car and do a lot of driving while you're here, you may well end up spending more on the gas than you do renting the car. If you're moving here, try to get by without a car as long as you can. Public transportation is cheap, clean, and easy to use. If you want to buy a car, remember there's 180% luxury tax on new cars. That's not a typo. It's one-hundred and eighty percent—not just on the purchase price, but after the VAT has been applied. So you basically pay three times the MSRP for the privilege of operating a vehicle you don't really need that runs on a fuel more expensive than beer. You'll want a bike.
problems with Panodil. Although you can get most over-the-counter medicines at supermarkets and 7-Elevens, they’re kept in glass cases behind the counters and you're only allowed to buy one type of medication at a time. I'm serious. If you want more than that you need to go to the pharmacy, or apotek. They don't keep very long hours, though, so you need to be aware of the 24-hour apotek downtown, across from the train station. (They do not sell Link in supermarkets.) Lastly, in case of emergency, do not dial 911. In Denmark, as in much of Europe, the emergency number is 112.
Money The unit of currency in Denmark is the krone, or crown, with a value that ranges between five and eight to the dollar. Check here for the current rate. There are 100 øre, or ears, to the krone. (Kroner is just plural for krone.)
Measures There's no way around it, alas. If you're coming here for any substantial period of time, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the GMS (Goddam Metric System). There are plenty of apps for converting measurements, but if you’re going to be here for any length of time you’re almost better off forgetting about conversion and simply coming to terms with the metric system organically. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s critical that you avoid my mistake of walking into a gym with the assumption that the difference between a pound and a kilo is “whatever.” It ain’t. A liter is just a little less than a quart, but you probably already know that since so many American beverages are sold by the liter these days. Temperatures below about 10 Celsius are cold, 1115 are cool, 16-20 are warm, 21-25 are summer, and temperatures of 26 and above mean you're not in Denmark anymore. One helpful hint I got was to keep a little temperature conversion table taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. Nine years in Denmark and I still live and die by that conversion table when I cook. A kilometer is about 2/3 of a mile.
They are phasing out the øre coins, which have about all the value of lint. Only the 50-øre coins are still in official circulation: they're caramel-colored, thin, and light. Then there are 1-, 2-, and 5-kroner pieces. These are the silvery color of our dimes, have holes in them, and get bigger with value. There are also 10- and 20-kroner pieces: penny colored, unpierced, and with a little weight to them. There are 50-, 100-, 200-, 500-, and 1000-kroner notes, each in its own size and color (but all of them in rectangular shape). As mentioned elsewhere, stores often offer prices like 19.95. This can be confusing, because you cannot possibly pay someone 19.95 in Danish currency (although you can on your Dankort). They will therefore always round off your cash purchase to the nearest amount payable in Danish currency, which is currently the half-crown. Some registers (and their receipts) will even show you two totals: the amount of the actual purchase price, and the amount you're going to pay. It's a weird, weird system, but you get used to it. Think of it the way you think of those tenthof-a-cent prices on American gas, and you'll find it doesn't seem as confusing.
Recycling Denmark is extremely environmentally conscious. There are recycling bins for everything, everywhere. The sorting of garbage is virtually an art form. But the first thing you need to get a handle on is that you have to recycle bottles (and some cans) not because you give a damn about the enviornment, but because you're throwing real money away if you don't. The smallest deposit you'll pay on a bottle here is 1.50 kroner, or about $0.25, for a half-liter bottle of soda or a third-liter bottle of beer. For the 1.5- and 2-liter bottles, the deposit is twice that. (If you're bad at math, that'd be 3 kroner, or about $0.50.) That's actually real money, and you'll learn to recycle real fast. Cans are garbage, unless they have the recycling
Booze Hard liquor is unbearably expensive here. I can't stress that enough. An 0.70-liter bottle of Jim Beam, for example, usually costs at least thirty bucks. A bottle of decent single malt scotch costs about double what you’d pay in the states. Order hard liquor at a bar, and they'll measure out 2 cl. of the booze (that's exactly one tablespoon plus one teaspoon)— and charge you seven to ten bucks. If you want a mixer, they'll charge extra for that. Danes are drinkers by nature, but they’re beer and wine and snaps drinkers. Learn to be one. (I should note that cocktails are coming back into style, and this trend is being reflected at savvy bars, clubs, and cafés.)
symbol next to the bar code, in which case they're recyclable (but be sure not to crumple the cans, or you won't get your deposit back). Glass jars and bottles are recycled in big recycling dumpsters located on just about every city block and outside most grocery stores. Your plastic bottles and recyclable cans can be returned to automated receptacles at most grocery stores: the automats will accept all your bottles, calculate the return, and print out a receipt that any of the store’s cashiers can convert into cash for you.
Some automates now give you the option of donating your returns to charity.
Copenhagen is in the midst of a small babyboom. It's actually surprising it took this long for the native population to start cranking babies out (they're currently pumping out more babies-per-capita than any other nation in Europe) given the extent to which the culture and infrastructure of the nation seem to encourage itâ€”first by emphasizing the romantic coziness (hygge) so conducive to the act of reproduction, second by making Denmark one of the best countries in the world to bear and raise a child. That's all that needs to be said on the subject: there's no need to get into specifics because the simple fact is that very few places on earth are better for children than Copenhagen and environs. Period.
Finding or Avoiding Other Americans Some Americans may want to know where they'd be most likely to find other Americans in Denmark so they can hook up with their countrymen while they're here. Others may want to know the same thing in order to avoid their countrymen while they're here. I can't speak for the rest of Denmark, but in Copenhagen you'll find the highest concentration (I didn't want to use the word density) of Americans exactly where you'd expect to: at all the tourist spots downtown. That includes Tivoli, Nyhavn, RĂĽdhusplads (Town Hall Square), Stroeget (the pedestrian streets), Langelinie, and so on. But the fact is, there are Americans all over Copenhagen and you're going to bump into them everywhere... along with Japanese, Thais, Brazilians, Turks, Poles, Italians, Chinese, and so on. I first started this guide before all the social networking sites took off, so of course these days those would probably be a good place to start.
There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. Danish proverb
Also: Denmark is an extremely casual country, but Americans should be careful not to confuse “casual” with “sloppy.” You can wear distressed clothing, if that's your look, but you had better wear it well.
By now you've probably noticed that a lot of my links are anecdotal: they go back to the blog I kept when I first moved here in 2003. The main reason I'm still here is that I've acquired a wife, two kids, and a house since then. If you're coming to visit Denmark because your Danish boyfriend or girlfriend talked you into a little visit, then a Danish wedding may be in your future. You're welcome to benefit from my experiences: Shoeless at the Altar, Bewildering Wows, Digression, Tradition, The Toast of a Clown, Good Game, and Moron Agonistes cover the Danish wedding rituals from my own peculiar perspective. Regardless of marital status, maybe you'll be creating your own little Danish-American. It's an experience I strongly recommend.
This document will be updated periodically to improve its accuracy and cover things I may have missed. I welcome any suggestions, corrections, improvements, or comments: drop me a line. Last update was August 2012. The Moron's Almanac Copyright 2003-2012 Greg Nagan
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