• The International

Digging Danish roots

Roots attach to the ground to support, conveying nourishment to the rest of the plant which allows it to bloom fully. It’s the fundamental origin of something and a fixed starting point. Living in another country as an expatriate, you develop new roots and grounding. Coming up on seven years in Denmark, I am reflecting on digging Danish roots and how to integrate in Denmark.

Photographs: iStock

Text: Bailey Jensen

Culture integration is a form of cultural exchange where a person assumes the beliefs, practices and rituals of another group without sacrificing their own culture. If only I learned that last bit of “without sacrificing your own culture” sooner. When I first got to know Denmark during my year abroad as an exchange student, I felt like a mere observer of Danish culture. I knew I would be here for a good time… not a long time, so I did not see the necessity of deep-diving into Danish culture or taking on the language.

Eyes wide open After my Danish husband Rune and I did long distance between the United States and Denmark for a year, I then came back to Denmark as a spouse of a native Dane and naturally had more attachments to Denmark. However, there was a constant resistance to learning Danish and absorbing the Danish culture because I deep down thought that if I were to embrace the culture completely, then I would be giving up a small part of my culture and myself. It wasn’t until I opened my mind and realised that integrating into another culture didn’t mean giving up my own.

Drinking in the culture To allow yourself to get to know the culture and grow roots in a new country, start drinking in the culture. Begin by learning the language by taking classes either in person or online. Learning a language comes from practice and training, not just observation. As you get to know more Danish, start listening to Danish podcasts, and radio. Try watching Danish Netflix series such as Rita, which give an inside look into a modern Danish family and humour. You can easily pick up on typical mannerisms of Danes and general outlooks by drinking in these small details, which prove to be the key to understanding the culture and integrating into it. Danes are generally profoundly amused and impressed if you can understand certain Danish expressions or show knowledge about who they are. This starts to break down some of those tall walls Danish people can outwardly have. Showing an interest in their culture is a compliment to them and an immediate common ground.

"It wasn’t until I opened my mind and realised that integrating into another culture didn’t mean giving up my own."

Do as the natives do Integration requires immersion. One way to immerse yourself into the culture is to celebrate Danish holidays. Over time, you will form emotional attachments and memories with them – by slowly digging those Danish roots. Along with drinking in the local culture to integrate, try doing as the natives do. This starts with the smallest thing, such as recycling. Danes are extremely environmentally conscious and recycle everything. There are usually several recycling containers outside of each apartment complexes. Even if you go to a Danish party, there are always designated areas for beer bottles and aluminium, which are reserved for “pant” - a recycling initiative where you get money back for each item recycled. Absorbing environmentally friendly behaviours shows respect for one of their highly held values. I can speak from experience that you don’t want to be “that girl” at the party who crushes the aluminium can and put it in the trash!