A column devoted to those brave "first-time" internationals in Denmark.
Text: Dominic J Stevensen
Our first year living in Denmark has genuinely been a roller coaster ride, with the views at times dazzling. When I proffered this, the very subject matter of my first piece for The International, someone close to me asked, 'What good is there to say?' This is all too bleak, a pessimist's take, despite the many battles my family and I have encountered. Relocation would never be straightforward – however, we could never have expected how hard it would be.
Relocating from Germany, we ended up in a small town on Fyn, where the house was not ready, old and shambolic, where the owner came and went as he pleased, and where nothing was up to scratch - it was falling apart. Besides that, and as well as taking care of our young family, my wife and I were locked into a battle to regain our deposit from the German landlords of our last home there, navigating their bizarre games (side note – Dear Landlords, must it be so?). That took until late 2022 to resolve. We are still in a similar and seemingly never-ending battle with the landlord on Fyn to get part of our deposit back. A tenancy association aided us in having the case taken to a board, who ruled in our favour, and still, no return payment was forthcoming. Naturally, Fyn is presently a source of mixed feelings for us.
On the plus side, people have been welcoming, helping us with work and moving us a second time in three months – from Fyn to Jylland across the splendid New Little Belt Bridge. Danes invite you into their homes, greet you, immediately switching to English when necessary – which has been our experience for the most part. Their level of English is astonishing – nevertheless, they are encouraging, even helpful, regarding non-natives using and improving their Danish.
We endured issues with sorting out paperwork to reside here. Subsequently, MitIDs, bank accounts, and all the necessary administration to exist and function successfully in a new life somewhere was MIA. This included mistakes, endless waiting periods, and the feeling that we had landed somewhere we did not feel accepted. Børnepenge and CPR problems took months to resolve, leaving us startled, waiting to feel like we had even properly arrived.
"Our first year living in Denmark has genuinely been a roller coaster ride."
The weather is, as expected, somewhat cooler than further south in Europe, with the nearby sea filtering into existence here, an immense part of Danish life. The cuisine, too, felt closer to British and Polish, with far more in common than we had grown used to.
We had no car, old bikes, and many things nearby, but we struggled to explore Denmark any deeper, as we had longed to. We weathered the prolonged pandemic, as we could not move around much. Everything needed to meet a family's basic requirements within a limited radius. The nearest city is within striking distance by public transport, and there is access to education, healthcare, church, shopping, work, and numerous beaches, all close at hand. Simply put, settling in takes time and plenty of it.
The hyggeligt Danish lights were everywhere all year round – indoors, in gardens, on driveways, and embellishing houses. It felt distinct, warm, homely, and essential. Summer was almost perennially lit up by wild hours of daylight, night almost abroad, on holiday in the middle of the year.
Winter was long and grey and, at times, miserable. We witnessed an exceedingly wet first winter, more than average many a Dane would tell us, though it felt loaded with the sea, almost encroaching upon, and creeping and crawling towards the land, to embrace it in its wild arms.
Summer could be hot and sunny as well as cloudy and windy ‒ an occasional brief storm would rear its head. Dancing, unpredictable clouds like I had never seen before would arrive and depart as if in a fleeting dream. It always kept you on your toes.
Of all the countries I have lived in, Denmark is the one where I am most excited about my own relationship with the people, the land, and the future we will share together.
If ever a move was a crash landing from which we survived, this was it. Luckily, we escaped the wreckage intact, and Denmark is a great place to settle into a new life.