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Do we really live in an OPENHAVEN?

January marked six months since we moved to København. Six months, which have flown by and now count among our fondest memories. From the lovely people, we’ve met, and the amazing experiences we’ve had, to our healthy cycle-everywhere lifestyle and even a trip to the Arctic Circle, every bit of our journey thus far has been nothing less than superfood for the soul.

Photographs: iStock

Text: Conrad Egbert

So you can well imagine my shock, when at a festive julefrokost last December, a Danish friend told me, forget Denmark, even lovely København, wasn’t so lovely after all and that I needed to take off my rose-tinted glasses. “You know we don’t like foreigners, right?” he asked. The world around me ground to a halt. Was he joking, or was he trying to elicit some sort of reaction from me? Why would we even be friends if this were true? That evening I was schooled in Danish politics, the reclusive Viking culture and how Danes only pretend to be open.

The next few days were spent fact-checking, researching (including the curious case of American professor Brooke Harrington) and speaking to various expats and Danes across all ages and persuasions. While I encountered some exaggerations, possible misinterpretations and a whole lot of preconceived notions, everyone was unanimous in their belief that København is xenophobic - “Danes are cold; it’s impossible to break into their circles; they’re clannish, cliquish and unsociable.”

It broke my heart, not because of the sad stories I heard, but because I seemed to be the only one with an entirely opposite experience. An experience, therefore, I must document here for the sake of us all – for those with hope that things will change, for those who believe all Danes are not xenophobic and especially, for those evolved Danes who continue to make København a warm and welcoming place for us all. To them, I say, go forth and multiply! For it’s you who will help København regain its title as the happiest city in the world.

"Word of mouth is supreme, and a country’s most formidable ambassadors are its foreigners."

Happy København I’ve moved countries more times than I care to remember, but the kindness of a Danish shop owner on our second day here will stick with me forever. We were looking for a mop and a bucket, as one does on their first week here. We didn’t yet, have mobile numbers, data or cycles, so we just legged it through the inner streets of Kongens Nytorv, hunting. Finally, we gave up and walked into the first store we thought would have them. But it didn’t. It was called Carls Køkken. Not only did the smiling lady happily write down the name of the shop where we’d find them, but googled its exact location for us and checked the shop’s timings too. This happened to me on two more occasions believe it or not – once at the Waterfront Mall in Hellerup where a young Danish girl helped me google the nearest cash machine and one more time at Nørreport Station (on my bicycle this time) when yet another Danish girl asked if I needed help because evidently I ‘looked lost.’ But the finest example of Danish coldness yet was on a night out last November when a Danish bartender plied us with free schnapps all evening while entertaining us with hilarious stories of him growing up. That same night we elbowed our way through a jam-packed Centralhjørnet to a shared table and sat down across a random Danish couple. By the end of the night, we’d bought each other drinks, exchanged numbers and even got invited home for dinner. The law of attraction I truly hope more of us have many of these irreplaceable experiences, especially for Denmark. Word of mouth is supreme, and a country’s most formidable ambassadors are its foreigners. I’ve learned that the Danish foreign ministry is actively working towards our betterment, hospitals now have interpreters and the International House has never been busier helping us ease into life here. I’ve also decided to keep my rose-tinted glasses firmly on because the law of attraction is very real, and in the end, what we think is what we attract. And I certainly wouldn’t want to attract any of the stories I’ve heard so far.

Rosy Feb to all!

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