A column devoted to deconstructing and demystifying immigration and integration in Denmark, one disruptively uncomfortable and embarrassingly trivial emotional meltdown at a time.
Text: Antesa Jensen
If you’re anything like me, you came to Denmark believing — at least on some level — that you were about to move to The Happiest Place on Earth (cue the Disneyland theme music).
The place where social welfare systems go to thrive and where everyone — even the cows — has their every possible need fulfilled.
Partially deluded in the naive fantasy world of global political propaganda, it’s easy to think life in Denmark must be a fairytale. I mean, it’s the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the actual author of most of the fairytales you grew up with. Coincidence? I don’t think so!
As an outsider, you can’t help but imagine what it will be like to live amongst these happiest of humans. And by imagine, I mean you start coming up with a lot of unchecked assumptions based on your own interpretation of “happiness” without ever reading the fine print of that Happiness Index Report (which, as it turns out, isn’t actually measuring joy, but rather contentedness and sense of security).
There is a BIG DIFFERENCE, but you remain blissfully ignorant about those details until you arrive.
"The place where social welfare systems go to thrive and where everyone — even the cows — has their every possible need fulfilled."
Without realising it, somewhere along the way, those pesky unchecked assumptions have solidified into a painfully long laundry list of unconscious, yet enormously great, expectations.
You’ll surely think this is trivial (or maybe you won’t), but here’s a prime example:
I felt genuinely assaulted by how windy it was here and spent the better part of my first 18 months in the country attempting to convince my Danish colleagues that I had been deceived. I may have even accused my then-Danish boyfriend of withholding this vital information from me before moving (you can imagine his surprise at that accusation!).
Nowhere was it disclosed that Denmark was, in fact, THIS windy. A reality which is only amplified when you have to commute everywhere on your bike, which indeed impeded my happiness.
Dramatic? Yes. But I felt emotionally unprepared for how awful it is to ride my bike to work on a rainy, windy winter day. It is like being shot in the face with a million BB guns all at once kind of awful. And I grew up in Seattle. It rains nine months of the year in Seattle.
Being the problem-solver I was, this singular “problem” opened up a rabbit hole I had no choice but to go down. As a result, I became entirely preoccupied with finding solutions to cope.
What’s the best weather app to predictably know when it will rain down to the minute so I know if I am better off taking the S-Tog (train) today?
A: Non-existent because the rain is impossible to predict due to the wind, but yr.no is the most accurate.
What’s the best brand of waterproof mascara?
A: With enough rain, all of them will run. Have you tried eyelash extensions?
At which speed must you ride your bike to avoid sweating through your work clothes during your commute but still hit all the green lights, and how to not freeze all day long because of sweat-soaked clothes?
A: I’m now clear I sweat more than most Danes combined, and also: did you know most offices have showers?!
Is there such a thing as rain gear that both repels rain and prevents you from sweating profusely due to not ventilating well?
A: Not if you sweat like I do, no.
Is it possible to somehow not be so impacted by humidity so I won’t sweat as much?
A: No. Perhaps you might consider moving to The Atlas Mountains in Morocco instead?
As you can imagine, this whole experience did nothing more than reveal to me one of what ended up being MANY unchecked assumptions I had made about what living abroad, and more importantly, living in Denmark, was going to be like. I mean, how did I not consider the wind, and more precisely, Danes’ favourite topic of conversation, the weather, before relocating? And more importantly, why couldn’t I just embrace reality?
For whatever reason I. Could. Not. Let. It. Go. Perhaps if I focused on it and obsessed over it enough, I could somehow change the weather. And until that happened, I just got resentful… at Denmark.
Stay tuned for part 2 in our upcoming December issue.