How to create a new life for yourself and your family in Denmark while being nothing like a Dane? Take a page out of Keri Bloomfield’s book - literally.
Photographs: Andrew Turner / Ieva Vi Photography
Text: Michaela Medveďová
Make it count. This thought jumped into Keri Bloomfield’s head just about three years ago. She was sitting on the plane, about to return to Denmark after visiting her home country of New Zealand, thinking about how it would be another two years before she could retake this big trip.
She decided to turn living 18,000 kilometres away from the land she grew up in, her family, and her old friends into a positive. So building on the tradition of her blog detailing the nuances of her two-cultural life, she wrote a book.
Last month, Nothing like a Dane hit the shelves and captured both the joyful and challenging experiences Keri had while finding her way in Denmark.
A New Zealand adventure
The book title encapsulates Keri’s reality of being in a two-cultural family with her Danish partner and their daughter. It means that you are closer to locals, and you have to integrate differently. “You’re living with a Dane, but you’re nothing like a Dane. Just because you got on a plane and happened to get off in Denmark does not make you a Dane. You need to grow into that person. And at the end of the day, even if I become more Danish in the way I do things, it won’t take away the fact that I’m a New Zealander living in Denmark.”
And it seems that being a proper New Zealander is what brought her to Denmark.
“New Zealanders have a reputation for wanting to travel and live abroad. In part, it’s because we’re so remote - we don’t have the opportunities Europeans have to quickly go see another country for a weekend.” The distance makes them more curious about the rest of the world - so Keri, fueled by the curiosity, moved to London for two years in her twenties for what New Zealanders call an OE: overseas experience. When the two years were up, Keri moved back home. “And my parents were relieved when I came back without a foreign boyfriend,” she laughs.
But they counted their chickens. Keri met a Danish tourist in Wellington about five years later, and they started talking. That’s the New Zealand way - they like to talk to strangers and show off their country. Shortly after their chance meeting, The Dane, as Keri calls her now-partner in her writing, flew back to Denmark but searched for a job in New Zealand. He found one, moved back, and their relationship started. “We lived there for three or four years, and then it was time to try living in Denmark - so six years ago, we arrived with a four-month-old baby.”
No Duolingo, no hills
While some expats move to Denmark with a defined period of time in mind - or, if the country isn’t a good fit, they can easily move away - things were different for Keri. “When you’re in a two-culture relationship, one partner is always arguably giving up more than the other.” The couple doesn’t have a set timeline for staying in Denmark or moving on - it’s always been about what feels right, which, right now, is their Danish home. “I often get asked what I think of Denmark. It’s a loaded question because people want you to say positive things like me asking tourists in New Zealand if they had a nice holiday. But my answer is: Denmark is a great country, and so is New Zealand. I’m lucky to have two great countries to choose between. But it doesn’t come without challenges.”
Keri’s father passed away just before she moved to Denmark, so - combined with having a small baby - she didn’t have the normal time to prepare and go over the checklist other internationals do: looking into the country or studying the new language on Duolingo. Also, after arriving, the physical country itself was a novelty. In New Zealand, Keri was used to seeing green hills in the background, bushes, rivers, and parks in her daily surroundings. “I clearly remember arriving at our Danish apartment for the first time and being overwhelmed with the flatness and the rows of brick buildings, with little to no greenery and no hills in sight.”
But moving to a new country also means finding a network, making new friends, learning a foreign language, and understanding and placing yourself in a different working environment. To put it simply, you need to recreate yourself.
“I was also learning to be a mother. I couldn’t just go out and see all the sights and learn my way around the city. One of the big challenges for me was to work out who I was in Denmark.” But the idea of changing who she is just because she relocated halfway across the world was a puzzling concept for Keri. “Am I supposed to be a completely different person after stepping off the plane? How can I fundamentally change what’s inside me in 36 hours and start to do things differently?”
But what Keri heard after she first arrived in Denmark was integration, integration, integration.
Pseudo-supermarkets and rye bread
Some of the stories Keri has about becoming more Danish make her smile. Like eating the traditional Danish lunch - rugbrød. “I do like it, even though I still can’t pronounce the word for it,” laughs Keri. Or scouring supermarkets for even basic ingredients. “Small things like finding the right milk in the fridge or cooking dinner can be quite challenging. You have your normal recipes, and you are used to being able to find certain ingredients - and all of a sudden, you don’t have that.” In New Zealand, supermarkets are much bigger. In comparison, Keri jokingly refers to shops like Netto as “pseudo-supermarkets”, and looking for everyday things like a shampoo may not be as easy as expected. “I remember saying to my partner once, as there wasn’t much selection in terms of brands: Can we just go to a normal supermarket next time? He didn’t understand what I was saying. For him, this is normal. And six years in, it’s my normal now, too.”
But it's not just Keri and the Dane in the relationship. They share a daughter born in New Zealand and raised in Denmark, known to Keri's readers as the bilingual Backpack Baby. "In my head, she's a New Zealander because she was born there, and in hers, she is Danish."
But integration is not just rye bread and shopping trips to Netto. “It’s a word the government uses quite a lot, particularly for a non-EU person such as myself who is here on a family reunification permit. I have to sign an integration contract, I have to create an integration plan with the Jobcenter, I have to report for integration meetings.” As part of the process, Keri had to go through her qualifications with a job integration consultant to discuss what job she aims to get and in what timeframe she plans to learn Danish. “It can be quite a negative experience as you start to question your confidence, and you don’t have much power as you don’t know how the system works here.”
Danish Keri, New Zealand Keri
Theoretically, having a Danish partner should help you transition into a new culture. But it may not be so easy. “When you’re in a two-culture relationship, all of a sudden, you’re doing things your partner’s way. And there are so many rules or ways of doing things - dancing around the Christmas tree? We don’t do that in New Zealand. There are small things your partner can forget to tell you about because it’s normal for them.”
Living with a Dane also brings an expat closer to the language. But it’s not a miraculous learning technique. For example, when visiting her mother-in-law, Danish is the language at the dinner table. Keri now understands most of what’s being said but only has the confidence to reply in short sentences - and she’s not the person she would be if she were speaking English. “There’s still a barrier there, but it’s nice to be surrounded by the language and learn in a different way.”
But it’s not just Keri and The Dane in the relationship. They share a daughter born in New Zealand and raised in Denmark, known to Keri’s readers as the Bilingual Backpack Baby. “In my head, she’s a New Zealander because she was born there, and in hers, she is Danish.” The balance between the two cultures is delicate. For Keri, it’s crucial to ensure that she feels connected to both cultures regardless of what country her daughter lives in. “That’s why returning to New Zealand is important to me, so that she can connect with my family - so they become more than a Skype call.” She’s doing her best to educate her daughter on all things New Zealand with posters or books. Her daughter already knows all about kiwis, the native birds. “I don’t think my parenting style would be different in New Zealand, but my daughter would be in quite a different environment, and she would be moulded into a different person.”
Having a Danish speaker for a daughter is also great motivation. The extra push is good because attending language schools is not something Keri particularly enjoyed. “I had hoped to be fluent after three years, and that didn’t happen. And I turned up to every lesson and did all my homework. Finally, I recognised I needed some timeout because it sucked all the enjoyment out of my life.”
This was about the time Keri started to write her book - working on something that wouldn’t just be ticking off the government’s boxes. Something that would nourish her soul.
A problem shared is a problem halved
Keri’s always enjoyed writing, but she never really had the opportunity to pursue it in New Zealand. So when she first moved to Denmark, she decided to invest more time into writing. She was searching for a job and learning a language simultaneously - and was looking for something to get excited about.
So she started her Bilingual Backpack Baby blog: entries of a self-proclaimed Kiwi mom in Denmark, trying to find her footing. “I’m guilty of thinking too much. Writing helps me process my emotions and gain strength when other people are sharing their thoughts with me through social media. We’re all in this together, whether Danes or internationals.”
While the blog started both as a way to give herself a greater purpose in a new country and a means of communicating with people back home, Keri and her warm, engaging style inevitably grew a sizeable audience. She wanted to share her experiences with other people who are new in Denmark and see if they could get value from it. “It also gave me a chance to laugh at myself and with the Danes. We all think we’re normal until we leave our own country and realise not everyone does the same things that we do. If we can laugh about our differences, we can grow from them and feel better instead of feeling like the odd one out. It’s about recognising the differences - and recognising that they work.”
About a year into her blog, The International launched its first issue. Keri pitched her blog content - and got an offer to write a column instead, which she did for about two years. “That gave me encouragement to set out on the path of writing. People were actually enjoying what I was writing. The hardest thing is to be yourself. You start off by writing what you think people want to hear - but the truer you are to your thoughts, the more like-minded people you attract.”
As a result, her first book is equally a work of heart and humour. Keri felt a book would be something she could leave behind. A piece of writing that will forever live in the world. But she also wrote it for others who have had a similar journey or experience to hers.
“I hope those people read it and feel seen. That they feel it’s okay to recognise that moving to a new country and having to find out who they are there can be a tough process. That they are not alone in it.”
Nothing Like a Dane will be launched in Denmark on 31 August. You can join Keri with a glass of wine in Copenhagen to celebrate at:
Where: Books & Company, 1 Sofievej, Hellerup, 2900
When: Wednesday 31 August 2022