If One Night In Bangkok and the World’s Your Oyster, What Does Four Years in Denmark Get You?

img_5764_carlsbergFour years ago we stole a last glance at the Tattooine landscape of Larnaca Airport and after a brief touch down at Schipol made our way home…another home, a new home, a Copenhagen home. My kids now have officially called Denmark home longer than any other place. They’ve lived in the land of Lego and Viking horns longer than the country they were both born in, the country either parent carries a passport for, or the one where the older started school and the younger learned to walk.

Four years is a long time. Four years as an expat in one place is a really long time; about a year past the normal sell-by date. Sure, one night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster, but four years in Denmark? I’ve haven’t learned the language, but I’ve picked up a few other things.

For one, I no longer take the sun for granted. Also, you get lazy with your cleaning and dusting routines when the sun doesn’t come out often. How do I know? Because when the sun eventually does peek out from behind the clouds, it highlights the sixty-two filthy windows and a house full of dusty surfaces like a solar spotlight.

Four years in Denmark has taught me happiness is relative. Denmark is consistently voted the happiest nation on Earth and for good reason; but they might not be the reasons you think. The reasons the Danes are happy are deep-down reasons, not surface reasons. Turns out not fretting about medical bills, college, and retirement frees up a whole lotta time and money to find your own version of happiness.

And that happiness is self-defined. Happiness for me? Four years in Denmark has afforded me a room of my own and I’ve used most of the square footage to learn to write again.

Forget the tax rates…it's the parking fines that kill you...
Forget the tax rates…wait until they see the parking fines!

So you see, I’ve learned happiness is not dependent upon just one thing.

After four years I’m still surprised by the cost of things….like, say…a parking ticket.

Four years here has taught me the wind in your hair as you zip past people on your bike is a pretty good feeling.

I’ve learned that wooly inserts in your shoes in the winter are the best thing since sliced rugbrød.

I’ve accepted there is no single right way to do things. There’s a lot that is right with Denmark, but it’s not perfect. The Danish system wouldn’t work in the US for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look more closely at the pieces of it that would….

Four years here has taught me there are things you can adapt to (bike rage instead of road rage) and there are others which are going to make you scratch your head, seethe, or stand with your jaw on the floor (adults shushing other adults, herring in curry sauce) no matter how long you’ve stuck around.

I’ve learned that Danes swear a fuck of a lot more than I do.

Sun? Who needs sun? Weak people, that's who. Weak people need sun.
Sun? Who needs sun? Fucking weak people, that’s who. Weak people need sun.

I’ve concluded that hygge, while a sweet concept in general, doesn’t really make a difference when it’s gray and dark and wet for long chunks of time. Nice idea, but a mantle full of scented candles doesn’t…well, hold a candle to a vacation in The Maldives during February break.

Speaking of the sun….four years here has taught me that the sun will come out…maybe not tomorrow. Or the next. But someday! And when it does your house is going to look filthy even if you just dusted.

I’ve learned Americans should stop complaining about gasoline prices.

I’ve learned they should start complaining about plenty of other things.

I’ve learned a danish is not a danish in Danish.

Every time I go food shopping I’m reminded you need to adjust in order to survive. You need to find new favorites or at least learn you can have more than one. No one ever tells you that as a kid, that you can have more than one favorite. Except for Goya black beans. I go black market for the black beans now, judge me if you must.

I’ve learned to cook more, bake more, and seek out the sales.

Yes, yes, it is fine to let your child cycle alone with tobacco products and a sword, yes yes. Soo-pah, soo-pah.
Yes, yes, it is fine to let your child cycle alone with tobacco products and a sword, yes yes. Soo-pah, soo-pah.

I’ve learned when you’re in a winter coat five to six months of the year, you can get away with doing a lot less laundry.

…and that hats cover a lot of bad hair days.

I’ve learned to let go and watch my kids experience the same kind of freedom I grew up with without the questions, the second-guessing or the fear of someone calling the cops on me for letting them walk to the park on their own.

And I’ve learned, time and time again, that home is a concept rather than a place.

There’s no place like Bangkok. I mean Cyprus. Or Denmark.

I mean home, wherever you are.


17 Comments Add yours

  1. I love this! Having lived with a Dane in seven countries though never Denmark, six years in Norway has me nodding my head in agreement on every count. I love Scandinavia but I really, really love to see the sun, daily, more! God Jul:)


    1. Dina Honour says:

      You really begin to miss it…a lot! Having spoken to my Norwegian friends and my expat friends who have done time in Norway, apparently Norway makes Denmark seem cheap ;-). WE love it here too, but there are always going to be things that drive you crazy and things you miss and things that can’t be replaced. As someone else pointed out to me I forgot to mention the wind here. There’s a reason why DK is so successful in harnessing wind energy!


      1. Funny you mention the wind; it’s so windy in Perth that most days I dare not wear a skirt! It sure beats the chill of a European wind though. Every country has its foibles and as you’ve figured out, the trick is to try make the most of the place you are in – and savour the sunshine (and alternative energy sources) while you can;)


      2. Dina Honour says:

        Funny you should mention Perth…(no, really–the next post I have scheduled is all about this). WE have dear friends from Perth just about to leave CPH this weekend–well, they’re from Perth but he’s actually Norwegian. I love these little connections. Are you in the oil industry? Perth, Norway?


      3. Yep, oil & gas:) Speaking of coincidences, I had an email from a total stranger last weekend – from Perth, living in Oslo, moving to KL (our last posting), asking me about running clubs in KL. It turned out that she is living in our beloved former home in Norway where we spent 6 years, the longest ever in any house by far. It rattled me a bit, remembering how painful it had been leaving that house, imagining others living in it (we had been the first occupants). But, it was also a reminder of how adaptive to change we are, and how small the globe is. I look forward to your next post:)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Denmark lives in my head as the greatest place on the planet…except for the price of cold beer. Weatherwise it sounds about like the Mighty Pacific Northwest…which I tolerate while thinking about summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      The problem with summer in Denmark is that it can be just as gray and cold and shitty as the winter….you might be surprised at the affordability of beer. Not as cheap as the US, but one of the more affordable consumer products here. The Danes take their beer very seriously. It would be against Danish principles to price anyone out of a good can of Carlsberg or Tuborg.


  3. Life in another country should make you ask deep questions about your country of origin. I certainly has for me.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I think it most definitely allows you a unique view of seeing things from the outside in–both the good and the bad, which has been a real eye-opening experience for me.


  4. Rup says:

    It teaches / reminds one to get the buck out of the office and go and enjoy life with friends and family. Especially at the beach on a sunny summer evening. Hope you guys stay awhile longer to share some more lessons.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Oh, I imagine we’ll be the last ones standing. 😉


  5. Kelly says:

    Too funny you mention the black beans. I really miss the entire Goya aisle at the supermarket!


  6. pinklightsabre says:

    From our five months in Europe now, I’ve learned we don’t need as many clothes as we think we do back home. And it’s OK to switch-up your brand of coffee moving from town to town and country to country, even though it really is a crap shoot to get a good bag. And that somehow, there’s a trifecta of Aldi-Lidl-Tesco in many places. And that the grocery chain Spar appears in the Austrian Alps as readily as here in Cork, Ireland. And last, the best beer I’ve had is that inspired by American beer, specifically west coast. Sorry, just said it. Kind of proud it’s like that.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      All valid points. I’ll have to trust you on the beer. I would kill for a Tesco here though. Denmark is kind of in between consumerism and communism in terms of supermarket choice. Sometimes when we go home or to the UK I like to just wander down the shampoo aisle and take in all the choices.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Haha! I know you wrote this awhile ago – but having met you now – it is fun to really hear your voice in your writing. Only two years in here in DK and I would concur with all your observations. I would add swimming in the sea makes me “glad i låget” – happy in the lid!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I’m ashamed by how little Danish I know–and how much you do! I like that though, happy in the lid. We should all be a bit more happy in the lid!

      Liked by 1 person

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