Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Sunday Musings, Uncategorized

Is Denmark the happiest place in the world?

Ever since I started my blog, curious readers have been reaching out to me about Denmark and asking whether Denmark’s reputation for being the ‘happiest’ country on earth is true.

The honest answer to that from a ‘foreigner’s perspective? It really depends on your circumstances, and especially your residency/citizenship status. So brace yourself for a (hopefully) level headed, ‘foreigner’ assessment of this reputation as someone living and working in Denmark.

I’ll give you my personal answer first – yes, I am personally speaking the happiest in Denmark than anywhere else I have been in my adult life. A big part of that is because I have a roof over my head, I secured my dream job during a pandemic, almost tripled my salary in the past year, live in the beautiful Danish capital, find it easy to communicate with people in English, did not have any issues whatsoever with settling in (getting CPR number, bank account, etc), and last but not least basically met the man of my dreams as soon as I arrived in the country. I mean, seriously?? You can’t really go wrong with that!

So how much of the above is specific to Denmark? Well certainly my job is specific to Denmark, and I know that my partner is like a…someone you meet once in a lifetime and got to hold onto type of guy. But of course one should consider that it’s easy to idealise a place with a reputation of being a social utopia. I consider myself extremely fortunate with my current personal circumstances, but the reality is that as an immigrant you will never experience the ‘full’ benefits of being in any country. Even though I get the same healthcare and other social services as citizens, there are some structural obstacles that I would face. It’s common knowledge that for example foreigners have to pay twice or more as much of a down fee if they want to purchase a property in the country, it will be more difficult to arrange loans with banks no matter how stable your income, etc. You could argue some of this is more than fair enough, but that’s just the kind of reality you should consider when moving somewhere – you will still be new to that country, and that comes with its own set of challenges. Furthermore, immigration is actually quite tough in Denmark. Just like the UK, even marriage will not grant you an automatic right to stay in the country. There are many hoops to jump through. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me – immigration policies are an easy way to build in structural discrimination anywhere. Furthermore, I am not eligible like citizens are, to any kind of state welfare funds/benefits (I’m surprised how few people know that foreigners don’t get these kinds of benefits). So being unemployed is not an option for me – I’ll never have a safety net to fall back on. And unfortunately, as with any other country in the world, racism exists in Denmark, among other social issues that I believe ought to be actively tackled – I do not consider Denmark exempt from that rule merely because it is ahead on some issues relative to other places.

With those qualifications in mind, let me outline what I believe Denmark does well:

Hygge. Denmark is undeniably a beautiful country, there’s almost a simplistic and quiet beauty to it – flat, serene, lots of countryside, lots of green landscape, surrounded by sea with several islands. And Copenhagen is really, in my opinion, the epitome of a beautiful life – mix of modern and new architecture, well-kept, organised, bike-friendly, very few cars, clean public swimming all year round, pristine parks, easy to get around, lots of places to eat or cosy up under a blanket at an outdoor cafe. I mean if you’ve been following my blog for a while I think the photos of the city should speak for themselves. I must say this is a huge part of the appeal of living in Copenhagen for me – just what a beautiful life it can be here. For an aesthete like myself Copenhagen is a dream. And yes, ‘hygge’ is a favourite word/concept for many who live in Denmark, especially in wintertime where having a beautiful, cosy time really matters when it gets very dark, bitingly cold, and gloomy. Fleeces, blankets, candles, fairy lights, a warm drink, a seasonal movie, quiet nights in, anything to do with Christmas – that is the vibe! I mean as soon as Halloween was over, Christmas decor got put up around the city and every shop started really pushing for this winter hygge. You’ll hear the word ‘cosy’ a lot in this country because that’s the closest English translation of the hygge concept.

Work/Life balance. This is not a myth – Danes really know how to achieve work/life balance! Of course this also depends on your field/workplace, with some being better or worse than others, so I’ll tell you from my personal experience as someone who works in academia: academia in the UK was no easy feat, and I can almost guarantee that any junior academic working anywhere is doing overtime with little pay, and are super stressed. Well, turns out this is not so much the case in Denmark (or at least my department).

Here, people actually leave the office by 5pm, including myself – shocker. In fact people will wander in at 10am if they so please, instead of keeping a strict schedule (of course this doesn’t apply to certain jobs). People with children leave at 3/4pm even, to pick up their kids from school or daycare. Overtime is just not a thing, and seems frowned upon. There is also a lot of flexibility with work and well-being – it’s understood that if you have a doctor’s appointment or some personal thing you need to attend to, you just go ahead and prioritise that without a need to ‘justify’ why you aren’t at work. Your health and happiness is a priority. And at my workplace at least I feel that people really care about each other and watch out for one another – a kind of ‘community spirit’ where people really lift each other up.

Let’s not forget the fact that people use any excuse to bring ‘cake’ into the office! On that note I just want to point out ‘kage’ means cake in Danish, but it’s used a bit like the word ‘pudding’ in the UK – it just means dessert.

On the flip side, I’ve heard many people say “nothing gets done” or “decided” at work because of the working environment (and on account of everyone being considered equals) or that they struggle to climb the professional ladder in such lax settings. I don’t know how true that is, but from a personal point of view I will say it is very relaxed if you come from a place with a demanding working culture (I come from South Korea for heaven’s sake..). Everyone keeps telling me that I am some kind of workaholic whereas I really feel the opposite – I almost feel too relaxed at work! But maybe that’s part of me unlearning the unhealthy competitive spirit that’s been instilled into me ever since I started university in the UK.

Childcare. I can’t personally speak for this as I don’t have children, but my understanding is that family matters are very much prioritised in Denmark and that daycare/childcare subsidies make it very affordable to have a balanced family/work life.

No student debt. Hello free education! Every Danish student, I believe, can study for free under certain conditions for a fixed amount of time before their education fees actually come out of pocket. There are also student subsidies you receive on top of that. It’s almost so good that I’ve been told people will look for reasons to be a student for longer so they can maximise this. Also, I would do a PhD in Denmark if I could go back – you get an actual salary, not a stipend, and it’s certainly not peanuts! So I would definitely consider/recommend doing tertiary education in Denmark – I’ve also heard that university life is a lot more chilled out compared to the UK 🙂

Overall, Denmark is a place that provides adequate social services to its residents, with a good level of trust between the state and its citizens, and is also a relatively peaceful and small country with nowhere near the kind of tensions you hear about in the news in other places – I’d say that does a lot of the work in terms of why people are happy and content here! Honestly getting used to the ‘Danish’ standard of complaint is an actual thing – like when Danes from the countryside complain of the “traffic” in Copenhagen (meanwhile I’m thinking I live in the countryside compared to places like London) 😉

If you live/have you’ve ever lived in Denmark I’d be curious to hear about what your impressions were or if you agree with my assessment. Hope you have a great day!

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Travel

Frederiksberg Have, Copenhagen (autumn edition)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember these amazingly pristine views of Frederiksberg Have over the summer. I am back with another set of photos from the same park – but with autumn colours in full force. Notice how in the featured photo for this blog post you can see a hint of rainbow by the water 🙂

I took these photos back when the sun still set at an hour where it was possible for me to get off work and go to the park to catch the sun going down. Nowadays, with the sun setting at 4pm, this isn’t really possible – not to mention that we haven’t seen much sunlight in the first place, what with all the rain and gloominess. I’m sure glad to have caught this very ephemeral autumn golden hour now…

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Travel, Vesterbro

The Lakes, Copenhagen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted photos of the Lakes, so here are some I took in the past month or two 🙂 It’s a lovely walk to take during sundown as the golden light hits all the right places on the water and reflects off the buildings. Enjoy!

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Expat life, Sunday Museum, Travel

Frederiksborg Slotshave

Last Sunday, I posted some images of the Frederiksborg Castle chapel. This week I’ll share with you some of the images from the castle ground gardens – it’s totally free to walk around and honestly I was super impressed with the grounds. In the past I’ve visited Versailles, in France, and I can see why this place is considered the Versailles of Denmark – but I’ll dare say it’s nicer than Versailles. It’s clean, less crowded, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get in. Simply a beautiful walk to take on a sunny bright day a short train ride from Copenhagen city centre. Have a look below!

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Expat life, Travel

South Campus, Københavns Universitet

I feel so lucky to be able to work at such a beautiful modern campus. My office is in the city centre, rather than Amager which is where the south campus of my university is located, but I like to roam around the different campuses because each one has their charm.

I’ve visited a great many universities throughout my studies and working life, and can honestly say have never walked around a modern campus that I genuinely find aesthetically pleasing to look at – until I came to Copenhagen that is! Usually it’s the older buildings that I enjoy being at, whereas new campus developments in cities always seemed to me like glassy, gargantuan structures that don’t quite fit with the rest of the architecture.

But as I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog, modern architecture is really something special in Copenhagen – it’s something you can seek out as something to admire around the city. The South Campus of the University of Copenhagen is no exception, and it is probably one of my favourite places to go work – it’s fun to walk around, it’s clean, it’s elegant, and a stone’s throw from Islands Brygge, one of the city’s most beautiful Harbourside walking areas.

The little bike caves built-in (I call them “bicycle hobbit holes”) are the showstoppers for this pedestrianised campus, though the circular student accommodation building design comes a close second – have a look below and let me know what you think! 🙂

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Home, Travel

Teglholmen/Sluseholmen, Copenhagen

One of the things I like most about Copenhagen is how walkable some of the modern, residential harbour areas are. I’ve never been in a city where it feels like you have a lot to “see” even when all you’re doing is walking past a bunch of apartments by the water.

As you will see from the pictures, there is an explanation for this – the buildings happen to be very interesting and fun to look at from an architectural standpoint. It’s also fun just to walk around, point to a bunch of apartments that look worthy of moving into, and do a bit of imaginary ‘apartment-shopping’ in your head 🙂 Enjoy!

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Expat life, Sunday Museum, Travel

Frederiksborg Castle (Chapel)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a ‘Sunday Museum’ post! Though today’s post is not exactly a ‘museum’ (more like a castle) I thought it would be nice to share with you these photos of the Frederiksborg Castle chapel. There was a wedding going on the first time I tried to enter the place, but I was patient and waited it out so I could take a peek inside. And I’m glad I did – just look at the place!

Also, stay tuned for more photos from this opulent castle grounds in the coming weeks 🙂

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Home, Personal, Travel

5 Months in Copenhagen (!)

It blows my mind that I’ve been here for a little over 5 months already. Where does the time go?! For those of you who have been following my move from the very beginning, you already know my previous updates have been a series of gushing, glowing praises for Denmark (but especially Copenhagen). I mean sometimes I feel like I have to tone down how openly obsessed I am with Copenhagen because it makes me sound very naive, ha.

The corona situation is not looking too great in Denmark at the moment, though we are not entering a full lockdown (yet?). I’ve had a close brush with Covid-19 too – I had to get tested recently (results were negative, thankfully) because someone in my wider social circle had it, and I worked from home while waiting for the results. I isolated with my partner so it felt like a bit of a staycation to be honest! 🙂 I feel lucky to be here during the pandemic, and especially to have a close partner through all these changes, and to also have some friends I can talk to. But it does make me realise how much I relied on group gatherings over the summer to hang out with new people. The fact that this isn’t really possible now (the recommendation is to ‘pick’ up to 10 people to be your social circle) highlights my own lack of a fixed friends group, and it definitely makes it challenge to get new close friends.

I’ve also just had my first cyclist collision and experience with Danish paramedics. I walked into a cycle path in the dark without seeing any cyclists coming my way, and before I knew it, I had landed face-first onto the pavement and busted my lip open (I definitely looked like a halloween zombie then, dripping blood onto my clothes). But other than a couple of swollen limbs and bruises, I was luckily not badly injured. The paramedics took my vitals to make sure I was fine and I was sent home. I’ve definitely learned my lesson about idly walking out of my lane in the dark!

Something I noticed is that it’s been very hard for me to gain any confidence to start practising speaking Danish. I’m taking lessons now and all, and realistically I think my pronunciation is really not horrible, I would daresay comprehensible to a Dane with a willing ear, but the problem is that Danes are extremely good at English. It’s all too easy for a Dane to speak back to you in perfect English than to painstakingly conduct a conversation tolerating your bad Danish. On the one hand this is great because it’s less effort for the English speaker, but not so great if you are actually trying to learn and could do with a little bit of local encouragement and conversation!

I must say something that surprised me, also, is how much of a ‘bubble’ Denmark is. It’s sort of difficult to explain. I don’t consider myself particularly activist/political, but compared to the UK I’m finding it very easy here to avoid critical dialogue on many social issues. I know part of this is because I don’t speak Danish, and can’t follow all of the Danish news channels. And it’s not that there aren’t socially conscientious people – I’ve met plenty of young people who are. So I’m not exactly sure how to frame this anecdote – it’s simply a ‘feeling’ that I have here in comparison to the UK. I suppose on account of Denmark being overall a nice country, with good social services, it’s easy to take almost too much pride in that and take what is good for granted. When you hear bad news, it’s easy to adopt the logic of “But Denmark is fine” or “That kind of stuff happens elsewhere, not in Denmark” and brush various issues under the rug as if it doesn’t affect Denmark. I’ve seen this kind of attitude surface with Covid-19 measures, for instance. I haven’t ‘heard’ much about the US elections either, or current events elsewhere. The risk with privilege, and being in a supposedly socially forward-thinking country, is that it often comes with ignorance and complacency. As a relatively privileged, young, able-bodied immigrant-minority-woman, I’ve had my fair share of bureaucratic nightmares, paranoias about my legal status, brush with hostile environments, and existential struggles – as a ‘foreigner’ and otherwise. So as much as I want to ignore what’s bad in the world, the social issues that affect all of us today – yes, that applies to Denmark as well – are not problems that I have the luxury to pretend doesn’t exist. I’ll just leave it at that.

So, that’s it from me – an honest look at the good, not-so-good, and different experiences I’ve encountered here. Stay tuned for more beautiful, photo-heavy posts (if there’s one thing I can’t complain about, it’s how great Copenhagen is for photography lovers! I think I’ll never run out of posts to line up…) and see you soon for a half-year life update 🙂

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Expat life

Blågårdsgade, Nørrebro

The more I visit Nørrebro, the more it grows on me – the part of Nørrebro close to town is, in my opinion, the busiest and most interesting part of Copenhagen (at least for a young person like me). It reminds me a lot of the neighbourhood I used to live in Bristol in the UK (Stokes Croft/Montpelier) which was an area with plenty of street art, skaters dragging their wheels on the roads, the coolest music venues, lots of vintage, charity, and independent shops, vegan cafes, alternative cinemas, and so on. Nørrebro is like a cleaner, even more “hip” version of Stokes Croft, and could probably be compared to many up and coming areas of London.

Compared to my beloved own neighbourhood – Vesterbro – Nørrebro feels more hectic, more diverse, more artsy. I say those things in a good way. In Copenhagen, Nørrebro unfortunately has the reputation of being a “dirty” area with “gang activity” “crime” and so on – I don’t know how true those claims are, but either way they are terms I tend not to attribute to city neighbourhoods because I think they are loaded terms, and well – let’s just say Danish standards for a rough neighbourhood are quite different to that of one in the UK. Of course, ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ areas come with a certain level of hype – but if I could pick a street in the neighbourhood that really captures and distils the unique vibe of Nørrebro it would be Blågårdsgade (try saying that twice as fast)!

Just take a look below for all the weird and wonderful sights you can take in the length of a single street.

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