Posts Tagged ‘Denmark’

I am sure that this phrase haunts the many that have decided to move to another country.  It is the words that produce the feeling of you don’t belong, so just go back to where you came from.  No matter where you live there will always be good or bad, positive of negative issues with your environment.  Just because you are living in another country doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be able to express the challenges or problems that you might face.  Speaking about your challenges, doesn’t mean you are necessarily verbally attacking the country that you are in, but it is acknowledging that this is something that might be difficult for you.  It provides an opportunity to create discussion and analyze how your situation be changed.  In fact, it could even show how invested you are in the country, based on the fact that you have so much to say.

I’ve heard this said to so many people in Denmark and even to me and it’s such an unfair statement.  Not everyone completely loves the place that they are from or wants to continue their life in their home country, and some for many different factors have been forced to leave their home country (such as refugees, asylum seekers, or other groups of migrants).  Everyone has a voice and ideally should be able to use it, within reason of course and hopefully with some reflection that words have consequences and we are accountable for what we say.

On the other hand, I am aware of those that move to a country and do nothing but complain and focus on all the negative aspects.  This is not to excuse those that are guilty of such behavior.  But with an increasing globalized world, many countries are experiencing demographic changes which undoubtedly will bring about challenges with co-existing with people that you probably are not use to (culturally speaking).  So, the next time you think about telling someone, “If you don’t like it then go back to your own country… ”, at least try to understand their perspective.


Yesterday, I walked into a Danish sandwich shop and at first I thought I’d just order it in English.  But I’ve been to this sandwich shop before and I promised the person fixing my sandwich that the next time I came by, I would order in Danish.  So, I walked in and she had actually remembered my promise from about 2 months ago.  At first, I was a bit hesitant but it was about time that I put, “Jeg vil gerne have” (I would like…) to use.  So, I went for it and what transpired was actually a good moment.

I was actually able to order my sandwich and work my way through the payment, all in Danish.  We didn’t switch to English and I didn’t get a “Hva’” or “Hvad siger du?”  This may not seem like a big deal but for me it was truly a confidence booster. At this stage of learning Danish it’s all about learning the grammar, definitely the pronunciation and listening, but most importantly building confidence.

After the year 1864 in the Second War of Schleswig when Denmark suffered a series of defeats and territory losses that reduced it to its current size now, Denmark has been strongly focused on preserving its culture, its national identity, its welfare state and most of all its language. When putting the population size into perspective, Denmark is a country of about 5.5 million people and maybe 95% of the people speak English.  Danish only really needs to be learned if you plan on living in Denmark for an extended period of time.  So you’re constantly battling with the question of, should I even learn Danish?

My reply is, yes.  I think learning Danish is a gateway into the culture.  Danish is a straightforward language riddled with dry humor.  Compared to English, I don’t think Danish has that many words.  But, when comparing English to Danish, I think English is quite metaphorical and can sometimes tend to not be as straightforward or specific. For example, the Danes have four different words for “to think”, (at mene, at tro, at tænke, and synes).  I mean how specific can you get?  And trying to distinguish between the four verbs can sometimes be quite challenging.  I think when I figure those four words out and how to effectively use my glottal stop, I will have mastered Danish.  🙂

What yesterday’s experience taught me was that many foreigners learning Danish could benefit from more Danes that are willing to give them the opportunity to practice.  Many foreigners learning Danish actually love to practice but keep encountering Danes that keep replying back in English or have the belief that one should either speak Danish 100% correct or don’t speak it at all.  I’m sure many of the foreigners that are learning Danish have experienced, the notorious “Hva’ ” or “Hvad siger du?”, that just makes you feel like you are never saying anything right.   But as one that is actively learning Danish, I’ve learned 3 practicing tips in helping to build confidence in this stage of learning.

  1. If you want to avoid, a “Hva” or “Hvad siger du?”, try to speak up a bit more.  Sometimes when you think you might pronounce the sentence incorrectly, one has the tendency to speak softly.  Therefore, it might not always be that you have said the word incorrectly.  Sometimes, speaking with confidence helps build confidence.
  2. Don’t always feel bad about speaking slowly; the rule of thumb has been it’s better to pronounce the words correctly than to try to just say them quickly to prove your proficiency.  What I’ve discovered is that although Danes know English they are usually pretty self-conscious when they have to use it.  So, putting this into perspective, you’re just two self-conscious people trying to find the best way to communicate with each other.
  3. Until you have built up your confidence start with, “Jeg vil prøve at tale dansk….” which means “I will try to speak Danish…”  This helps prepare the Danish person, so they can know that you’re practicing Danish and most find it quite exciting that you would even take the time out to learn their language.

Overall, this is just a beginner’s advice as I am only in Studieskolen, Module 2.2.  Of course the obvious key to all of this is to practice as much as possible but I think often the confidence building part of learning Danish is sometimes missing.  Even as I am giving this advice, I still have to remember to apply it to myself. J

Last Saturday, I attended an event called, “Matchmingler” and no it wasn’t a dating event.  Matchmingler was an event with about 160 students and post-graduates all interested in startups & innovations divided into the four categories: Computer Science & Technology, Business & Social Science, Natural- & Life Science, Design & Media.  Throughout the day we were given speeches and the opportunity to network, share and develop our entrepreneurial ideas with each other.

Here is a recap of the day.

Anne Skare Nielsen: Be Open
Chief futurist of the futurist company, Future Navigator
Anne’s talk was about not doing what other people do, but about being yourself and following your heart.  Her belief was that we are in an era of constructive visions.  Life has become not about having more but about how can we make it better?  She discussed how we can transform our minds.  We have the social mind, the narrative mind, and the transformational mind.  The social mind says: “World is out of my hands”, the narrative mind says: “I am playwriter in my own life”, and the transformational mind: “What can I do with what I have, every time something happens in my life”.  What we need to all do is strive to reach the transformational mind and to realize that it doesn’t always take a long time.

Nicolai Moltke-Leth: Commitment and Risk
Former Special Forces Soldier
Nicolai began with the quote, “The greatest danger for the most of us, is not that our aims are too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Therefore, his speech talked about unleashing our inner power.  He thinks that what differs among people is not our abilities but the quality of our mindset.  Therefore, what are you willing to sacrifice to reach whatever you like?  It could be that you are focusing on the wrong thing.

A stable foundation for what you want is believing in yourself.  Therefore, you have to step  out of your comfort zone into a zone of development.  The key to doing that is tackling your fears!  He thinks we think and act within 3 levels, a green, yellow and red zone.  Now imagine this circle in three layers, in the middle or core is the green part and this is when we have the most control, the yellow part is the caution zone and the red zone is the zone that is on the furthest to the outside of the circle, it is the zone dominated by our fears.  What we must do is focus on increasing the green part or the core so that we eventually push the circle to its outer limits thus eliminating or greatly reducing the yellow and red zones.

Alex Farcet: What can I do for you?
CEO Startupbootcamp
Alex’s speech focused on networking.  He asked the question: What type of networker are you?  Are you an open, active, or closed networker?  Therefore, he explored the networking tool, LinkedIn and gave 5 tips for how to maximize usage of LinkedIn.
1)       NEVER use the default invitation text, personalize it when asking someone to join your network.
2)      WORK on your summary section, people read this and rarely scroll down unless interested in what your summary has to say.
3)      Keep your STATUS updated, maybe even link your Twitter page to LinkedIn.
4)      HELP Google by filling out the “Additional Information” section of your LinkedIn profile.
5)      JOIN groups.  This helps you meet people with similar interests.

After the speakers we had a networking session in which we got to discuss our ideas with each other through a walk through Frederiksberg Garden.  We finished off the event with a 3 course dinner in which after each course we had to switch tables and meet someone new!

Denmark is a knowledge-based society and this program was definitely one of the indicators of why Denmark thrives from people with innovative and creative ideas.  It’s a small country with a loud voice.  If it is to survive within the era of globalization and the recession, it has to continuously produce people that can generate new ideas and create more businesses that focuses on making what we already have, better.  Think of the co-founder/creator of Skype, Janus Friis, who is actually Danish.  Before Skype, there were instant messaging programs such as AOL and Yahoo, but Skype took the idea of those programs to an even higher level.

Most importantly, this program affirmed that people with a business background aren’t the only people who can be entrepreneurs!  If you want a desired result or outcome in your life, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, share and enhance your ideas with other people.  Success is not always a solitary act.  At the same time, find your own originality and don’t be a standardized product.  One of the keys to overcoming your fear is realizing that many share the same fear and thus that you are not alone in your fears, particularly the fear of not being good enough.  When networking, find people who resonate with what you want, desire or like. We are social creatures and thus a strong social network is highly beneficial in the development of your ideas and even yourself.

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Hello everyone,

So hopefully you’ve read my blog updates about the Copenhagen Youth Goodwill Ambassador Program. Well, now it’s time to get to work! I have created a twitter page, where I hope to post news events about Copenhagen!

You can follow my twitter page at:

or @CphYA2010!

Also, please help spread the word!

Thanks everyone!

The whole month of December has felt like such a big preparation for Christmas day!  Some Danes also honor, what is called the “Advent” (pronounced El-vent in Danish), where the four Sundays leading up to Christmas there was a small gift to open.  All the streets were decorated with Christmas lights and other festive decorations such as stars or reindeer.  There was just so much of a vibe that Christmas was in the air.

So on Christmas day (celebrated December 24th here), we went to Frederik’s (one of my Danish roommates) house at around 3pm. Usually his family goes to church but there was also a broadcasted church showing that came on around 4pm. So the family sat in the living room and watched the televised church show, while we ate cookies and candies with tea and coffee. Before coming to the Christmas dinner, I even baked Cinnamon Roll cookies for everyone and I think everyone loved them! Well after the church show, we all just socialized and watched a bit of television.

Then EXACTLY at 6pm, dinner was ready and we began to eat. I stressed the 6pm, because apparently at 6pm EVERYONE in Denmark is having Christmas and usually eating the EXACT same thing, EVERY year without many divergences.

Dinner was as follows:
Flæskesteg (Roasted Pork Loin with a crackling top layer)
Andesteg (Roasted Duck, usually cooked with apple and prune stuffing)
Brun Sovs (A traditional dark gravy made from the meat drippings and used to cover the pork, duck, and boiled potatoes)
Boiled White Potatoes
Brunede kartofler – Potatoes cooked in caramelized sugar
Rødkål – Red cabbage that has been pickled, and has a sweet-sour taste

Risalamande med Kirsebærsauce – Rice pudding, served cold, made with rice, whipped cream and almonds and topped with a warm cherry sauce.
There is even a game involved with this dessert. So there were 2 whole almonds in the dessert and the point was to eat as much as possible so that you can get the almond. The person who finds the almond usually gets a small present. It’s a fun way to eat dessert!

After dinner and dessert, we all joined hands and sang around the Christmas tree, for about 15-20minutes! It was really funny because most had actually forgotten some of the words, but it was still a great time.  Then after singing around the Christmas tree, we all sat around in the living room and opened each gift, ONE by ONE.  Because it was 10 of us and a lot of gifts, this took about 2-3 hours!  Now this was definitely different for me. So instead of just rushing to the Christmas tree and ripping all the wrapping paper to shreds to see what you received for Christmas this added a very relaxed and appreciative aspect to Christmas. The whole point of the gift opening part was so that everyone could look at all the gifts that everyone has received and then maybe give an explanation for why they bought the gift. I loved looking at everyone’s faces as they opened the gifts and were usually happy with the gifts.

Now to be a bit reflective, I have to admit I had mixed feelings about the Danish Christmas. At the beginning of December, I felt like it was a bit too much because I thought it was about purchasing multiple, very expensive gifts. But this was really my bias from the commercialism that I am slightly annoyed with surrounding Christmas.  That is not to say it is not sometimes the same feeling here but from what I experienced, Christmas here was just something a bit different. In my family we usually have 1-2 big gifts, but I saw most families here receiving probably 6 gifts minimum per person. But to give this more context and perspective, the focus of the gifts wasn’t so much about the expensiveness.   It wasn’t like everyone went out and spent a fortune on multiple gifts, providing each person with the newest iPhone or iPad. Each gift was something thoughtful, usually necessary, and quite moderate in spending, that was more to send the feeling around of traditional gift sharing and family togetherness. Even more, this was about appreciating the gifts and the process that was put into making this a Christmas family event.

Christmas turned out to be just what I love about it so much: family togetherness, a time for joy/happiness, and best of all, good food!  I received really good gifts and it made me very happy to see the expression of everyone’s faces as they opened the gifts I bought for them.  Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas in Copenhagen.

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I know this post is a bit late, but I finally have some free time!

On Sunday Nov. 28th, I decided to make my Danish roommates an American Thanksgiving! So I spent all Sunday cooking with the assistance with one of my Danish roommates! I wanted to make it as traditional as possible but with an elegant touch. So in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I brought back an old grade school tradition, where every Thanksgiving my class would make a ”I am Thankful Turkey”, where everyone would cut out a fall colored hand and write something they were thankful for. So my roommates decided to expand the idea to everyone that visited the apartment!  So, everyone had to fill out a Thankful hand and then on Thanksgiving day, we would hang up the ”I am Thankful Turkey”! I think everyone loved the idea and wrote a lot of things they were thankful for.

So for the day that we celebrated Thanksgiving, I even made a menu, just to give everyone an idea of what they were eating. The menu is posted below.

After a fun-filled day cooking with my Danish roommate, dinner was finally ready at around 6:30pm. Everyone dressed up and we had nice jazzy ballroom-esque music playing the whole time. I started off the dinner describing what was in each dish and giving them an idea of what we were about to eat. It was very ”hyggeligt” as the Danes would say. I think everyone liked the food, at least I hope they did! We ended off the night with a nice, feel-good movie, Bedtime Stories!

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Coming to Denmark has been both an inspirational and sometimes challenging experience. When applying to come to Denmark, I wrote my personal statement on my philosophical analysis of racial dynamics in my life, something I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting about. It was necessary, seeing as my research project is focusing on the ethnic identity of Muslim immigrants (Denmark’s minority) as it pertains to the healthcare sector. My belief is that we are only as different as we make ourselves. It’s my own personal way of trying to avoid the excuse of “you’ll never understand unless you are in my shoes”, when it comes to cross-cultural or cross-racial interactions. I think sometimes culture is used as an excuse, which then halts successful and productive cross-cultural or cross-racial communication.

A couple of days ago, Danish person called me a nigger to describe me to another person and the message was then told to me on this Sunday by a Danish friend. Upon hearing that I was called a nigger, I literally went numb. It’s like this feeling where you have a massive emotional response but you’re trying to figure out how to express it. You don’t want to come off as being overly-sensitive but at the same time I’ve been socialized in such a way that I know the term is so pejorative. It’s this feeling of being offended but wanting to vocalize your hurt in a rational manner that doesn’t cause you to be completely driven by your emotions. I kept thinking maybe this was a way to laugh about the term because Danish humor is very dry and full of sarcasm. At the same time I felt like, well maybe I could just brush it off and act like nothing happened. But then looking back at the U.S. and how so many Blacks use the term to describe each other but get offended when a white person uses it, creates a very interesting paradox or politically correct quandary. Once what the Danish person had said about me was described, one of my Danish friends said that it wasn’t that bad and that the Danish person probably didn’t mean it in a negative way. While I know my Danish friend probably tried to make me feel better, I must admit it felt like throwing salt on a fresh wound.

Although, Danish people don’t have the same Trans-Atlantic slavery history as the North-Western European Whites in the States, is it still justifiable for them to use the term? Can you take such a term and in a different cultural context,and let it lose all of its pejorative or negative connotations? A couple of years ago, I made up in my mind to never immediately jump to conclusions and instantly label the perpetrator a bigot of any kind, unless I have at least some understanding of their background. I think that really no one wants to be labeled a racist, a being of hatred and possibly ignorance. At the same time no one really wants to be called nigger, a term that labels them as a disenfranchised or inferior person. However, with the increase of politically correctness in the U.S., people are so quick to label someone a bigot (i.e. – racist) without any real reflection of what it truly means. People are also really quick to allow being offended to put up a barrier that could possibly be the perfect chance to maybe discuss or rationalize one’s emotional response to bigotry based terms.

At first, I really wanted to remain silent and I kept thinking maybe this will all blow over but then again one can’t help how one feels. Sometimes people say bigotry based terms out or mere ignorance, not realizing the impact the term or phrase might have. Also, Danes pride themselves on their almost absolute forms of democratic ideals, especially freedom of speech. So I felt that I might be infringing on their democratic ideals. However, freedoms are only free until they infringe on someone else’s freedoms.

I chose to withdraw myself for a bit and formulate how I would describe my feelings about the term being used to describe me. So after a couple of hours, I decided to approach my Danish friends and explain to them that even though “nigger” has a less pejorative meaning in Denmark, it’s a term that still to a degree offends me. I must point out I wasn’t offended by one of my Danish friends telling me that another Danish person used the term to describe me, I was more so shocked that the term was used to describe me, in Denmark! I also wanted to address the issue of what happens when a term that is offensive in the U.S. isn’t that offensive in Denmark. The question was how do we discuss this incident in such a way that adds my own cultural perspective to the term within the framework of Danish cultural interpretations of the term. I think my friends might have been a bit alarmed that I might perceive of Danish culture as culturally insensitive or even racist. However, I explained to them that this incident of what the person said wouldn’t shade my whole view of Danish culture because I try my best to critically analyze bigotry based terms and to never place blame on one group without some sort of meaningful reflection.

We entered into a dialogue about the differences in cultural meanings of the term nigger. Apparently in Denmark, I learned that the term “nigger”, which is neger (nee-er) in Danish is sometimes used to describe black people. It is also used by younger kids, but with the intent of ONLY describing the person as a black person and not the pejorative sense of the term. However, they still sort of shy away at saying the term when they are older, which might possibly be the fact that although they intend to use it as a means of ONLY describing a black person, there is still some awareness of the pejorative aspect of the term. It could also be the largely homogenous population of Danes that mostly interacts with African immigrants and rarely African-American immigrants which might affect their overall impact of the term. Who knows?

It was definitely a powerful discussion because no one pointed the finger at each other and we all conducted ourselves in a manner that we have this offensive term, why is it offensive and how can we make sense of this term coming from our different cultural backgrounds?  Better yet, I think we reached a better understanding of the impact of using the term “nigger” or maybe even other racially infused terms.  We are all socialized differently based on our cultural, maybe racial or whatever differences and often times these differences in social background make it easy to put up a barrier or easy for one to say, “You’ll never understand unless you were in my shoes…” But then, we never get to the point of actually rationalizing our reactions to bigotry based terms.

Moral of this experience:
This experience helped me not only reaffirm my personal philosophy described above but to understand the power of discussion. I know that because something works for one person it might not work for everyone or for every situation. However, if more discussions were to occur between racial and cultural groups, we might be able to understand how racial or cultural tensions are perceived by ourselves and the person accused of being a bigot. Not all race based remarks are maliciously inclined. The way in which we perceive ourselves affects our interactions in society and the way we perceive of our identity in comparison to people of other identities affects the way we begin to use terms such as “racist”. Bigoted thinking does exist but not all of it is intentional. I might never know if the Danish person that called me a nigger used it in a pejorative manner or just said it out of his own ignorance about what the term means. I could choose to call him a racist, but in the end what will I have really accomplished? What will I have really learned? I am here to gain a deeper understanding of Danish culture, even if I don’t agree with everything. I don’t have to agree with every cultural practices or beliefs but I do believe in respecting them. I must NOTE that I am not condoning the Danish person’s use of the term but I am focusing on how I choose to express my reaction to bigotry. It’s okay to feel angry or hurt, but I learned a long time ago not to stay in that state of emotions.

I do know that with the casual usage of bigoted terms, deciphering what is mere ignorance or actual bigoted thinking has become a very difficult process. Through a highly critical approach to notions of bigotry, maybe we can break down or understand racial or cultural dynamics, without placing blame on one particular group. I know it sounds so mentally exhausting but if people are to ever transcend notions of racism or any form of bigotry, we must be willing to introspect on our own biases. Discussing racism or bigotry is very difficult because of the personal feelings attached but fighting through those emotional responses to bigotry are even more important. Overall, it will require a collective effort to understand that we are only as different as we make ourselves.