For the past couple of years, though it’s unique simplicity, minimalist Scandinavian design, the nordic cuisine, Scandinavian Fashion and beautiful cities, Scandinavia has made a really big impact on the world and got everybody talking about it. All of the Scandinavian countries score high on surveys that try to classify happiness and prosperity. According to thedebrief.co.uk, Norway topped the Legatum Institute’s annual Prosperity Index for the seventh year in a row as the most prosperous country in the world, with Denmark and Sweden coming in third and fifth.
Locally Scandinavia is understood as Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but if you broaden the term to include the Nordic countries, Iceland and Finland are included as well. I live in the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. My original plan was actually to live in Sweden and I spend almost 2 years there until I met my Danish boyfriend and moved to Copenhagen, instead. If you are wondering how it feel to be a foreigner and live in Scandinavia or Denmark in particular, maybe you are even considering moving to one of these nordic countries, then read on. I hope my experiences living here for more than 8 years will give you a bit of insight.
What I like about living in Scandinavia
Health and schools
I come from an East European country where it’s custom to pay a lot of money to be able to go to a doctor, but here once you manage to get a yellow health card, it’s all free. If you get sick or in need of an operation, everything is taken care of. The only thing not free is dental care after you turn 18 years old. I believe the knowledge that your health is taken care of is the best thing you can wish for. School, including university is also generally not only free, but you also get a monthly allowance called SU from the government. You can call it pocket money for the time you are in school.
Lost your job? Not to worry.
Denmark has a strong social security net. Most people pay a small deductible amount of their salary to a private unemployment insurance called a-kasse. As a member of an a-kasse you can receive up to 90% of your previous salary for 2 years, while you search for a new job. There is also a government welfare program that will at least make sure you don’t starve if you are not a member of an a-kasse.
Copenhagen is a city where you can be whoever you want, without being judged or criticised. In this area, I find it close to or as open minded as London. The Danes, especially in Copenhagen are extremely open to the gay community, to transsexuals and any race for that matter.
Architecture and colorful neighbourhoods
Architecture is not really an interest of mine and I haven’t visited all the museums in Copenhagen yet, but the good thing is that you get to admire architecture everywhere in the city. If you come as a tourist there are plenty of options to visit beautiful castles and museums. I would especially recommend the Louisiana museum of modern art, it’s a bit away from Copenhagen but definitely worth it. The famous and iconic Nyhavn area is a beautiful old harbour filled with boats and colorful houses surrounded by restaurants and cafes. A canal boat tour is something you definitely shouldn’t miss, me and my boyfriend go on one every summer. Beautiful and colorful houses are not only in Nyhavn, there are lots of areas and neighbourhoods with interesting things to visit all over the city, such as Christianshavn, Nørrebro, Frederiksberg, Vesterbro and Østerbro. I can’t deny that Copenhagen is a gorgeous city.
Fashion and design
Scandinavian fashion became very popular the last couple of years with brands such as Acne, Granny, By Malene Birger and Samsoe Samsoe being recognized all over the world. I see people here wearing a mix of very minimalistic but still classic style and those wearing lots of colors, oversized clothes and lots of layers. So, I guess it is up to your personal style to adapt to Scandinavian fashion. I find myself somewhere in the middle, you can read more about my personal style and Scandinavian fashion, HERE. While Scandinavian Fashion is well known worldwide so is Scandinavian design. From Ikea to Hay, everywhere the style is really simple, clean and with a touch of classic 50’s inspiration.
I am huge fan of food markets and everything that gets people together, places with live music and a chance to taste food from different countries. Copenhagen got lots of places like this, especially in the summer and they are really fun. In fact, they have a whole district called Kødbyen (the old meatpacking district) where during summer time you can find different food markets outside and in the evening lots of different restaurants and bars, I love this place! I’ve been to food markets around in other places such as Brooklyn and while they were nice, I like the markets of Copenhagen a bit more. They are less crowded, there are better seating options and you don’t need to show your ID to have a beer. During summer Copenhagen is packed with these kinds of food markets and festivals with concerts and live music. If you consider visiting Copenhagen, summer is the best time to do so.
I would have never thought in a million years, that I would end up with a Danish husband. We have a completely different culture, different languages, different backgrounds and so many different ways of seeing things. I noticed that many men here are extremely calm and patient. I can’t speak for everyone of course but what I’ve seen so far, gave me the impression that Danish men and in general Nordic men are really open minded and good guys.
What I don’t like about living in Scandinavia
Omg, could this country be any more grey and windy? Weather is an important factor that is reflected in my mood. When the sun is out I feel this joy in my belly and it gives me this feeling that I can do anything I set my mind to. But even during summertime, the weather tends to stay cold, grey and windy at times. There are of course, lucky days with sun but those are so precious. Nowadays, when I travel I only want to go to hot countries because I feel like I never get to see the sun.
Can you say? Gulerod? Rødgrød or Undskyld? I wish I could hear you try to say that out loud haha..
When I lived in Sweden, I studied the Swedish language and while it was hard, it’s nothing compared to Danish. Even though everybody speaks English in Copenhagen, when it comes to finding a job it can be quite a bit of an issue if you don’t speak the language.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike hygge, I just feel like people take advantage of this word and use it a bit to much. Giving the impression that Danish people are all curled up in their hand knitted socks, in front of a fireplace, reading a book and looking at the skies. C’mon! Last year, I read a ton of articles where bloggers and magazines wrote their own idea of what hygge means, I felt like most of them were doing it for commercial reasons. Hygge is simple, it’s supposed to mean to disconnect or unwind and stay together with the loved ones. So you come home after a hard day at work, you get under the blankets on your sofa and watch tv, enjoy a hot choco or a glass of wine. I do this every evening and I bet you guys do it too. It can also be having a weekend trip with your loved ones or reading a book . Everyone is doing “hygge” and in their own way, they simply don’t call it that.
I am really happy that we have free health and schools like I wrote earlier. And compare to other European countries, the salaries are high here, but what people don’t tell you is that you pay a ton of money in taxes as well. Income tax and various contributions, means you pay at least 50% of your salary to the government in Denmark and if you earn more, the percentage only goes up. The philosophy in general is good. Everyone can live a decent life and the rich people share with the poor, but I don’t find it entirely fair how far they take it. For example, if you study for years, bust your ass off to finish a good school and get a good job, should you not be awarded instead of being punished with drastically higher taxes? There are also some that don’t have a job and simply don’t look for one because they can easily get help from government, money that come from other people’s taxes. Taxes are also extremely high on cars as well (up to 150%) which may contribute to why there are so many people here that bike.
Oh this is a really taboo topic and I’ve had both good and bad experiences to be honest. I am not the first one to say that Danish people are a bit introverted and like to keep it for themselves. From my experience, I can say that is not easy to make friends with Scandinavians. Most of them already have their groups of friends that they’ve known since college and are hesitant to let others in to their circle. All in all, they are friendly and sociable but when it comes to actually making friends, I find Denmark quite challenging. Another thing that I don’t understand it is the fact that everyone makes plans months in advance. I am used to the fact that if you want to go for a coffee with someone, you can call her and get together in an hour. Here you plan a dinner or lunch 2 months in advance, really?
Restaurants prices and life in general
As much as I love going to food markets during summer time, I also like going to nice restaurants with a great atmosphere. Wining and dining is my and my boyfriend’s favorite thing to do and we always love discovering new places. I don’t usually mind paying the price for this, but if you compare it with other countries and even keeping in mind the salaries that people have here, I find restaurants and life in general quite expensive. Unless, you want to go to a neighbourhood restaurant, or you have an extremely good income, most can’t afford to eat out very often. In fact, many people can only afford going to a restaurant once or maybe twice a month, which is extremely little for an active social life. Not only restaurants, but also coffee shops and even groceries are quite expensive. All in all, Copenhagen is an expensive city, probably one of the most so in Europe. The funny thing here is that the first two weeks after everyone receives their monthly salary you can see shops and restaurants full at all times, the last 2 weeks not so much.
Complaining is a thing here. I don’t know if people talk about it or if you ever heard about it but from my personal experience, for Danes complaining comes naturally. For example, if you get a apple that is dirty, you go to a manager and complain. Your delivery not on time? Call the manager and complain about it. I feel like most of the times, people don’t try to understand the situation or don’t consider the workers trying their best, but instead just make demands. I worked for many years in fast fashion, in a company that has branches all over the world and I dealt with a ton of complaining every day over every single little thing. I see it not only in stores, but everywhere and this might be what made me develop this image of the Danes.
Renting an apartment
If you are looking to rent an apartment here, get ready because it’s gonna take a while, and by that I mean up to 2 – 3 years. In order to get an apartment here, You need to subscribe to many different companies that own apartment complexes, wait for several months in queue or hope that the government will help you. If you read ‘’the truth about living in the so-called utopia of Scandinavia in Stuff.co.nz , you can that finding accommodation in Scandinavia is a nightmare not only for foreigners, locals have the same issue. I remember living in Sweden, Malmo I faced the same situation, as it took forever to find something to rent.
Like every other country, Denmark has it’s beauty and if you can adapt to the lifestyle, the people and jobs here, then it might just be the best place to be. For me personally, Denmark isn’t the country where I want to grow old or build a family, as much as I love my Dane, the whole atmosphere here is just not for me. But this is just me, I grew up with a different climate and value different for things in life. So one day we will probably move, but until then we are determined to make the best out of living the Scandinavian dream, get to know the city even more and experience as much as we can while we are here. Maybe “are danes really the happiest people in the world?” should be my next article? If so, subscribe to my newsletter and let me know.
P.S. This outfit is made up from a pair of very basic jeans that I love and wear almost all the time and my very good friend’s sweatshirt (yes, I like to borrow clothes from men sometimes) and my new favorite red sneakers. You can find the details of this outfit below.
“På gensyn!” – See you later!
Follow my fashion journey on my Instagram account, HERE.