Five Things The UK Could Learn From Denmark, And Vice Versa

I first arrived in Denmark October 1st, 2010, so I guess I'm qualified enough now to see the highs and lows of living in Denmark versus the UK.  I thought I'd list them here, if only for you to see what my Danish experience is like day to day.

Five Things The UK Should Learn From Denmark

I apologise if the below already exist in the UK, it'll be mostly because I came from a small town in deep dark Cornwall, and civilization hasn't reached us down there yet.

  1. A single duvet for each person in a double bed.  This was a revelation.  No more bed wars fighting for your corner of a compromised duvet, your own as you like it but close enough to cuddle your partner.
  2. Supermarket logistics.  First, you can have a shopping basket with little wheels that you pull around behind you, like a shopping trolley but without the commitment. Second, once you arrive at the checkout there is a slidey thing that means you can pack your shopping whilst the customer behind you is served.  Genius. (edit: have been reliably informed by Steph slidey thing is just lacking in Cornish supermarkets.  Oh well.)
  3. No cash.  Everything is paid for by your Dankort (a debit card).  Even things like a coffee or papers etc.  No minimum charges, no whinging from the shopkeeper about transaction costs.
  4. A commitment to bicycles.  50% of people in Copenhagen commute every day.  I have an hour enforced exercise a day, no road rage stress, breathe in clean air, buildings aren't caked in soot, the dull roar of cars is absent.  I think this is a major contributor to why Denmark is voted the happiest country in the world.
  5. Work/Life balance.  Soon after I arrived from the UK and was working in the office, I found myself confused at around 4pm on a Friday.  Looking around I realised - the office was empty.  People had gone home, to eat dinner with their family.  Most had arrived at 8am after taking their kid to school.  I admit this isn't a habit I have yet cultivated, but its implications for the happiest country in the world are obvious.  Its not to say that the Danes are work-shy: it seems there is more personal responsibility given to people to finish their tasks, so they will work late when needed, just not to a prescribed 9-5.  In general there are more "flat" management structures.

Five Things Denmark Should Learn From The UK

Obviously I like living in Denmark as I'm still here, but my honeymoon and disillusionment periods all expats seem to have means I can see where improvements could be made, if not just for me for all Danes:

  1. Banter with strangers.  My first months I mistakenly sat in a cafe (the closest I could find to an English pub) with the hope if I frequented it enough, I could strike up conversations with the locals.  All I got was embarrassment from the waiters and uncomfortable glances.  The way to meet people in Denmark is to arrange common interest groups, you can't just rock down to a local pub, as the equivalent isn't frequented by normal people, and even dropping in on a friend without pre-arrangement is uncomfortable for Danes.
  2. Queueing. Its most marked when flying back to and from the UK.  In the UK, the queues for the passport control is based on order of arrival, and doesn't matter whether you're old, young, or English.  When you arrive in Denmark, the queue is based on elbows, size, if you're Danish and amount of determination. Danes will even start a new mini-queue heading off the normal one that the English try to start, just to avoid that extra 2 mins wait. Danish shops have to employ ticketing systems, just to avoid the inevitable ruckus if left to politeness.
  3. Animal Welfare.  The debate in the UK on vegetarianism and fur is light years ahead of Denmark.  This may have been smoke screened by the giraffe incident, where people got upset about lions doing something they do every day, and with animal welfare in mind regarding genetics.  The real story is that Denmark is one of the biggest exporters of fur in the world, as well as the biggest provider of bacon.  Factory farming is prevalent, with techniques such as sow stalls banned in the UK but only just becoming law in Denmark due to EU rulings.
  4. Ease of starting a small business.  My wife is starting up as a games designer, but is often coming up against what seems to be nonsensical blocks to my capitalist soaked British brain.  I have often piped up with suggestions that would work in the UK, but not in Denmark.  It covers things like VAT registration, which is obligatory in Denmark for any business(?) whereas UK need a turnover of £70k and tax credits - Denmark actually seems to encourage staying on welfare.
  5. ......Racial Tolerance? Up until I left the UK I would have ranked this over Denmark, being proud of the UK's integration of cultures from around the world.  But now, with the raise of UKIP and the rhetoric I read from over the channel I question if this value is still part of being British.  I hope so.  The Danes are very protective of being Danish, which for a country of 5.5 million is understandable, but Denmark is also paradoxically suffering from a declining population and shrinking workforce, whilst at the same time making it hard for people outside the EU to become Danish: In 2012, 3,000 people became Danish citizens, compared with 194,000 who became British citizens.  Dual citizenship is not an option (yet) but is being considered, which I will get if I can.  Citizens in the EU have an easier time, so I've been ok, but those outside of the EU I've heard nightmare scenarios, even with good jobs and fluent Danish.  My personal concern is that if the UK talks itself out of the EU my status may be questioned, which in this age of integration seems a step backwards - surely as the world gets more global, nationalism becomes less and less relevant?

What would you pick, if you had to?  If you're an expat or not, I'll be interested. Seeing the perception of the differences between Denmark and the UK is as interesting as if you have direct experience of both.

    7 responses
    I may be imagining this, but I always thought that in the UK the slidey things at the bagging stage of your supermarket experience is common in the poky and low-rent supermarkets that really ought not be prefixed with "super-". That is, not the big 4 or 5 but the discounters that sell 10 flavours of Jaffa Cake and no broccoli. That would also account for my opinion on Danish supermarkets being positively soviet compared to UK ones. They are dirty, poorly-stocked and filled (no, not filled, sparsely-staffed) with cheerless gits. I always felt like walking into a supermarket in Copenhagen was like stepping out of Scandinavia 2014 and into Yugoslavia 1988. Some of them do have the cool slot where you drop your change in and the machine churns it all and counts it. Very neat, but they have those here in Edinburgh too now. And that actually is the nub of the matter. The openness to foreign ideas is much more pronounced in the UK, and this is a great illustration of why that is a great thing. Closed societies, whether by authoritarian design or reactionary nationalism, harms the people inside more than those outside. I fear the Danes are not only willing to starve themselves of the cultural and culinary excellence the rest of the world has to offer, but that they will do it cheerfully. I fear too many Danes are happy enough with watching Monty Python and Barcelona FC as their fill of multiculturalism, and that this who fragrant world of wonder will pass them by. Step into even the most conservative of British supermarket and you will see a litmus of the British's openness to the possibility of otherness. Unless that otherness is in lycra and on a bike... then it's blaring horns and blue air before you can name ten flavours of Jaffa Cake.
    Dear Alun, I had no idea supermarkets would be such a barometer of local culture, but from your account and my experience of posh Frederiksberg supermarkets, where you float around in Scandinavia 2000s, it seems like the best thing to do on arriving in a new area is to visit a local supermarket if you want an accurate measure of it. For instance, Danish obsession with coffee via the "grind your own" section I am too scared to try yet. Anyhow, I do agree with your other observations on Danish reluctance to adopt other cultures, but hopefully I can do my bit to introduce a bit of British banter, queue formation and love of animals to our Scandinavian cousins. Hope Edinburgh is also providing enough culture shocks to keep things interesting :)
    I am glad you are enjoying Denmark, I moved here in 1998 from the USA. Current gripe: Recently Denmark has decided that non danish citizens like myself are no longer entitled to the travel health insurance. While it seams a small thing what bothers me is that i have lived here for 17 years and I work and pay my taxes like anyone else, but am not entitled to the same thing. Like you i am waiting for them to allow dual citizenship. I have been waiting a long time.
    Dear Linda, thanks for dropping by :) Yes I've heard of some bad experiences by citizens outside the EU, I have another US friend who basically needed to get married to a Dane to have a better chance of staying or qualifying for a mortgage. I really hope the UK doesn't chop off its nose to spite its face. A recent survey showed 52% of UK people want to be able to work anywhere in the EU, but only 36% think EU people should be able to work in the UK. Bit of a disconnect there! (dubious source: ) Apparently its summer 2015 from when we can get dual citizenship ( - I'm considering it if the UK looks like it will drop out, and for my daughter who will be born in December!
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