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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Allover, Denmark

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Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Childhood links with Denmark through holidays and social connections. Knew people who had Danish links before hand so experienced something of the culture in terms of food and language. Knew quite a lot about the system here (or so I thought, and I hadn't tallied in changes over time, or indeed, stagnancy and non evolving). Hadn't made the distinction between meeting and knowing Danes who had left Denmark and their own way of being Danish and meeting and knowing Danes who probably won't ever leave Denmark or who will keep coming back despite breaks.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Yes, I do speak the language. I learned the language to an elementary level before the move and took it up to slightly higher levels after the move.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No, I was not worried or concerned about culture shock before I moved to Denmark because at that point, I believed the hype about Denmark and that it was an easy place to be from another culture. I had heard that word 'tolerant' bandied about a lot, and believed the myth of 'free speech'.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

The awareness that I was in culture shock came upon me slowly. And when I was finally diagnosed with Acute Culture Shock it was far too late to do anything about it. There was significant and irrevocable culture shock.

I felt a great sense of betrayal.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Honeymoon phase: check. Included sending postcards and letters all over the world to people I deemed to be 'missing out' on Denmark. Included raving about windmills and forests and rye bread. Included getting shirty about immigrants coming here to spoil this great land. Included all manner of embarrassing expressions of wearing rose tinted glasses and being naive that I wish I could take back now.

The irritation-to-anger phase: I bypassed this one and instead went straight to: Moment of Sudden and Blinding Clarity. The 'honeymoon' phase had included some pretty strong endorphins so I had been unaware that the culture had slowly but surely been irritating me to the point of rawness. I awoke abraded to the bone and in need of some emergency cover.

Rejection of the culture stage: full and absolute, although still a law abiding tax paying person, which is more than I can say for many Danish citizens.

Cultural adjustment: I may need that defined. I believe I have fully adjusted to what the dominant culture in Denmark is all about. Life is good, although it owes little to the Danish culture! That was the adjustment: accept it for what it is, don't try to change it or influence it, and be yourself (this takes gutz).

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Changes in myself that might have been caused by culture shock include a hitherto unformed cynicism. Denmark is touted to be a near Utopian land, the hype says 'the happiest people' (just good liars, those with low expectations or able to say what is expected I guess) the land of freedom and fairness and a most excellent health, legal and educational system. To realise, despite many years of patience, that Denmark is hiding behind a brittle face of happiness and success was quite a shock. Denmark is almost the opposite of what it claims to be, what her people claim it to be, and witnessing this over the years meant that I lost faith in people as a whole.

After all, if Denmark is as good as it gets, and THIS is what's really going on then what else is bull? Believing that Denmark is somehow superior to other countries is like believing in the tooth fairy. It only works so long as you keep telling yourself it is true.

Having lived in other countries and only experiencing the culture shock here, I can't imagine what makes Denmark so ultimately offensive and hard to accept for what it is. But I suppose expectations had a lot to do with that. There was also a huge disappointment tied in with not only Denmark failing to live up to it's own hype or the popular image of Denmark globally (at that point) but also the backward steps and the stagnation here. The cuts to the budgets and the already challenged school and health services being squeezed even further into the doldrums.

Anger? Nah, not really. Depression? At times, yes, I suppose so. A kind of empty 'what the f am I doing here?' and a 'endless dark tunnel of nothingness' that disappeared upon contact with other expats or trips out of DK.

Increased eating or drinking? Now that would be integration! We chose to walk the path of the slim and sober here, because we just don't want to fit in. HOHO.

Frustration? Lots, as in "why-oh-why am I meeting the same ten people over and over again?"

Homesickness: not exactly, but a longing to experience something that is outside of the narrow confines of Danish culture chomps at my heels like an energetic puppy.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

The backward aspect works to my advantage in many situations.

The coastlines are unspoiled, if a little two dimensional. If I were planning to retire here it would be the perfect culture to be an old person in. Only five and a half million people in one big space so chances of meeting violent random crimes lessened. It's all about chance though. Being foreign puts me in a league set quite apart and my oddities are dismissed because I am not 'of' them. Which is quite nice and a ticket to just be myself. Which is good fun.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The same-ness. Over and over and over again. The same ten people. The same three meals. The same reactions to the same things. The locked in attitudes. The arrogance of the people. The blinkered attitudes and passivity. The same babies in the same strollers with the same expressions.

The high prices. Mental.

The lack of good radio stations. The fact that delivery here costs and arm and a leg.

The high taxes. It stings to be working every second hour for the Taxman, and not to be getting much of it back.

The acceptance of alcoholism. That's nuts.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

The most embarrassing blunder I committed was just bimbling along thinking I was making friends with Danished people, only to realise that friendship is a weird thing in Denmark and has more to do with who you play handball with than who you *thumps chest* bond with. Or something like that.

The drunks are very friendly though, so my advice to newbies is to take to the bars if you want to feel any warmth.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

I am in the practice of putting money on how long people will last till they crack here. The ones who come here with the most arrogant attitude, the ones who defend Denmark the most in the beginning, the ones who burn the most bridges to get here (including leaving family/offspring/jobs etc behind), the ones who show the most offense if you dare to suggest they might be wearing rose tinted glasses are the ones who fall the hardest.

I can say this after seeing it scores of times.

Those who come with a little pinch of cynical and a dash of the real who see that Denmark is basically a field with a supermarket on it and a few windmills and a blue sky in the summer and a hell of a lot of red noses in the winter (booze and cold)will fare better, will last longer and will probably be the happiest.

So thinking about it, yes, my advice would be to take what the 'old timers' in Denmark say to be true (culture shocked revelations) and to not diss people for being negative about it, because you know what? Sooner or later, you will know what we mean.

If you get out of this without feeling let down or flat in some respect then you are obviously leaving Denmark repeatedly, getting your food shipped in and therefore not actually here full time anyway. SO THERE!

Talk with Expats in Denmark

If you're not involved in our Denmark Forum, it's a great place to meet others in your area, get answers to questions about moving to Denmark or offer advice to a newcomer.

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Comments about this Report

Sep 16, 2010 07:57

I found your comment lengthy and self-aggrandizing to the point of irritation and am therefore jotting a few words down, just to take the edge off. I get the impression that the author is making the whole story up. I liked the puppy though, and the supermarket on a field image of DK is scary, yet somehow appropriate... The single greatest problem foreigners have with Denmark is, I think, unrealistic expectations. This leads to disappointment and bitterness. I've lived here for nearly 40 years - Lord have mercy - and I have seen the changes as they happened. This once open country with an extremely opportunistic and charming people, in love with the world discovered that they had become the target of an envious, horny ( for ass and free stuff)flock of misfits who wanted a free ride and thought they could find it here. This sort of ruined it for the rest of potentially interesting people who might otherwise have found it pretty nice here.

Jan 1, 2011 06:44

Whooa! I could have written a lot of what you say here. The difference between you and me is I am one of them. Born and breed Danish, but with 20 years of ex pat experience and now living back in DK. You forgot the most significant law in Denmark. "Janteloven". It is alive and well. Maybe the answers can be found in "Guest" comment of 16/9/2010. I am born in 1952 and in my youth the attitude to foreigners was a lot different.

Mar 1, 2011 04:02

'hear, hear'.You sum up my thoughts and experiences of Denmark exactly. I have been here for three years, and 'yes' I did send those (now) embarrassing emails and facebook comments about how everything was wonderful. And I tried to ignore comments made by visiting friends about how regimented the place was, how regulated, how conservative. Being the ultimate, left leaning, free spirit this just didn't fit with how I perceived my life, or the kind of environment in which I would like to live. Then reality hit. Or how I like to describe the experience is that I managed to get a peak behind the shiny doors of the sleek Scandinavian storage system. After three years I hadn't made any real Danish friends, but I had met some real horrors. I also felt that Brits weren't really welcome here - despite protestations to the contrary. And I did not like the national socialist policies of the government or the way people treated immigrants (this was brought home to me by someone who worked for the Red Cross). And I even found something disturbing about the way people treat animals. I get the impression that people do shoot unwanted dogs, don't care about running over cats and that the vets are happy to put down healthy unwanted puppies without question. Also, I began to realize (from talking with Danes) that the state school system sucks, the healthcare system is undergoing some level of privatization, the unions have no teeth and most of all nobody complains or feels the need to highlight injustices. My impression of Denmark began to change. I felt that I was living in a society where the majority take the attitude 'I'm all right jack'. That Danes aren't happy, simply smug and presumably laughing at being able to deceive outsiders. I did become a bit angry. Mainly with myself for being so naive, but also with the hypocrisy. And then I gave myself a deadline for staying here, at which point I didn't care any longer. People are different, cultures are different and Denmark is very different to England. That's just how it is, and how it has been for centuries. No amount of Danish legislation on 'being nice to foreigners' in order to pick their brains is going to change a culture over night. In some ways it just makes things worse because you then have people coming up to you to tell you that 'they like foreigners', which as a skeptical Brit makes you want to run a mile (or several hundred). So, now the only problem I have with being in Denmark, is how to make 300,000ukp fast, this being the shortfall between the cost of my property in Denmark and the one I would like to purchase on my return to the UK...

Nov 19, 2011 10:17

This person has just put words on what i have felt (and felt uncomfortable about) for the last 30 years. OMG!

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