Friday, November 30, 2007

You know you’re not doing too badly at fitting in when…

…you’re asked for directions by tourists!

Yes it happened just a few minutes ago on my way home!

I’d just turned the corner into my street when a man walking with a woman called out with an American accent.

“Excuse me, do you speak English?”


“Can you tell us where the metro is?”

I turned and pointed.

“Straight down there, turn left and then cross the road at the first pedestrian crossing and it’s right there in front of you.”

“Thanks man. By the way, you’re English is great!”

Well, there you go! My English is great!! Just as well he hadn’t asked me in Danish…

A point about this post. Firstly, I’ve had a bit of ribbing at work about my accent, or the lack thereof. Much to everyone’s disgust, I don’t sound like Steve Irwin or Paul Hogan. That’s a big disappointment and I feel very much like I’ve let the side down. A couple of introductory conversations have gone like this:

“Oh, you’re Australian!”

“Yes, I am.

“How long have you been here?”

“I’ve been here just over three weeks.”

Frowning, disapproving look.

“You don’t sound Australian.”

…Walks off.

Or, looking very perplexed, an English girl.

“You don’t sound Australian at all. You sound like a posh Englishman.”

No I don’t!!!!!!!!!

Crikey, I would just like to point out that not every Australian sounds like Steve Irwin did. Nor does every New Zealander. Well, I guess they wouldn’t because he was Australian, but you know what I mean.

The truth is, well, I don’t know what the truth is, but Australian accents do vary a bit, especially the further north you go and perhaps less so, the further south.

I think, in the end, most people end up with a neutral accent – neither broadly Australian or English.

It also seems to be an accent that’s lost quite easily. The only expat I can think of who has really held onto it is Olivia Newton-John. Kylie Minogue sounds quite English now (some would say thankfully!) and look at Crown Princess Mary… She went from neutral (or southern Australian) to speaking English with a Danish accent, then back to Australian and then onto a posher, British-esque style accent in a matter of months! It must have all just been too much but at least Frederik clings to every word she says and I guess that’s the important thing.

Now if you *really* want to hear a Melbourne accent, from the area equivalent to, say, Hellerup here in Copenhagen, here's your chance You can also here the antithesis by going further into the site...

Monday, November 26, 2007

One of the reasons we chose Denmark...

I should qualify this by saying why *I* in this instance and not *us*. I work in advertising and came across this ad for the Danish Road Safety Council.

I should preface all this by saying it's not exactly a fun ad. It's about speeding and the possible repercussions. However, it's not all doom and gloom as you might think, it has a sort of happy ending of what could have been. You'll see.

Anyway, I liked the subtlety of it, the music, the girl's voice and the acting. They got the point across without being too macabre. (I'm a bit sick of frightening advertising).

I still don't know which agency made it but it got me thinking about Denmark..

What do Danes do on Sundays???

It came as a surprise to me to find shops don’t open all week in Denmark. I dunno, but I suspected the entire Western World were shopaholics. Certainly it’s the case in Australia where families seem to spend their entire weekends wandering aimlessly around shopping centres, or ‘malls’ as they seem to be called, as if they’re about to chant, ‘We want Somar, we want somar’ – or whatever it was in that 70’s sci-fi movie the sedated population wanted. I hate malls. I find them depressing places as they remind me that I’m sure there used to be something we did on Sunday, and even late Saturday afternoon that we don’t do now that didn’t involve buying something we really didn’t need. I think it was called life with less red figures on our credit cards.

Imagine how odd it was then for me to be ‘surprised’ to find I couldn’t go shopping for furniture for the new flat on Sunday. It wasn’t a great day weather wise but I really wanted to get set up. No way. Not even Ikea.

It had me thinking though that perhaps it’s a good thing. Annoying for me presently, of course, but Danes must do something else instead. I’ve no idea what that is yet but I intend to find out. My sister-in-law was very impressed when I told her last night.

As it stands, there is a two bedroom flat in Copenhagen I have keys for but completely empty of furniture and ceiling lights…

For those who want to check out what Ikea has to offer in Denmark, you can brows the catalogue

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When ego gets in the way of politics...

The Prime Minister-elect, Kevin (who call's their child *Kevin*??) Rudd:

The man about to switch his office light off, John Howard:

I used to be very interested in politics but, as I’ve aged, I’ve become more disillusioned with the two major parties in Australia. Yesterday, Australia held a general election. My disillusionment really hit home at the end of the week when I rocked up at the Australian Embassy here in Copenhagen to cast my vote, only to find I’d mucked up the time difference and was too late… Normally, this would have been a huge irritation, not just the forthcoming fine for not doing my duty but also because I like to have my say. That day I just shrugged my shoulders and went home and had a wine.

In the late 1980’s Australia was an economic mess. We seem to be very much a ‘boom and bust’ country and, for some reason, our economy appears to be linked in with just about every other country on the planet that suffers an economic downturn. It was an awful, awful time. Thousands of people lost their homes and businesses, interest rates were wayyy into the double digits and, tragically, quite a number of ruined people did themselves in – all because of money, or the lack thereof.

The party responsible was the Labor Party, headed initially by Bob Hawke (under whom, on paper, all was relatively well), until his ‘treasurer’, Paul Keating, somewhat deviously booted him out of office. PK is an intelligent man but one who, IMO, has a huge chip on his shoulders. A great orator, his good qualities were shadowed by a rather enormous chip on his shoulders and, to me, he still comes across as a very embittered human being.

To make a long story endless, Australia went down the gurgler and he as finally voted out by a suffering population in a landslide swing against Labor, in favour of the Liberals, headed by John Howard. Last night, after eleven and a half years of government JH was forced to concede defeat.

Over that decade and a bit, the Liberals got the country up and running again and it seemed they could do no wrong. The trouble with staying in office too long seems to me to be a government becomes too sure of being right about everything and not listening to the people. Ego takes over. Britain’s Maggie Thatcher was also a victim of this syndrome and so was John Howard.

I believe he tried to turn the country into a complete private enterprise, based on a dog-eat-dog foundation. He introduced what they call Industrial Relations Laws, which meant employees had to sign contracts written by their employer stipulating the rules and regulations about their tenure. Certainly, there are apparently laws in place to protect workers’ rights but, it seems that these are very vague and, at the end of the day, not necessarily beneficial to the employee but potentially so for the employer.

Since these laws came into effect, unemployment has dropped but I have to wonder under what sort of conditions employees in new positions are taken on. I’ve read and heard many things but I can only say that if the laws were completely beneficial to all concerned, they would have been a lot more popular than they are.

Sadly, the various unions in Australia are as much to blame as anyone else. They’re too often militant thugs and, by being so, end up being more of a hindrance to the workers they are meant to protect than saviours. Had they in general terms been cleverer and rational the IR laws may never have been initiated.

Unlike most people, I started out quite conservative in my views and have lately edged to the left. The older I’ve become, the more I can see that life is exceedingly difficult for some people. They literally battle to survive with young families and mortgages, with simply not enough money to go around, which seems ridiculous in a country as wealthy as Australia. Add in a crumbling health system, a questionable government-based education system and you have a recipe for lots of future worries. As it seems to be at the moment, the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer.

Of course, nowhere in the world are people equal. That will never be, because of human nature. Some of us are determined to be the best, while others don’t have the same drive. What I believe is essential is that everyone, no matter what suburb or socio-economic family background they have, deserves a chance. That chance is all- important but seems to be getting less and less of a reality. I think that’s what JH lost sight of. Sure we need stable economies but I think not at the cost of our humanity.

So now Australia has a new, Labor government, headed by a chap called Kevin Rudd (A Prime Minister called Kevin, is going to take some getting used to…). There’s a huge honey pot in Canberra and it will be interesting – from a safe distance – to see how they manage it. I hope for the country’s sake they do well but their history of handling the economy is anything but good. To me he comes across as somewhat arrogant as well and I have a feeling he may have a nasty streak but he may need that to work with the unions. We shall see…

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tips for moving to Denmark...

I’ve had a few emails from people asking me how they can come and live in Denmark. Just for the record, I’m not an expert. I simply loathe filling in forms and anything requiring such effort on my part completely puts me off.

What I do suggest is you have a good read of the following site:

Work In Denmark

It’s very informative and makes Denmark seem to be about the jolliest places on Earth to live – and, from experience so far, it is. I will point out, however, that next to India, it is undoubtedly one of the most bureaucratic. You are warned!

Once you’re in the WorkInDenmark site, check out the Job List / Positive List section. You never know your luck – you might be one of the preferred professions for which they have a special visa. What’s more, if you are offered a job – any job – with an annual salary of over DKR 450,000, you are immediately eligible for a Job Card. Bear in mind that while DKR 450,000 sounds like you could soon be chinking chardonnay glasses with Helena Christensen, Viggo Mortensen and Prince Frederik in a month, be very aware at least half of that will go in tax. And, once you’ve shopped till you dropped every payday for a year, you can probably take another 25 percent off as well. But, at least you get quite a lot for the privilege of doing so. The Danish Tax Man – or Skat Man as they curiously call him here – hits hard but the landing is somewhat softened.

If your chosen choice of profession doesn’t appear on the Job list, then I suggest you do some job searching on the following sites:




Jobs that are detailed in English usually mean the working language is in English.

The Danish workplace, to me, appears to be very unique.

It’s unlikely in most professions you’ll have to wear a suit (or female equivalent) to work. It’s quite relaxed which, to me, suggests that if people are relaxed in the workplace they’ll be more productive.

Danes take their work very seriously and are very conscious of being efficient. Lunch break tends to be a fairly rushed affair, so if you’re used to long, leisurely lunches, get un-used to them but also be prepared that if you’re child gets sick or you ex-mother-in-law faints at Illum’s Bolighus, you can dash off to go with her in the ambulance to the hospital.

Productivity appears to be the key word. As friends pointed out to me last night, if an employee’s child hurts themselves at school and he or she feels they must go and check, it’s not much use them staying at work because they won’t be productive anyway. That makes sense. But all too often, even in Australia, the undertone granting time off can often be negative, if not “Don’t bother coming in tomorrow”.

Danes work industriously at work but it was very pleasing to me yesterday, while in a meeting, to see father’s rush off to pick up their kids. You’d rarely see that in Australia. There also doesn’t seem to be the expectation that you must work until late evening for appearances, if nothing else. That said, if you do need to stay back to finish something, the job must be done. However, on the whole, they seem to somehow, against all odds, marry the need for productivity with life outside one’s job.

I can’t vouch for other Danish workplaces but mine appears to be very attuned to getting the most out its employees. We’re treated very well, with heavily subsidised lunches and other – quite amazing – perks. I assume this is to imbue a sense of ‘We’ll look after you, so do the right thing by us’, mentality, which seems to work and is very good to see. You certainly don’t come across it often enough in Australia or the US.

Accommodation is very tricky. It came as a great surprise to me to discover that most Danes own their own home. I’d always thought that Australia and the US were the home ownership capitals of the world. Apparently, even people in their’ 20s here take out some kind of mortgage, which means there’s tough competition to find somewhere to rent.

If you’re planning on coming to Denmark to live, check out Copenhagen Post and go to the classifieds, then real estate section. Here you’ll find some companies whose raison d’etre is to list rental properties for expats. However, some of these only rent to companies. My advice, if you’re moving to Copenhagen, as opposed to a smaller town, is to engage a relocation agent. I can’t recommend Hands On Relocation enough. Some companies charge a lot more because they service companies looking for places for their employees, so make sure you check the rates before you sign a contract. More often than not, a lease contract will be written in Danish, so a relocation agent will help.

There are lots of quirky rental arrangements in Denmark that are far beyond my limited ability to digest. For instance, in the place I’ve just rented, I have to arrange for ceiling lights to be installed… So, check exactly what you need before you sign the contract.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Residents with permits and residence!

Yes, it’s true! Against all odds and contrary to Copenhageners’ popular opinions, I found a flat for us in record time, right in the middle of Frederiksberg whose owner was not only happy for us to bring along Hamish but has also installed a – wait for it – dishwasher! Well, I can’t take the prize for it, it was all Ms HandsOnRelocation’s work really.

Spookily enough, the flat doesn’t have ceiling lights but after living with ‘green’ light bulbs for the last couple of weeks (and sadly, back in Melbourne), I’m quite happy to read by torchlight for the next little while. Ms HandsOnRelocation is organising her favourite electrician but, like all tradesmen in the Western World, he can’t arrive before 14 December. Plus, when you’ve spent close to $23 billion dollars (regretfully including economy class air travel) moving your life (and your dog’s) literally to the other side of the world, what’s a little bit more on ceiling lights?

To be honest, I woke up on Sunday thinking it would be a shocking day. We were to look at places all over and out of Copenhagen. I had a huge sense of foreboding. The consensus and odds of us finding a place and Hamish straight off were, well, practically nil.

Imagine my delight when I walked into the first place on the list to find that dreams come true! Two bedrooms, decent sized living room, large kitchen with meals area and much coveted dishwasher, big bathroom with washing machine and dryer! Crikey. I’m glad I did make that donation to the Royal Children’s Hospital Appeal this year! It paid of nicely.

Not only that, but the landlord said once the deposit was paid we could have the keys even though we don’t officially take over until 1 December.

I firmly believe the lack of a dishwasher can be blamed for many divorces and break ups. We once renovated a place and the kitchen was gutted. We washed our dishes in the bath. Well, that was the idea. After a few days there were so many dirty dishes in the bath you would have thought we’d fed the five thousand. Some months later, when our dishwasher was installed, courtesy of Hr. Asko, we filled it up (several times) and stood watching it go through the cycles. Miraculously enough, all swearing under our breath (directed at each other), and face to face, disappeared.

I was telling a workmate yesterday about our luck and the dishwasher and she was green with envy. She and her husband have decided that if they stay in their current flat another year, they’ll ask the landlord if they can install one and they’ll just leave it there when they go. That’s exactly what I’d thought of doing if we took a flat without one. I honestly don’t understand the people who have these ingenious machines and never use them…

Anyway, my excitement was somewhat curtailed today as I wrote the list of items we need to actually live in the flat…

Monday, November 19, 2007

What I hate most about Global Warming...

Spare me rising seas, temperatures and that weird stillness the oceans might get, just give me back my friggin’ light globes!

I hate these ‘green’ light bulbs. They’re useless.

NQDII has installed them in every fitting in our house in Melbourne and so has the guy who owns this place. They’re literally haunting me wherever I go. I can’t get away from them. Last night I was reading in bed and, honestly, I had the ‘bedside lamp’, if I may call it that, one inch away from the pages of the book in order to read it.

What’s next? A boom in the Labrador trade? Seriously, no offence or anything un- PC to the visually impaired but I am fast becoming blind at night myself. It’s ludicrous. They’re not hygge, they’re ridiculous.

Okay, so living in one of the flattest countries in the world, you may think I’d have more important green things to worry about but I can assure you, the person who invents green light bulbs that actually project effective light will be the next Bill Gates. I wish it could be me but I know nothing about gases or whatever is in them.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Supermarket experience...take 6...

Those who know me well will vouch that I hate supermarket shopping. NQDII and I have an arrangement where I do other things rather than shop for food and other goods. Today, I almost came to grief, yet again.

I’d been waiting on some luggage to arrive that I had sent from Melbourne via a ‘quick’ non-excess baggage company. It arrived and I had to pay DKR1500, which pretty much stripped me of any cash.

Needing essentials, I headed off to the dreaded supermarket. They’re, by far, the only negative experience I’ve had in Denmark, apart from the indifferent, huffy older ladies in the post office. Anyway, apart from not being stocked anywhere to the degree of Australian supermarkets, I finally found everything I needed and made my way to the hellishly long queue.

I suddenly realised I had not much cash on me and turned to a guy behind me and asked if they took Visa card. He looked at me like I was a nutcase and said, “Only Dansk Card’ or something like that. That saw my rushing off to hide my basket and head outside to the nearest flexi teller. Thank god for flexi tellers.

Really, I am about due for a positive supermarket experience…

Feel like a change of scenery?

Thinking of coming to live and work in Denmark? Why not? My experience so far has been very positive. I’ve also been here a number of times before, so I’m a tad familiar with it.

For a start, Denmark is a very compact country – small if you like. That said, it also has a small population, so there’s still lots of countryside and rather lovely and varied at that. Unlike other European countries, there are also some very good beaches.

The country is made up of one peninsula, jutting out from Europe, called Jutland in English and, literally, hundreds of other little islands. The two biggest are Funen and Zealand and it’s on the latter that Copenhagen is perched.

It’s true what everyone says about the taxes, they’re very high, but, Danes get a lot of value for their money – although I’m not sure they always think so. However, unlike the US or Australia, tertiary education is pretty much free and the health system very comprehensive. Graduates aren’t left with ridiculous fees to pay off once they finish university.

It’s also, from what I can see – and not having any myself, a very good place to bring up children. By Western standards it’s extremely safe. The standard of living is very high, education excellent and, at least at the moment, lots of jobs for your children once they finish school.

If you’re planning to become the next Rupert Murdoch or Bill Gates, then maybe Denmark isn’t for you but if you want to have a very good life, in a clean environment and opportunities for your kids to do the same, then think about it. I’ve met quite a few expats from other Western countries who’ve moved here to do just that. For me, it’s a bit like the Australia I grew up in. Kids can walk safely home from school, there are very few dodgy areas and life is quite enjoyable.

Danes are very proud of their country and I can see why. On the whole, they’re a pretty friendly bunch. They like a good laugh which usually includes some irony, self-deprecation and a bit of ribbing. Much like Australian humour, so I’m lucky there. Then again, like anywhere you do meet unfunny people. In my experience so far, you can usually find them at the post office or the town hall…

From what I can see, there are two drawbacks – three if you count long, dark winters. The first is the language that, while not incredibly hard grammar-wise is nigh on impossible to pronounce because Danes gulp down words like they’re starved for them. Secondly, if you do really love it here and plan to become a citizen so you can vote, you’ll have to renounce your current citizenship. Recently, the younger prince here announced his engagement to a French girl (she could be Swiss??) but, anyway, the press release quaintly stated she would ask the French (Swiss?) government to ‘release her from her citizenship’. Perhaps there’s a good reason for this law but I should think, for most of us proud of who we are presently – even if we’re not there – it’s a huge decision. And, unlike the princess-to-be, we probably wouldn’t be giving it up to live in palaces and enjoy all the trappings associated with that (duties and responsibilities aside, of course).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Houston, we have a *big*, furry problem!

Oh dear…

I will preface this by saying before we actually left to come to Denmark, we had never thought of hiring anyone to look for flats in Denmark for us. Thankfully, at the eleventh hour, I had second thoughts and employed a very helpful Danish woman who runs Hands on Relocation, Hands on Relocation

I thought we may have a problem with our Labradoodle pooch, labradoodles and we do!

It seems Frederiksbergians, or landlords here, don’t think much of dogs over 20cm in height. Consequently, looking for somewhere decent to live permanently is proving a nightmare.

I would just like to point out that Hamish is a very well behaved canine. Sure, he hates pigeons and possums (who doesn’t??) but he can shake hands, answers in English and French – and hopefully soon Danish. He doesn’t bark, doesn’t shed hair and loooooves children. My young niece and nephews will attest to this.

Unfortunately, as Ms Hands on Relocation will verify, this so far hasn’t done much to convince Danish Land Lords/Ladies.

Ms HoR and I spend much of today looking at potential residences. There’s not much to choose from if you have I dog, that much I can tell you. Options are extremely limited. So, if you are planning to move to Denmark and have a dog, make sure it is a Chihuahua!

More flats to look at on Sunday. If anyone has any tips, please let me know!

My Copenhagen views

A hard part of living in another country and looking for somewhere to live is not ending up in an area similar to a place you’d never live, in a million years in your home country.

By great luck, we have ended up temporarily in a tiny apartment in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. It’s a very nice area and although I’ve only been here a few days, I’ve become quite attached to it.

These are some of the views. I also walk around three lakes to go to work in Østerbro. It takes around 40, very enjoyable, minutes. There’s something about walking in brisk air, rugged up, that I find really enjoyable.

I pass the morning joggers every day and, coming from where I do, it’s funny to see people rugged up as they jog. I wish I loved jogging, it would do me good, but I loathe it!

You'll have to excuse the pictures, they're from my mobile phone which, true to Libra vagueness, has been through the washing machine...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Denmark's lucky numbers!

OMG! I’m almost Danish!

Well, not quite, but I do have the coveted CPR number. This is the number you need to open a bank account, get a mobile phone contract, go to university, rent a DVD, borrow a book from the library, take very cheap Danish courses, and brunch at Amalienborg or Fredensborg on a Sunday. …Okay, not the last but the rest is all true.

To be honest, I was full of trepidation about getting this number (which actually isn’t that startling. It’s the first two number of your day, month and year of birth and four other numbers) and had in my mind it would be a nightmare to get. As it was, it only took two teeny trips to get. The first time, I went to the regular Copenhagen office, only to find because I live in Frederiksberg, which is a separate city to Copenhagen, even though it’s surrounded my Copenhagen, I had to go to the local Rådhus (Town Hall).

That took less than half an hour and, thanks to a very pleasant, although not too talkative chap, I had, in my hot little hands, the key to the city. How happy was I? I hadn’t felt so chuffed since I got my driver’s licence 400 years ago. So happy, in fact, I left the Rådhus and headed straight to the bank to open a bank account.

“Hej! I’d like to open a bank account…”

“Do you have a CPR number??”

“YESSSSSSSS!!!! I do!!!”

I could tell by the smile on the pretty-faced woman behind the counter that she was impressed too.

I now have a Danish bank account with absolutely no money in it! Look out Switzerland!

Price check on register four...

What you soon realise when moving countries is how even the smallest expeditions you usually take for granted, turn into epic quests. Take, for instance, the supermarket. I now have four litres of different kinds of dairy boarding in the refrigerator. They were all meant to be milk… The first is a rather thick concoction, somewhere between yoghurt and milk, as are the other three. None go well with coffee in the morning; that I can safely tell you.

What I’ve since discovered is you should always, if it’s milk you want, go for either the dark blue or some kind of blue packaging. You then won’t be tempted to march back to said supermarket demanding a refund for ‘off’ milk. (No I didn’t but by the fourth trip, I was rather tempted).

Another aspect of hunting and gathering here is don’t wait for the cashier to pack for you. They don’t. I should have been paying attention but I was, actually, particularly jet-lagged and really didn’t mean to put anyone out by standing waiting and then asking for a bag, which I should have bought before paying for the groceries. There’s only so many times you can mumble ‘sorry’ in English while trying to placate a queue of 11 increasingly disgruntled Danes at the ‘it’s just after five and I want to get home with this bread/ice cream/Carlsberg’ looks on their faces.

That said, you really can push away your foreign guilt by scoffing what must be some of the world’s best ice cream by Vebbestrup. I certainly have…

Not Quite Danish...

Like a gazillion others, we decided to do something interesting with our lives and move countries for a while. It sounded like fun, on face value. A couple of months later, here I am writing this blog at the other end Earth in Copenhagen, about as far as one could get from Melbourne, Australia.

So here I am, eight weeks later, sitting in a small flat in Frederiksberg. Yes, it only took that long! A quick application for a job, after an even quicker Google search, saw us over here for two days in October and quickly home to organise a ‘few’ things…

Why Denmark?l
Well, firstly, Australia has learned a bit about Denmark in the last few years, thanks to one Mary Donaldson aka Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. Plus, after Googling ‘jobs in Denmark’, we discovered DK offers special visas for skilled workers.

How skilled I am has yet to be seen – with only one day of work in Denmark behind me….