Denmark has been good to us and it’s no reflection on Denmark or the Danes that we are moving to Australia. In fact, our ability to build a successful life here from scratch has almost certainly given us the confidence to think we can do it again down under.
So, with apologies to those who are only interested in the Australian aspect of our move, here are the five best things for us about living in Denmark.
1) The space
When we first arrived in Denmark and people back in the UK asked me what it was like, the first thing I could think of to say was: “The sky is bigger.” It was the simplest way I could find to articulate the sense of space that had opened up around me. In England, and certainly in London, where I spent much of my early life, the sky was always being interrupted, or cut across, or blocked, by some man-made structure or other. Here, with the emphasis on single-storey houses, or low-rise apartments, the sky seemed unchallenged to me. Even now, it makes me want to take a deep breath of Scandinavian air, just to appreciate how endless it is.
2) The informality
When I first came here, I had just left a job at a big corporate HQ in London and I’d got used to the idea that you had to dress a certain way if you wanted to be taken seriously. That doesn’t apply here. I’ve been to meetings with CEOs in T-shirts and jeans, worked with corporate clients who seem to shave every third day, and my kids now take for granted that teachers and pupils are on first name terms. The emphasis here is on what you say and do – you can be just as professional in jeans as a suit and tie, and if you’re comfortable, perhaps you’ll be even more productive. It’s the opposite to what I was brought up to believe, but it works, and I’ve grown to love it.
3) The equality
There’s an egalitarianism in Denmark that appeals to the very core of me. In our first rented house here, the neighbour to our right was the co-owner of a large international business, while the neighbour to our left was a carpenter. They saw no hierarchy in that, and it’s a small example of how Danish society operates. Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá in Colombia, once famously said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.” Enrique would like Denmark. He’d like it a lot.
4) The focus on family life
Back in the UK, we’d begun to get sucked into a family life that wasn’t the one we wanted. One where going to the shopping mall qualified as a family day out, or where spending several hours queuing on a motorway on Friday and Sunday in pursuit of some snatched weekend time was the norm. When we first arrived in Denmark, we noticed how, in the evenings and at weekends, the roads were pretty deserted and how the shops were all closed on a Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday (although that’s changed now). The reason? Evenings and weekends were family time, sacrosanct; to be protected at all costs. Notwithstanding a few frustrated days without bread or milk, we came to embrace this, hanging out together, enjoying family trips to the zoo or to the kids’ sports activities. As a result, I’d say we have a simpler, more community-based life than we would have had in England, and we’ve truly appreciated it.
This placing of family at the centre of things manifests itself in other ways too. Maternity leave is a full year here, while paternity leave is three months. Your right to stay home if your child is sick is enshrined in employment law, and as for slaving at your desk until 9pm to impress the boss, hardly anybody does it. Everyone has a family and/or friends and they want to get home to them, that’s understood in a way that the UK has never seen fit to prioritise.
5) The safety
Finally, and it’s a small thing until you realise how much you take it for granted, but we have felt incredibly safe here. I’ve never seen an incident of road rage. Even on the wildest nights in central Copenhagen, I’ve never felt like a fight was about to break out, or someone was about to push a glass into someone’s face for some imagined slight. And that sense of safety in the community extends to the kids too. My eight year-old regularly cycles to football training on his own, as do many of his friends. My 11 year-old has been bringing his smaller brother home on the bus without parental supervision for over a year now. And these aren’t anomalies. Parents will happily park babies in prams outside cafes while they go inside for lunch or a coffee. It’s like stepping back in time to how life used to be before everything became so cynical and dangerous. And it’s great.
So, before we leave, I’d just like to say: “Thanks Denmark.” You’ve given us more than you know and we are grateful, all of us.