Living in an Expat World | It’s really not you – it’s them
February 4, 2013 - 09:00
As I have said before, I really find surveys about internationals in Denmark interesting. Once being a Young International Professional (YIP) myself, I was really curious about International Community’s recent survey about this specific group of internationals.
YIPs are characterised as young international knowledge workers who came here by themselves. Not surprisingly, they emphasise networking more than people who bring their family and are very interested in connecting with other internationals as well as Danes.
And here it gets interesting. How do you connect with Danes? We all know the popular notions about Danes being cold, closed off and that it is impossible to strike up a casual conversation with the cashier at the grocery store or the lady in the elevator. We have probably all experienced that to some degree. In the beginning, I made the common mistake of thinking it was me – because I’m foreign. But it’s not me or you, it’s actually them. It doesn’t matter if you are from Athens or Aarhus, most Danes are just reserved.
Danes don’t freely chat to each other as you see many Americans do, and they don’t ask how you are doing. It’s just not who they are. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get closer to them eventually; you just need to be patient. Over time, they will come round.
The YIP survey participants recommend learning Danish, attending social events and joining an association or doing volunteer work as great ways to develop a network outside your office and make your stay more enjoyable, and I can attest to that. When I joined Aarhus Sailing Club, I slowly made some progress with the Danes, and over time I made great friendships through the club. But beware; once Danes open up, they are really hard to get rid of again. They make friends for life.
The survey also suggests that a ‘social buddy’ could be helpful upon arrival, and I really wish someone had told me this ‘inside information’ when I first arrived and asked myself many questions about how to build up a new life here. It took me a while to settle and establish a network, and I was beginning to have second thoughts about my stay. Fortunately, I figured out a way to connect with the Danes and realised it wasn’t me as a foreigner they were closing out.
If you are a Young International Professional in Denmark, it may seem hard to establish a new network. Then again, I guess it isn’t really that different from any other country – here you just have to walk that extra mile outside office hours when your colleagues go home and take care of their own. So get out there and join that event or club and make your stay here more gratifying. You might even end up with a Danish husband, kids and a house in Beder instead of Brussels.