Opinion | Lessons learned by an American in Amager

January 18th, 2013

This article is more than 10 years old.

This month marks the completion of my seventh year living and working here in Denmark. Since I am a bit of a nostalgic I felt compelled to take a look at how my life has changed after being submerged in a foreign culture for nearly a decade.

Chill with the pills
Turns out that I don’t need a pill for every symptom I have (or think I may have at some point in the near future). I can remember the first time that I went to a pharmacy here in Denmark and being shocked at the lack of selection on their shelves. Where were the pills for my back aches or the liquid capsule flu medicines to help mask my symptoms and energise me through a feverish day at the office? Back in the US I had hundreds of medications to choose from for each area of my body, but here in Denmark I had to choose only between pain relievers and lozenges for a sore throat. Even the doctors were part of this conspiracy – writing prescriptions only for higher dosages of painkillers! It took time, but slowly I began to realise that the Danish mentality is healthier. All of the medicines in the US are designed to make a profit for the producer – not to make you healthy. They hide the symptoms and ultimately make you a weaker individual. So I give kudos to the Viking mentality here for the proper approach to over-the-counter medicines. If you are sick you should stay home, rest – and endure the symptoms. Thank you Denmark, for not allowing these medicines to clutter your shelves and coddle your citizens.

All work and no play …
Who knew that it’s actually okay to take a vacation? When I was part of the US workforce, I was at my desk before 8am and usually didn’t leave the office until after 6pm – and I usually came in for at least three or four hours every weekend to stay ahead of the workload. It was frowned upon to actually use all of your vacation and almost a badge of loyalty to amass large quantities of unused holiday over the years. When I did take a vacation it was usually a long weekend or a week maximum in duration. Granted I was younger and ambitious in my career, but my example is similar to many in the US. The fundamental difference I find working in Denmark compared to the US is that I am working to live and not living to work. It seems like a slight difference when you say it quickly, but it makes all of the difference to the quality of life. In general, the Danish corporate world is very supportive of a work/life balance that welcomes flexible scheduling, working from home as needed and encouraging a summer holiday that occupies a calendar month! The world does not cease to exist when one is away from work for more than a week, and an extended leave is really refreshing to recharge your motivation and mindset. The Danes say that it was a good vacation if you can’t remember your log-on password when you get back to the office – even better if you need a GPS to remind you where the office is located. Thank you Denmark, for giving me my life back.

An apple a day …
When I moved here seven years ago I was a bit heavier and certainly less healthy overall. I can remember thinking that everything in Denmark was so manual, cumbersome and downright inconvenient. I was horrified at the realisation I needed to walk to a grocery store and carry things up the stairs when I got back to my flat. Back in the US I drove a car to the parking spot closest to the supermarket and, after filling my trolley with fattening processed foods, I would drive home. Now in Denmark, I was forced to either walk or ride my bike to get around the city – and the foods here are much healthier overall. Let’s face it – we live in a country that blatantly taxes fat products, in case there was any doubt about their stance on eating healthy. After seven years, the result is a slimmer and healthier me. I’m no chiselled Greek statue, but I am certainly better off than I was living the lazy life in the States. And God Bless the civil engineers that designed the city streets so thoughtfully for bikes. Barring any horrible weather conditions, one can ride a bike anywhere in and around the city with ease. And by living a slightly more ‘manual’ life one gets a steady dosage of exercise without even thinking about it. Thank you Denmark, for sneaking healthy into my lifestyle.

Tax for det
I get a lot of grief and questions from friends and relatives back in the US who ask about the high taxes and socialist approach here in Denmark. What’s it like paying more than 50 percent of your income in taxes? Isn’t the social medical system horrible? After seven years I’ve learned that it’s all relative. In Denmark you pay higher taxes, but higher education and medical care are free. In the US you pay lower taxes, but college and medical insurance are expensive. I also don’t mind paying higher taxes here in Denmark because I can see where the money is spent for the most part: the streets are clean, violent crime and crime in general is minimal, public transport works like a Swiss clock, the general level of education is quite high in the society and the healthcare system works when you need to utilise it. Socialism is a fantastic experiment in a small community where everyone pays their part – even if it’s unwillingly through the VAT flat-tax on every good or service. It won’t work in the US because only a small portion of people actually pay into the system. But the good news is that it works here in Denmark – and I live here. Thank you Denmark, for helping me see that capitalism is not the only model.

It’s a small world
Without a doubt, I am most grateful to Denmark for being an open society that welcomes foreigners to work here in order to gain a global perspective. How else could a small-town Texan have met a beautiful Brazilian girl who would eventually become his best friend and wife? Thank you Denmark, for Brena.

The author works for A.P. Moller-Maersk and is a writer of children’s books.



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