It’s an interesting time to be an American in Denmark. Bernie Sanders is holding this place up as a model society and I’m thinking, “what the hell?” It’s got a lot of things going for it, but Denmark is far from the utopia Sanders is selling.
I moved here in 2010 as a short term corporate relo and didn’t fall in love with the place. I’ve struggled with the language, xenophobia, the culture, and feeling like I was investing half of my earnings in a place that doesn’t want me.
These past weeks, I’ve been gleeful at the thought that I was finally getting out of here. I thought I’d get through Christmas and shortly after the new year, I’d move with my English husband to a Georgian townhouse in an English market town. Isn’t it the stuff dreams are made of?
But it wasn’t to be. The truth about repatriating is that it’s ugly. And complicated.
We feel we’ve been treated like criminals in England. On one hand, we have a 50% deposit for a fancy townhouse so we must be dirty money launderers. On the other hand, Robert has lived abroad for nearly twenty years and I’ve never lived in the UK, so we don’t have a credit history and how are we to be trusted to repay a loan? We’ve been denied a mortgage from one lender simply because Robert is paid in foreign currency. And despite having a long marketing and editorial career with one of the world’s most powerful brands, I’m recently self-employed and therefore only fit to be listed as a ‘housewife’ on mortgage applications.
We wonder if we’d even qualify for a mobile phone plan in England. It’s probably for the best that the place we were looking to buy is being eaten by beetles.
Robert and I often joke that Denmark is stuck in the 1950s, mostly alluding to negative aspects of the place, but there are upsides. We have a great relationship with our banker, and he’s always willing to give advice (and awesome chocolates), even when it’s not in his best interest. When you buy real estate in Denmark, you’re given a surveyor’s report right away and know exactly what you’re getting into; and if the report is wrong, there’s insurance for that. Everything is just a bit smaller, simpler, and more honest here.
Having our dream home pulled out from under us has forced us to take a hard look at our options and our future. What if I’ve had Denmark pegged all wrong? What if it’s actually nice to live in the 1950s?
My situation has changed a lot since I first arrived here. For one, marrying Robert has given me permanent residency, which means I can’t be kicked out of Denmark. I’ve already quit the job that had initially brought me here and there’s not a damn thing Danish immigration can do about it. And we’re mortgage free with a significant nest egg, so we have options.
So what if I stopped resisting this place? What if I started to try and see Denmark through Bernie Sanders’ eyes? What if instead of comparing Denmark to the United States, or even England for that matter, and seeing everything Denmark is lacking, I tried to see everything that’s good about Denmark? What if we moved from this awful functionalist apartment to an older one that’s twice as big in an area of the city that I prefer?
The hardest part of living here is over. I’ve been through culture shock, I’ve bought property, passed the Danish driving test, paid a revolting amount for a Fiat, dated weirdos, found a husband, sold property at a loss, survived a sociopath boss, quit the job that brought me here, and started from scratch. Again.
I used to be a liberal, then I moved to Denmark.
I pay insane taxes (DK has the highest tax burden in the world, and its rising!), but I have the benefit of having worked in the States for 15 years, so we’re more well off than most here, which allows us a certain lifestyle. Just last night, as a consolation prize for not getting the house, we booked a trip to the Manchester Christmas Markets (and to meet our new niece!); we’ve also booked an eleven night Mediterranean cruise. And I finally dropped $795 on the Quasar MD!
My life does not suck.
Maybe if I stop looking at the numbers… 8% deduction for ‘free’ healthcare, 2500 kr. a year for the ‘media license’ for a service I don’t use, 25% VAT, etc. Maybe if I don’t give myself a coronary over Robert’s wanting to buy a Porsche when when registration tax is 180% of the car’s value (recently reduced to 150%) bringing the cost of the car to more than I paid for my first Danish apartment.
And maybe if I stop reading the news and live blissfully unaware of Danish politicians who think refugees travel with cases full of diamonds, and who think it would be just peachy to take their wedding rings to help cover the cost of granting them asylum, I’ll be able to make peace with this place. At least I don’t have to contend with panhandlers, random shootings, or the prospect of living under Donald Trump as POTUS.
I don’t think I will ever join Bernie’s Scandi-loving cult, but maybe if I shift my paradigm, I can hate living here less.
We’ve got 16 hours of darkness right now, which totally sucks, but maybe if I go native and get my hygge on… grab my guys, light some candles, bust out an afghan, stream a film, and eat things I’ll regret, it will suck less. Maybe if I buy an awful (to me) designer Scandinavian lamp, and one of those overdone Kahler vases (I can see four of them in neighboring windows from where I’m sitting right now!) and hang out with them long enough, I’ll actually want to decorate our apartment in exactly the same style as the other hundred apartments in this block. Hell, maybe I’ll even learn to love licorice, IKEA, and H&M!
I’m totally grasping at straws, but I’m going to try my damnedest to bloom where I’m planted from here on out. I’m going to stop reading Danish news; there’s nothing good there, and I’m going to step away from my online expat hangouts. I’m gonna go expat pre-internet style and see if things get better.
It may very well be that after all of this, Denmark and I still aren’t’ a match made in heaven. But reading the comments on all of those Bernie Sanders articles makes me want to see if I’m missing something.
Let’s see how it goes…