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Surviving Copenhagen — a guide

You land in Copenhagen airport, and everything is, predictably, foreign. What now?

Have you just arrived Copenhagen, Denmark’s biggest city, and don’t know where to start? Are you making plans to come to Copenhagen and don’t know what to expect? Continue reading, and hopefully you will find the key to getting the right foot forward during your stay in Denmark.

1) Bikes, bikes and more bikes

Fact: This is the city of bikes. Everywhere and anytime, you will see people riding their bikes. It can go from couples holding hands while riding, to people riding their bikes while they are walking their dog, to bikers shouting at you if you dare set foot on the bike lane. Terrain and weather aren’t barriers to biking, they are just challenges! No road is too muddy, no rain is too wet, no snow is too cold to stop the natives from biking. Embrace this part of Copenhagen culture, and that state of mind.

Advice: Since biking is the cheapest and fastest form of transport, get yourself a bike as soon as possible. The cheaper the better — try to get it second hand from either an online marketplace, or a facebook group. Fancy bikes are targets for theft, so go cheap — it will last you longer, and don’t forget a good lock.

2) Unpredictable weather

Fact: The weather is one of the preferred conversation topics by Copenhageners. It normally changes repeatedly during the day, and the winter is quite harsh and depressing, with little sunshine, and a lot of slush. If you just arrived at the end of the summer, do not get cheated by these few sunny days and be aware that the rain-filled autumn will soon arrive.

Advice: You just got to Copenhagen and the sun is shining? Then, immediately go outside and start exploring the city! Do not wait for another sunny day, as every sunny day could be your last, and you never know how long it can take until you will see the sun again (especially if winter is close).

Tip: This rule applies to every sunny day.

3) Denmark is a small country, where Danish is the official language

Fact: This is Denmark. Their flag, the oldest in the world, is called Dannebrog and their official language is Danish, not English. It is normal that people will try to address you in Danish. Don’t panic.

Advice: Try to accept the fact that Danes speak Danish, and do not get too frustrated when they speak in Danish with you, or speak Danish when they are in groups and you are the only non-Dane. A few language classes will go a long way. Moreover, trying to speak in Danish is a good conversation starter. Danes find it charming.

Tip: It is not an easy language, and at the beginning it can be quite frustrating. It is almost impossible to pronounce many of the sounds, so try to have a few beers with you when you start to practice Danish outside your language classes, it helps!

4) Danish cuisine:

Fact: Nordic cuisine is widely recognized across the world. Until recently, Copenhagen housed the best restaurant in the world. You will inevitably try the classic Danish rye bread, or “rugbrød”, and the open sandwich, known as “smørrebrød”, and you will have to experience the salty flavour of Danish lakrids (liquorice). Keep an open mind when trying leverpostej, (liver paste) and try to have as few schnapps shots as possible.

Advice: Be careful with the schnapps especially during the Christmas time, where they are abundantly served during dinners. You can get easily drunk, and, honestly, there is better tasting alcohol out there.

5) Danish society

Fact: Danes are very attractive people. It would be quite normal for you to want to try the “local fauna”. But we must warn you, it is not an easy job to get your own Dane. Females are predatorial Vikings that choose their partner, so if you are a male you have to be the chosen one. And if you are an international female, do not expect that the Danish males will come to you — you must make the first move.
Advice: You are a hot, funny, exotic international student. You are blessed with a sexy accent and you know how to cook the traditional food of your country. Just approach your target, be confident, do not forget your qualities and enjoy the hunt, you predator! Yes, you can!

6) Accommodation

Fact: Finding a decent accommodation in Copenhagen is extremely hard. You will hear stories about people paying enormous quantities for a shared room, to live in basements, to have no shower, or no door among others.

Advice: Even though finding a place to live here is hard, it is not impossible. So, do not give up! Use your partner, his or her friends, your colleagues, your classmates, your neighbors, the mailman, random people, agencies and Facebook groups. You will find something; it is only that it takes some time. Read our accommodation guide, and consider student housing.

7) Night life

Fact: Copenhagen is a dynamic and vibrant city. It has everything you can imagine, from volunteer-run hipster cafés, to trendy minimalistic bars. From ice bars to organic restaurants, and enough discos and nightclubs for every music taste. Moreover lots of festivals are going on during the year, so the problem you will encounter is to have enough free time to see all of them.

Advice: A good place to start is Studenterhuset — that is the student bar. The bartenders are volunteers, the beer is cheap and they organize lots of events every week. Moreover the people you find there are mostly students and they will tell you where to find the cheapest and best places in the town.

8) A short history & culture of Denmark

Facts: The little mermaid has been decapitated and the present head is not the original — it is only a copy. The Danish kings are mainly called Christian or Frederik and the queen smokes too much. Bluetooth wireless was invented by a Danish-Swedish company and is named after the Danish king Harald Blåtand. These are only some of the few interesting facts about Denmark.

Advice: Once you have visited the tourist attractions you are supposed to see in Copenhagen, start exploring the city without a map. You might be suppressed by the beautiful architecture that is not spotted on maps.

Tip: If you would like to find more about the Danish Culture, History and Society join the free courses at your municipality or at the university. They do not last too long, are quite entertaining, and will give you a venue for meeting fellow foreigners.

9) Job opportunities

Fact: Danish students get money for studying. It might sound crazy and every student’s utopia, but it is true. You can also have the possibility to apply for this scholarship, but you must have a student job. Not speaking Danish is an impediment, but not one that is insurmountable.

Advice: Start asking your teachers, if they have any projects where they could use the help of a student. If not, start thinking about jobs where Danish would not be necessary as well as international working places. If all else fails, you could also get lucky and get a job in the service industry — some restaurants and cafés in the city centre sometimes hire staff that only speaks English.

10) Winter & Christmas time

Fact: Danes love Christmas. During winter time, the natural light will disappear around 4.00 p.m, and the city gets covered by artificial street lights and candles. People seek refuge in their cozy (hyggelig) houses and they are rarely seen on the streets.

Advice: Try to assist at a Danish Christmas dinner or Julefrokost. There you will have too much traditional food, too much schnapps, and plenty of fun games. And if it is at your work place you will get the opportunity to see your boss drunk. Who would want to miss that chance?

Tip: If you want an earful, ask a Dane about the meaning of the word hyggelig around Christmas time.

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