Whether you’re in Copenhagen for the first time or back once again, you might have realized one thing: it’s spectacular. With its safe streets of wonderful architecture, breathtaking landscapes and blooming economy, it’s a world-class marvel. This is like a national trademark, since the Danish people rank amongst the happiest in the world. Denmark has always stood out, being named by the BBC as one of the best governed countries in the world.
So going in this country as a foreigner is going to surprise you in a lot of ways. Here we bring you 10 unexpectedly cool and uncool facts that surprised us the most during our stay in Copenhagen. Bear in mind that this list is very subjective, it’s all about our perceptions, so you might agree or disagree. Let’s start!
10. Everything’s expensive (but worth it!)
It’s the first thing to know when planning your visit, so make sure you have the necessary resources. Denmark’s blooming economy doesn’t come from nowhere: pretty much everyone and everything pays taxes! So when you get cool blue jeans in Copenhagen, 25% of the price corresponds to the VAT (Value Added Tax). Another 22% goes to the corporate tax rate, which means that they both go directly to the Danish government. Only after paying rent, services, salaries and suppliers, the merchant receives a gain.
But don’t worry, it’s all worth it! This allows that Danish people don’t have to worry about most of the stuff that pretty much everyone else does. Like needing automobiles (which includes paying insurance, fuel and maintenance), because they have efficient public transportation built with their contributions. Or like paying for their children’s daycare, because it’s subsidized, like most schools.
Another thing they get benefits for is health care emergencies and university, because they’re heavily covered by taxes. And let’s not talk about how much these contributions influence the infrastructure, since it’s pretty obvious that it’s amazing. As a visitor, you might not directly enjoy all of those benefits, but you’ll be participating of a thriving economy.
9. There’s people from everywhere
Denmark has a growing population of immigrants (10% of the entire population) and the amount of tourists is even larger. This historically homogeneous land of Viking ancestry has opened itself up to the world since late 20th century. Immigrants come mostly from the Middle East, Asia and other European countries. This is a lot more diverse than other First World countries, like Japan.
It’s no secret that Denmark isn’t trying to become a multicultural melting pot like the United States. Or that its immigration policies are more emphasized in assimilation than other European countries. So it’s expected that immigrants and tourists behave accordingly, respecting the local ways.
As much as any other part of the world, there’s still a lot to do in regards of fighting racism. There are still older generations that grew up with the mindset of a more homogeneous nation. That’s why, despite this might sound a little cliché, it was pleasant seeing all this people living together.
8. People smoke way too much
This one is the uncoolest: Danish people smoke a lot! So much so that you can tell who’s a smoker even when they’re not doing it in the moment. The problem is when you realize just how big the chunk of the population that smokes is. “But who could blame them? It’s so cold in there!”, someone could say. However, there are all sorts of hot drinks to warm people up, so there’s no excuse. For a country that cares so much about pills, they’ve let this to become a big issue of public health.
7. The Danes speak great English
One could say that a First World country has a great education system and, therefore, its people ought to speak at least two languages, but that’s not always the case. Also, one could say that when a country is so close to an English-speaking country, the people should of speak English as their second language, but that’s also not always true. So going to Denmark, a country with an extremely dificult native language, isn’t with at least some linguistic concerns. However, it’s time to set the record straight: you have nothing to worry about (linguistically speaking, anyways). The Danes will always understand you as long as you speak (or even try to speak) English and you’ll understand them 100%
6. Copenhagen’s cool metro system
Copenhagen Metro system, with its two lines (there are two more coming!), almost thirty stations and dozens of vehicles is a wonder to behold. It’s one of the best examples of attractive, practical and advanced transportation. It’s also extremely efficient and well designed: there’s nothing solely luxurious about it, everything is purposeful. The level of automation the Danes have implemented in their metro system always makes for a first rate experience, even when you’re traveling in economy class. Another great thing is that it’s all very clean and safe, so people don’t have to be afraid of dying by an infection or falling into the railway. That alone makes it super cool, don’t you think?
5. SO MANY BIKES!
Have you ever heard that there are more bikes than people in Denmark? It sounds a little funny and you might even think “but how many bikes can there really be?”. Well, there are tons and tons of bikes. It seems like all of this is because people there don’t need cars as much as everyone else in the world. So you’ll never lose a bike, because everyone has one or more. The best thing about this is that the air pollution there is one of the lowest in the entire world. So don’t forget to take a deep breath when you visit Denmark: your lungs will thank you.
4. Clean streets everywhere (99%)
Copenhagen streets are very clean. One could say that most trash in the streets is from casual oblivious tourists, because the Danes really love their country. Besides, sketchy places are very rare in Copenhagen or, at least, very hard to find. With all the roaming around the city and the country (Odense and Billund) that this team did, very few times we came across places like that. The only exception to this was when we found dog poop in some streets, but it was as rare as disgusting.
3. No “excuse me”, “sorry” or “please”
Danish people like to call a spade a spade and don’t have time for courtesy or clichés. If you’re walking through the streets and you don’t move, neither do they. Courtesy phrases are reserved for family, friends and costumers, so you won’t hear them on the streets or the metro. However, if you need to ask something to a stranger, don’t be afraid to do it, they’re open to help. Just be careful about the way you present yourself and be prepared for dismissiveness.
The Danes are pretty straightforward and, unless they share a relationship with you, they don’t care too much about offending you or hurting your feelings. So be also prepared for some sour comments here and there sometimes. It’s important to stress that this might something regional, since we only visited Copenhagen, Billund and Odense.
2. Feel safe in Copenhagen
Want to go to Nyhavn but it’s dark already? Don’t worry. Of course, a little bit of common sense comes in handy everywhere, but it’s also true that this country has very low crime rates. However, it’s always advisable to keep some company when you go out, specially at night. There have been a few reports of thievery and violence from alleged immigrants and drunken people. So feel safe in Denmark, but don’t be dumb.
Now, the most unexpected thing we found in Copenhagen. Do you have any guesses?
1. Danish men are great dads!
There’s definitely nothing like being a dad, specially, a Danish dad. No other sight in Denmark moved us as much as seeing Danish dads taking care of their children. Like when they’d piggyback them, carry them in their arms or ride bikes with them. Danish mothers are as lovely, but there’s something about paternity in Denmark that really gets right what other countries usually don’t. Of course, there’s no point in making generalizations, but this was something we saw many many times: the spending time together, the playing, the doing simple stuff together and protecting them. It was so common, but nevertheless lovely, opening the window and finding these men being great dads by sharing the simplest and loveliest moments with their children.
Do you know another unexpected (good or bad) thing from Copenhagen —and Denmark in general? Please tell us in the comments section below!