A Day in the Life of an Expat in Copenhagen, Denmark

by Susan Overcash Walker Nov 20, 2009

Photos: author

A day in the life of an American in the midst of a Danish winter.

I’ve lived in Copenhagen long enough to know punctuality is the cardinal rule of Danish etiquette, and yet my day somehow still goes like this:

Eight(ish) :

Waking up early in Copenhagen is surprisingly complicated. Today, with one foot planted in the Scandinavian winter, sunrise is just before eight and hidden behind the patter of rain. My husband tries to roust me before leaving for work, but even then, with the casual work-life balance here, he’s barely out the door by nine.

After pillaging our carbohydrate stash for breakfast – dark bread called rugbrød and real butter – I dash down the four flights from our walk-up and head for the gym. Between October and March, we get, at best, six to eight hours of grayish daylight, so cycling, the gym and running at leafy Fælledparken keep the winter D’s – vitamin D deficiency, depression and drinking – at bay.


And… I’m late. Today it’s for coffee with a Danish friend at the Royal Library café downtown, so after the gym I hurry through the corner market where a tiny Egyptian stocks hummus, flatbread and veggies. Normally he practices his English on me – we’ve gotten up to “Have a nice day!” – but I’m trying to avoid an impending punctuality disaster, so I snack fast, clean up and choose the bus over biking downtown.

There’s a rumor here that bus drivers worsen exponentially through the winter, and today’s ride is proof. The driver plays chicken with cyclists and cars while out the window, crumbling yellow buildings and green copper spires punctuate the gloomy sky.


Finally at the café, I sip a ten dollar latte and chat about babies and maternity leave (one year, fully paid – just one of the many social services supported by high Danish taxes). Outside, the reflection of the library’s streamlined façade in the Øresund is an interesting juxtaposition with the 17th century apartment buildings across the water.

It’s easy to hate on the Danish winter (and I do, often), but the weather can also be a catalyst to see new parts of the city, like the library, or old parts through a new lens.


After coffee, I make a quick trip to the supermarket, ignoring the ridiculous prices while loading my basket – the only way to stay sane while shopping. After, I poke around local boutiques until a random Dane pops out of a chocolate shop and offers me a piece of candy.

I’m so shocked at a gregarious (while sober) Dane popping out of anywhere, I accept without a second thought. That’s a fun part of living here; at first the Danes seem very reserved, but then little surprises make me remember how friendly and funny they are just under the surface. It’s also great not to have to worry about the whole candy/strangers issue.

The city is so safe mothers leave babies in prams on the sidewalk while shopping or eating in cafés. So, munching on my chocolate, I set off down the crowded sidewalk towards home and am rewarded with another treat: the setting sun peeking out of the clouds in a patch of ethereal blue. Less than an hour later, it’s night.


My husband arrives home at eight to find me wrapped in a blanket, writing, reading email and planning our next trip. We light a few candles, lounge on the couch and snack on smoked salmon. The Danes call this hygge: the art of cozying up with your significant other (or friends and family) to ward off winter, while outside, the night settles over the city like a blanket. The dark, at least, is punctual.

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If you like peeking into a day in the life of an expat, check out A Day in the life of An Expat in Oaxaca, Mexico, A Day in the life of A Writer in Zagreb, Croatia and A Day in the Life of An Au Pair in Breukelen, The Netherlands.

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