Who are you?
I’m an American living in Denmark, at last count for 13 years. I like it here, and I think it’s an excellent place to raise a family. People work relatively limited hours, so there’s a lot of time for family and friends. And it’s a small, gentle society, so there’s very little of the pressure you see in more competitive places.
Professionally, I was trained as a journalist and worked as a reporter for many years. But it’s very difficult being at the mercy of the news: when you’re a reporter, you have to drop everything and follow the big story whenever it breaks, even on evenings, weekends and holidays. I’ve now moved into communication consulting, and that suits me much better. I work with Danish companies and help them get their message across in English, which I enjoy.Personally, I’m a humor writer. I love seeing the funny side of things, particularly my own mistakes and missteps. I was one of the first fiction writers to put my work on the internet; my first website went live in 1995, when I had to hand-code the HTML! Before that, I used to put up the first page of my short stories up around New York City as flyposters. There was a voicemail number people could call if they wanted me to send them the full story.
Anyway, now I have a blog about the humorous side of living in Denmark as a foreigner, HowToLiveinDenmark.com, which includes a weekly podcast that is available for free on iTunes. I also have a website for my business, KXMGroup.dk
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I’ve lived abroad for more than half of my adult life. After graduating from New York University, I wasn’t immediately able to find a newspaper reporting job, so I moved to what was then West Berlin and freelanced for a couple of years. Then I spent a couple of years working on a newspaper based in Hong Kong. After that I moved back to the US for ten years, living in Manhattan. When I visited Copenhagen as a tourist, I realized I liked it, so I looked for a job here, found one, and have been here ever since.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Well, the company that hired me and moved me here went bankrupt very shortly after I arrived, so I was suddenly in a foreign country with no job, no friends, very little language ability, and an enormous amount of furniture. I toted all my furniture around from sublet to sublet during the first year or two.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Sublets were a short-term solution, although the owners tend to come back on a moments notice and want to get rid of you. Ultimately, I decided to buy, which is what most Danes do, largely for tax reasons. With income taxes of up to 60% in Denmark, plus sales tax of 25%, a lot of things are done for tax reasons! The home buying process was not easy, since I’m the sort of person who likes to read things thoroughly before I sign them, and everything was in highly legal and technical Danish. The real estate agent was pretty annoyed with me.
At first, I lived across the road from Christiania, the hippie ‘free state’ that is one of Copenhagen’s largest tourist attractions. It was fun, although very noisy. On good days, that meant loud music; on bad days, it meant demonstrations and riots. We could look out the window and fire and clouds of tear gas in the streets. When a man was murdered outside my daughter’s kindergarten during the school day, I decided it was time to move. Now I live in the northern part of Copenhagen, close to town, but in an area with more parks and fewer cars on fire.
Do you own a car in Denmark?
I can’t really afford to. Cars are very expensive in Denmark: the tax on new cars is 180%, and gasoline is also very highly taxed. Most Danes get around on bicycles, even in the winter, and by using mass transit, which is clean, convenient and usually on time. For the times I do need a car, like when it’s time to bring home the annual Christmas tree, I use a nonprofit car-sharing service. I particularly like their electric cars, since they don’t have gears! Most gasoline-powered Danish cars have manual transmissions, which can be troublesome if you’ve learned how to drive with an automatic transmission, as many Americans do. Electric cars are easier, at least for city trips.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, I think there are a large number of expats in Copenhagen. I don’t socialize with them much, although the people I have met have been lovely.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I like Danes. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t live here.
What do you like about life where you are?
Denmark is a very gentle society. Having lived in Manhattan for many years, where everyone else wants everything you have (Everyone wants your job! Everyone wants your apartment! Everyone wants your seat at that new hot restaurant!), I am happy to live in a quieter, more low-fi environment.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
It’s very difficult to find good peanut butter in Denmark.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would suggest that he or she focus on the positive, and not take things personally. The Danish language does not have a lot of room for politeness, so Danes can be blunt, and occasionally harsh, but they are not trying to hurt your feelings. They are a very direct, practical people.
What are your plans for the future?
I recently started my own company, KXM Group, which provides English communications strategy services to Danish companies. I’d like to build that up. I also do American English voiceovers for corporate videos, but I’d like to try to do some longer documentary film narration. And I want to keep up with my blog for expatriates in Denmark, which has been a great creative outlet and a good way to meet people. Basically, I want to work, write, and hang out with my family. It’s a nice life.
Kay Xander Mellish runs the humor website How To Live In Denmark and produces a free weekly podcast about life in Denmark, available for free on iTunes. She is the founder and CEO of the KXMGroup, based in Copenhagen, Denmark.