Wednesday 11 October 2023

School trips - Danish style

I remember a teacher friend from the UK once telling me she felt quite stressed whenever she took the kids abroad on a school trip because she was expected to be with them 24/7, or follow their whereabouts using an iPad tracker program whenever they were out of her sight.

Léon's off today on a two-week school trip to the south of Spain, where he will be living with a Spanish host family and attending Spanish school. But the Danish approach is quite different to what I know from Scotland.

He and the other seven or eight kids in his class were given:

  • a train ticket from Odense to Copenhagen Central
  • a train ticket from Copenhagen Central to Kastrup airport
  • a plane ticket to Brussels
  • a plane ticket from Brussels to Malaga leaving three hours later 
  • a note of where in Malaga to go to meet the Spanish teacher from Colmenar high school
  • and the same in reverse for 2 weeks later

And that was that! There was no boarding pass, there are no accompanying teachers. If they get lost in Brussels, I guess the eat some moules frites and waffles, then have to come up with a survival plan themselves! Denmark empowers its young people in a way they really don't back home, and I am not sure why we don't question that.

I'm sure he'll manage, but I may just turn off my phone until he gets there, just in case!

Wednesday 22 February 2023

What's in a name?

I remember singing Incy Wincy Spider to the kids when they were little, at bedtime. Oh, I know that one too, said Thomas and he happily sang:

Lille Peter Edderkop kravled op ad muren.
Så kom regnen og skylled Peter væk.
Så kom solen og tørred Peters krop.
Lille Peter Edderkop kravled atter op.

So, apparently Incy Wincy was just a stage name and the wee spider was actually called Little Peter Spider! Who knew?

Roll forward a year or two and the girls are playing with the two big Winnie the Poohs that mum and dad had given them when they were born. What are you two up to? I ask innocently, only to receive the reply: Playing with PeterPeter who, I wonder, given the only Peter they know is their German Grandpa and they call him Großvater, not Peter. The girls show me Winnie the Pooh and call him Peter. I am seriously puzzled till they pick up the book daddy has been reading them as a bedtime story and it is entitled Peter Plys, Peter Plush.

Ok, so whoever was in charge of naming kiddie things didn't have much imagination, but whatever... 

The following Christmas they are watching a DVD their Danish aunt and uncle have sent them on the TV. I can see a little monkey, with a bloke all dressed in yellow. I make a coffee and snuggle down on the couch to watch with them muttering something about Curious George when the three wee ones look at me completely blank. I tune in mentally and hear the audio is in Danish. It's Curious George, I repeat louder and they chorus back, No it's not, it's Peter Pedal! I give up!

So, here's my rule of thumb, if you find yourself watching TV with any Danish kids at any point and you don't know the name of the character in the show, just call them Peter and you're likely to pass for a native!


Not a week after writing this, Thomas is chatting to the kids (as always in Danish) and mentions the word væltepeter. What on earth could that be, I ask myself, understanding the components of the word but not its meaning. At vælte means to topple or knock over and Peter, once again is of course, Peter! So what on earth is a 'topple Peter!' I put it into Google images and come face to face with a faded vintage photo of a penny farthing bicycle! Poor Peter taking the brunt of it all again! Danes are weird...

Friday 3 February 2023

Superabundant taxidermy

Is it a Denmark thing? Is it maybe a Funen thing? What is it with primary schools and their endless displays of stuffed dead animals? Everything from hares, to birds, to every type of rodent you can expect to find under the sun, the Danish sun at least? All with those creepy beady eyes staring maniacally at nothing in a vaguely menacing manner. Perhaps Denmark accidentally trained too many taxidermists back in the 50s and 60s and needed to find something for them to do? I'm puzzled!

I first noticed it when we were visiting folkeskoler (Danish state schools for kids aged 6-15) back in 2019. Even the tiniest of village schools had a proud display of dead stuff. I wondered if they were used in biology lessons, or maybe in art lessons? Are they simply remnants of a time when introducing young kids to what the native animals looked like wasn't as simple as googling 'Danish water shrew' or the likes?

As a child I remember vividly finding the stuffed dead things exhibits in Glasgow's magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum a bit alarming too. Did their eyes follow me as I walked by? My other half subscribes to an amusing Facebook group of exceedingly poorly stuffed pathetic little beasts. But in a way, I think all stuffed animals look kind of like that to me. I've never looked at a dead owl with its glassy eyes staring through me and thought, how magnificent, I've simply thought yeuch!

Over the last week we've been to see most of the gymnasier (an upper high school/college for kids aged 16-20 ish) within driving distance of our house as Anna is in her last year at state school and needs to apply to one in the next six weeks. We've been to open nights and we've been on school tours and once again we've been met by corridor upon corridor of rigid corpses staring at us willing us to choose their school. I would love to know how and why this tradition came about and whether I'm weird in my slightly squeamish attitude to it all!

Monday 30 January 2023


Today the whole of Denmark is going wild because they have become the first country ever to win the men's handball World Cup three times in a row.

It's funny when you immigrate to somewhere not too far from where you started out in life. I guess subconsciously you assume the culture in the new place will be more or less the same as at home, but here we are with nearly 6 million people interested in a sport I had never seen and only knew the name of until a few years ago.

Given the hype, I decided to watch a couple of matches. Now that was an eye-opener. Having grown up in a football and to a lesser extent rugby country, I am used to seeing the football World Cup. When you watch football, you watch in anticipation, hoping someone will score a goal. In the 90 minutes, you rarely get more than two or three, so you could miss the goals if you blink, or nip into the kitchen to make a coffee. 

Now that I'm a seasoned handball watcher (I've seen three matches including the final), it seems to me (Danes may correct me if I am wrong), you watch handball for the non-goals, the misses. The match takes a hour in total. One team scores at one end, then the other team gets the ball and rushes to the other end to score in turn, this pattern repeats approximately once a minute for the entire match, so the goals become boring, the exciting bit is when a team misses their turn on goal and the other side get ahead for a few minutes.

It is strange to watch a sport where you are essentially only interested in the misses and not the goals.

Finally, with Denmark four goals ahead last night with only two minutes to go, the French team simply stopped playing, knowing they could not catch up, and simply started milling about the court looking dejected and hugging each other. I can't imagine that in a football match.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Polling places


One thing I never understood in the UK was the fact that they always held elections on Thursdays. Because schools are used as polling places, it was always a pain trying to find somewhere else for your kids to go when they were shut out of school for a day, sometimes with short notice. I thought the solution was to be like France and hold all elections on Sundays when the kids were off.
But it turns out that Denmark simply carries on pragmatically as normal. Today is the general election that was called a month ago but I have no worries about where to send the kids as they are at school as always, while the buildings are simultaneously being used as polling places.
The kids found it all very exciting.

Monday 19 September 2022


Immediately on arrival in Denmark in 2019, we had to start looking for somewhere to live. We'd rented a summer house on a golf course at the coast but it was small, overpriced and with 3m high glass walls was constantly either slightly too cold or waaay too hot! It consisted of four white bedrooms, two white bathrooms and one white dining-living room.

We quickly drew up a shortlist of maybe a dozen houses within driving distance to Thomas's new job which were big enough not only to house the five of us but also my two older children whenever they visited. With most of the schools in the area being of a similar and reasonable quality, the most important criterion to me was space for them, otherwise it would be hard to feel like as close a family going forward.

After viewing a few, it began to strike me that no matter how different they might look on the outside, the inside was much of a muchness. Every room in every house we visited was white. Eventually we found one, the one we ended up buying as it happens, which had one of the 10+ rooms in a different colour (the TV room was pale green), but other than that it was a sea of white. Everywhere looked very clean and crisp, and quite beautiful but also quite foreign to us. Scottish homes tend to have coloured rooms - be that conventional cream, trendy grey, or feature walls in dark colours or fancy wallpapers. Very few houses in Scotland use white for anything other than maybe the bathroom or at a pinch the kitchen. So, although everywhere looked beautiful, it felt very alien.

Once we'd bought our house, the kids asked if they could have one coloured wall each and I agreed. So off we went to Bauhaus, our equivalent of B&Q. Up to the paint aisle we went looking for little tester pots and all the various shades, only to find every single pot was white! Now that was a surprise. There was literally not a single pot of coloured emulsion in the shop! You could get dark green or brown garden furniture paint but only white for indoors. That explained the houses we'd viewed I guess. I checked smaller DIY stores and they were the same. How odd!

I resolved to look next time I was in Germany while cursing Danes under my breath. It was fully six months later that I realised you can, at no extra cost, have any colour you like, you just have to have it mixed from a catalogue of colours. So, you shouldn't try decorating your Danish house before you can speak Danish as you need to know how to ask them to mix paint, talk through whether it is to be emulsion, wood paint or metal paint and then they throw their weird paint numbering system into the mix. Danish already has the hardest numbers in the world so why they need to number their paint is beyond me! They ask if you'd like your emulsion 5, 10, 15... all the way up to 30 or maybe it is even 50, I can't quite remember. This turns out to be their matt to gloss scale! 5 is matt, 30 is gloss. The higher the number you ask for, the shinier the paint. So, if you're crap at Danish numbers, you can only paint your rooms matt!

Once we'd painted a few rooms in different shades, Danes commented on how unusual and daring we were not to have only white, and when I painted the garden bench outside in dark green, I got funny looks again and several people commented on how odd garden furniture looks when it isn't white!

Collective mentality is an interesting thing!

Thursday 8 September 2022

A&E in Denmark

Since arriving in Denmark in 2019 I have tried the GP,  the out-of-hours GP surgery, I've had normal hospital appointments and even an operation or two, but have never needed to go to casualty... until yesterday.

I managed to nosedive off a ladder in my garden. Here's the full story, for what it's worth. 

In Scotland, I am used to the routine, given the number of kids I have. You fall off your ladder, you go straight to A&E, you go up to the triage desk and they ask you what the issue is. The triage nursing staff take your details and enter them into a computer and then you take a seat in a waiting room. Then, depending on whether it's Tuesday afternoon or Saturday night, you might wait anywhere between 2 and many, many hours, before you are called in for treatment. In the interim, you put up with drunks fighting each other, people bleeding in the waiting room and wailing, people screaming at staff that someone who came in after them has been taken before them, obviously not understanding the idea of triage. On a weekend night, police routinely bring people in handcuffed and bleeding, shouting abuse. It is never a dull spectacle. I figured Denmark would be similar, but I was wrong.

Thomas handed me the phone number for A&E, not 112 (the 999 equivalent), but the non-urgent emergency room. I rang up and was put through to the triage nurse, they took my health number and asked me all the same details I would have been asked at the desk in Scotland. They then checked their computer and gave me a time slot two hours later telling me in the meantime to sit with my leg elevated. 

On arrival I sat in a waiting room with just two other people. One with an obvious finger injury, the other with a twisted ankle. They were taken immediately through a door marked assessment and x-ray. Five minutes after my allotted time, I was called in and I was assessed, x-rayed and back out within 40 minutes of my allotted time. No drama, no waiting, nothing. It was entirely uneventful and very efficient.

School trips - Danish style

I remember a teacher friend from the UK once telling me she felt quite stressed whenever she took the kids abroad on a school trip because s...