The Year of Living Danishly (Draft)

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I read this book on Kindle. The story is narrated in first person by a woman who is a freelance journalist.  They are originally from England but move to Denmark so her husband can fulfill his lifelong dream to work for Lego.  Interestingly, she never mentions the husband's name - she usually refers to him as Lego man.  Right away I feel like I can relate because I know if I were to ever write such a book my husband would not want me to mention him by name.  I notice, though, there are other people that she never calls by name - such as "American Mom".  We meet her in passing around e-page 83 and then she reappears on e-page 145 - so far apart that I'd forgotten she existed and had to use the Search feature to find the reference.  (Other people that she formally seeks out for advice, such as subject experts and such, are mentioned by name.)  I can also connect to the idea of picking up and trying life in a new country - that would be my lifelong dream.

I thought the proglogue was a little slow, but the actual living in Denmark picked up a bit.  Overall I expected this to be a quick read.  Our hostess this month was choosing between this book or "The Quiche of Death" and I was glad when she chose the Danish one.  In fact, my husband (name not mentioned) and I had just been having a conversation about where we would move if we left the U.S., so I thought I would love this book.  Somehow though, it took me a long time to read this book and I really had to force myself.  I kept getting distracted with other things.  I just wasn't drawn to or motivated to read it, even though in theory I liked it.  Until about Chapter 7 when I learned some things about Danish culture that were disappointing (divorce rate, casual sex, etc.)  I also think I was disappointed because I expected more humor.  There is some, like when she calls her husband's co-workers "minifigures". (Ch. 3, ePg. 85)  By Chapter 12 it began to feel like the book that never ends.  I had paced myself to finish by book club - figuring that there would be 12 chapters since each one covers a month. But then there was Chapter 13, and an Epilogue, and a Summary, and a Postscript.

On a scale of 1 - 5

Sex:  4






Sex - a swinger's club and a discussion about glory holes (Ch. 7, ePg. 176) Reference to the Scottish flag being representative of BDSM. (Ch. 5, ePg. 129)  Compares Christmas trees to a "phallic-looking centerpiece" (Ch. 13, ePg. 310)

Religion - when the author stated her age as 33 she points out that Jesus lived that long and accomplished many bigger things than she had (Prologue, loc. 60)  Exclamation of "Oh God" in reference to how cold it was. (Ch. 1, ePg. 2)  Confirmation is treated like a rite-of-passage quincenera. (Ch. 5, ePg. 113)  Religion optional - for a nonfirmation.  Legend says the Danish flag fell from Heaven (Ch. 5, ePg. 120) but today people seem to worship the flag more than God.  A reference to a Catholic confirmation, with oil and ashes. (Ch. 5, ePg. 110) A lot of discussion about Danish-style, somewhat-blasphemous Confirmation - "God saying 'yes' to you, and not the other way around". (Ch. 5, ePg. 113)  Only 16% of Danes believe in Heaven compared to 88% in U.S., and 1 in 5 calls themself atheist. (Ch. 5, ePg. 114)

Gruesome - when comparing cleanliness between England and Denmark, there is a reference to smearing poop on the walls (Ch. 1, ePg. 17)  Reference to lions eating "the back end of a My Little Pony" and outrage that it happened in front of small kids. (Ch. 4, ePg. 93)

Suspense -  minor suspense as to whether she would get pregnant.  Suspense with the delivery.

Morality - "mild xenophobia towards" Germany, which lies south of Denmark (Ch. 6, ePg. 137)  In 1923 there was a "prison for women who'd had umarried sex, lovers or a child out of wedlock". (Ch. 6, ePg. 139)  There is a TV show "where women stand silently naked in front of fully clothed men who verally dissect their bodies...everything from ...pubic hair to ...caesarean scars." (Ch. 6, ePg. 146)  A few paragraphs discussing suicide rates and time frames, including a casual "try not to kill yourself". (Ch. 11, ePg. 266)

Traditional - author couldn't remember relaxing "without the aid of over-the-counter sleeping tablets or alcohol". (Prologue, loc. 141)  Danes are "known for being progressive, being the first to legalise gay marriage and the first European country to allow legal changes of gender without sterilisation". (Prologue, loc. 207)  Statues of naked people with animal heads, a "porny pony and ... cats with boobs". (Ch. 1, ePg. 8)  4th highest divorce rate in Europe. (Ch. 7, ePg. 168)  Liberal views on sex and related topics, (Ch. 7, ePg. 171-173) including "first European country to allow legal changes of gender without sterilisation".  Danes are easy-going about non-prescription drugs. (Ch. 10, ePg. 243)  Danes are heavy drinkers, even the teenagers - consuming much more alcohol than other European countries. (Ch. 10, ePg. 245)  Unconcerned about unprotected sex. (Ch. 10, ePg. 246)

The book makes several references to Jutland.  I was not familiar with the term.  It turns out it refers to the main part of Denmark.  There are also a few outlying islands - such as Zealand.  I also did not realize that there was such a connection between Danes and New Zealand, being a large part of the original settlers of New Zealand.

In Ch. 7 there seems to be a heat wave.  Usually the high temps in summer months are in the mid 60s.  According to her thermostat, it was 91.4 inside.  Yes, that is rather warm for inside - but given that I was reading this when Texas was setting a record for most days in a row with triple-digit temperatures, I really couldn't muster any sympathy.  I was unfamiliar with the phrase "not shy of a medallion".  (Ch. 7, ePg. 159)  According to ChatGPT it means they don't hesitate to brag; it is not a flattering statement.

This was the first time I haven't finished a book for book club.  In fact, most of the group had not finished.  To be fair, we only had 3 weeks between meetings instead of the usual four.  But this happens every year because of our annual church festival.  And every other year I am able to finish in 3 weeks - even with being on t

Discussion Questions

Danes only work approximately 34 hours per week.  Brits average almost 43 hours per week.  How many hours per week do you work? (Prologue, loc. 171)

Look at the Guiness World Records for Denmark - which ones are attractive to you?
What about the United States?  Are there any that make you glad you are an American?
"The UN World Happiness Report" explained the happiness of the Danish as being due to high "GDP per capita, high life expectancy, a lack of corruption, a heightened sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity". (Prologue, loc. 177)  Which ones appeal to you?
What were the aspects of Danish life that would prevent you from moving there? (e.g., legal changes of gender without sterilisation, high divorce rate, etc.)

Danes don't think more is better.  Bigger car = more taxes.  Bigger house = more to clean. (Prologue, loc. 197)  Do you ever wish for less or smaller?

Denmark has a lot of social welfare programs and, consequently, they are more trusting since everyone is being cared for. (Prologue, loc. 233)  Do you believe more social welfare programs would improve race relations?

The couple was advised "to 'tell people you're only going for nine months.  If you say you're away for a year, no one will keep in touch - they'll think you're gone for good.' " (Prologue, loc. 251)  Are you more likely to keep in touch with someone for 9 months or 12 months?

What would you do to prepare for a move to Denmark?

"When we surround ourselves with quality design, it influences our mood.  If our surroundings are nice, we feel cosy and safe.  It makes us happier." (Ch. 1, ePg. 26)  Do you agree?

How would you feel about a sales tax of 180% on a new car? (Ch. 1, ePg. 31)

Even though they have high taxes, Danes have the security of knowing they will be supported if they lose their job.  In the U.S., "Everyone is on their own.  ...they...have to look after themselves.  If anything happens and you don't have insurance, then you're...f***ed." Denmark has good work-life balance. (Ch. 2, ePg. 52)  What should be done in the U.S. to improve work-life balance? (The book reports the U.S. is ranked 28 in W-L bal.)

"A study by Ramboll Management and Analyse Denmark showed that 57 per cent would carry on working even if they won the lottery and could afford not to work for the rest of their lives." (Ch. 2, ePg. 53)  If you won the lottery, would you keep working?

Do you agree that the government should fund language classes for immigrants for up to three years? (Ch. 3, ePg. 67)  Would you participate?  In Danish; slut means finished, fart kontrol means speed limit, and slut spurt means going out of business sale.  Also, nipple translates to breast wart and married translates to gift.  (Ch. 3, ePg. 71) Later we learn that "skat" means tax but also is a term of endearment like "honey". (Ch. 12, ePg. 283) Do you have any fun language lessons or mix ups?  

Many people they asked said they couldn't imagine or think of a way to be happier. (Ch. 3, ePg. 74)  Could you find a way to be happier?  What would it be?

The author never seems to name her husband.  Usually she calls him Lego man.  Once, in reference to bike riding, she called him Lance (as in Lance Armstrong) (Ch. 3, ePg. 76)  What effect does not knowing his name have on you as a reader?

Bike safety is much more advanced in current times.  The author remembers having only reflective strips and noise makers in the tires, as compared to working headlights on today's bikes.  (Ch. 3, ePg. 76)  Describe your childhood bike?  Did you ever have a riding accident?

Danes think structured evening activities help people feel secure. (Ch. 3, ePg. 85) Do you prefer planning weeks in advance or spontaneity? 

"There's a ritual (and a special cake) to go with everything in Denmark." (Ch. 5, ePg. 110)  What rituals (and cakes) do you keep?

Pernille tells the author that many parents have a problem saying no to their children and some feel guilty for being divorced so they tend to indulge their kids with Confirmation gifts and parties. (Ch. 5, ePg. 112)  Did this surprise you, not just the lavish Confirmation but also the divorce and the spoiling of children?

Danes are so happy yet they largely don't believe in Heaven and a significant number don't believe in God/ (Ch. 5, ePg. 114)  Should those of us with traditional Christian values worry?

Beginning in Ch. 6, the author starts to discover some less-attractive qualities of Denmark.  (Ch. 6, ePg. 155)  What were your thoughts?  Did you share her dismay?

The author forgot how much she liked the bustle and busyness of city life. (Ch. 7, ePg. 163)  Would you miss it?

When the author went with her friend to pick up the children, the other mom had her children empty out their shoes before leaving, so that they didn't track sand into her home.  (Ch. 8, ePg. 189)  What playground surfaces plagued your home?  Most Danes believe that sending little children to pre-school is good for their socialization.  (Ch. 8, ePg. 193)  Would you be able to go along with the Danish views on raising children?

The author only allowed herself one serving of caffeine per day when she was pregnant.  What did you give up or limit when you were pregnant?

Have you seen any of the filmed works attributed to Danes? (After the Wedding, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Killing, Borgen, or The Bridge)  The London School of Economics study said the top 5 activities that make people happy are: sex, exercise, going to the theatre, seeing a dance performance or concert, and exhibitions and museums.  (Ch. 9, ePg. 219)  What are your top 5?

Do you believe that genetics has anything to do with how happy someone is?  (Ch. 10, ePg. 252)  Do you subscribe to the idea that "A homogenous population is more likely to be more content and trust each other" because of close genetic links. (Ch. 10, ePg. 253)  "The greater a nation's genetic distance from Denmark, the lower the reported well-being of their inhabitants. (Ch. 10, ePg. 253)  How far is your heritage from Denmark?  Do you feel that your happiness reflects this proximity or distance?

The author said Danes have a saying, "guests are like fish - after three days they start to smell". (Ch. 13, ePg. 319)  Have you heard this saying?  Do you agree with it?  (Google attributes it to Benjamin Franklin.)

Do you have any red-haired family members?  Did it happen because someone teased another red-headed person?  (Epilogue, ePg. 337)

After she got out of the hospital, they had the option to stay in the stork hotel for another week for only $55 / night to help transition. (Epilogue, ePg. 339)  Would you have stayed? 

When she is reviewing Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, she mentions that the U.S. hasn't even passed tier two because we don't have healthcare or job security. (Epilogue, ePg. 342)  Do you agree with her perspective?  Danes live simply in contrast to Americans.  American mom explains that Buddha desires create new desires.  How do you feel about Buddha's advice? (Epilogue, ePg. 342)

Theme Ideas

Take a trip to Legoland or the Lego store.
Because there is a lot of flag discussions, play a guess the flag game. (Ch. 5, ePg. 129)

Serve Danish pastries, including "kanelsnegle" - cinnamon snail (Ch. 1, ePg. 14 & Ch. 9, ePg. 232), sometimes called "snegles" (Ch. 5, ePg. 105)  Also "spandauer" - baker's bad eye with a yellow cream center, "frosnapper" - frog snapper poppy seed pastry twist, "kanelstang" - cinnamon narzipan braid. (Ch. 9, ePg. 232-3)
Serve Carlsberg, Lurpak by Arla or Danish Crown bacon (Prologue, loc. 153, Ch. 10, ePg. 256))
Serve coffee and chocolate digestives like the moving men wanted. (Prologue, loc. 264)
Serve a breakfast buffet, with pickled herring (Ch. 1, ePg. 4)
Serve coffee and chocolates like Allan served them. (Ch. 1, ePg. 6)
Serve on either white Ikea plates like the British couple used, or Royal Copenhagen plates like the interior designer recommended. (Ch. 1, ePg. 25)
When she toured the Lego factory there was a lunch of "rye bread, salad and pork". (Ch. 2, ePg. 44)
Serve coffee, because it's big in Denmark. (Ch. 2, ePg. 48)
Serve Cadbury's Creme Eggs, like some of her friends from England send to her. (Ch. 3, ePg. 61)
Serve ham sandwiches like she ate at her grandmother's after her confirmation. (Ch. 5, ePg. 110)
Serve cake, because there is a cake for everything in Denmark. (Ch. 5, ePg. 110)
Serve cider like the kids drink with their friends on Blue Monday (Ch. 5, ePg. 112)
Serve a big box of Swiss chocolate like her old university friend brings her.  (Ch. 5, ePg. 122)
Serve Yorkshire Tea like Lego Man serves to the Swiss friend. (Ch. 5, ePg. 125)
Serve iced spritzers like they drank in June. (Ch. 6, ePg. 131)
Serve pecorino cheese, salami and tomatoes, like they ate at Castellammare harbor in Italy. (Ch. 7, ePg. 162)
Serve tuna pasta bake like the author remembers eating at school. (Ch. 8, ePg. 208)
Serve 'smushi" - Danish smorrebrod open-faced sandwiches with sushi (Ch. 9, ePg. 212)
The author reports that Danes eat a lot of hot dogs, pizza and salted liquorice. (Ch. 9, ePg. 222)
Serve items from a traditional Nordic diet: fish - especially herring, berries, wholegrain rye bread, rapeseed oil) (Ch. 9, ePg. 226)
Serve anything with pork, since Danes seem to eat a lot of it. (Ch. 9, ePg. 228)  The Danish politicans always ordered "Danish meatballs with potato salad". (Ch. 9, ePg. 229)
After LegoMan collected mussels, they ate: open sandwich of cheese and tomato on black rye bread and mussels in white wine and shallot sauce with parsley.  (Ch. 9, ePg. 237)
After a particularly harrowing bike ride, she goes "inside to safety. And biscuits. It tkaes a lot of Early Grey and ginger nuts until I feel fully human again." (Ch. 11, ePg. 272)
Serve Julebryg, the Christmas beer. (Ch. 13, ePg. 305)
Serve the elements of a traditional Christmas lunch: pickled herring, pork, beer and schnapps. (Ch. 13, ePg. 313)  For dessert - risalmande. (Ch. 13, ePg. 315)
Serve aebleskiver, like they shared after the choir concert. (Ch. 13, ePg. 322)
Serve their Christmas menu: "duck with prunes, caramelised potatoes, boiled potatoes ... and red cabbage followed by I." (Ch. 13, ePg. 322)
Serve the traditional New Year's Eve food:  stewed kale "with potatoes (natch) and cured saddle of pork" (Ch. 13, ePg. 328)  For dessert, "a traditional marzipan ring cake - washed down with champagne". (Ch. 13, ePg. 333)

Have a drinks party, include limoncello from plastic cups (Prologue, loc. 286), mini Battenbergs and tea from a thermos (Prologue, loc. 292).  Have a bonfire like on Midsummer Night. (Ch. 6, ePg. 133)
Watch the Julebryg commercial on YouTube.  (short version...long version)
Provide Christmas crackers for your guests. (Ch. 13, ePg. 324)
Watch the traditional New Year's Eve movie, "Dinner for One". Participate in another tradition - wear silly hats. (Ch. 13, ePg. 331)
Watch "Gareth Malone leading Morgensang (Daily Morning Song) with Philip Faber. (Postscript to the 2020 edition, ePg. 349)

Give your guests a gift of Magic Tree air fresheners like the taxi driver had when they were leaving London. (Prologue, loc. 306)

Decorate with Legos or like the pirate suite they slept in on their first night in Denmark. (Ch. 1, ePg. 4)
Decorate with Danish money.
Decorate with coffee table books about famous Danish inventors such as Arne Jacobsen (egg chair), Poul Hennigsen, Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl (Ch. 1, ePg. 18)
Decorate with the Danish flag.  (review the legend)
Decorate with yellow rape flowers (Ch. 5, ePg. 106) like when all the fields in May turned yellow.
Decorate with a fake tree that guests can attach slips of paper to with their wishes on the papers, like they did at the art museum (Ch. 9, ePg. 213)
Decorate with napkins in origami-like shapes, like all the in-home dinenr parties. (Ch. 9, ePg. 231)
Decorate wtih candles because, "Danes use more candles per capita than any other". (Ch. 11, ePg. 273)


Our hostess served Danish pastries and had Lego sets for decoration.  (Later she donated the Legos to a toy drive at Christmas time.)