Daily Life in Denmark v. Dubai
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
About one month ago, I said goodbye to my life in the UAE and traded it for a new adventure in Denmark. In so many ways, these places could not be more different from each other. From the cultural diversity to the weather- there are so many things I have to get used to- but I find it exciting to start over and to see with fresh eyes the similarities and differences between these two locations. In this post, I will cover the 5 major differences I have seen between daily life in Dubai v. Denmark. Please enjoy, and thank you so much for reading!
They say there are two seasons in Dubai: summer (Fall-Spring), and a hotter summer (actual summer).
We left Dubai in the midst of the summer season- at a ripe 45 degrees Celsius every day. The air was like an EasyBake Oven on full blast, and the water from the Persian Gulf was about as refreshing as luke-warm tea on a hot day. Most expats in Dubai travel during the summer season, and we were no exception; however, this time we weren’t planning in coming back!
My first week in Denmark was a stark contrast to the sunshiny weather I had just left behind in Dubai. It was rainy, cold, and I quite literally needed my winter jacket to survive. In reality, this wet, chilliness wouldn’t have been so bad if the Danish summers hadn’t been talked up so much by everyone and their dog! Let me give you some background:
Danes are some of the most humble people I know. If they watch a movie, they will describe it as “okay.” If they get a new bike, it will be “nice” at best (whereas in the US, we water down our adjectives by describing objects as simple as a table with the word “amazing!!”) It’s only on special occasions when Danes choose to unleash the word “fantastisk,” and just for you, I’ve documented those instances and turned them into a bright and shiny list:
Things Danes think are “fantastisk”
1. Danish rugbrød (rye bread) 🍞
2. Danish strawberries 🍓
3. Danish milk 🥛
4. Danish summers ☀️
Yes. Please notice bullet point no. 4. Literally every. Single. Dane I’ve met has informed me of the magnificence of Danish summers. And okay, some days are in fact really, really wonderful! But for the record, 9/39 or 23% of my days here have been absolutely glorious, whereas the rest have been overskyt (overcast) to the max, with a high probability of winter coat wearing.
Sorry Denmark, it’s Dubai for the win on this one!
Denmark 0 Dubai 1
You know those people who are naturally masters of every language they hear? I can think of one friend in particular; Alessandra is Italian, she speaks English, is fluent in Chinese, mastered Danish (which means she can understand Swedish and Norwegian to an extent), dabbled with Arabic, and most likely speaks mer-person too. Now, the question you may be wondering is: Does Katie share this door-opening language reality with her fabulous and linguistically-gifted friend? I’ll keep my answer brief: No. (:
Here is my reality: I studied Spanish for three years during high school, and though I can *confidently* order my usual burrito at Chipotle in Spanish (mas queso, por favor) I am no mastermind when it comes to languages. For example, I was a Rotary Exchange student in Aarhus, Denmark for one year after high school. I went to a Danish school, had Danish friends, and lived with three Danish families. Did I become fluent? No. Did I have a favorite word? Yes- skraldespand, which does in fact, mean garbage can.
You see, at the time, I made the conscious decision to focus my exchange year on making meaningful relationships and engaging with the Danish culture- without the use of the Danish language. In my 18-year-old mind, I thought to myself, “Only 5.7 million people around the world speak Danish, and I’ll probably never live in Denmark again.”
So here’s the funny thing. I met a Danish guy, we fell in love, and we now live smack in the middle (well, technically the right-had side) of the country. Way to go, 18-year-old Katie! Great decision making skills. **Note: I plan on covering the Danish language a lot more in upcoming posts!**
In Dubai (and basically the rest of the world) Danish is not the language of choice. Instead, it is one of the hundreds of languages spoken in the UAE- which is one of the things that makes the country so interesting! On a typical day in Dubai, you would hear Arabic, English, Tagalog, Hindi, Urdu, and most likely 10+ others before lunchtime! You see, Dubai is home to more than 200 nationalities, with about 85% of the overall population coming from around the globe. I’ll touch more on the diversity of Dubai in the next theme. (:
Overall, I think we can all agree that knowing multiple languages is imperative in this ever-changing and globalizing world! Though I didn’t master Spanish in high school, excel with Danish on round one, or pick up mer-person while living in the UAE (maybe I should reach out to my friend Alessandra for lessons) I plan to become fluent in the crazy, difficult, but important Danish language.
Dubai 1 Denmark 1 Katie 0
So I just touched on this one a little bit. Dubai is one of the most diverse cities in the world. From just my workplace alone, there were expats from South Africa, Palestine, Ireland, India, Philippines, Lebanon, Jordan, and of course- the USA (me 💁). I believe Dubai’s diversity is its greatest strength. To me, it was exciting to learn about where people were from, what traditions they had, and why they ended up in the UAE.
I remember a conversation I had with one my colleagues; we were talking about why we were in Dubai and he said to me, “Why are you here- are there no jobs in the US?” This was an eye-opening question. At the time, I hadn’t considered that people would be working somewhere because there weren’t opportunities in their own country. I was in Dubai because Simon was in Dubai, and I was up for the adventure. I left a privileged life in the US to replace it with a privileged life in the UAE. For many, Dubai offers stable work and a chance at a better life. Millions of people from all over the world flock to the UAE for these reasons- even if they aren’t treated fairly at times. Although Dubai isn’t a perfect city, I will commend its ability to welcome people from all over the world, and its ability to create an environment where people of any background (to an extent…) can live in peace with each other (also to an extent).
Denmark on the other hand, is mostly a homogenous society. It is a teeny-tiny country of approximately 5.7 million people who are mostly blonde and beautiful. Of this population, about 87% are of Danish decent, and 13% are immigrants. Many immigrants come from Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, and only 30% of immigrants are from western countries. I’ll touch more on immigration in my next post, and will focus this space for diversity. (:
Like most countries around the world, most internationals can be found in larger cities like Copenhagen and Aarhus- two cities I’m not living in 😂. Instead, I am currently residing in Roskilde- a beautiful town rich with Viking history and colorful buildings (okay, that’s everywhere in Denmark!) Though Roskilde is a wonderful place to live, it is a bit difficult to meet people of diverse backgrounds; however, if I need a dose of international influence, I can easily take a 30-minute train ride over to Copenhagen and be good to go!
Overall, there is no comparison between the diversity of these two places, so it’s Dubai for the win.
Dubai 1 Denmark 0
Ease of Life
Now, this one is a little tricky. In Dubai, the quality of life one has depends heavily on what country they’re from. I plan to go into more detail about this in an upcoming post titled “The Societal Differences Between Denmark and Dubai,” but for now, I will only speak about my own specific experience.
I am from the United States, and my partner is from Denmark. Due to this reality, our quality of life was pretty high. We were able to live in the Dubai Marina- a beautiful area next to the Persian Gulf and the glistening Marina Walk. We could easily take a taxi at any time of the day or night- and at low, low prices. We could order-in on a nightly basis and have the world’s cuisine served to us in a matter of minutes (not to mention our groceries, too!) The bars, the restaurants, the beach clubs… they were all amazing, sparkling, and filled with a sense of over-the-top luxury. Life in Dubai was also extraordinary safe (in fact, it is ranked as one of the safest cities in the world--- which is curious if you dig a little deeper). Overall, we lived a life of ease, luxury, and I’m so, so thankful to have had the experience.
Our quality of life in Dubai only existed because we were from the “right” countries, and because people from the “wrong” countries were being exploited. As someone with an undergraduate degree in social science, and who will be studying human rights in graduate school- it was hard to ignore this sad reality. Again, I will touch further on this topic in an upcoming blog post.
In Denmark, our quality of life is also very high. We live in a safe neighborhood filled with healthy trees and happy people walking their happy dogs; If I need to go anywhere, I’m able to hop on my bike, or take the very well-established public transportation that Denmark offers (at somewhat high price tags). Life is pretty simple here; there is a good work-life balance, and the entire country radiates the “hygge” culture that other countries find super trendy to study and emulate.
Citizens of Denmark (which I am hoping to be one day!) enjoy universal health care, and are- quite literally- paid to go to university- on top of the already free education. Non-citizens are able to enjoy a peaceful existence too, but are not offered the same public benefits as locals (which makes sense as Danes pay very high taxes in order have such great social programs). Despite this, being a foreigner in Denmark offers a calm and still environment to enjoy life and learn from the (second) happiest people in the world.
Although the ease of life in Dubai was arguably more convenient and extravagant than everyday Danish living- I'm going to have to manually overwrite the result for moral reasons. Luxury/convenience living isn’t worth it if it means others are not being treated fairly. And still, life in Denmark is calm, peaceful, and simply put- quite nice. Plus, there are more trees and loved dogs in Denmark… so you decide.
Denmark 1 Dubai 0
Making friends in Dubai is easy. Most people living in Dubai are expats working abroad for a period of time; they take a position, earn that tax-free income, live the good life- then get out. It’s a very in the moment and fluid city, and people are always coming and going. For that reason, everyone is very welcoming of newcomers and there is this “more the merrier!” mentality around town.
I will say that most of the friends Simon and I had in Dubai were Danish, and if not Danish- then they were western. Another thing to note is that we didn’t make any local Emirati friends (though I did teach Emirati children English and enjoyed them dearly!) A large part of this is because Emiratis are actually a minority in the UAE- which is pretty crazy if you think about it! Only about 15% of the Dubai population consists of locals, and of that population, very few lived in our area. Though making local friends in Dubai was difficult, it was a piece of cake to make foreign friends in the UAE!
Making friends *with Danes* in Denmark is hard. It’s not that they are mean or scary people in any way- not at all actually. Danes are some of the sweetest, most thoughtful, and loyal people I know- and they are consistently my favorite type of people. (:
Getting in with Danes is hard. How I like to think of it is like introducing a fish into its new tank. For those of you whose parents allowed you to have an aquarium (a slightly elevated noun for a 10 gallon rectangular tank- but just go with it) you’ll know that you can’t just dump a fish right in; instead, you keep your new fish friend in its little baggy, and then plop it in the tank. This allows the new fish’s water to gradually adjust to the rest of the aquarium, but more importantly (for this scenario) it allows the other fish to check out their new tankmate. They can stare, be curious from a distance, forget about the new fish, remember the new fish, and then go about their fishy days. This is exactly what it’s like to make Danish friends. You can’t just go all in or you’ll scare away any prospective best friends; instead, you just exist long enough around the others for them to decide “this fish *eh-hem* person is okay” and only then… you are in!
Yes, this is a completely ridiculous metaphor, but what’s even crazier is that actual Danes struggle with making new friends too. So don’t worry- it’s not you- it’s the Danish culture and society. The reason why this is a reality is because Danes value quality over quantity, and they already have enough friends from when they attended primary school, secondary school, clubs for pretty people, handball, etc. I mean, how can you compete with little Sofie who has been your prospective best friend’s best friend for the past twenty years? You just can’t. And that’s okay.
So, how does one make friends then? I’ll tell you how Danes do it. They work, they volunteer, they join groups so that they too- can be introduced (like a fish) into new social networks. Or, Danes use their already existing network to meet new people. I am one of the lucky ones who has previously lived in Denmark, so I already have a network (on the other side of the country) who I love and trust. I also consider myself lucky that Simon has all of his friends and family here in Roskilde, so I’ve been introduced to some really special and kind people this way.
If you’re someone who is brand new, and struggling to make friends in Denmark, then I highly suggest you join expat groups on Facebook and Bumble BFF. I am active on both social media platforms, and seriously you guys, it’s worth it! Though you won’t necessary meet locals on these sites, you will meet some incredible people who are in the same boat as you- and maybe together, you navigate the ever-challenging currents of the Danish friendship market.
Denmark 1 Dubai 1
So daily life in Denmark v. daily life in Dubai- which country is better?! It was a close count, but the final score shows Dubai takes home the gold 🥇with a total of 4, and Denmark earns the silver🥈with a total score of 3!
In all seriousness though, I’ve learned a lot from living in both countries for over a year each. Both places have taught me so much, and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to live abroad, and experience new ways of life. As stated earlier, my next post will discuss the societal differences between Denmark and Dubai, and here's a bit of a teaser: the outcome will be very different.
Thank you so much for reading this post! If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out!