Denmark at a glance!
Denmark. The home of Hans Christian Andersen, Tivoli, Lego, beer, pastries and hygge.
On the surface it’s hard not to see Denmark as a tiny cute country, mostly known for its fairytales and tourist attractions… unless you arrive in January. Then you’ll probably notice the grey, rainy and cold weather, and the crazy Danes who will bike to class regardless of the snowstorms and fog.
Denmark is a lot of things, and we hope that you will discover a great deal of those things during your stay here.
Denmark consists of the Jutland peninsula and 443 named islands, linking Northern Europe and Scandinavia via the Øresund bridge. Copenhagen, the country’s capital, is situation on the biggest island in Denmark, called Zealand. You can find Funen, a slightly smaller island, between Zeland and Jutland.
The big university cities are Aalborg and Aarhus in Jutland, Odense on Funen and the Greater Copenhagen area (including Roskilde and Lyngby) on Zealand.
Denmark has a population of a little over 5,5 million people. Copenhagen is the biggest city with 1,2 million inhabitants, followed by Aarhus (approx. 240.000 inhabitants), Odense (approx. 170.000) and Aalborg (125.000).
Most of Denmark’s population can be described as middle class, and there is little divide between most people’s living conditions, compared to other western countries.
Around 85% of the Danish population is considered ‘of Danish descent’, meaning that they have one or two Danish parents. The remaining 15% of the population is a mix of Western and Non-Western immigrants, guest workers and refugees.
It is mandatory that all Danish kids receive at least 9 years of education, normally until the age of 15 or 16, resulting in a 99% literacy rate in Denmark.
Government-funded education is free of charge and open to all. 60% of all Danes between the ages of 15 and 69 have a higher-level education.
Denmark is placed in the temperate zone, and has a coastal climate, resulting in generally cooler or mild temperature that rarely becomes either too cold or too warm. Winters rarely get much colder than -10 to 0 degrees.
The weather tends to be mixed throughout the year in terms of sun, wind and rain, but be prepared for wonderful sunny, rainy, and grey days, and then those days where it simply feels like you’re about to get blown away by a storm. Get wellies, a big scarf and a raincoat, and remember that layers are the way to go all year round.
Due to Denmark’s geographical placement, which is quite north, we have short days in the winter (from 9-16 around winter solstice) and long days and bright Nights in the summer. This results in a lot of indoor cosiness – ‘hygge’ – in the winter and outdoor fun in the summer.
Outdoor life is an important part of enjoying life in Denmark, even if it’s just biking through the city on your way to university – so be prepared for that. Get a bike, and pack some warm clothes that will enable you to go outside and enjoy yourself regardless of the weather.
If you don’t have winter or autumn clothes with you, several shops such as H&M etc. have plenty of affordable options.
Religious freedom is a constitutional right in Denmark.
The country’s official state religion is Christianity, in the form of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark (Dansk Folkekirke). In this respect Denmark is a non-secular state; however, atheism and most religions are represented within Danish society, and religion is rarely mentioned in political or state matters.
The second largest religion here is Islam, which has witnessed an increase since the 1980s as a result of immigration. There are Jewish, Muslim and different Christian congregations in the bigger cities, so contact them, if you are interested in getting involved.
Most Danes see themselves as secular in their daily lives, and church attendance is generally low. Religion plays little role in most people’s life choices, and it can actually be seen as a social faux pas to discuss religion at length with people you don’t know very well. Most Danes prefer to keep their religious preferences private, so maybe don’t bring it up as the first topic when meeting new people.
The Kingdom of Denmark is one of the oldest unified countries in the world. The word ‘Denmark’ dates back to the Viking age and is carved on the famous Jelling Stone from around 900 AD.
The Danish society
Denmark is known internationally for our welfare state and the social system build around this.
The basic principle of the Danish welfare system, often also referred to as the Scandinavian welfare model, is that all citizens have equal right to social security. Within the Danish welfare system, a number of services are available to citizens free of charge.
The Danish welfare model is subsidised by the state, and as a result, Denmark has high tax rates compared to many other countries. However, if you factor in that healthcare, education and social security services are all free, it somewhat levels out the costs related to this.
The equal access to health and social security services as well as both primary and secondary education has resulted in an equal and relatively socially mobile society, where the majority of the population can be defined as middle class.
Danish model and flexicurity
When people talk about the Danish labour market they often use the term ‘flexicurity‘ to describe the model. Flexicurity is a word made out of flexibility and security, describing the compounds of the concept.
One side is flexible rules in regards to hiring and firing staff, which make it easier for the employers to scale down during slow times and hire new staff when things improve. The second part is the unemployment security, in the form of guaranteed unemployment benefits.
The aim of this system is to promote employment security over job security, which means that in Denmark, people are less afraid of losing their jobs and are not constantly looking for new or other employment, as is the case in many other countries.
The Danish model for the labour market is built on a century-long tradition of negotiations between the various partners. The trade unions and the employers’ associations negotiate the collective agreements for each field of work, ensuring worker rights while also taking production and market conditions into account.
The Danish Parliament – ‘Folketinget’
The political landscape in Denmark is a multi-party system, where several parties are represented in the parliament, which is called Folketinget (the People’s Assembly). Folketinget resides at Christiansborg, the parliament building in central Copenhagen.
Danish governments often represent a minority coalition, aided by one or more supporting parties. This means that Danish politics are based on consensus-driven decisions and negotiations with all parties in the Folketinget. Since 1909, no single party has solely held or monopolised the majority.
The Constitution (Grundloven aka the Founding Law) from 1849 sets the framework of Danish democracy. The law outlines the citizens’ and human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Folketinget is the legislative assembly in Denmark, which means that it passes the laws that apply in Denmark. The Folketing is also responsible for adopting the state’s budgets, approving the state’s accounts, exercising control of the Government and taking part in international cooperation.
There are 179 Members of Parliament (MPs), 175 are elected in Denmark, two are elected in the Faeroe Islands and two in Greenland. Together with Denmark, the Faeroes and Greenland constitute the Unity of the Realm. Both territories have extensive home-rule and their own flags, languages and culture, but are still represented by the Folketinget.
Denmark is divided into 98 municipalities (kommuner) and five regions (regioner) that each cover several municipalities.
Each municipality (and region) has their own publicly elected council that governs and administers the individual municipality. All local councillors are elected for a four-year period in local government elections.
Denmark and EU
Denmark has been a member of the European Union since 1973.
We have four opt-outs from European Union policies in relation to security and defence, citizenship, police and justice, and the adoption of the euro. The Danish government has held several referendums on modifying its opt-outs, but so far all attempts have been unsuccessful.
There are three types of elections in Denmark: elections to the national parliament (Folketinget), local elections to the municipal and regional councils, and elections to the European Parliament. Furthermore, there are national referendums on topics directly related to issues of national concern.
Yes. Denmark is a monarchy… and actually one of the oldest in the world, dating back to at least 958 AD. Right now the monarch is Queen Margaret the 2nd. Her son Frederik, who will become King Frederik the 10th, will succeed her.
However, Denmark has been a constitutional monarchy since 1849, and over the years the political power of the reigning monarch have been reduced, and now they only have a ritual position in regards to the political decisions.
The prime minister will have to present their government and law suggestions for a formal approval, but these actions are ceremonial and do not have real political value.
Even in 2015 more than 80% of the Danes are still supportive of the monarchy, but more and more are debating how much funding the distant relatives of the royal family deserve to receive.
Education for all
Education in Denmark is compulsory for everyone between the ages of 6-7 and 15-16. A public school, private school or home school can provide the education. It is education that is compulsory, not school. More than 50% of graduating students go on to a higher education.
School life in Denmark
It’s normal for kids to go into some kind of day-care from around the age of one. From that age kids are in day-care, then kindergarten and then primary school, which is called folkeskole in Denmark. Folkeskole is made up of one year of pre-school class, nine years of primary and lower secondary education and an optional one-year 10th form.
After the mandatory 9 years, the 9th or 10th graders can choose to continue into a high school level institution such as a gymnasium and trade schools, or into a vocational school or apprenticeship for various business areas.
After 3 years of a gymnasium level education, you are eligible to apply to other educations such as university, professional bachelor degrees, technical and business schools etc.
Students at Danish institutions are encouraged to play an active role in their learning process and take responsibility for carrying out projects independently or in small groups. In addition to attending classes, students are expected to participate in discussions and continuously develop their critical and analytical skills.
Public holidays in Denmark
A lot of these are old Catholic holidays that aren’t celebrated to a great extent in neither the Danish Church nor civil life. Easter and Christmas are the big religious holidays, and the time between Easter and Midsummer there are a long list of religious and public holidays.
New Year’s Day – January 1st. – ‘Nytårsdag’
Everything is grey and quiet. Shops are closed.
Do it like a Dane: Eat takeout and watch the ski jumping competition on TV.
Easter: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday.
– ‘Påske: Skærtorsdag, Langfredag, Påskedag’
Do it like a Dane: Many people take the entire week leading up to Easter off. By taking those three days off from work, you end up having a whole week free for vacation.
General Prayer Day – ‘Store Bededag’
A Friday between Easter and Ascension Day.
Do it like a Dane: Eat ‘hot wheat buns’ – ‘varme hveder’ -on the Thursday evening and enjoy the long weekend. Traditionally the buns were made to be warmed on the prayer day, since you were not supposed to work or cook on this day.
Ascension Day – ‘Kristi Himmelfartsdag’
Falls on a Thursday – dates vary depending on Easter.
Do it like a Dane: Take the Friday off too, and enjoy a long weekend before the exams kick in.
Constitution Day – 5th of June – ‘Grundlovsdag’
Not everyone celebrates this day, which is the date the First constitution was signed. Some political groups celebrate with gatherings and speeches.
Do it like Danish students: This is when the race towards the exam kicks in, so you probably won’t notice.
Whit Monday – ‘Pinsedag’
A Monday in May/June (again depending on Easter).
Do it like a Dane: Either read up for your exams – or have a party on the Sunday before, stay up late and hope to see “the Whit Monday sun dance”.
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day
In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December in the evening and the two following days are public holidays, normally spent with family and good food.
Do it like a Dane: Get a Christmas tree, eat roast port or duck, rice and almond pudding called Risalamande and drink Glögg (Danish mulled wine).
Learn to make Danish paper decorations like braided hearts and paper stars and remember to set aside almost all weekends from late November for the long line of big traditional Danish ‘Christmas lunches’. The Christmas lunch (julefrokost) is the traditional work/school celebration at the end of the year and is more of an evening party with buffet-style food and plenty of alcohol than a ‘lunch’ in the actual sense of the word.
Other dates to remember:
The Danish version of Mardi Gras – ‘Fastelavn’
Fastelavn falls on a Sunday in February. Kids celebrate by dressing up and playing a bunch of holiday specific games and by going trick-or-treating.
Do it like a Dane: Dress up (think silly, not sexy or scary) and ‘beat the cat off the barrel’ – ‘slå katten af tønden’ – with your friends.
This is an old tradition where you fill a wooden barrel with sweets and tape a paper cat on in. Whoever breaks out the goods inside the barrel is the ‘king/queen of the cats’ – ‘kattekonge/kattedronning’.
May 1st: Labour Day
Do it like a Dane: Most Danish students either don’t celebrate it as a political holiday, or use it as an excuse for daytime drinking. If you’re politically active, there’s big meetings and parades in all the larger Danish cities.
Midsummer’s eve – ‘St. Hans evening’
Do it like a Dane: Celebrate with bonfires, singing and the old-fashioned and somewhat politically incorrect burning of a ‘witch’ made of rags and sticks in the form of a woman.
Danish primary schools and high schools have two major weeklong breaks during the year.
The Winter Break (most often in Week 7) and the Autumn Break in Week 42. These breaks are not included in the academic year as such, but if your professor has kids, they might reschedule classes to spend the vacation with them.