Saturday, February 19, 2011

What on Earth are we Doing Here?

Nobody is certain when the idea first came into our heads that moving to Denmark with a 7-month-old baby and two dogs was a good idea, but sometime either shortly before our little boy was born, or shortly after, my husband mentioned an exciting job in Copenhagen and I said something along the lines of, "Well it can't hurt to look into it, you never know." I remember exactly where we were. It was warm outside and we were walking across the street in front of the US Capital building near the Botanical Gardens. I also remember thinking that there was no way I was moving to Europe.

And here we are. Our son, Riley is nearly 8 months old, we left our friends and family behind in the states and we're living in an apartment in Copenhagen. We arrived in late January and didn't know a single person in the city aside from some of Neil's co-workers. Since then, we have managed to meet some people, we finally received our shipment of belongings that spent 6 weeks on a boat traveling from Washington, DC, and we're beginning to learn our way around a little bit.

Riley and I have been attending a Monday morning playgroup for international mom's and babies. We've met new friends from Colombia, Iceland, Scottland, England, Austria and Germany- including an Icelandic baby named Kejrtan. Neil has made some friends at work and maybe in a nearby candy shop. We've done some exploring, found the good grocery stores, learned how to get money back for our recycled bottles and how to say thank you (tak) and excuse me (ood - skool). Things are coming together and we're adjusting.

All that being said, do not be fooled. This isn't easy. People do speak English, but most things happen in Danish. The littlest things (changing a light bulb for instance) are much more difficult. All the cliches hold true. We are outsiders. We do not know things - like light bulbs aren't sold in most grocery stores. You have a better chance of finding them at lighting stores.

We are living in a very nice older apartment. It is much larger than our apartment in Washington, DC and has a great deal of charm including wood floors,  and floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets in the kitchen. It's sunny and there are windows in every room. However, please enjoy the following list of things we have had to deal with since moving in:

Riley's stroller does not fit in the elevator.

The light in the master bedroom turns on only every 10th time you flip the switch.

The oven does not work. This particular joy was discovered after I made a large batch of dough for challah bread and then had no place to cook it.

We have an unusable front closet that inexplicably smells like the filthiest ash tray on the planet.

The faucet in the guest bathroom leaks.

We didn't have a mail key for a week.

There are no window coverings.

The floor boards squeak so loudly that walking across the house can wake Riley up.

All of these issues can be resolved, but have made getting adjusted particularly annoying. Not to mention the fact that we can't figure out how to get our cable and Internet working because the instructions are all in Danish and the cable company doesn't respond to our emails and hold times for phone calls are astronomical.

Nothing like moving to a foreign country to make you feel completely helpless in so many ways. At home, I could easily figure out how to get all of my issues resolved. Here, we don't even know where to begin trying to find a way to do online banking in English. Who could help us with that? We can't figure out why the voicemail greetings we keep recording for our phones don't ever greet callers. We are clueless.

Of course, all of this culture shock is what we were looking for when we signed on for this. We missed out on study abroad in college. We wanted this growth experience, we craved the adventure. We believe the international start to Riley's life will enrich him. And so, in our darkest moments, when all we can think about is our cozy little apartment in Washington, our friends, a cup of coffee that only costs $4 (that's right, who could imagine we'd miss Starbuck's prices?)...we will remember that we embarked on this journey for a reason and if we cling too hard to all of our "Americanisms" we will not be able to truly experience all Copenhagen has to offer.

We hope you'll keep us company as we embark on the next two years in Denmark.


  1. I am so glad that you started a blog about Copenhagen! Have you been to any cool ice bars?

    We definitely want to come visit... maybe after the wedding when Stacy has vacation days again!

    Hope you figure things out - I am sure that things will get easier soon. We miss you guys!


  2. Keep on hanging on -- it will get better! In 6 months you'll laugh at this list of problems and wonder how you ever didn't know what you'll know then... (if that made any sense!)

    Keep writing, and I'll keep plotting how to come visit you. I miss you!!

    Hugs to Neil and Riley,

  3. I LOVE the first blog post - thanks for sharing what day to day life is like! Ben and I think of you often and wonder how you're coping, but it looks like you're doing well under the circumstances! I have no doubt you'll feel like locals sooner than you think :) We hope to come visit.

  4. Maurice and I loved hearing from you in spite of your settling-in woes. Just think, by the time you return home only all good things will be remembered.

    We love you and miss you!!

    Give Neil and the Riley Man big hugs and kisses for us!

    Auntie B

  5. oh wow. those are all things i hadn't considered when you said you were moving. all i thought about was some vague sense of "adventure". i suppose this is part of the adventure! so glad to be along for the ride, at least cyber-ally.


  6. Oh Jodi, what a great post! makes us feel so much closer. Amazing how you really made that seem like an intimate conversation. It made me giggle from time to time and then feel kinda bad from time to time...probably just like you have!! Love you and miss you. You are so brave and open. We are proud of you guys BIG TIME!! xoxoxo

  7. Welcome to life as an Ex-pat. It's hard. It's fun, but it's hard. The sense of helplessness overwhelmed Shannon and I many times our first year (less so now, but it still happens). It's very humbling to go from a more-or-less independent adult who can take care of things (not to mention taking care of dogs and a baby!) to not knowing how to operate the oven, the washing machine, or, as you mentioned, change a lightbulb. ("How many ex-pats does it take to change a lightbulb?...) We at least had the advantage of not being responsible for other people, and our screw-ups generally only made our own lives harder.
    Eventually you'll overcome the challenges you need to, and decide some of the things you thought were essential aren't that important anyway.
    Shannon has been fairly successful at figuring out instructions for things like the oven and washing machine (who knew that the oven would be "tricky?"). Look up the model number of the appliance in question, and often there is an english version of the instruction manual somewhere on the intertubes, or at least a digital version in Danish that you might be able to quickly stick into Google Translate.

    Best of luck with the transition...Remember that all the hard stuff makes better stories later on!
    Bulgarian hugs...

  8. Thanks for sharing! This is going to be such an amazing experience for all of you. Keep us all updated. We will miss you guys in the states.

  9. Thank you for starting a blog about your lives in Denmark. We often wonder how you're doing over there and are happy to hear that despite the nuisances you're embracing this adventure. It's to be expected that things feel overwhelming at first. But soon your oven will be fixed, you'll find the lighting store down the street, and a helpful kid of a neighbor will repair the faucet in the bathroom. My concern would be the dangerous bakery around the corner!

    All our love,
    Erin, Eric and Amélie

  10. Hey! I just read through your whole blog (sorry I was late to it - we were just traveling). I LOVE hearing your stories and I miss you guys so much! No surprise that you're a great writer who makes me feel like you're right there talking to me! Hang in there and I look forward to more posts.

  11. Danske Bank have online banking in English. I think they call it ebanking? They also do customer service in English if you ask them.

    The tricky bit is the "NemID" bit, where you get the codes for logging in but I expect the bank would help you with that if you asked.