Thoughts on Denmark: The Danish Language

Having spent long periods of time in Denmark, I couldn’t help but notice the many idiosyncrasies of Danish people. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of blogs recording my assessments.

Before I proceed, though, I need to make a disclaimer that I truly like Denmark and the people living there so nothing that is written should be taken offensively, but only in a funny, friendly manner.

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The first thing that I noticed after crossing the border into Denmark, and probably most other foreigners would say the same, is the way Danish people pronounce their words. If there was a Danish person sitting behind me and he started speaking, I would immediately assume this person was about to throw up. And that’s honestly the best way that the Danish language can be described. Danish people annunciate their words with the air in their stomach, as if they were getting ready to hold their breath. This is why you will sometimes even notice a Danish person gasp for breath before they can mutter one more word after a long sentence.

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 Danish is a very difficult language to learn, not because of challenging grammar, but because many of the most common words prove impossible to pronounce by non-Danish people. Danish phonetics are completely opposite of how the words are written. Many letters are silent and many sound exactly the same, while others make different sounds depending on where they are placed in the word. Then, you have the 3 extra letters that were added to the Danish language, ø, æ, å, which are very difficult to distinguish from o, a, and e. On top of that, some syllables are spoken not through the mouth, but with the nose. Or there is the letter, r, that when it is the first letter of a word it is rolled with your throat, instead of with your tongue.

 Examples:  Hedder: pronounced as hether*

                     Hvad: pronounced as vel

                     Meget: pronounced as mall

*All Danes will tell you that the “d” is pronounced as a “th,” but whenever you hear them speak it actually sounds like an “l” and if you pronounce it that way, they will generally tell you it sounds right.

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There is something even stranger than Danish pronunciation and that is hearing English words and American phrases thrown into the middle of Danish conversation. It has recently become trendy for young Danes to mix more English words and phrases into conversation so now it’s even more prevalent.

Danes don’t only know a few English words, though, but are actually more than fluent. This could be because Denmark is such a tiny country and they have realized that is it essential for them to know English so that they can communicate with other countries. American influence is also strong in Denmark. All American television programs and films are kept in the original format and have Danish subtitles. This certainly helps the Danes learn English from a young age.

So, there is of course no reason to worry if you are traveling to Denmark and haven’t quite perfected the Danish tongue twister, rød, grøn og flød, because you will be able to communicate in English!


The Truth Behind Au Pairs in Denmark

I spent one year as an Au Pair in Germany and had an incredible experience to say the least. Of course my hatred for children grew even stronger, but besides that trivial fact I met the nicest people in the world and felt a part of a loving family while experiencing true German culture. During this time I took on the tasks of a typical Au Pair, including light housekeeping, laundry and cooking, as well as childcare.

As I explained in my first blog ever, the definition of an Au Pair is to be “on par” with the family and to take part in a regular family regimen. I look at an Au Pair as an older sister. One that takes on house chores as any other family member would and looks after the younger siblings when the mother and father are too busy.

So as my Au Pair year in Germany was coming to a close, I decided that I might as well try to be an Au Pair in a new country where I could learn a new language and experience life in a different culture. Denmark would be the next destination.


I didn’t know this at the time, but the Au Pair situation in Denmark is actually extremely controversial and politically involved. I would come to find out why within only two weeks of work in my new Au Pair family.*

*I want to explain the situation in my two Au Pair families before I expand upon the Au Pair controversy.

Upon first impression of meeting my new host family in Denmark, I thought that the dad was incredibly nice, the children were very cute and the mother had a great sense of humor. The location was great (just 10km from the city center of Copenhagen) and the opportunities for my coming year there seemed so promising.

When I moved into my host family’s house I had not yet received my Au Pair visa from the Danish government and was under the impression that I wouldn’t start officially working until the visa arrived, which was supposed to be just a couple of weeks. Well, it only took one day before I was asked to help with the laundry. Then, they asked me to get up early in the morning to help with breakfast. I quickly realized that the idea was for me to start working while still waiting on my visa. Of course, the illegal aspect of it didn’t bother me at all. I thought that these are nice people and they’re still going to pay me for my work even though our contract is not valid yet.

 A few weeks went by and I still didn’t have my visa. I kept questioning my family about why it was taking so long and also about when I would finally get paid. They vaguely explained to me that the Danish government was behind on issuing visas and that they would pay me at the end of the month. My first host family was very good at avoiding direct conversations like that.

During those few weeks that I was waiting for my visa I was working almost 10-hour days. I was waking up at 6:15 every morning to ensure that the children’s breakfast was ready for them on time. Then, I would have to clean up the kitchen, but in no way was I allowed to start cleaning until everyone in the family had already left the house. I found that very strange that they didn’t want to see me do the cleaning. While the parents were at work and the children were at school I was asked to vacuum and mop all floors, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms and children’s rooms, iron, make school lunches and afternoon snacks, and not to forget to clean my own room each day. This took me until about 5:00 in the afternoon when everyone would come home and I would start to prepare the dinner. Afterwards I would clean up the kitchen and my day was over around 7:00 in the evening. I spent no time interacting with the children and instead spent my days as an in-house maid. For all of this work I was to be paid $600 a month. That equals out to about $3 an hour. The minimum wage in Denmark, for even a maid, is $20 an hour.

I finally left that house five weeks later after the parents gave me a 10-page packet of specific directions on how to do my chores. That’s when I realized this family was out of their minds. I was still without a visa and had never received a full payment. I thought that I had terrible luck with this family and that I could surely find a better family in Copenhagen to work for. I desperately wanted to stay in Copenhagen because I had made great friends there and had fallen in love with the city.


 I found a new family within only one week of searching. I truly believed that things were going to be different with this family. But after just one month, a month full of intense cleaning, they told me that I wasn’t doing the job well enough and that I should leave. During that month I was asked to do the oddest chores, such as scrubbing their kitchen floor with bleach. And each week I was told that I hadn’t cleaned thoroughly enough and that I had forgotten to vacuum underneath the parent’s bed. These people were crazy.

 I was left, yet again, with no work and worst of all, without a working visa. I searched again for more Au Pair opportunities, but found that all Danish families in Copenhagen were just like the other two I had previously been with.

 I had begun to realize why the families were all the same.

 I’m not sure exactly when it first began, but somewhere along the way Danish families became accustomed to having Philippine girls as their Au Pairs.  These girls came to Denmark solely to earn money and to send it back to their families in the Philippines. The money they earned in Denmark was worth a lot in their home country. Most of these girls were leaving children and families behind just so that they could have food to eat and a place to live. Some of the girls were even going to extreme limits to marry a Danish man while there so that they could live in luxury in Denmark.

 The Philippine girls are extremely hard and humble workers because of where they have come from. There is no problem for them to work 10-12 hour days, doing the dirties and grimiest work that the Danish families make them. Unfortunately for me and some of the other non-Philippine girls, I was not okay with doing that amount of work.

 What makes the Au Pair situation worse with the Philippine girls is the way that most of the Danish families treat them. During my time in Denmark I learned many things about the relationship between Danish families and their Au Pairs. Many families would not allow the Au Pair girl to eat with the family or even be seen around them. They would be forced to hide if company was coming over. Some families even went to the extreme of paying for the Au Pair to take a vacation on a weekend so that she wouldn’t be around the house. Basically, the families would avoid any confrontation with the girls and almost pretend that they were not there. Maybe this made it easier for the families to avoid thinking about the immoral ways they were treating human beings.

 The actual controversy surrounding this situation is that the Philippine Au Pair girls are using the money they earn and sending it back to the Philippines. This means that the money is not being circulated back into the Danish economy. Not to mention, these girls do not need to pay taxes because of the little amount that they are making. And we all know how important taxes are to the Danish socialist society.

 The other part is the inhumane way that the girls are being treated. Denmark does not want to be responsible for the breaking of the Au Pair contract that most families are doing. The Au Pair contract specifically says that an Au Pair cannot work more than 30 hours a week and that the Au Pair is supposed to become a part of the Danish family in order to experience the Danish culture. Since this is not the case at all, Au Pairs may no longer be allowed in the country of Denmark.

 I find this situation very unfortunate because before I knew any of this I found the Danish people to be very friendly and accepting people. I thought Denmark was a great country and were not affected as much by greed and money. Now, I see that some systems there are corrupt and that some people are in fact racist and can act in inhumane ways.

Of course, I cannot judge a whole country on one problem that’s occurring in one small portion of their society. Most Danish people are truly wonderful people that would never treat other people in the fore-mentioned manner. And since I see that the Danish government is thinking about removing the Au Pair system from their country, I can see that some people have seen the problem and want to end it. It’s a shame for the few families that are using their Au Pairs in the correct way, but it may be more beneficial for the country as a whole to remove it completely.

I still think that being an Au Pair is a great experience and that if someone is thinking about doing it, they should definitely still try it. Just don’t go to Denmark to be an Au Pair!

Velkommen til Danmark

I have done the unthinkable. I have signed a contract to be an Au Pair for yet another year. What is even crazier is that I will be an Au Pair for four children that I am unable to verbally communicate with.

I packed up my bags, said “Auf Wiedersehen” to Deutschland and moved further North to Copenhagen, Denmark. I am technically living in a city called Søllerød (something like Su-la-rul + some sort of throwing-up noise), but it is literally impossible (and I mean literally) for a native English speaker to pronouce correctly, so I have settled upon saying that I live in Holte. Søllerød is a part of Holte and it’s much easier to pronouce so that’s that. Holte is on the metro line in the greater Copenhagen area and it only takes me about 20 minutes to get to the city center.

The family I am staying with have 4 children; 3 girls and 1 boy. Their ages are 9,7,5, and 2 ½. It really sounds like a handful, but all of the children leave promptly at 7:30 every weekday morning and don’t come home until anywhere between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. This means I have all of that time by myself in the house because the parents also work all day out of the house. During the day I must also perform a wide variety of housekeeping chores, which somehow keeps me busy almost all day. Soon, I will also begin to take Danish lessons during my free time.

The surrounding area here is absolutely amazing. There are 3 large forests within a 5km radius and very easily accessible for running. I’ve been running in the forests for the last couple of weeks and I’m still finding new paths and even prettier nature each time. It’s really a runner’s dream to be running here, especially a runner that loves hills. I’ve even come across 3 deer during one of my runs.


Copenhagen is a truly great city to be living in as I can see so far. It’s a very international city so English is spoken practically everywhere and there are always lots of different ethnicities around. They are very environmentally friendly here so there are always lots of people biking and lots of public transportation possibilities. The downside is, of course, that public transportation is ridiculously expensive. I think I will spend most of my monthly stipend on just that. There are always things going on, though and lots of people to meet so it should be worth it to pay for the trains to get there.


Throughout my past year as an Au Pair in Germany I was able to really get to know the German people and the German way of life. It was so interesting to really notice some key cultural characteristics and I can’t wait to find out the same things for the Danish culture. I have already noticed that Danish people, although environmentally friendly in most aspects, don’t care too much for recycling or composting as much as the Germans do. They also are much more careless about throwing out food, which really angers me. It’s things like that when I start to miss the German ways.

I will start to post more blogs about my adventures and also about the Danish culture and my family experiences. I hope to learn and take part in more activities soon.

Wilkommen in Deutschland!

Upon leaving for Germany many people had asked me if I was nervous, excited, or prepared to make the big move. I would always respond with the simple. “I don’t know.” And that’s true. I was extremely apathetic to the whole situation. I could not yet have any sort of emotions toward my new adventure because I could not even believe that it was happening. Whenever I am about to embark on something really big or different I never believe that it is going to happen until the second that it does. And that is the way this went as well. The second my plane landed in Dusseldorf, where I would have my layover before Hamburg, I finally began to experience some emotions, some good and some not so good. I would not say that I was nervous, but I certainly thought hard about things that could go wrong or could be bad. Many of my thoughts being quite irrational. For example: “What if my new family holds me as a slave and never lets me leave the house?” or “What if my new family are neo-Nazis that force me to join their group and take part in Jewish hate crimes?” See, pretty irrational.

Well, I was too tired to think anymore because I had not slept at all on my 7 hour flight and it was now 8:00 German time and 1:00 Central US time, so I luckily slept on my 40 minute flight to Hamburg and laid my thoughts to rest (literally and figuratively). I stepped off my plane in a dazed state and headed to the luggage carousel and somehow managed to grab my 45 pound suitcase, my 20 pound backpacker’s backpack, while still holding my 30 pound carry-on and purse on shoulder. Yep, I’m pretty strong.

I waddled out into the arrivals area and immediately found my new family. The mother, Christiane, was holding a sign that read, “Welcome, Rachel,” and the boys, Xaver and Tivon, were holding roses and balloons for me. I was greeted very warmly by this family and also by a journalist that had also been waiting for me. It turns out that the journalist was waiting at the airport this morning, looking for any person that came to pick up a passenger so that she could write a story on it. She found Christiane and decided that she wanted to use our situation for her story.  We had many pictures taken of us and a few questions were asked. We will be in the Hamburg newspaper sometime this week.*

*This is quite funny to me because odd things like that always happen to me or someone else in my family. Dents are often stopped on the street by strangers asking us questions, usually ones that we don’t even know the answer to. Of course we make up an answer, though. In fact, I have had a semi-similar situation happen to me when I was in the Delhi airport. I was also interviewed by a journalist, but in addition was filmed on camera for the New Delhi news.

Balloons and Roses from Tivon and Xaver

Anyway, I do not want to go into specifics of how each moment of each day has been in Germany so far so instead I would just like to share some things that I have found interesting about German life in the Heimann family.

The mother and father have chosen their room as the smallest in the house (and I mean very small, like closet-size small) because they think it is important for their 2 boys to have large rooms to play in. The boys also have their own large room with wooden floors that is used as a futball (yeah, that’s right, I’m using the non-American term) field. There are two goals, one at each end of the room, and probably about 20 balls to use. We all play a game of futball together after every dinner. Last night Tivon and Xaver beat me and Christiane, with much ease. Today, though, we played outside on a grass field and Tivon told his mother that I was a very good goalie and kicker.

The family sits down to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Breakfast and dinner are basically the same meal. There is bread, peanut butter, marmalade, cheeses and meats placed on the table for all of us to choose from. In addition, at breakfast there will be cereal, muesli and milk available. Lunch is their large meal, which takes more effort to prepare and differs each day. After lunch every day the boys take part in breathing exercises. This was started a few months ago after Tivon was taken to a homeopathic doctor for a chronic pneumonia problem. This doctor recommended the exercises, so now both boys take part in them.

Christiane firmly believes in the use of homeopathic medicine vs. the traditional medicine used. I really like that about her. I also really like that she chooses to buy almost all foods ecological, or Bio as they call it, she only likes to eat whole grains and never processed food, she walks and bikes almost everywhere, she likes to conserve energy, she recycles and composts everything, and she is not for all of the new-fangled technology of our generation.  We are like two peas from the same pod!

At the moment the boys are obsessed with making origami. They have made about a thousand different objects, mostly flugen (airplanes) and those fortune teller things that we all used to make as children. I was even able to make a few after lots of help from the boys. Together, they have made about 1,000 pieces!

Origami that I made

One last interesting thing about the family is that Tivon likes to dip his croissants in his Fanta drink. He says that he likes to do that because his mom dips her cookies or biscuits in her coffee.  Makes sense to me!