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University of Missouri

Warming up to Copenhagen

Filed in Blog, Denmark by on February 3, 2014

I have been in Copenhagen for about two weeks now, exploring the city and acquainting myself with local Danes (at least trying to acquaint myself with them — they’re not exactly big on small talk). When I first got off the plane and arrived at my housing, I was expecting to feel that overwhelming sense of culture shock. I was shown around by my Danish SRA (a housing assistant), sent off on my own with a terrible map and forced to ask strangers on the street for directions and, for the first time since my freshman year, I have to share a bedroom (although this time it’s not just one roommate, it’s three). But as I settled into my first week in Copenhagen, I didn’t feel anything like what culture shock is described as. Maybe it’s because I’ve been surrounded mostly by other American students, maybe it’s because I haven’t gotten a chance to really explore the city or maybe it’s because Copenhagen already felt like home to me.


I’ve never lived in a large city like this before, and going to Mizzou I’ve never been familiar with an urban campus. However, I wasn’t overwhelmed or intimidated by this like I thought I would be. The streets of Copenhagen are small, there’s no distinction between the street and the sidewalk (there are hardly any cars anyway) and, even though the Danes appear to have harsh looks on their face, anytime I had to stop someone on the street to ask for help, their faces immediately warmed up and they were much nicer than I was (repeatedly) told they would be.

vert buildings

The more time I’ve spent here the more I’ve heard about the Danish idea of hygge (pronounced something like hyu-glee). While there is no direct translation to English, hygge generally means cozy. But in Denmark this word is much more than just an adjective — it is a state of mind that many people here seek to create. Now I understand that I haven’t been here for long, so my grasp on hygge is not perfect yet, but the best way I can explain it is an open, warm and “cozy” environment. Picture a group of good friends sitting around a dinner table, inside of a warm-looking room with candles and maybe a fire burning in the background, just sharing a meal. It places value on finding and appreciating the warmth you have in your everyday life.


One of the conclusions I’ve come to about my lack of culture shock in Copenhagen is because of hygge. So many of my experiences here have been surrounded by hygge, it’s hard to feel uncomfortable anywhere. Even when that cruel Copenhagen wind slaps my face on my walk to class, the city has an overall sense of comfort, and everyone seems content. The days in Copenhagen in January may not be long, and the sun might come out only once a week, but the sense of hygge that one feels here makes up for all of this. I’ve seen the sun twice since I’ve come to Copenhagen, but not once has that made me feel gloomy or depressed. I can certainly see why hygge is an important factor that makes the Danish people some of the happiest in the world.




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