And what America can learn from them

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Photo by R.D. Smithon Unsplash

A little over a year ago, my husband and his two daughters moved from Denmark, voted the second happiest country in the world, to America, the eighteenth country on that list. Here’s what they think so far.

American schools look like jails

When my 10-year-old step-daughter joined a (well-ranked) public school in Brooklyn, she asked me why schools in New York looked like jails. I got defensive, but I knew what she meant. Bleak corridors, colorless rooms, barred windows, lack of fresh air, metal fences around the building — nothing about her school was “cozy,” the word so loved in her home country.

Back in Denmark, famous for its architecture, the girls’ public school looked like a building out of a design magazine. It wasn’t a repurposed structure, as it’s often the case in America, but a well-thought-through environment, meant to stimulate children’s development and growth. It provided more than just desks. The rooms were airy and filled with light. There were areas for play and relaxation, nooks for reading, and various outdoor spaces for play and studying. It reflected the Danish belief that growing up, especially for younger kids, is not about academic success but about playing, exploring, taking risks and connecting with the outdoors. …


We can’t all move to Denmark, but we can bring some of it to us

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Photo by Maksym Potapenko on Unsplash

When adjusting to life in Copenhagen, I noticed that things were very different in Denmark from back home in New York City. Locals seemed more relaxed, less addicted to their phones, more present with one another. Streets were quieter, shops and restaurants played gentle music on low volume. It’s almost as if people there didn’t need distractions from their reality.

Was it just the famous work-life balance and social welfare system or were there other, lesser known, reasons for their contentment?

When America is more gloomy than ever, I decided to look at some small, and big, habits we could borrow from the citizens of the country voted second happiest in the world. …


How I learned to indulge myself in Denmark — the land of candy, smoking and tanning salons

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Photo by Shalom Rufeisen on Shutterstock

In America, we’re told that smoking is bad for us. We’re told that drinking is bad for us. So bad, indeed, that we’re not allowed to do it until we turn 21. Sugar is bad for us, too. And so is fat. Or tanning salons. Stay away from these things and you’ll be good, they say. But is it so?

When I first landed in Denmark, voted the Second Happiest Country on Earth, I was surprised to find out that not only the Danes seemed content, quiet and strikingly good-looking, they were also filthy smokers and drinkers, obsessed with candy, bacon, fatty pastries and tanning salons. …


She’s “not sure it can be saved” but she has some ideas

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Photo by Jose M.on Unsplash

I love talking to children. They’re honest, unbiased and very observant. They tell you how it is. My husband and two step-daughters relocated from Denmark to America a a little over a year ago. Since then, we’ve lived in two states and visited another dozen. What a year it has been.

My oldest step-daughter, now 13 and very opinionated, looked around with a critical eye, taking it all in, the good and the bad. On our weekly long neighborhood walks, first in New York and then in Los Angeles, she voiced her opinions to me and gave some suggestions for “how to fix America.” …


A secret to Scandinavian happiness is in happy childhoods

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Photo by Deepak Joshi on Shutterstock

Childhood in Scandinavia is a very serious business. Moreover, it’s an investment that Scandinavian governments, and citizens, take very seriously. After all, a secret to a happy adulthood is in a happy childhood.

Perhaps, it’s one of the main reasons why these Northern European countries top the list of the world’s happiest nations year after year.

Since the birth of my (Danish-American) daughter I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the major differences in how Danish and American societies accommodate their children’s needs.

Here are just a few things that I noticed Danish parents prioritize for their kids.

Ability to explore and take risks

My Danish husband and I were walking through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park when we noticed a boy of around 5 years old leaning over a rail of a small bridge in curiosity. Neither of us paid much attention, until we noticed a woman who suddenly stopped and stood frozen, eyeing the boy and nervously looking around, searching for his parents. I could tell she was getting agitated when, luckily, a busy-with-two-other-kids mother appeared and asked her son to step down. The stranger lady barely held back from making a comment and walked away, shaking her head. Not only was she a neurotic New Yorker, but also a fear-driven American, to whom a child exploring alone in the park, even if for a minute, is a dangerous game. …


We discovered that restrictions can be freeing too

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Photo by zabavina on Shutterstock

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The year of stay-at-home orders, broken Amazon deliveries, store closures and social isolation hit my family hard. The pandemic caught me pregnant, with four people and two dogs stuck at home, and a cross-country move on the horizon.

But I wouldn’t be the optimist I am, if I didn’t look back at 2020 and found the good things that came out of it all, at least for our family. Luckily, we still have our health. The rest is my undying commitment not to give up or give in.

Here are some of the things that got us through, and even changed us for the better. …


But the lessons learned can be applied anywhere, anytime

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Photo by Vlad Teodor on Shutterstock

When I arrived in Denmark’s capital, after a particularly hard year in New York, I needed to regroup, re-think and reinvent myself. I was stressed out, exhausted and confused — everything you’d expect a New Yorker to be. My salvation came from the most unexpected source — a bicycle.

If in New York cycling is saved for hipsters, exercise fanatics and tourists, in Copenhagen, it’s the main mode of transportation. Bike roads run alongside car roads there, with dedicated traffic lights, and bicyclists are respected and given priority. In return, they obey strict rules and laws. The whole thing is very civilized. …


Memories of a New Yorker returning from England

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Photo by Anastasia Frugaard

It’s been three years since I returned to New York from my two-year stay in London. While I don’t miss the widespread public urination and lack of sun, there were a great deal of small, and big, nuances that made living in England’s capital very enjoyable.

The rambunctious sibling of the more reserved, better-dressed and better-spoken London, New York was the perfect setting for my hot-mess 20s. Though as I transitioned into my comfort-craving 30s, amenities like parks and reliable public transportation became more appealing to me than buying a hot dog at 2AM. …


Proven by the world’s happiest people

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Photo by Andrey Popov on Shutterstock

I was the only person in a local park in Copenhagen once when I saw a man on a bicycle turn the corner and dutifully signal, while absolutely no one was watching. What a luxury, I thought, to be living in a society where it’s cool to do the right thing.

Danish people are adorable. They’re friendly, smiley, polite and always happy to speak English. But after a year of living in Denmark, it’s their one behavior quirk that I found especially charming: their notorious dedication to following the rules. …


Dating in a foreign country is always tricky. Dating in Scandinavia is a whole other animal

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Photo by Anastasia Frugaard

Two years ago, I arrived in Denmark, high on expectations and lured in by the promise of hygge, bicycle rides and tall Viking-like men who supposedly knew their way around the kitchen. Yet coming from two traditional cultures, Russian and American, I was used to all the expressions of manhood that came with a macho stereotype. Needless to say, after a few months of pursuing romance in the land of gender equality, I was shaken up.

Luckily, I did end up meeting and marrying a Dane who was perfect for me. …

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Writing about different countries, cultures and people.

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