READER REPORT:

My life in the 'happiest nation on earth'

EMILY MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014
Denmark

LOVING LIFE: Emily eating cake in the Danish summer with her mum and a friend.

Denmark
FULL OF ADVENTURES: Emily enjoying Denmark by bike.

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I've lived in the 'happiest nation' on earth for just over three years now, on and off.

If you're wondering which country I'm talking about it's Denmark, that tiny Scandinavian country about as big as Canterbury and Marlborough put together.

The winters are long, the taxes are between 40 and 60 per cent and striking up a conversation with a stranger will have them thinking you should be in a loony bin.

But despite all its shortcomings, I've come to love my adopted home. I've even managed to establish myself as the Copenhagen's 'Carrie Bradshaw' with a monthly newspaper column called 'Dating the Danes'.

About the middle of January, when the skies are a permanent shade of grey, I often romanticise about returning to New Zealand with its friendly, genuine people and world-class nature.

But I doubt that I could give up the amazing lifestyle I've come to love here.

For one, the wages are incredibly high. I was offered a job in New Zealand two years ago and a year later was offered one in Copenhagen that paid three times as much.

We get six weeks of vacation here, we all ride bikes through a beautiful city to work everyday, and every other country in Europe is sitting right on our doorstep.

The Danes may be very reserved and some would say cold, but they're actually very similar to Kiwis in terms of their humour and approach to life. Plus the depth of friendship you make with people here is second to none. Once a friend with a Dane, always a friend.

The language is never an issue either, even though I can speak Danish now, everyone prefers to speak English and some even have flawless English or American accents.

Did I mention that it's like being in a GQ magazine on a daily basis?

The social welfare system here is also the best in the world. I was genuinely confused when I asked my work how many sick days I got a year and they just said "as many as you need".

The work-life balance is also wonderful as Danes value this highly. You work 37 hours a week and get six weeks holiday. Plus they throw about $NZ400 in your account in May as 'have a nice holiday money'.

One thing I've learnt over the years as an expat is how to straddle two worlds and how to manage that tension.

No matter if I lived in New Zealand or Denmark I'd still miss something about each one, so now it's just a matter of deciding which one I like and making the most of it.

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I went home to New Zealand at Christmas time. It was great to see my family and friends of course and to be surrounded by stunning nature. I made the most of every opportunity to strike up small talk with a stranger.

But there was an eerie quality about the place that just didn't sit well with me anymore. It was so quiet and serene that I nearly felt bored, something I never once felt when growing up there.

I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I knew that in order to live in New Zealand the part of me that has always longed for international environments, new experiences and to learn new things would be repressed somehow.

It felt like a very small pond, and I was a different coloured fish.

I was envious though of my friends still living there, most with a spouse and kids. I really thought I couldn't do what they do, but then again they probably couldn't do what I do.

For now I'm sticking to the happiest nation on earth, and perhaps one day the most beautiful nation on earth will entice me back.

Living in Denmark has made me so proud to be a Kiwi and I'll flaunt it at every chance I get, but to actually live in New Zealand again would be a huge challenge.

For one thing, I worry about whether I could even afford to buy a house. Here, even students can afford to at least buy small apartments.


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