My best and worst days in Denmark

Egyptian journalist Farah Bahgat recently left Denmark after a year living and studying in Aarhus and Copenhagen. Here, she reflects on her lasting impressions of the Scandinavian country.

My best and worst days in Denmark
Farah Bahgat in Copenhagen. Photo: Karis Hustad

At the dining table in my sublet apartment in Amager, south of Copenhagen, I was having my farewell dinner with my roommate and our friend, when they asked me to look back and choose my favourite and least favourite times in Denmark.

Where do I begin? I have come a long way, from knowing nothing about Denmark – other than the Muhammad cartoons – to knowing every Danish word that could possibly be coupled with 'tak' (Danish for ‘thanks’).

Last year, I came to Denmark having heard that it was perhaps not the most Muslim-friendly country in the world. But having lived my entire life in a developing country, I was pretty excited to move to the relative paradise of a welfare state.

It was not just a studying opportunity for me, it was an opportunity to run away from the many frustrations of post-revolutionary Egypt.

In August 2017, I arrived in Aarhus, where I was scheduled to spend the first year of my Master’s degree, wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, a headscarf and my preconceived notions.

During orientation week at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, we watched a PowerPoint presentation about Danish values – things like humility and hygge, which, to be honest, seemed too ideal to be real.

I can easily recall my least favourite times in Denmark: the little things that constantly reminded me that I did not belong here. Like how every time I got on a bus, or went grocery shopping and people would stare at me like some sort of alien who just landed from a UFO. I even caught a teenager on a bus taking a photo of me and my hijabi friend who was visiting from Egypt at the time.

Danes seemed to be very united in a way, or, for lack of a better word, it seemed like there was this sort of exclusivity, like Denmark was only a place for 'real Danes'.

READ ALSO: Tax plan means uncertainty for students and teachers at Denmark's language schools

It's no secret that it is difficult to befriend Danes, so my friends were my classmates, and because it was an international course, I had friends from more than 20 different countries.

We tried to familiarise ourselves with Denmark. We ate rye bread and liquorice. We even followed the Jutland tradition of throwing cinnamon on whoever turns 25 and happens to not be married.

But feeling out of place became a collective feeling – all of my friends felt the same. To this day, my friend Tanja tells me “I can’t believe that even a white German like myself was shamed for not integrating in Denmark”.

Regardless of our diversity, we each experienced difficulties with living in Denmark, which was surprising given the progressive and “hyggelig” image of the country that was presented to us during the orientation week at the beginning of our studies.

It felt like hygge was a Danish word for a reason: it was only for Danes.

Attempting to get out of my bubble, I decided to do some volunteer work, which led me to work on a video for a charity. Every Monday evening I would prepare dinner with refugees – 'new Danes', to use the term favoured by the charity’s organisers – and volunteers, and anyone else who wanted to join.

Some weeks we made pizza, other weeks we made traditional Syrian food. Hygge was not candles and fur blankets, but rather the warmth of the company, embracing the differences between every one of us, people who never met before and people who thought that they were not welcomed here.

READ ALSO: It's official: 'hygge' is now an English word

Mira, the Danish organiser at the charity, became a close friend – her number became the first I would dial on a bad day. She was my window to Denmark, not just in the sense that she introduced me to most of the Danes I met, but we also bonded over how we were both searching for our identities. For me, living with Danes challenged my identity; for Mira, working with 'new Danes' challenged hers.

During my year of study, I reported on news topics including the lockoutghetto plan and departure centres. This also meant that I spoke to many people with immigrant backgrounds in general and in many cases also Muslims.

The consensus that ‘they [politicians] want assimilation not integration', or ‘the government does want us here’, often came through strongly, with the perceived hostility of immigration minister Inger Støjberg and her hardline positions on refugees often prominent in the views of those I spoke to.

Støjberg’s statements turned the discourse, making it no longer about integration versus assimilation, but rather a clear statement: You are not welcome here.

READ ALSO: The middle of nowhere: Inside Denmark's Kærshovedgård deportation camp

I moved to Copenhagen for the summer of 2018, by which time parliament had passed the burqa ban.

I did not let my thoughts about politics ruin my summer. I went to a “Muslim attire” store in Nørrebro one day and bought a burkini to go to the beach. I was frightened to wear it in a country where people commonly swim naked.

To my surprise, most people did not look at me even once, no death stares, no “go back to your country” shouts, nothing. If anything, I was just as not-looked at as the naked swimmers.

Summer in Denmark was wonderful. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best summer of my life so far. Every little corner of Copenhagen was just beautiful.

I have witnessed two revolutions in Egypt. Since I began working as a journalist, I have covered strikes, terrorist attacks and forced displacement of communities. I have worked for a website that the Egyptian public cannot access because of censorship and have seen friends arrested for practising their jobs as photojournalists. Compared to this, reporting in Denmark is a breeze.

But when August began, so did one of the most difficult assignments I have had to cover as a reporter.

On August 1st, hundreds of people gathered, covering their faces, in protest of the ‘burqa ban’, in a country where only a few dozen women wear the niqab, and fewer still the burqa.

The burqa ban was a topic I had been avoiding for a while. I lost count of how many fights I had with ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ friends who believed they were entitled to decide what women should or shouldn’t wear.

When I arrived at Superkilen, the park in Nørrebro, Copenhagen where the demonstration took place, my eyes were instantly filled with tears. I was caught up with different feelings: frustration, anger, gratefulness and love.

I pulled myself together and filmed the report that was later published on The Local. When protesters started marching towards the police station in Nørrebro, I took my spot ahead of the march to be able to get a better shot of the crowds.

READ ALSO: 'From one day to another, we're criminals': Muslim women speak against Denmark's burqa ban

Sobbing behind the camera, I watched the people chant “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”, and “no racists in our streets”.

I have never worn a burqa or niqab, but as a practising Muslim woman, I never felt as accepted and loved as I did during this protest.

I was surrounded by people who might have no connection to Islam whatsoever, and might even disagree with its basic precepts, but were there to fight for the rights of other human beings.

August 1st marks my favourite day in Denmark.

After my farewell dinner in Copenhagen, we ended up watching YouTube videos, the 'things to do in Denmark' kind of videos, which were hilarious after spending a year and not doing any of the things that were mentioned.

My favourite things about Denmark weren't mentioned in these videos: how I felt at the protest on August 1st, my experiences cooking meals with new and old Danes together and how Mira and her home became a place I could go and find happiness, even on my worst days.

What these videos were missing was the inclusivity I found in Danes and in Denmark, and I hope that next time I’m around I get to witness more of this inclusivity.

READ ALSO: The ten things I'll miss most about living in Denmark

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Five Danish Netflix series that aren’t Borgen

It's usually the first programme people suggest when you start delving into Danish series. But there is more to Danish TV drama than Borgen. Here are our picks of some other Danish shows produced by Netflix.

Five Danish Netflix series that aren't Borgen

The ever-popular Borgen aired its fourth series on Netflix last year after a ten-year hiatus, with the global streaming giant having joined up with national broadcaster DR to give the political drama a much-anticipated comeback.

Borgen got a fourth series on an international streaming platform for a reason, as it is highly popular outside of Denmark. But if you want to explore the world of Danish series further, we have some suggestions.

Kastanjemanden (The Chestnut Man)

A Danish crime series based on the book of the same name by Søren Sveistrup, Kastanjemanden takes its title from a children’s rhyme, which is given a chilling makeover and forms a motif in the series.

Detective Naia Thulin (Danica Curcic) and her reluctant new partner, Mark Hess (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) investigate the murders of several women involving a mysterious chestnut figure left at the crime scenes. 

The six-part series was released on Netflix in 2021, to very good reviews. Described as “gripping” and “gruesome,” it’s classic Nordic-Noir successfully released on streaming. If you like DR’s The Killing and The Bridge, you’ll probably like this. Be prepared to be sitting on the edge of the sofa.

READ ALSO: Danish TV: The best shows to watch to understand Danish society


The six-part supernatural thriller from 2020 is full of suspense and mystery but may leave you with questions at the end.

It centres around a group of students celebrating their school graduation on a party bus (studenterkørsel) – a familiar summer sight in Denmark. But that’s where the familiarity ends, as mystery ensues when most of the students on the bus disappear. 

Nine-year old Astrid’s (also played by Curcic) older sister Ida is one of the students who goes missing and the series follows Astrid’s attempts, as an adult, to investigate what happened in 1999.

Mixing folklore, imagination and reality, with a modern setting, it’s been described as “a cross between Stranger ThingsMidsommar, minus the horror, and the French series The Returned.” 

The Rain

This is a dramatic post-apocalyptic series in which most of the population in Scandinavia is mysteriously wiped out by something carried in raindrops.

Led to safety by their scientist father, two young siblings (Alba August and Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen) shield themselves in a bunker for six years but their father doesn’t return to them. They finally emerge and join a group of other survivors (led by Følsgaard, who like Curcic is a Danish Netflix regular) to search across Denmark and Sweden for their father and a cure for the lethal rain.

It has some spectacular visuals, notably of a post-apocalyptic central Copenhagen. Fans of dystopian fiction and Denmark might therefore find it appealing.

However, viewers should be prepared to endure some Amager-sized plot holes, contrived behaviour by characters and dangerous scenarios which could have been avoided if someone had just asked what seemed like a very obvious question five minutes earlier.

Despite this, the Guardian gave it a four-star review and said, “this tale of environmental disaster is about more than survival – it questions the very nature of humanity.”

Three series ran from 2018 to 2020 and are all available on Netflix.

READ MORE: Six weird and wonderful Danish film title translations


Rita is the name of the main character in this Danish comedy-drama. She is an unconventional chain-smoking teacher and single mum of three, who fiercely protects her students and pretty much does and says as she wants. Often wearing a leather jacket and giving an air of a teacher who doesn’t have rules, her pupils love her. But she often comes up against problems of her own, particularly when it comes to adults and her own three children. 

The show is not only popular in Denmark but internationally, as it reflects progressive Scandinavian values, with gritty plot lines covered in a funny way.

Filmed in Rødøvre, Copenhagen, the series first aired on TV2 but then moved to Netflix who co-produced the last three seasons. There are 40 episodes over five seasons. It ran from 2012 to 2020. Dutch and French versions have also been produced.


A Sci-fi mystery coming-of-age series that mixes Danish crime with the sci-fi genre.

Set in the fictitious Danish town of Middelbo, the series centres on 17-year old Emma. She discovers that her town, which was known to have once been hit my a meteor, isn’t what she thought it was.

Although Middelbo isn’t real, it reflects a typical quiet rural Danish town, although most of the series was filmed in and around Copenhagen. 

The six-part series aired in January 2022 and was created by the same people behind The Rain – Christian Potalivo and Jannik Tai Mosholt.