Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend

Many foreigners living in Denmark struggle to make friends with born-and-bred Danes. We spoke to five who have successfully made the connection.

Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend
Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private

Fernanda Secca from Brazil and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt 

When 32-year-old Fernanda moved to Copenhagen at the start of 2017, one of the first things she did was find a place to do pole-dancing, which had been her hobby back in São Paulo. Marie Peschardt, 29, was her teacher, and before long they soon realised they got on well.

“Coming to class a few times a week made us create a bond that was eventually taken to a personal relationship,” she remembers. “We now do everything together. We hang out several times a week. We go travelling together, we have dinner, we go to bars, we go dancing.” 

When The Local interviewed them in 2020, the two still trained together at the dance studio. 

Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private 

“I think the friendship was possible because we were both open to meeting new people and building connections,” Fernanda says, adding that she doesn’t think Danes are particularly difficult to become friends with.

“There is no secret. Danes are not aliens. I think finding something in common that you can bond around or relate to helps in the beginning, because people are more likely to respond to that than a random request or small talk.” 

“Also taking a chance, inviting a person you feel could be interesting for a coffee or a drink, can be something spontaneous or quick. Some Danes might even appreciate being spontaneous because no one here really is.” 
On the other hand, it is important for those from more free-wheeling countries to understand that Danes like to plan ahead, she adds. 
“Appreciate that they have their schedules and bookings weeks in advance and you might need to fit into that type of style as well if you want to build a connection.” 
Marcele Rask and her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina
Marcele Rask, 36, a manager at Danske Bank specialising in financial crime and sanctions, met her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina at her previous job because they all worked in the same department. She said the three of them shared a similar appetite for adventure. 
“One thing that connected us three a lot is the fact that we are all very curious and like to try new things. So we programme ‘adventure days’  where we go somewhere new, or that we like or something and spend some hours there or even the day,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, or crazy or anything, but something nice to know.” 
She said they tend to do this about once or twice a month, either two of them, or all three together.
“Just after Denmark started to open from the lockdown, we went to a Gavnø slot for their tulip festival, and afterwards we went to eat MacDonald’s by the harbour.” 
She says that both Jasmine and Carina are quite internationally-minded, which she feels made them more open to making friends with a foreigner. 
“Jasmin lived some years abroad and was an expat herself. Carina has worked on international companies and is used to the expats’ life, having herself another great expat friend,” she says. 
She said they now spoke a mixture of English and Danish together, but were speaking Danish more and more as her command of the language improved. She said she felt her own openness had helped her make Danish friends. 
“I think one thing that it is very important to be as an expat is open — open for anything and everything — and not just to sit around bitching about the country, the language, the food, and everything else.” 
Ashley Norval and her Danish friend Mia Garner 
Ashley, 31, met Mia, 28 almost as soon as she arrived in Copenhagen in 2019 from Australia and the two were paired together for a group session during her university course. They have hung out together ever since. 
“I hear from her two or three times a week usually, and we do all kinds of stuff together,” she says. “We’ve travelled together, we catch up for dinner, we go to the movies, or just go to each other’s place. Sometimes we go walking or running, sometimes we just go and get an ice cream and sit in the park.” 
Ashley Norval (right) and Mia Garner at the Gisselfeld Klosters Forest Tower south of Copenhagen. Photo: Private
Ashley believes that many foreigners think, often mistakenly, that the Danish reluctance to impose themselves on others means they are not open to making new friends. 
“I think Danish people genuinely don’t want to encroach on your personal space and territory and I’m convinced that once you kind of invite them to something and show them that it’s fine, and that you do want to see them outside of your professional space or whatever, then it’s fine.”
She said that foreigners in Denmark needed to realise that they might have to make the move, and suggest going to see a film or get a meal. 
“If you make the effort to get to know any part of Danish culture, that is always well received with Danish people,” she adds, although she concedes that Danes might view Australians more favourably than people from many other countries. 

Camila Witt and her Danish friend Emilie Møllenbach
Camila, 36, met Emilie over the coffee machine when they were both working for a Danish payments company, but bonded over their academic interests. “Emilie and I had a I have a very strong academic background, so we just started to talk about different theories: physics, science and this kind of thing. And we connected over that and I think that the relationship grew from that.” 
They go for walks together, make chocolate together, go for dinner, or a cup of tea at a café. 
“Nothing really fancy, to be fair, just being each in each other’s companies and I think that both her and I share this perspective that we like we were there for each other and not to be on our phones.” 
Camila believes a lot of foreigners wrongly think that when Danes say they’re busy or booked up, that that means they aren’t open to a friendship. 
“Danes require more planning. I think that something we need to understand if we come from countries where you’re used to spontaneously say ‘let’ go out tonight, let’s go out after work and just have a beer’. 
“It’s really important to you know, proactively invite them and not take them saying, ‘I don’t have time this week’ as them shutting you off because in all honesty, many times they are booked. So it’s about finding that slot of time. It can happen in three weeks, but it will happen you know.”

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Six interesting facts we’ve learned from Spain’s latest foreign population stats

Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion has just published its latest report on the country’s foreign resident population in 2020, showing a new record, rises in the country’s British and Italian population and insight into where foreigners like to move to in Spain. 

Six interesting facts we've learned from Spain's latest foreign population stats
A crowd gathers in Alicante in pre-Covid times. Photo: Lucas Davies/AFP

Spain has its highest number of foreigners on record

As of December 31st, 2020, 5,8 million foreigners resided in Spain, according to the Ministry of Inclusion’s Statistics of Foreigners Residing in Spain in 2020 report

That’s 137,120 more than in 2019 – the highest number in Spain’s history – and despite the difficulties the pandemic and travel restrictions on mobility have had. 

However, 2020’s figures do represent the lowest year-on-year increase since 2016.

Spain’s accumulated growth of foreign resident population in the last ten years is 19 percent, 16 percent in the last five, so most of the influx of foreigners has taken place in recent years.

Italians are falling increasingly in love with Spain 

61 percent of the 5.8 million foreign residents living in Spain are from the EU/EEA.

Romanians make up over one million of them but Spain’s Italian population grew by 5.6 percent in 2020, consolidating itself as the second biggest EU population group in Spain with 350,981 residents.

Italians are choosing to move to Spain due to the comparatively lower cost of living and their love of Spanish lifestyle among several other reasons, with one 2018 article in El Confidencial quoting an Italian resident saying that Spain was “the epicentre of a Mediterranean utopia”.

Bulgarians (200,468), Germans (179,437), Portuguese (176,772) and French nationals (176,488) are the other largest EU population groups in Spain.

Brexit has pushed thousands more Britons to register

The number of Britons who became residents in Spain went up by 6 percent last year, with 381,448 registered by December 31st 2020, the end of the transition period. 

This means UK nationals continue to be the third biggest foreign resident population group in Spain after Romanians and Moroccans. 

In 2019, there were 359,471 Britons with Spanish residency, which would mean 21,977 UK nationals obtained a green residency document or a new TIE card last year (now only the biometric TIE card is issued).

These are the latest figures from Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion which were last verified at the very end of the year, whereas according to the 2020 stats by Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) the total of UK nationals last year was 262,885, without specifying if this takes into account the full twelve months. 

There’s also the fact that INE uses primarily local census information from the town halls (padrón address registrations, birth, deaths etc) rather than migration documents which could account for the stark difference.


BREXIT: How many Brits have left Spain and how many are staying?

Most of Spain’s foreigners are in four regions

Two thirds of resident foreigners live in four autonomous communities: Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia and the Valencia region. 

Out of these, seven provinces are particularly popular with extranjeros (Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Alicante, Malaga, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Murcia), which account for 57 percent of the total and all have more than 225,000 foreign residents.

However, if the percentage of foreigners out of the total provincial population is analysed, Almería, the Balearic Islands, Lleida, Girona and Alicante are the provincias with the highest proportion of foreigners among their inhabitants.

Ministry of Inclusion map showing foreign population numbers in all of Spain’s provinces

Valencia needs its foreigners for its population not to decline

In December 2020, the Mediterranean region had 773,010 foreign residents out of its total population of roughly 5 million. 

Romanians (156,400), Britons (104,650) and Moroccans (77,900) are the three biggest population groups

As the Valencian Community’s vegetative growth (the difference between births and deaths) in 2020 showed a decrease of 6,815 –  largely due to Covid-19 –  but the positive migration balance ensured the region didn’t lose population. 

The same has happened in other regions of Spain such as Castilla-La Mancha and Galicia where depopulation has been a problem for decades, as young people head off to big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona for career prospects, causing in the process an ageing of the population. 

Venezuelans appear to have arrived en masse in 2020

The number of Venezuelan nationals who obtained residency in Spain shot up by 53 percent in 2020, far ahead of the 6 percent rise in resident Britons and 5.6 percent increase in Italians who’ve made Spain their home. 

They now number 152,017 according to Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, many of whom have arrived in the last few years fleeing the economic and political divides as well as the massive scarcities their home country is struggling through currently.

But there’s an explanation for the spike in new residents in a year governed by travel restrictions: in February 2019 Spain authorised temporary residency for this non-EU group for humanitarian reasons, which accounts for the sharp increase.

The exodus of Venezuelans to Spain mimics that of thousands of Spaniards to Venezuela over the first half of the 20th century, who left impoverished regions such as the Canary Islands and Galicia to find a better life in the then blossoming Latin American country.