Luis arrived in Denmark first. But it wasn’t long before both Daniel and Sofia spoke better Danish than him.
- The work environment at LEGO is very international. It’s just easier to speak English day-to-day, the metrology-engineer apologises, smiling. Luis has been employed by the Billund-based toy manufacturer since 2013 and came to Denmark a month before Sofia to find an apartment for the couple.
Daniel goes to a nursery, and Sofia works for a local, Danish business. Speaking Danish makes both their lives so much easier. To be fair, although Luis prefers to speak English, he understands a lot of Danish. The couple moved to Bredsten a couple of years ago, when Sofia was expecting Daniel. This has no doubt really boosted the family’s Danish skills.
- Our neighbours, Britta and Ole, were incredibly welcoming. They came over, rang our bell and brought us a bouquet of flowers. They even brought a little gift for Daniel. We’ve never heard of anything like it back in Portugal.
The elderly couple across the street were also aware of the newcomers. The old man from across the street challenged Sofia’s partner quite a bit. He would come over to talk about the garden every so often.
- I have always dreamed of having my own garden. Paul knew a lot about the garden and liked to tell me all about it.
- There was one minor issue, though: Paul didn’t speak a word of English. He would speak to me in Danish, so our conversations were sometimes a struggle, explains Luis. But Luis was intrigued by their neighbour’s gardening knowhow and loved all their conversations, nonetheless.
Denmark, Land of Minute Details
Even if the language is still a challenge, Luis and Sofia have both become very Danish. At any rate, that is what their families tell them when they visit them in Portugal.
- I think it's so nice that Daniel can nap outside in his pram. In fact, I'm quite worried, how I’m supposed to make him go to sleep now that he’s growing too big for his pram? says Sofia.
- But our friends and family in Portugal are shocked that we’d even consider leaving our child outside to nap all alone. Yeah, that’s not something you see in Portugal, adds Luis.
As a matter of fact, the couple is very interested in all the little details about Danish customs that differ from the ones they are used to in Portugal. At first, they were puzzled, when Danes left their shoes out in the hallway and walked around in their stocking feet. Now however, they have both adopted the custom - and actually find it rather rude when people don’t take of their shoes!
- And everything has to be planned! "Do you want to go for a drink after work on Friday?" But... Today is Wednesday?! That kind of thing is always much more spontaneous in Portugal. People usually just invite loads of people back home for dinner; someone might bring a bottle of wine, another some fish or sausage - less planning, more partying! I had a hard time getting used to that, Luis admits.
- But now, we’re actually really glad that we know what we are doing during the week. That everything is planned. We are always careful to put that piece of plastic on the conveyor belt after our goods in the supermarket – no one does that in Portugal, Sofia laughs.
Networking and life in Vejle
The couple had not lived in Denmark long before they realised that they wanted to stay here. At first, it was nice to live in an apartment in Vejle. Sofia could easily attend her Danish classes while also networking in an attempt to get a job.
- I’ve found out that networking is really important in Denmark. That’s one of the reasons why four other expats and I started up the expat network here in Vejle, VEN. What can someone like me do when moving to Denmark with a partner? Build a business? Enhance my qualifications to improve my chances of getting a job? VEN is a way for foreigners to meet each other and discuss our options. We also arranged social events to get to know each other better, continues Sofia.
Back when Sofia was unemployed, she enjoyed Vejle’s bustling city life, and loved to go on adventures all around the city. Old habits die hard and whenever the family visits Vejle, they walk the entire length of Vejle’s high street.
- We really like how something’s always happening in Vejle. And we've gotten used to it happening during the daytime. In Portugal, there’s nothing to see or do until after 10 pm – when everything is closed in Denmark, Luis says.
When Sofia got a job, and then when she got pregnant, the couple started looking for somewhere to live outside of the city centre. They found a place in Bredsten: a detached house from the 1970s with a large garden. A perfect place for a Portuguese couple to learn all about being Danish. And how to leave little Daniel outside for great naps, the Danish way.
DIY fever and a kitchen garden
Most of all, Luis was just looking forward to having his own place. In the city apartment, he had no way of venting his passion for DIYing. But that has changed.
- I've laid new floors in the entire house, I've built a playground in the garden, and I've made the lamp over the dining table, he says enthusiastically.
- Yesterday, he was out in the garden and built a windbreak until 9 pm, Sofia adds.
Luis also spends time in their kitchen garden, and you’ll find two windows in his workshop that he has yet to install in the back of the house.
Whenever Daniel, who is nearly 2 years old now, is allowed in the garden, he does not want to go back inside. Why sit inside with an iPad, when you can enjoy yourself on your tricycle in the backyard?
- We do spend a lot of time out here. It’s just so lovely that we can open the door and walk straight outside. That said, if there’s one thing we miss about Portugal, it’s the sun. It is always so dark in Denmark, except in the summer. Fortunately, the days are getting longer, Sofia sighs.
Waving to the neighbours
Even though Sofia and Luis have lived in Denmark for a several years now, their main friends still come from the group of Portuguese, who left southern Europe to work in tiny Denmark.
- It's just nice to occasionally speak your own language and follow your own customs. So, I think we'll always be part of that network, says Sofia.
However, their social circle is expanding with more and more Danes. Sofia only has Danish colleagues at her workplace, work-live-stay, in central Vejle. And they know everyone in the neighbourhood.
- We always greet and wave to our neighbours when we meet them in the street. And they always wave back. Honestly, I have a hard time keeping track of their names and which house is theirs. But I’m sure they’ve all noticed that I had my car fitted with a tow bar as soon as we moved to the neighbourhood. We really want to learn how to do things not only the Danish way but also the Bredsten way. We often borrow our neighbour’s trailer, and I go to the recycling depot, tells Luis.
Sofia has grown her circle of acquaintances via Daniel’s nursery, getting to know many of the local moms.
- I think, we will get to know many more locals by means of Daniel’s nursery. We’ve talked about joining the communal workdays, the parents’ committee and that sort of thing. That’s another great Danish custom we want to know more about.
Loads of customs, not enough planes
Although the sun does not shine as much in Bredsten as it does in their hometown of Pombal, midway between Lisbon and Porto, the small town outside of Vejle has so much else to offer.
- Of course, we can miss things from Portugal because that's where we've grown up. But we don't miss the bad public service, the insane traffic or the long working days! We love most of what Denmark has to offer. And we like Vejle a lot - it’s a good size and has a lot to offer, says Luis.
- You’re obviously always going to miss your family. But we visit them twice a year. It would be perfect if we could catch a flight from Billund and didn’t have to go all the way to Hamburg to fly home.
And even after a visit to Portugal, the Rodrigues-Neves family looks forward to coming home to Bredsten. Back to their own house, which was in fact chosen based on three crucial criteria: It could not be more than 10 minutes away from central Vejle. Luis had to have the option to live out his inner DIY enthusiast - but most importantly, they had to have a garden.
by Carsten G. Johansen
Translated by Chris Rowley (Influentsy ApS)