Nowhere’s Perfect – not even Denmark

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It’s funny living in a country which many people across the world think is perfect.  If I’m honest, one of the main reasons we came here last year was because we too were intrigued by Denmark – well Copenhagen at least.  Afterall, no-one can ignore the hype:

* Denmark’s the happiest country in the world!

* Scandinavia is the best place to bring up children!

* Denmark is the place to live if you want a work/life balance!

* Copenhagen is the greenest city of all!

* Nordic cuisine is fantastic!

Of course, nothing can ever live up to all that.

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That’s why many of the ex-pats living here have embraced a humorous and well-researched book written by the British author and journalist Michael Booth.  Entitled ‘The Almost Perfect People: The Truth about the Nordic Miracle’ Michael seeks to challenge the world’s rose-tinted view of the Nordics.  You may remember the storm he caused back in February when he wrote this article for the Guardian.  Almost 3,000 comments later the paper was forced to give a right of reply to each of the countries.  Some thought it was funny, others clearly did not.

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Author, Michael Booth

Anyway I organised for Michael to speak to a group of us last night in one of Copenhagen’s fantastic libraries (one plus point about paying so much tax here).   It was a great talk followed by a fascinating discussion.  Both Danes and ex-pats debated the pros and cons of living here.

Most of us love the freedom and safety of Denmark, especially for kids, although we’re not completely sold on Danish education.  (You can read my previous post here about why we left the Danish system.)  Most of us love the amenities this great city has to offer (fantastic libraries, wonderful parks, good swimming pools) but we don’t like the high taxes.  And what’s not to love about Danish culture, film, architecture and the bikes?

Bike Dog

But the one thing we almost all agreed on was just how damn hard it can be getting to know and become friends with Danes – which they themselves admit.  There’s obviously the language barrier, but it seems tougher here than in other countries.  We do have Danish friends – and good ones – but most have spent years abroad and they too struggle to fit in back here.  20% of LINK members, a women’s international group based in Copenhagen, are in fact Danes.  That says a lot to me.

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So while I am trying to get my head around Danish culture, there are many, many challenges.  And while I think I am happier in Denmark today than I was for the first six months we lived here, As Michael Booth proves, nowhere can ever be perfect.

Alex Forrest, reporting from Eurovision

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Apart from enjoying Bucks Fizz’s success a very, very long time ago, I can’t really say I’ve paid much attention to the Eurovision Song Contest.  That was until this year.  How, as a journalist, could I possibly ignore it when it’s being hosted right under my nose, here in Copenhagen?


Photo: Andres Putting/EBU

So having finally got my press pass (see my struggle here), I’ve been a frequent visitor to Eurovision Island.  It’s really nothing to look at – in fact B&W Hallerne at Refshaleøen is an enormous old shipyard built slap bang in the middle of nowhere.  Getting there and back is not easy (it took 3 hours on public transport on Friday afternoon and 1.5 hours in the early hours of this morning).  But once inside, it’s great.


I’ve covered a number of big political events over the years from the G20 in London through to the annual party conferences.  So I was expecting a similar kind of press pack.  Not a bit of it.  The majority of media representatives at Eurovision are pretty much obsessed.  They know everything there is to know about Eurovision over the 58 years it’s been going – they can recite every lyric to every song; they dress to either look like their country or the performer they’re supporting; and they actually cheer and dance as each artist takes to the stage.  (Can you imagine the press doing this at a party conference?!)

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Interviewing Ukraine’s Mariya Yaremchuk

So there I was, with my cameraman/editor, in an enormous press tent covering the first semi-finals for Al Jazeera English.  Our story was pretty serious – Russia and Ukraine battling it out, not just back home, but here on stage.  As it happened, both countries are now through to Saturday’s final, even if the Russian Tolmachevy twins were booed by the audience as their success was announced.

Photo: Sander Hesterman/EBU

Photo: Sander Hesterman/EBU

But imagine trying to edit the piece while the music roars and the press fans go crazy?  It wasn’t easy, but my editor was a true pro and we got it done.  And as a recent convert to Eurovision, I’d do it all again.  If only I had tickets to the Final!

(And if you’re interested, here’s the report I did for Al Jazeera, after both Russia and Ukraine qualified for the Finals.)