Denmark compared to the Netherlands

Dec 20, 2008

What follows is a first (necessarily) relative comparison between the Dutch culture and the Danish one on those aspects that stood out to me. Mind you, I wrote this after being in Aarhus, Denmark for the relatively short period of 2 months. Also, I chose to publish this before finishing all the topics I have in mind, I’ll be looking to publish those later.

I hope someone might find this interesting.

Aarhus, Denmark. (c) Aarhus Kommune I have been very fortunate with the chance my employer gave me by offering me a job in a foreign country that fitted precisely what I wanted to do next in my career. So there I was, finding myself moving to Aarhus, Denmark. I need to add that before this I had not been an expat before, having lived my life in the Netherlands. I hadn’t even visited Denmark before.

I knew well in advance that that this was happening and unconsciously I was starting to build up expectations. I figured there would be a lot of similarities: North-western country in Europe, socialist government, small, rainy. Some obvious differences I knew about as well. The Danish did not ratify the Euro as their currency, keeping their Danish Kroner.

Taxes

The first, and most obvious thing for Dutch (and perhaps other) expats moving to Denmark will be the taxes. The VAT in Denmark is 25% versus 19% in the Netherlands. Both DK and NL have what I call a bracketed income tax scheme: on the first X euro/DKK you earn, you pay Y% taxes. Both countries then define three or four brackets. In NL the highest percentage comes in at 52%, whereas in DK this goes up to 62%. A quick example: assume someone is earning 100 euro/DKK extra and is being taxed in the highest bracket. In the Netherlands that gives you 48 euro extra to spend, which gets further taxed (VAT) so you are able to purchase net goods for 40,30 euro. In comparison for DK you get to keep 38 DKK after income tax, and reducing it by the VAT you end up with 30,40 DKK. That is a whopping 25% less spending power. That is, unless…

… you buy a car in Denmark. This is probably the most talked about feature of the Danish tax system abroad. New cars get marked up by the government tax system for 180%. Yes, that is hundred-and-eighty percent. Again, for comparison, in the Netherlands this is 42,3%. After hearing this it occurred to me that for some reason the Danish still get by as there are not an exceptionally large amount of really old cars on the road. I can not do a full comparison here since I do not know the first thing about what road-taxes and insurance premiums are doing in DK. But it is astonishing none-the-less.

Now the Danish get payed more for a months work but up to this day it does not add up. There are other aspects where the difference in the economy becomes clear. For example, in the proverbial supermarket around the corner you will find much less fresh vegetables and such–I am assuming here that that becomes too expensive. In short, I do find life more expensive in Denmark.

The upshot of this is that the health care is cheap, roads are fairly good (comparable to the Dutch roads), etc. The one thing that stood out for me were the two public TV stations: they are commercial free. Now when I say commercial free, I do not just mean movies do not get interrupted for commercials but in between movies there are no commercials. An absolute unexpected and pleasurable experience!

Family live, Work/Life balance

It becomes apparent quite quickly that what the Danish find important is different from what the Dutch find important. The amount of time the Danish spend indoors with their family and friends is much more. The Danes invite family and friends over for dinner. It is not that there are no restaurants, nor that there are not any people eating there but the difference is noticeable. You will find a similar story in bars for that matter. I have not spend enough time yet in Denmark to judge how easy it is to make friends outside work but the Danes will be the first to tell you that that is not easy: they are not really (as) open to this. The bonds that they entertain with their friends are presumed to be much stronger/long lasting…

In terms of Work/Life balance I find it hard to make absolute statements since I don’t think my personal W/L balance is quite typical for the Dutch. Even so, the Danes work 36 or 37 hours a week, start working days quite early (there is quite a portion of people with office jobs that start before 8am) but leave the office early as well. It is not an exception for danish offices to be empty at 16:00 or for stores to close around that same time. On Saturdays stores are not open the full day either. I am quite sure that it is an objective statement that the Danes make less hours per week than the Dutch. Please don’t mistake this for “the Dutch work harder than the Danes”, etc.

Traffic

Traffic in Aarhus is light any which way you look at it. Of course there are cars as it is a city but I have not been in nor seen a traffic jam in Denmark. For someone that did an hour of traffic-jams per day this is a true blessing. Trying to determine the cause for that is way to complex but factors like car prices, bike-adoption, city planning, etc, come to mind. The Danes are a bit more rude in traffic than the Dutch, if someone would be pressing for my opinion.

In terms of how the infrastructure is setup there are some differences though. I have definitely been caught a couple of times into the “trap” (as I keep feeling it is) of roads that go from one lane to two for all of 75 meters. This was quite confusing and I still do not understand the rationale behind this. I had a much more positive experience with traffic lights: they do signal orange before jumping to green which is handy and for bonus points extra sets of lights are mounted on the other side of the crossing which yields better views. Taking left turns on most crossings with traffic lights is invariably a pain as there is always oncoming traffic which is different from (most of) the Netherlands where oncoming traffic is stopped by the lights before you turn left.

(Update: See here for part II in this series)