Hygge: The Danish word for comfort, hugs and consolation. It’s also inextricably linked with relaxation, indulgence and gratitude, an essential part of Danish culture.
For most of the UAE-based Danish expats, this hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh) is felt in the form of brunches, coffee, book clubs and picnics in the parks. It’s all about creating the home away from home, and they found their community through different meetups and clubs. There’s no need for grand dos and events; home is found in just finding like-minded people as the Danish expats say.
And that means, putting yourself out there and finding pockets of home in a country.
The Danish Ladies of the UAE group, one of the meetups to make newcomers feel at home, created by Danish entrepreneur Pernille Dybmose, connects with primarily Danish women, every couple of months for a delicious meal and some warm laughter. Sometimes the meetings are at specific venues; sometimes, people come home for some liquorice and treats. “There aren’t too many of us here, so which was why I thought this group would be a good idea to reconnect with people,” she explains. It’s almost like a strong support system; she has found close friends within this community. There are many like her, she realised: Danish women who moved to the UAE as their husbands had found jobs here. The loneliness ebbs for these women, as they find their kindred spirits.
The group has over 330 people, of varying age groups, ranging from someone in their 30s to their 50s. They choose different venues every time, whoever wishes to attend, is free to do so. And these gatherings have a sprinkle of ‘trademark Danish’ dry humour, as Dybmose explains with a chuckle. “We get together, and have this sense of humour that might confuse other people,” she says. There are some jokes that only they would get; it’s what makes them feel a comforting sense of community.
It's also like a strong support system... these meetings have typical Danish dry humour...we get together and make jokes that only we understand.
Of course, the group doesn’t restrict themselves to just brunches; there are different outings and trips, some include vacations to Fujairah, or spending time on a yacht. Sometimes, it can be as relaxing as card games or a game of Padel, which is a mix of tennis and squash. There have been evenings of golf too; what can bring you closer than an evening of competitively hitting a ball, while eating some good food?
Golf, Danish potluck and ice-cream
Abu Dhabi-based Lilith Jensen-Forde, who earlier lived in Dubai, recalls how a game of golf helped to break the ice. “I moved to Dubai from Denmark, ten years ago. I wasn’t sure about my language skills, and I didn’t know how to communicate. I was very lonely, and I felt awkward about even reaching out to anyone on Facebook groups,” remembers Jensen-Forde. However, a game of golf changed her mind. “I think, we played all evening, and by the end of it, we were all laughing so much,” she says.
Jensen-Forde has kept up with many of her Danish friends from the group, and often organises ‘ice-cream’ hangouts. “Sometimes, we all go to restaurants to watch tennis matches together,” she says. Moreover, they celebrate their festivals together at home. “We’ve made Smørrebrød (pronounced smor brod) together, which are Danish open sandwiches. Someone else has made a Danish speciality, which is bread, fried fillet, shrimp and lettuce,” she says. There are evenings of just bingeing “shamelessly” on Danish pastries, as she says. “This is the feeling of hygge,” she explains enthusiastically. “When you finally find home with people, and can just relax with good food and games,” she says.
Keeping up with traditions: The magic of Fastelavn
Bringing a little bit of Denmark to the UAE, means keeping up with a few traditions. Why keep out the fun and joy of Fastelavn, the blend of Halloween and a carnival? It’s like Halloween, but less scary, as the Danes explain.
So one day, Dybmose organised the small event in Dubai, where children dressed up as princes and princesses, and other colourful costumes. It was a day of much feasting, and relishing sweets. The actual traditional festival back in Denmark involves letting a “black cat” out of the barrel, similar to a piñata. Well, this time, the black cat was swapped for sweets and other delicacies.
Coffee and books
There's something about coffee and books that always brings people together.
When Nadia Al Shimmari, founder of Hello & GoodBuy, a preloved clothing store, arrived in Abu Dhabi from Denmark seven years ago, she didn’t know anyone. However, she wanted to join the Facebook group Danes of Abu Dhabi as she wanted to do things for the Danish community. “I had a lot of ideas,” she said frankly. And so, she founded the book club that meets every month. Furthermore, she organises coffee mornings for the Danish community. Al-Shinmari along with other women, organises tours and events in Abu Dhabi, which creates a sense of community. They also organise "park days", where they enjoy unwinding, eating marshmellows and enjoy cheerful picnicking.
Beach, barbecue and some football.
Dubai-based Victoria Engelbrecht Buch is an entrepreneur and business owner. While her daily life is packed with work, she finds much joy in organising the monthly ‘Stambord’, a Danish word for networking, for fellow Danes. This particular meeting takes place on the first Wednesday of every month, where Danish expats and newcomers meet at a particular venue for some good food and conversation.
Buch, who has lived in seven different countries, says simply, “How does one make friends in a new country? Well, you need to put yourself out there,” she says. And so, they put out notices on their Facebook groups, inviting people for the evening, which will take place between the hours of 7pm and 10pm. “It’s for whoever wants to come,” she says.
We also do a shuffle hustle every couple of hours, so people can meet others during this meetup. How does one make friends in a new country? Well, you need to put yourself out there.
Hendrick A.J Fruergaard, who organises the events with her, says that they try to bring in Danes as soon they arrive in the country. They know the travails of moving and relocating to unfamiliar terrains, the impending homesickness and the struggles of finding something to call home. As Buch explains, they also do a ‘shuffle hustle’, where they shuffle the seats every couple of hours, so that people meet others, too. It helps breaking the ice. “Sometimes, we sit next to the new people in the group, and try to make them comfortable too,” she says.
And, outside the realms of networking and venue rules, there’s also some football, beach and barbecue. Buch plays football every Sunday, with mostly the Danes she meets from the group. “I’m the only girl there,” she laughs. “We have friendly matches, which families attend too,” she says. There are other “random” events, she explains, saying sometimes there are barbecue and meetings on the beach too. On occasion, they try to organise Danish pastries, for the group.