The Art of the “Sommerferie”

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Last Sunday, I was chatting with a friend about his summer vacation when he said, “I’m really not ready to go back to work on Monday.” I asked how long he’d been on holiday — or “sommerferie” in Danish — and he said, “Only two weeks. Three is really much better.”

As an American, the idea of a three-week vacation seems almost absurdly luxurious, but it’s very commonplace for Danes (and many Scandinavians) to take nearly a month off during the summer, usually in July. This year, we decided to take a page from the Danish playbook and enjoy three weeks up at a summer house on the north coast of Sjælland, the island where Copenhagen is located. Tomorrow we will leave the sommerhus, return to the Copenhagen area and prepare to get back to the business of work, school, etc. As we ready ourselves for a return to normal life, it occurs to me that my friend was right; three weeks of summer holiday really is better than two.  Here’s why:

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A three-week vacation is long enough that you can spend a portion of it doing something exciting and active (like taking a trip to another country, camping, or attending hockey camp in Sweden), but you can also devote a portion of it to a blissfully relaxed “staycation”. A lot of Danes do just this, dividing their time off between actually vacationing and just taking it easy at home. They really understand the value of using vacation to do all the things they’d like to do if they had time in their “everyday” life.

Many Danes also opt to have a smaller, less impressive “everyday” home in order to afford a lovely summer house (sommerhus) in one of the country’s many sommerferie destinations. If a Dane is lucky enough to have a sommerhus, you can be sure that they will devote a good chunk of their holiday to hanging out there. As the Danish sommerhus is truly one of mankind’s most charming and delightful creations (see photos below), I fully endorse this practice. I wish I could be the proud owner of a picturesque Danish sommerhus, but it’s quite impossible to buy one as a foreigner. For now, I will have to be content with renting one for a few weeks and dreaming of the houses I have seen during my daily walks around our neighborhood.

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As the grey skies in the photos above illustrate, the weather in Denmark is never reliably good, even in the summer. This means that the Danes have perfected the art of having a cozy time indoors on a rainy summer day, but they also take full advantage of every bright, sunny and usually breezy day that comes along. You never see Danes squandering beautiful weather during the summer, particularly when they’re on holiday and even when they’re not. Visit a Danish office on a glorious summer day and I promise you will find most of the desks empty by early afternoon. It’s just understood — you don’t sit inside at a desk when the sun is shining in Denmark.

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Speaking of work, you might think that any holiday lasting a full three weeks inevitably means you are answering lots of emails and checking in by phone with great frequency. However, most Danish companies seem to believe in the sanctity of the sommerferie. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get a few important calls and have to answer a handful of emails, but it’s a far cry from the American style of basically viewing your colleague’s vacation as “teleworking from the Caribbean”.

While it may seem as though the length of the Danish sommerferie and the genuine break from work should make it easier to return to everyday life and dive back into your job, this is, alas, not necessarily the case. I think it’s always hard to go back to work after a delightful holiday and you always wish you had just one more day at the beach, in the mountains, at your summer house, etc. But the good news is that, in Denmark, you usually have six total weeks of vacation, so you can always take your mind off the end of sommerferie by planning your next holiday! As for me, I’m going to bask in our final few days of sommerferie and then look forward to settling into more of a routine once it’s over. After all, “everyday life” in Denmark isn’t half bad, either.

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Photos from top to bottom: 1) A perfect view out to Hornbæk Strand 2) Sand dunes at Tilsvildeleje Strand 3) An idyllic sommerhus around the corner in Rågeleje 4) The thatched roofs of more charming Rågeleje houses 5) Building fantastic sand creations with friends at Rågelege Strand 6) Testing the water at Tisvildeleje Strand 7) Trying out a stand-up paddleboard in Rungsted Havn, which we couldn’t resist buying a week later and 8) One last sunset at Rågeleje Strand.

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