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Invigorating insights into the Danish living and working culture


Kay Xander Mellish

travels from Denmark

Journalist, blogger, postcast host and Scandinavian business culture specialist uncovering the Danish culture

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About Kay

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Is the Scandinavian way of doing business, with its focus on teamwork and equality, the way of the future? Is Scandinavia really the happiest place in the world? American journalist and keynote speaker Kay Xander Mellish is based in Denmark and is the author of three books on Danish culture, including a new book on Danish workplace culture.

Entertaining and informative speaker on Scandinavian culture and Scandinavian business culture, with a focus on Denmark and Copenhagen. What can the world learn from Scandinavia? And what can Scandinavia learn from the rest of the world?

In these times of social change, the Scandinavian model is often held up as a better and fairer society. Universal health care, plenty of paid time off, generous parental leave, and punishing tax systems to reduce inequality are being discussed in many other countries, including the United States.

Kay Xander Mellish, an American who lives in Denmark and has become a Danish citizen, is familiar with all that’s good about Scandinavia – and a little bit of what isn’t. Her upbeat style with plenty of light humor builds on solid facts and useful insights. Customers say her presentations are entertaining and educational. As the author of the books “How to Work in Denmark” and “Working with Danes: Tips for Americans”, Kay has a special insight in Danish working culture and the Danish management

The “flat hierarchy” which Scandinavians are so proud of can be mystifying to colleagues in other countries used to a more traditional I’m-the-boss-and-I’m-in-charge approach. Beyond “hygge” and “the happiest countries in the world” lie complex societies with a long history and distinct challenges alongside their many advantages. For example, there are far more women in management in the USA (40.7% of all managers) than in Denmark (26.8% of all managers.).

Working in the Danish IT sector and in communications for two of Denmark’s largest banks, Kay got to know the ins and outs of Danish society and the Danish business sector, with its relentless focus on equality and work-life balance.

Well-received speaker Kay Xander Mellish developed a deep respect for Denmark – but also saw its troublesome aspects. Many of the country’s best and brightest young people feel smothered and are escaping to jobs in Silicon Valley, London and Beijing. And she discovered that the same deep roots of societal trust that make the Danish system possible can also make it difficult for foreigners to fit in, find work, and make friends.

To help others benefit from her experience, Kay Xander Mellish founded the free “How to Live in Denmark” blog and podcast. Five years later, the podcast has had more than a half-million downloads – and has been the basis the popular book “How to Live in Denmark” book, available at Denmark’s National Museum gift shop as well as on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

See keynotes with Kay Xander Mellish

    Keynote by Speaker Kay Xander Mellish


    • If you walk into a room full of Danish business people, it can be impossible to tell who is the boss. That’s because status is embarrassing in a Danish business culture; a good boss is proud of an ability to blend in with the team and serve as more of a coach than an all-powerful leader.
    • Equality is one of the most important words in the Danish language, and the basis of much of Scandinavian culture, in which the informal “Law of Jante” discourages anyone from thinking they’re better than anyone else. But what does this mean for ambition and innovation? How can external partners work with Danish companies in which “hierarchy” is a dirty word?
    • Kay Xander Mellish is the author of How to Work in Denmark and a communications professional who has been on staff at several of Danish largest corporations, as well as at several American Fortune 500 companies.
    • In this presentation, she’ll offer insight on how non-Danish businesses with high levels of hierarchy, reporting and accountability can work with the Scandinavian business culture of equality and trust.


    Keynote by Speaker Kay Xander Mellish


    • It’s popular to see Denmark as a utopia for our times, with its safe, prosperous society and generous Danish social benefits that include tax-funded medical care, university tuition, child care, and parental leave.
    • But is there a dark side to a social welfare state? Does the trust that is the basis for so much of Danish society exclude newcomers and make it difficult for foreigners to fit in, find work, and make friends? What do high Danish tax rates mean for innovation and ambition? Is the country developing an underclass? Can the Danish welfare state survive the future?
    • Kay Xander Mellish, an American journalist and the author of How to Live in Denmark, looks at both sides of what is often called the Danish Utopia and talks about what the Danish system can teach other countries – and what it can’t.


    Keynote by Speaker Kay Xander Mellish


    • Most of the discussion of immigration into wealthy countries has focused on the host countries’ responsibilities. Countries that are attractive to immigrants are told they must do everything possible to create room for newcomers and make cultural adjustments so the new arrivals feel more comfortable.
    • But what about the other side of the equation: What do immigrants owe the countries that welcome them? What should newcomers – particularly the educated, well-off newcomers benefiting from a globalized job market – contribute to the communities where they have chosen to live? Do they have any responsibilities at all to their new “homeland” or its culture?
    • Kay Xander Mellish was born in the US and now lives in Denmark, where she produces a podcast directed at expats, immigrants, and other foreigners living and working in Denmark. This presentation is based on her TEDx talk in 2018.

Interview with Kay Xander Mellish

What was the biggest culture shock coming from US to Denmark?

The biggest culture shock for me coming to Denmark was the lack of competitiveness and sharp elbows here. I had been living in Manhattan and working in the financial industry, so I was used to swimming with sharks! But Danish business culture, and Danish culture in general, are much more about teamwork and common goals.

Have things changed in Denmark compared to how they were when you arrived?

Since I arrived more than a decade ago, Denmark has become a brand. Danish design and hygge -the coziness of quiet time at home – are known all over the world, and Denmark is often called the “happiest country in the world.” While they’re modest on an individual basis, Danes have become extremely proud of their societal and economic model. But, as history has shown us, pride goes before a fall. High levels of personal debt, poor integration of newcomers, and strains on the public schools and public health system are already apparent in Denmark – and these are the good times.

What got you interested in Scandinavian work culture?

In a globalized world, we’re often told that long working hours, fiery ambition, and sharp elbows are required for economic success. But the Danish working culture has none of these characteristics. Most Danes work 37.5 hours a week or less; at 5pm offices are generally empty. There’s little hierarchy and personal ambition is kind of a dirty little secret; you’re allowed to be ambitious for the quality of your product, but an eagerness to get rich or rise to the top of the heap is considered in poor taste.

Despite that, Denmark is a wealthy country with a thriving export industry. Part of it is a dedication to quality: Danes have a great respect for something that is beautifully made, and the curiosity to continue evolving what they make, whether its architecture, home goods, or pharmacueticals. And part of it is a lack of corruption and general trust in each other. Many countries – including the USA, where I come from – have to waste a lot of money on security and employee monitoring because they lack this level of trust.

How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?

Danes are very good at having a sense of humor about themselves – along with the British, they’re probably the world leaders in dry self-deprecation. Where else would people present their circle of friends with a “failure cake” (kvajekage) or, after hours, a “failure beer” (kvajebager) to ironically celebrate the fact they’d made a stupid mistake? The fact that Danes are so good at what they call “self irony” makes it easy for me to incorporate gentle humor into my presentations – some of it directed at myself!

Do you have a favourite experience from your speaking career?

I frequently do “Welcome to Denmark” speeches for the many international students who study at Danish universities, and one of the topics I touch on is dating. I tell the students that in Denmark it’s very common for women to ask men for dates – in fact, if a woman waits for a Danish man to make a move, she may wait a long time!

When I was making a repeat appearance at one school, a young Polish woman came up to me and asked if I remembered her from my last speech a couple of years before. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t, but she didn’t mind. She’d said she’d followed my dating advice and taken the initiative with a Danish man she’d had her eye on – and now they were engaged!

See keynotes with Kay Xander Mellish
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Keynote topics with Kay Xander Mellish