Tag Archives: Greenland

6 Questions with Greenland Expert Sarah Woodall

Photo credit Pilu Nielsen

Photo credit Pilu Nielsen

TPF:  Tell us a little about how you came to work in Greenland and how much time do you spend there?

Sarah: The cut-to-the-chase answer is that I was in graduate school getting a Master of Tourism Administration and in November 2011 a representative from Visit Greenland, the national tourist board, came to my school to give a recruitment presentation about summer internships. The pitch was to travel to Nuuk, Greenland for a four-month internship in summer 2012, work at the national tourist board, and live with a local family to get a close experience with the typical Greenlandic lifestyle. As exciting an offer as this sounded on paper, it was actually a beautiful video showing Greenland’s nature, smiling people, whales, and incredible ice, that hooked me with goosebumps and all. Watch the exact video here!

After the internship period, Visit Greenland proposed to hire me, which I most happily accepted. I just recently celebrated the three year anniversary of my first day in Greenland, at which point I marveled over the fact that between work and holiday both, I have spent a total of 16 months in Greenland – not only in the capital but also in many other towns around the coast. It’s the most amazing life I could imagine.


TPF: What surprised you the most when you first arrived in Greenland?

The first place I ever experienced in Greenland was Nuuk, the capital city. What surprised me was how incredibly cosmopolitan it was! Even though I knew the population of Nuuk, I guess I expected a place more along the lines of what small towns look like in Greenland. There’s so much infrastructure, fashionable clothing, beautiful homes with even nicer furnishings than my own home in Washington, D.C., and everyone had the full line of Apple products. I remembered thinking, ‘In terms of material life, there’s nothing to ‘adjust to’ in Greenland!”

Now that I’ve traveled to 19 towns and settlements in Greenland, I know that all of Greenland cannot be generalized by the Nuuk ruler. I suggest to anyone traveling to Greenland that they experience multiple places in Greenland to be able to understand the great lifestyle spectrum that Greenland has.

Photo credit Sarah Goodall

Photo credit Sarah Woodall

TPF: Have you had any funny cultural misunderstandings?

Sarah: Yes! I was attending a colleague’s kaffemik, a social gathering to celebrate everything from birthdays to weddings to first days of school. When I got to the door and started removing my shoes – because Greenlanders never wear outdoor shoes inside the house – I suddenly realized I wasn’t wearing socks. My colleague said I should just wear my shoes inside, no problem, but I wasn’t going to do that, and I definitely wasn’t going to walk around barefoot. So I ran home to get a pair of socks! Fortunately I lived just down the street.

There’s also definitely a noticeable cultural difference in how shy Greenlanders can be, especially at first meetings. While in other cultures one might start with a firm handshake, a big smile, and jump right into a firing squad of questions, in Greenland this would almost be an over-the-top infringement on personal space. It takes time to get to such an open level with Greenlanders, so even at a celebratory kaffemik, it is not uncommon to sit in shared silence around the table.

TPF:  Do you speak any Danish?

Sarah: Danish is the colonial language of Greenland, one of two official languages. I do read, write, and speak quite a bit of Danish, though I would not consider myself fluent. I learned it more or less by osmosis. Danish is the more common working language around the office, not to mention when I am in Nuuk, I’m living in a home where Danish is the first language.

However, what is more exciting for me is that I am also reading, writing, and speaking some Greenlandic, though also not fluently by any means. Greenlandic is the mother tongue of Greenland and looks like nothing you have probably ever seen before as it is a polysynthetic language that adds multiple suffices to a root to create full sentences in what looks like a single word. Therefore, I’m pretty proud to be learning it! Want to see what it looks like? Check out the website for Sermitsiaq.AG, one of the newspapers.

Taken at 11:50 pm in June 2013

Taken at 11:50 pm in June 2013 by Sarah Woodall

Since I am not fluent in either of the official languages in Greenland, my daily interactions are some combination of English, Greenlandic, and Danish. By the way, in autumn this year (2015), there will be a book out called ‘Inussuk’ about internationals’ experiences living in Greenland, and I have made a written contribution to the chapter about language. (The book has already been published in Danish, and now this is the English version on the way.)

TPF: Wow, that’s exciting! Here’s some questions from other Phil Factor readers

From Done Dreaming : Coincidently I’m reading Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig and have just got to the part where he says if you live in Greenland you are 27 times more likely to kill yourself than if you live in Greece.

Sarah: While this is certainly the darker side of life, I feel that since the topic has been proposed I should address it the best I can citing findings from a report from the Greenlandic government. Danish title: “Selvmord, Selvmordsforsøg, og Selvmordstanker i Grønland”. Translated English title: “Suicide, Suicide Attempts, and Suicidal Thoughts in Greenland”.

Suicide has increased over time in Greenland.
-Male Greenlanders commit suicide much more than females.
-Suicide is more common in towns than in settlements.
-Younger Greenlanders commit suicide much more than older generations.

Many outside of Greenland will hypothesize that it must be the dark, cold winters that drive Greenlanders to suicide, but this is just so superficial and, no offense, so ignorant of an assumption. Aside from the fact that mental disease can affect any population in the world, there are far more complex Greenland-specific factors at play than latitude.

For example, the political climate of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s was full of turmoil and still has implications today. At the time, Denmark was a firm colonial power and, for example, forced Greenlanders to move from small settlements – where life was close to nature, self-subsistent, and full of space and physical activity – to larger towns – where life was farther from nature and totally lacking of space and privacy. If you can get your hands on them, I HIGHLY recommend two films that explain this period in Greenlandic history extremely well. They have English subtitles. Sume is a feature-length film that uses music as the storytelling method, and Qaannat Alannguanni / I Skyggen af Kayakkerne / In the Shadow of the Kayaks is a more academic 5-part narrated series.

From Outlier Babe: What things did the great book “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” get wrong about Greenland?

Sarah:  I’m sorry to say that I actually have never read this book, although I certainly know of it as many tourists say it was one of their first connections with Greenland. What I can say they got right from just the title is that Smilla is a common name in Greenland. In fact, I have a friend whose beautiful daughter is called Smilla.

Outlier Babe: Is the population growing or shrinking? If the latter, why?

Sarah: The population is generally shrinking. The all-time high population was a decade ago (56,969 residents in 2005), and since then, aside from a few years of growth from 2009-2011, there has been gradual decline. The total loss is just under 2%, which for such a small population can have great implications.

There are so many factors that contribute to population size in Greenland, so I won’t make any definitive correlations here other than to simply identify some of them.

There’s quite a high prevalence of temporary foreign workers living in Greenland, primarily from Denmark. Nurses and others from the medical field, for example, will come to Greenland for work for 1-3 years and then return home.

There’s quite a high prevalence of young Greenlanders leaving the country for higher education, again primarily to Denmark but also to other countries around the world. Many return to Greenland after receiving their degree, but many do not.

There’s quite a high prevalence of Greenlanders leaving the country, again primarily to Denmark, once their children reach school age – presumably to put them in a better school system, however there are absolutely schools in Greenland, public and private, where Greenlanders can be educated from the first class up to PhD level at Ilisimatusarfik (Greenland University). Degrees at the University include Language/Literature/Media, Journalism, and others.

Outlier Babe: How did Thai’s wind up in Greenland? The others I can work out, but not so much the Thais.

Sarah: Well, I won’t dare to speak on behalf of all Thai people in Greenland! But it’s the same mentality as why Thai tourists want to visit Greenland – Greenland is exotic, unique, and totally different from what they know at home in terms of culture, nature, and yes, temperature! We hear continuously from tourists living in tropical countries that they are fascinated with the Arctic because of the winter snow and ice.

TPF: Sarah, thank you so much for your time. You have been a wonderful ambassador for your second country. For my readers, you can follow Sarah’s blog on WordPress at Adventures of a Polarphile and you can find out more info on Greenland.com. Have a great Friday! ~Phil

Top Ten Tuesday! Ten Real Facts About Greenland

Remember last weeks Top Ten Possibly True Facts about Greenland? I know this may come as a shock to you, but I made most of those up. What I learned, based on comments to that post is that you and I know very little about Greenland, except that Greenlanders don’t visit our blogs very much. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I reached out to Greenland and found Sarah Woodall. Many years ago Jane Goodall went to live with the gorillas to understand them. Sarah Woodall, an American,  went to live with the Greenlanders for the same purpose, but hopefully with less nit picking. Sarah is an International Relationship Manager for Visit Greenland and after seeing last weeks Top Ten she offered this awesome Top Ten of real facts about Greenland.


 10. People live in Greenland! 55,984 of them. They’re not Eskimos, but they are Greenlanders, and Thai, and Americans, and French, Spaniards, Danes, Australians, Scots, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Poles, Canadians, Germans, and Saudi Arabians. The capital city, Nuuk, has just under 17000 residents.
9. Fish food: The Greenlandic diet relies heavily on locally-sourced land and sea animals! A freezer can be filled with cod, char, halibut, shrimp, capelin, reindeer, lamb, muskox, seal, walrus, whale and polar bear – much of it self-caught. These same ingredients are turned into beautifully-crafted gastronomic experiences in restaurants. A reliance on hunting and fishing is one aspect of life where tradition still overpowers modernity, for personal preference and practical reasons.
More info: Greenland Gastronomy page on Greenland.com. 


 8. Greenland is green! The old tale that Viking explorers cheekily switched the names of Greenland and Iceland wasn’t totally misleading. In the 20% of the landmass that is not covered by glacier, there is place enough for quite varied plant life. In particular, South Greenland is the garden of Greenland. It is filled with green valleys, blooming flowers, an arboretum, and even small farms growing strawberries, lettuces, radishes, and potatoes, though not nearly enough to support even Greenland’s small population.
7. Owning pet dogs is forbidden in some parts of Greenland! North of the Arctic Circle on the west coast and everywhere on the east coast, people keep Greenlandic sled dogs as working dogs, and nothing can jeopardize their extremely pure blood line. The Greenlandic dog has a resistance to cold that lets them stay outdoors 365 days a year. Elsewhere in Greenland where there is no sea ice, and thus no need for sled dogs (like the capital region and in South Greenland), people own many other traditional breeds of dogs.
6. There are no chains in Greenland! Leave your Starbucks card at home and save your Hilton points for another holiday. In Nuuk, the capital, there are a few Scandinavian retail stores like Matas, Jysk, and Elgiganten, but the other retail stores, hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants in the country are small businesses. In the small settlements there is usually only one central store where one can buy something.
Check out the Nuuk Center website to get an idea of some of the retail options in Nuuk, Greenland.
Nuuk Center Mall TripAdvisor.com

Nuuk Center Mall

 5. There is no private land ownership in Greenland! When you go scrambling on the rocks by the coastline to find a good sunset outlook, or when you go walking in the hills for an afternoon, you don’t have to worry that you’re trespassing on someone’s property. But do abide by the unspoken code of conduct to not litter and to give respectful distance around people’s homes.
4. The Nuuk you saw portrayed in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was NOT Greenland! It was Iceland. Some of the elements were as realistic as possible – like the name of the bar actually has a true meaning in Greenlandic – but those who know Greenland could pick out dozens of incorrect elements – like the sidewalk construction and the fact that jet planes cannot land at Nuuk Airport.
3. Greenland is accessible year round! If you’re Icelandic or Danish, there are direct flights to Greenland via Air Greenland and Air Iceland. If you’re not, then a connection via Reykjavík or Copenhagen gets you to Greenland. These flights are year round so whether it’s the winter northern lights or the summer midnight sun that draws you north, you can get here!
Check out my How to Get to Greenland blog post. 


2. Muskox wool from Greenland is nicer than cashmere! Called qiviut in Greenlandic, muskox wool yarn is spun from the inner fur of a muskox and made into clothing and accessories like hats, scarves, and even baby clothes. It is extremely warm, providing healing effects for those with arthritis, and it softer than cashmere! Nearly all the muskox wool yarn production in Greenland comes from a female business team in the towns of Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut.
1. The Greenland Ice Sheet is one of only two ice sheets in the world and the only one with an indigenous population! The other ice sheet is Antarctica, and it just has a mass of penguins. In some places, the Greenland Ice Sheet is 3 km / 2 mi thick – that’s like 10 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other! You can take guided glacier walking tours to the ice sheet to experience this mammoth geologic feature for yourself!
Sarah, thank you so much for your entertaining and informative Top Ten list. Guess what folks, we’re not done with Greenland yet, and I’ll need your help. Sarah has agreed to come back for a Friday interview, so I’ll need some questions. I know what I want to ask her, but if you have questions for her about living in Greenland please put them in the comments today and I’ll include them.

Wordless Wednesday: Aurora Borealis Over Greenland


From the end of September to the middle of April, an incredible six to seven months, is aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, season in Greenland. That picture isn’t a fake. I’ve never been to #Greenland but I have been fortunate to see aurora borealis three times in my life and one was a really big one. The only other natural phenomena as incredible is a great sunset. And yes, I am still shamelessly trying to lure someone from Greenland to my blog. BTW, come back Friday. I have a GREAT guest interview. Have a great Wednesday! ~Phil

Top Ten Tuesday! 10 Possibly True Facts About Greenland!

Last week I was reading someone’s blog and they noted that as far as they could tell, they had never had a reader from Greenland. I of course said I had a huge following in #Greenland. I was lying. So, in an effort to increase my readers from Greenland I did a little research. Very little. It was tough to find ten facts about Greenland on the internet because outside of Greenland, nobody really knows what goes on there. Here are 10 possibly true facts about Greenland:

Taylor Swift thinking about Greenland. fanpop.com

Taylor Swift thinking about Greenland. fanpop.com

10. Taylor Swift HATES Greenland: Three of her breakup songs are about Greenland.

9. Greenland is considered part of North America: Like the nose picking kid in elementary school that no one wants to do a school project with, nobody really wanted it as part of their continent, but the United Nations had to assign it to somebody.

8. What happens in Greenland Stays in Greenland: They originated that motto, but when no one could figure out what happens in Greenland they let Las Vegas have it.

7. Greenland should have been named Whiteland because the name Iceland was already taken and 75-80% of Greenland is covered by ice and snow.



6.  Cartographers are morons: Despite how it looks on maps, Greenland is actually a third the size of Australia.

5. Dora the Explorer refuses to explore Greenland. In fact she said, “Who the  hell wants to go there? It’s fecking cold all year. No thank you.” I don’t know. I was watching and it was in Spanish, but I think that’s what she said.

4. When that “ice bucket challenge” was going on the people in Greenland were actually daring each other to pour warm water over their heads. Unfortunately they couldn’t find any. (Warm water that is, not their heads. They found those right on top of their necks.)

3. Greenland was originally settled by aliens, but the aliens left to settle on the dark side of Pluto where it’s warmer.

2. Greenland is where Australia sends their criminals.


1. Game of Thrones is a documentary about modern day Greenland: Very few people are aware that dragons and boobs are native to Greenland.

I wasn’t able to find any information on the internet to dispute these facts and since there is literally only one internet provider in Greenland, no one there may ever read this. If you know anyone from #Greenland please share this by hitting the Facebook, Twitter, or re-blog buttons below so that we can get confirmation of these facts. Have a great Tuesday! ~Phil