News & Politics

This Is How the Danish Ambassador Gets Through Winter in DC

Lars Gert Lose loves Christmas markets and having his kids plow snow outside the embassy.

Lars Gert Lose. Photograph by Willis Bretz. Photo-illustration by Lauren Bulbin

Denmark’s ambassador to the United States, Lars Gert Lose, loves the coziness that winter brings. “[In Denmark], it’s dark and rainy and can get cold and snowy as well,” he says. “I think that’s why we have the hygge thing where you go inside and make yourself comfortable with lights, and sweaters, and fire, and all those kinds of things.” Washingtonian caught up with the diplomat to chat about hygge, the best ways to stay warm, and why his kids plowed outside of the embassy with a tractor.

What’s winter in Denmark like?

It gets dark around 3 or 4 p.m. We won’t have full light until 9 a.m.

What do you do when the days are so much shorter?

We do what we always do, we work. Then, of course, you spend some time indoors with your family and friends. You know the concept of hygge, the Danish coziness kind of thing. I think the concept of hygge is kind of born out of the fact that we have weather like that. It’s pretty dark and cold as well during the winters. Winters are long in Denmark, longer than in DC, which is one of the big differences as well. It’ll start somewhere in November and won’t end before March.

What’s a perfect day of hygge for you?

It definitely involves being inside, spending time with the family. Some candlelight, with the fire going. Normally in Denmark, we would have a bit of akvavit, a liqueur like schnapps, then we eat a lot of raw herring that’s marinated. It’s much better than smoked fish. We do a lot of baking as well during winter.

Who’s doing the baking and do you have a favorite recipe?

To be honest I don’t bake that much. My kids, my 15-year-old-daughter and my 7-year-old daughter, bake. They’re very good at baking, those two. We have these brown cookies, I don’t think you have anything like that. What do you call that in English?

Like gingerbread?

Yes, exactly (laughs). It’s the same taste but it’s a lot of cinnamon and it’s a hard, solid cookie, not a fluffy one. It’s kind of a specialty for Christmas and winter in Denmark.

What are you doing for the holidays?

We have our family coming over here from Denmark. It’s very easy to have a Danish Christmas at the Danish embassy because it’s a Danish place built by Danish architects. During my time in DC, we’ve always stayed in DC during the Christmas time. We bring a bit of the hygge to DC and spend our Christmas time here.

Christmas markets are a big deal here and I know they are in Europe too. Are you going?

We love to go to them in DC as well. We were in Middleburg, Virginia. Have you ever been there?

No I haven’t, what’s happening there?

This shop sells Christmas things and decorations and calendars all year-round. It’s the most amazing Christmas shop in the world. We just spent too much money there preparing ourselves for Christmas, but that shop comes highly recommended. It’s called The Christmas Sleigh.

I’ll have to go check it out. I know you’re a huge hockey fan. Do you play during the winter, and what kinds of activities do you like to do during the winter? Is there anything that happens during the winter in DC that you love? 

We go to see The Nutcracker and we always go skiing a lot. It’s pretty easy to drive to Whitetail [Resort] so we do that as often as we can. All year-round we check out as many concerts as possible.

Did you make it to another concert with Lars Eller?

No, he couldn’t join me because he had a game. We were going to go see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Anthem. [The Caps] played somewhere that night and they lost, by the way.

He should’ve gone to the concert instead. You said compared to DC it doesn’t get very cold in Denmark, but what do you think of how people here react to the snow? 

I love DC, first of all, but they’re not good at snow (laughs). One inch of snow and everything collapses in this city. We do have more regular snow in Denmark than we do in DC, but we’re also pretty good at getting rid of it. I don’t think that is this city’s strongest suit. The school closures is one thing that always shocks us. They could close down for two weeks over a bit of snow. In Denmark, you would never close schools. There’d have to be a natural disaster to do something like that. I mean, we even bike when it’s snowing. In Denmark I used to bike to work, even in the winter. Here I don’t because I live at the embassy and it’s only two seconds to work.

I heard that some people ski commute to work. Have you ever done that?

In Denmark you couldn’t do that because we don’t get enough snow. I haven’t seen that in DC. I think everyone here has 4-wheel drive because if you want to go up Whitehaven Street, it’s uphill all the way. If you don’t have 4-wheel drive, you will not get to the Danish embassy (laughs). Everybody here has 4-wheel drive and I think people don’t use all-season tires. Commuting isn’t that bad here in DC because it’s easy to get around.

What do you like to do in the snow around DC?

We always love to play in the snow. In the winter of 2015, we had a lot of snow in DC. If you go back on my Twitter account—that was serious snow we got back then, like a meter or so, we closed down the embassy understandably so—we have a small tractor at the embassy so my kids were out there working in the snow.

You got your kids to plow the snow in front of the embassy with a tractor?

Yep, they needed to work (laughs). One of the reactions I got on Twitter, which is typical for this socialist country of Denmark, was “way to put kids to work” (laughs). My son was 16 and my daughter was 13. They should work. If you go back to my Twitter account in January 2016 there are great pictures.

I have so many questions about this. Is it your personal tractor or does it belong to the embassy? Are they all going to plow the snow this year?

Yeah, we just got a new tractor and it’s the embassy’s (laughs). We’re providing the labor. If the snow’s back we’ll be out there plowing.

Going back to the idea of hygge, what do you like to drink during the winter?

We Danes always drink alcohol, just so you know (laughs). We would always go with gløgg. It’s a bit like German glühwein. It’s sweetened with cinnamon, there’s vanilla in there and raisins and almonds. Danes always put a bit of schnapps in there to give it a good kick (laughs).

That sounds delicious. Do you make that at home or do you buy it?

We make it in the family; you never buy things like that. Danes, we don’t like prepared food. Making it’s not difficult to do. It’s really good.

What do you like to wear during the winter?

The saying in Denmark goes like this, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” I like to have suitable equipment for winter like a Gore-Tex boot or a Gore-Tex jacket. Being a middle-aged man, I don’t want to go out without the right equipment—that’s the kind of guy I am (laughs). I get new stuff every year, especially when we go skiing. What I enjoy buying most is skis, it’s fantastic. But I promised my wife that I’d use the same ones I bought last year this year.

Do you do anything with the other ambassadors in the winter? Any activities or major events?

We don’t have anything we throw together, but everyone has a Christmas party. The Swedes have their Lucia party. We have a big party here at the embassy as well where we serve some of the Danish food that goes with Christmas-time and try to create a bit of hygge as well. It’s a big thing with the Nordic embassies. Of course, we all attend each other’s parties. It’s a great way of doing it because we get to go to five parties. The Danish one is the best, because of the schnapps (laughs). The hygge is a terrible weapon. Nobody could compete with that.

What reminds you of winter at home or in DC?

Gløgg because you can smell the heated red wine and the cinnamon and everything that goes into it. Baking smells always remind me of winter and Christmas as well.

What do people not know about Denmark in the winter and is there anything you can only get there that you wish people in DC could experience?

I would hope that more people would like raw herring, but we might be a couple of years out on that. That’s the thing I miss the most.

How is the winter mood at the embassy? Are your employees excited?

Trust me, Danes are crazy about winter and Christmas. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

A version of this article appears in the January 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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Helen joined Washingtonian in January 2018. She studied Journalism and International Relations at the University of Southern California. She recently won an Online News Award for her work on a project about the effects of the Salton Sea, California’s greatest burgeoning environmental disaster, on a Native American tribe whose ancestral lands are on its shores. Before joining the magazine, Helen worked in Memphis covering education for Chalkbeat. Her work has appeared in USA Today, The Desert Sun, Chalkbeat Tennessee, Sunset Magazine, Indiewire, and others.