What are the Danes like?
Make the first move
Being a foreigner and getting used to local habits and different cultures is always a challenge – but also very rewarding. To some international travellers, Danes may seem a little private at first – not wanting to intrude on other people’s personal space uninvited. The best advice is to make the first move - go ahead and say hello. You’ll soon discover that most Danes are very approachable, friendly and helpful.
Alex from England talks about what it is like to live and study in Denmark. Watch more videos
Danes avoid superficiality
Generally, Danes avoid superficiality and hype. We don’t give sugar-coated compliments to win a favour (unless it´s a really big one). A polite and honest approach is always best.
This of course does not mean that Danes lack humour. While Danes might seem reserved at first, you will usually find them to be outspoken and fun-loving once you get to know them. Indeed, humour – especially irony – is an integral part of Danish culture.
Danes are outspoken
Danes in a nuttshell
1. If a Dane says "meet at 5:00" they mean 05:00, even for social events.
2. Danes tend to say what they think and cut to the point.
3. The Danes are not big on formality, but prefer informal social interaction
4. Even the slightest hint of spring sun will make Danes head outdoors for strolling, jogging and café life
When you do get to know some Danes, you'll find that they express themselves quite openly. Open discussion is a central element of Danish culture. At home and at school, Danish children are encouraged to express their opinions and are generally informed about adult subjects when they are old enough to ask about them.
Danes are punctual
While most Danes are easygoing and enjoy companionship, we do observe certain formalities. For example, Danes tend to be quite punctual and precise. If you want to meet up with friends, you usually make an appointment. Showing up unannounced at your friend’s place for a quick chat isn’t really the norm. It could, depending on your friend, earn you points for breaking with etiquette. But most Danes would hesitate to do so.
A national treasure: ‘Hygge’
If you run out of things to say at a party, just ask a Dane to explain ‘hygge’ to you. Not only will you learn something about Danish culture, you’ll also score points for taking an interest in our most quintessential social commodity.
The word ‘hygge’ is difficult to translate. Roughly speaking, it is a state of cosiness, warmth and relaxation in the company of someone you care about, often involving eating and drinking.
For instance, a place can be ‘hyggeligt’ or a person can be ‘hygge-lig’ (hygge-like) if they have a good vibe. When friends part company, they often say ‘det var rigtig hyggeligt’. This means: ‘It was really hyggeligt’. You can even wish someone a good time by simply saying ‘hyg dig’ (enjoy yourself, have fun).
'Hygge' is probably linked to our climate and northerly aspect. On dark winter evenings, many Danes – at home, in restaurants and bars – create hygge with candlelight. These flickering illuminations create an intimate atmosphere that most Danes love.
Surely every culture will have its own notion of a cosy and warm ambience. But we think 'hygge' is unique. So if you're planning on studying and living in Denmark and find yourself drawn to "hygge", don't say we didn't warn you ... we know you’ll love it! :-)
- International students blog about what it's like to study Denmark
- A 'Meet the Danes' list by U.S. students in Denmark (observations on Danish culture)