Velkommen til Danmark!
Are you a new citizen or an international student in Denmark? Today we are excited to introduce you to the Danish culture, food, and way of life. To many people, Denmark is often a country that you have heard of — as “the happiest country in the world…somewhere up north in Scandinavia” — but don’t know much about. 

To give a little background: Denmark is a country by the sea, comprising the Jutland peninsula and many islands. It is located north of Germany, southwest of Sweden, with Copenhagen as the capital. It has a population of 5.5 million, and the national language is Danish. 

What is the Danish culture like?

1. Denmark is an egalitarian society

Danish society is egalitarian, meaning that it values equality, safety, and freedom. It has a flat hierarchy where status, for example, between the elderly and youngsters, bosses and employees, or teachers and students are not emphasized. Everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, share opinions, and achieve their individual potential. 

Denmark has a well-developed welfare system that provides free education, healthcare, and many public services to all citizens. It tries to take care of everyone’s life and wellbeing. There is a strong sense of community in the Danish culture — Danes often have mutual trust with one another, and they enjoy the company of each other. 

The traditional Nordic concept of “Janteloven” perhaps is a reflection of Denmark’s egalitarian culture, where the collective community is emphasized, and expression of individualism and personal success is discouraged. 

Bonus: Danish word for “each other” is “hinanden” (hiˈnanən)

2. Gender equality is a core value

Because of the egalitarian culture, Denmark also has some of the highest gender equality in the world. Women are highly respected in society and seen as having equal status as men. Women enjoy great freedom to pursue their careers; company maternity leave policies are usually generous to support women’s life choices. 

Girls are raised to be independent and strong from a young age. They are encouraged to participate in stereotypically “masculine” sports or activities, such as football. In terms of Danish dating culture, it is also common for ladies to initiate a date or pay for meals. In a family setting, many Danish couples take equal responsibility in cooking, doing housework, and raising children. 

3. Danish Hygge

“Hygge” [ˈhygə] is a Danish word and concept that has been trending all around the world. It even became an official English word a couple of years ago too. 

So what is hygge? Hygge is one of those “lost in translation” words, but it roughly means “a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment,” according to Wikipedia. 

Hygge is at the heart of the Danish way of life. Danes like to spend “hyggeligt” quality time with their friends and family, in a warm place, over a cup of coffee or tea, and let’s not forget to light up some candles! It is hard to walk into any cafes or homes in Denmark that aren’t “hyggeligt.” 

4. Socializing with Danes

To make friends with local Danes, it is very helpful to learn about the social culture in Denmark. You may have heard that “Danes are shy, reserved, and distanced”, or that they are hard to befriend. Are these stereotypes or true?

Many internationals in Denmark have indeed found it challenging to get to know their Danish colleagues, classmates, or friends at first. Danish politeness and proxemics can come off as too cold or distanced to others, but don’t let this discourage you. We do not encourage anyone to rely entirely on stereotypes, because everyone is different, but they help you to know what to expect.  

On a positive note, once the Danes get to know you, they are usually very loyal and trustworthy friends. If you need help with something, they are generally very willing to extend a helping hand. That goes back to the “we take care of each other” mentality in point #1. 

5. Danish humor and honesty 

Many Danes are light-hearted people, and they have a distinct sense of humor. Danish humor and sarcasm can be hard to understand for many foreigners who aren’t familiar with the culture. It may get lost in translation if you don’t speak the Danish language**, or if you are not used to the Danish directness.

Another thing Danes like to do is “self-irony” — the ability to make fun of yourself. You will notice it when you hang out with other Danes in both professional or casual settings. It is also an excellent skill to have to blend into the communication style. 

But this is exactly where Swap Language can help! Find a Danish language partner that can teach you not just Danish but the culture and HUMOR that is associated with the language as well. 

What is everyday life like in Denmark?

To give you a sense of how everyday life in Denmark is like, below are some tips on clothing, transportation, food, and more!

6. “There is no bad weather, only wrong clothing.”

“Der findes intet der hedder dårligt vejr, kun dårligt påklædning!” (In Danish)

This is a popular Danish saying that reflects the Danish way of life. With long dark winters and an average of 170 rainy days throughout the year, Danes are well prepared for “bad weather.” 

If you open a Danish person’s wardrobe, you will probably see big scarfs to keep warm during the cold days, waterproof and windproof clothing to stay dry while being in the rain. To some of us who are from warmer countries like in Asia or Southern Europe, we may probably want to stay home on cold, rainy days. Not the Danes! Bad weather won’t stop them from having fun….because there is no bad weather! 

If you are planning to visit or move to Denmark, remember to bring the right clothes and be prepared 😉

7. Bike is life

If you have visited any city in Denmark for any amount of days, you will have seen people on a bike everywhere. The bike is life. The Danes love their bikes, and they bike everywhere. Here are some cool statistics, according to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, to give you an idea:

  • 9 out of 10 Danes own at least one bike
  • 500,000 bikes were sold in Denmark in 2015
  • 1 in 4 journeys in Copenhagen involves cycling
  • Each resident in Copenhagen cycles 2.3 km/day on average
  • There are more bikes than humans in Copenhagen
  • Denmark has 28 routes and a total of 467 km of cycle superhighway

Danes bike all year round – rain or shine. If you are planning to move to Denmark or have just moved, getting a new or used bike would be a good investment to make. Not only do you get to experience the local Danish way of life, but you also save a lot on public transportation tickets.

8. Beer is also life

Yes, beer is common in almost every country, but beer is a vital part of Danish culture and social life. There is no legal drinking age in Denmark, though you have to be 16 to buy alcohol below 16.5% ABV in the stores. Therefore, Danes can have access to beer from a young age and build their social lives around it. 

It is very common to see beer at different social gatherings — from professional to family to school– not just in parties. Danish universities often have Friday bars on campus, every Friday, all year round, where students and professors can hang out. Some Danish companies brew their own beer in-house too.

If you are new to Denmark, the best way to make friends with local Danes is definitely to grab a beer with them. They may seem reserved and shy in the beginning, but things loosen up after a few beers. 😉 Bottom line: drink responsibly. 

9. Licorice flavored everything

Here in Denmark, Licorice (or “Lakrids” in Danish) is in almost EVERYTHING. It is usually black and made with extract from the licorice plant roots. How do you describe the taste of licorice? hmm….strange, at least to many foreigners, but Danes are so obsessed with licorice. 

You can find sweet and salty and strong licorice candies, licorice-flavored ice cream, cough drops, gums, tea, chocolate, even savory dishes in supermarkets or homes! It is mind-blowing how many licorice-flavored products you can find in Denmark.

Danes are always amused by the reaction of foreigners trying licorice for the first time. Pro-tip: if you want to impress the Danes, casually put a piece of strong licorice candy into your mouth when you hang out with them. 😉

10. The Danish flag is everywhere

It represents joy, welcome, and celebration. Danes greet their loved ones at the airport with Danish flags. They decorate birthday cakes, kransekage (new year cake), wedding cakes, and Christmas trees with lots of Danish flags. Even plastic wraps of cucumbers in the supermarket have…Danish flags. It’s an obsession!

If you reserve a table for your anniversary or birthday dinner at a restaurant, they will place a miniature flagpole on the table to indicate a celebration. Next time when you are hosting a birthday party at home, don’t forget to pull out a Danish flag outside your door!

Caution: it is illegal to fly other national flags in Denmark without a Danish flag next to it that is bigger and higher. 

Learning the Danish culture with Swap Language

Paula Mc Allister | Photography

In Swap Language, we believe that language-learning should be interactive, applicable, and relevant. And who is a better teacher than someone who is a local? On www.swaplanguage.com you can find a native Danish speaker to teach you not just the Danish language, but also to help you understand the Danish culture and way of life. It’s free! Sign up today!