Culture Shock in Denmark

Culture in Denmark faces both south towards the rest of Europe and north towards Scandinavia, with many Danes considering themselves both European and Nordic. Despite this, most have a strong sense of their own identity and while 'Danishness' might be difficult to define, it affects how Danes relate to each other and to foreign visitors.

As a result, expats may experience culture shock in Denmark – despite the ostensible similarities between Danes, other Europeans and Americans, the particulars of Danish culture are easily misunderstood.


Language in Denmark

English proficiency in Denmark is very high, and some large companies even adopt English as their company language. It is perfectly possible to get by in Denmark without learning Danish, but there are several arguments for learning the language. 

All foreign residents are entitled to free or subsidised Danish language teaching provided by their local municipality. Expats can connect and integrate with their hosts more easily if they make at least some effort with the language. Furthermore, it can be stressful for expats to not understand what is going on around them – some familiarity with the language can alleviate this.

Public policy in Denmark is very much geared towards making expats feel as welcome as possible and many services are, at least in part, available in English.


Food and drink in Denmark

From the ubiquitous hot dog stands to the New Nordic food of Noma, food and drink play a big part in Danish life. One of the most characteristic dishes is the Danish open sandwich, smørrebrød. Usually made with hard rye bread and topped with meat or fish and accompaniments (there are strict 'rules' about which accompaniments can go with which toppings). These are usually eaten with a knife and fork.

Traditionally, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been a normal part of life for many Danes – having a beer with lunch perhaps, and it is not unusual to see someone in a café drinking a beer at 10.30am. Nowadays, drinking during work time is either explicitly prohibited or frowned upon. However, most Danish people retain what seems like a healthy attitude toward alcohol – while good in moderation, drunkenness is not acceptable.

Service charges are included in restaurant bills and tipping is the exception rather than the rule.


Hygge

A key part of culture in Denmark is the concept of hygge, (pronounced “hooger”). While there is no direct translation of the word into English, it involves being comfortable and relaxed, for example with good food and friends. Although difficult to define, hygge is important because its pursuit is considered by many to be a fundamental part of Danish culture.

Tom Griffiths Our Expat Expert

Tom first visited Denmark more than thirty years ago and settled here permanently in 2008. During that time he has taken advantage of the excellent Danish higher education system by spending two years undertaking an MA, worked with some really interesting Danish companies, both large and small, and now runs his own coaching and change management company specialising in supporting expats and trailing expats. Website: www.changecoachdk.com