Like so many other aspects of life in Denmark, gift giving in the holiday season comes with dozens of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.
Should you give a gift to your boss? What about your colleagues? Will you and your Danish friends exchange gifts? And why does almost every store in Denmark ask if you want a “gift sticker” when you buy something?
Here are a few basic tips about gift giving in Denmark.
Gift giving isn’t the most important thing
First of all, it’s important to emphasize that gift giving is not the most important thing about the holiday season in Denmark. Food is the most important thing, from the roast pork to the caramelised potatoes to the shredded red cabbage to the buttery Christmas cookies.
Alcohol is probably the second-most important.
And neither one is any good without the hygge of being together with your family at Christmas dinner, or your colleagues at the work Christmas lunch, or your football friends at your team holiday party.
Gift giving runs a distant fourth, so don’t get too worried about not choosing the perfect gift. That’s what the “gift sticker” is for – it means the recipient will be able to take your carefully-chosen gift back to the store and exchange it for something they’d like better.
When I was working on the 5th anniversary podcast last week, I realized I’d had podcasts on spring in Denmark, summer in Denmark, winter in Denmark, but nothing on autumn in Denmark.
And that’s too bad, because early fall can be one of Denmark’s prettiest seasons.
Autumn in Denmark actually starts in mid-August, when the kids go back to school. Danish kids have a very short holiday – usually only about 6 weeks. By late August, you can definitely feel a little fall crispness in the air. By September the leaves start to turn color, and by the end of October many of the trees are already bare for the winter.
But what really defines fall in Denmark is the slow fading of the light.
This is a transcript of the “How to Live in Denmark” fifth anniversary podcast posted on August 31, 2018.
This is a special episode, because this is the fifth anniversary of the How to Live in Denmark podcast. Hard to believe, I know, but this podcast began in the summer of 2013. At the time I’m recording this, it is near the end of Summer 2018. We’ve had more than 80 episodes and around a million streams and downloads. Most importantly, I’ve received a lot of messages from people like you saying that the podcast and the books that have come out of the podcast have been really helpful for you in adjusting to Denmark. I’m so happy to hear that.
For me, one of the best things to come out of the podcast is that I’ve gotten to see so much of Denmark. As some of you know, I work as a keynote speaker, booked by organizations and schools and companies around Denmark. So over the past 5 years that’s helped me get out of Copenhagen and get out of the mindset that Copenhagen equals Denmark, which I think a lot of people suffer from.
Danish humor is a tricky thing for many foreigners. Danes compete with the Brits for world leaders in dry humor and sarcasm, but it can be hard for foreigners to figure out what’s a joke and what’s not.
For example, a friend told me about a foreigner who was standing by the elevator at work, just getting ready to go upstairs for a meeting, when a Danish colleague walked by and said “God rejse!”
In other words, Bon Voyage. Have a nice trip. In the elevator.
In an anti-authoritarian country like Denmark, being a boss is a precarious (social) position. Danish bosses don’t like to flaunt their authority.
In fact, when you enter a room of Danes, it is often difficult to tell which one is the boss. The social cues that point to a big cheese in other cultures – the flashy watch, the oversize office, the glamorous yet servile executive assistant – are considered poor taste in egalitarian Denmark.
I’ve never seen a country that loves its flag as much as Denmark does – and that’s a big statement, coming from an American. But foreigners who come to Denmark can’t help but notice that the Danish flag is everywhere.
People love to fly Danish flags over their summer houses – the bigger the better. Christmas trees in Denmark are decorated with little Danish flags. Cucumbers in the supermarket have Danish flags on the label to show they’re grown in Denmark. Whenever a member of the Danish royal family has a birthday, two little Danish flags are stuck on the front of every Copenhagen bus.
The Danish flag is closely associated with Danish birthdays. If you have a birthday when you’re working in a Danish office, one of your colleagues is likely to put a Danish flag on your desk. It means – happy birthday! You may see a birthday cake with tiny Danish flags stuck into it, or the Danish flag recreated in red frosting.
And if you’re invited to a party by a Danish friend – any kind of party – you may find paper Danish flags stuck into the ground to guide you to the right house.
The Danish flag is not really a statement of nationalism. It’s a statement of joy.
I’ve never seen anyone say anything negative about the Danish flag – until a couple of weeks ago.