Dating, How To Date in Denmark, Stories about life in Denmark

Danish Men: Not John Wayne

This essay is from a series I wrote in co-operation with the Danish tabloid BT in 2003, shortly after I arrived in Denmark. The line drawings are my own.

When I first came to Denmark, people kept asking me what I thought about Danish men. It seemed like a weird question. Why didn’t they ask what I thought about Danish weather (bad) or Danish food (bad), or, for that matter, Danish women and children? (very nice, in my experience).

I soon learned their interest in Danish men was a variation on the famous German saying: Man spricht uber das, was man nicht hat. (You talk about what you don’t have.) There are NOT a lot of men in Denmark, although there is quite a bounty of tall, timid boys.

While the culture of egalitarianism has done some great things for Denmark – where else will you see tattooed musclemen pushing baby carriages? – it has led to a terrific siphoning off of testosterone. Danish men seem too timid to do anything that makes men men, such as taking risks, taking initiative, or enjoying the pure thrill of the chase. Don’t return a Frenchman’s calls, and he will become intrigued and pursue you until the end of the Earth. Don’t return a Dane’s phone call (singular) and he will forget the whole thing.

Either that, or worse, he will sit home and sulk about it. Last year, I briefly dated a good-looking triathlete, a guy with a hot job and a fancy car, the kind of guy that in New York would have arrogance preceding him into the room like a bad after shave. Three days after a single unreturned phone call, I got a tremulous email from him.15-1

You haven’t called I wonder if this is because you don’t like me please , if I am bothering you, let me know.

For a girl used to American macho, this was about as expected like John Wayne asking for second coat of nail polish.

This is not to say that American men are perfect: they wear baseball caps everywhere but the shower, and their idea of child care often involves letting the child sit beside them while they watch basketball on TV.

But I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I must say that the relations between the sexes in Denmark are the strangest I’ve ever seen. The women do everything: they initiate, they seduce, they even get on top, and the men seem to expect it. “I want to be scored,” a drunken colleague once confessed to me. Imagine John Wayne saying that.

I know that when you choose to live in a foreign country, as I have, you must learn to adapt to local culture. I have learned that expecting a door to be held open for me is an invitation to get hit in the face with a door. I have struggled home with large packages while male neighbors just cheerfully wave hello. Wearing high heels and a skirt, I have wrestled my bike out from a pile of collapsed junkers while hefty workmen smoked cigarettes against the bike rack.

But I don’t know if ever get used to the timidity factor. Three months ago, my co-workers set me up on a blind date with a 36-year old man Danish man who had built a successful international company. We arranged to meet in a small cafe downtown, and since I was there a bit early, I got a cup of coffee and sat alone at a table near the door. Apart from the waiter and a group of elderly Swedes, I was the only one in the place.

My date arrived on time, and when I saw him coming through the door, I was pleased. He was a real looker, tall and athletic. He saw me, smiled, and went to the bar. Fair enough, I thought. He’ll order himself a cup of coffee, and then come sit down.

And he did sit down. He sat down at the bar, and took to looking out the doorway.

He sat there. I sat there. He sat there, staring out the door.

Could he not see me? Did he think I was late? Was he waiting for somebody better to come along?

Or, as I now suspect, was he simply waiting for me to make the first move? Was he waiting for me to get up from the table where I was sitting, walk across the room (carrying my unfinished coffee), and introduce myself?

Sadly, I’ll never know, because after the 15 minutes it took me to figure out what was required of me, Mr. Wonderful got up and left.

What do I think of Danish men? I have heard that they are wonderful, that they are warm, funny, thoughtful, and sexy. I hear that they are the prototype for men of the 21st century. I am looking forward to meeting one.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Tomas October 16, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Well well.. this is actualy not far from the truth of things here.

    Being a male myself, but raised by hungarian parents, I am not your typical danish male. As a hungarian, I am raised to open doors, pull out chairs and get the ladies coat in the wardrope and danish women actualy do like me doing it. As long as I do the door opening with a neutral non flirting attitude.

    Flirting here in public.. well that is as rare as a billionaire and a working rail road in Rwanda.

    Women wont look a man in the eye for long enough for the man to smile to her. I can’t put a smile on my face in 0.001 seconds.

    I often see women look at me from the corner of their eye and I can see from their body language that they like what they see, but that is as far as it goes, unless it is at a private party and the woman is a bit tipsy.

    I thought it was due to my silver hair, but my son of 21 says the same thing. Jokingly we have discussed the reason danes, especialy the younger ones, drink so much (world record there) is because otherwise the danes would die out an a few generations.

    So it is not just the men that are timid. Just sayin’

    • Avatar
      Reply Kay Xander Mellish October 17, 2013 at 4:46 am

      That’s a very interesting perspective, Tomas – I never thought of it that way!

      • Avatar
        Reply Tomas October 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm

        Well most danes don’t see this as an issue. I do due to my upbringing and seeing a different way of being man and woman in Hungary where I’ve been to 33 times in my life 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Ally December 14, 2013 at 2:54 am

    I find this post to be one of the funniest and more insightful blogs on this topic. I recently met a Dane, the mythical creature I heard about- tall hot blonde that he is, with his super star career and all the fixings. He is already the most challenging man I’ve ever been involved with. I am not sure if it’s because of culture or he’s just a prick. I think I might just stick with Brit, German, Aussie, and everybody else on the planet. He is mid forties and yet seems like a 21 year old. I just don’t know… SMH

  • Avatar
    Reply Maivis January 23, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Well this is very interesting, although I feel that there is a lot of stereo typing about the Danish men. If there is something I have learned through my years and through living in many different countries is that when you do try to analyze and or understand a culture you will have to do it with a neutral set of eyes and not compare a culture or a group of people to another. So of course for an American woman used to having the door opened and the chair pulled (for the first year or so while dating) will definitely feel that the Danish man’s behavior is cold and somewhat not Gentleman like. And for a Danish woman if she was dating an American guy, she will feel that it is odd for the man to open her door and pull her chair because is was raised to be very independent and equal to the MAN. I have lived in both places and I always look at things with a fresh set of eyes. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Kendra February 11, 2014 at 3:45 am

    I’m a Danish woman living in New York…. Yes men are better with opening doors here but on the other hand I think that some some men are too aggressive in their pursuit… I would like to find a mix of the two kind, cause I do like my Danes – I like the sensitivity/feminine energy that they can carry. But I also appreciate the cat calls I get here 🙂 I think you have to look to the culture of Scandinavia. Especially DK to understand why the roles between sexes are different from the south of Europe and USA. First of all we are not dependent on each other financially as much as in other countries and we have been one of he first countries – if not – the first to give woman rights. We are frontiers in my opinion, though there is still a lot to accomplish in the Danish society.

  • Avatar
    Reply Nitin February 12, 2014 at 6:51 am

    How would women respond to more assetive men in Danish society? I am curious.

    • Avatar
      Reply Kay Xander Mellish February 12, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Well, every woman is different, and it certainly depends on the man – I’m sure Ryan Gosling could use whatever approach he wanted! But generally, I think a heavy come-on would be a turn-off to an independent Danish woman. She likes to feel she’s made up her own mind.

  • Avatar
    Reply Eternal Sunshine February 17, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I find Danish men amazingly handsome and intelligent and I can’t deny the fact that I’m deeply attracted to them. I’m not quite sure how to approach one. I really don’t want to come out as too strong. So I’m not making the first move. What do you think of this? Should I just go ahead and pursue them?

    • Avatar
      Reply Kay Xander Mellish February 18, 2014 at 8:15 am

      Yes, there are a lot of wonderful Danish men! I think you will have to make the first move, and perhaps the second and third move, as well. You don’t have to come on too strong…just an invitation to coffee or a beer. Maybe a picnic in the summer! Anyplace where the two of you can talk and get to know each other. After your second or third invitation, see if he responds.

  • Avatar
    Reply Kathy February 25, 2014 at 4:15 am

    I experienced the opposite with Danes! I met a swim team from Denmark! The coaches and young guys were so nice and talked, even tho most didnt speak English! The young women were very shy! Sigh if only one was older and single, lol…

  • Avatar
    Reply Emalie March 9, 2014 at 7:19 am

    I have been in a relationship with a danish man for 2 years now. We meet whenever we can, but i live in america and he lives in denmark. We met when he was studying here in new york, and he went back to denmark a year ago. He hates talking about anything that requires him to have some type of responsibility in our relationship. Its really frustrating, because he is always expecting me to make the big decisions without his imput. God knows when we will ever take the next step in our relationship, and i feel very uncomfortable bringing it up without him seeming to care about it. He is a very laid back man, which has it’s advantages for sure, but at this point it’s become extremely irritating, and whenever i bring it up to him, he acts like I’m crazy. Oh well, guess ill just see how things go for the next few months before i give up.

  • Avatar
    Reply Hillary March 21, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I have been to denmark but for a brief visit. What i noticed is that the men are handsome and well built but seem to prefer being alone than date. One guy i met told his friend that he liked me but he never asked for my number. I had to practically ask for his number. All he told his friend every day is that he likes me. Iam a girl used to men asking for my number all the time. I found this very odd that a guy finds it hard to ask for a phone number.But i think they are very sensitive men which is a good trait when your body tatoos seem to suggest otherwise.

  • Avatar
    Reply Lauren August 17, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Thank you for writing this! Emalie, I am in such a similar situation, I met my Danish boyfriend studying in America, and he has just returned to Denmark. We’re not sure when we can see each other again, and his laid back attitude had me doubting if he was ever that serious about us. This article has reassured me a bit, but I’m not sure our different attitude are going to work together.

  • Avatar
    Reply Ash October 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

    This is interesting. As a Danish woman, I would feel degraded if I was presented with a man with the traits you’re praising in this piece. A man who thinks I can be bought with flowers and holding the door open? Please! I’m an adult, I’m perfectly capable of walking through a door unaided. Macho behaviour to me screams “totally irresponsible prick who doesn’t care about me as a person at all, but only sees me as a pretty accessory to his lifestyle”. No thanks. I am a person in my own right, I don’t need or want to be treated like some kind of vapid airhead. All I take away from that kind of behaviour is that some overgrown boy is trying to lure me into having sex, and he actually thinks I’m stupid enough to fall for cheap tricks. That’s not what I’m interested in. If I’m looking for a relationship, I want it to be between equals. If he thinks I’m for sale for a bunch of roses, and unable to open a door on my own, how much respect does he really have for me as a person. Not a whole lot, I suspect.

  • Avatar
    Reply Anne November 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    This sounds all very familiar, insightful and pretty darn funny. Your story made me laugh out loud. They are passive creatures – Mythical – beautiful and elusive! However, my Dane actually pursued me relentlessly at first. (Much to my surprise). But when it came to feelings, I had to be more confident and forthright, laying my heart on the table first. He happily reciprocated…but not until it was safe to do so. As far as romance goes, I have to say – he’s extremely sensitive, respectful and (here’s the shocker) romantic. BUT, it’s true – they do not fall in love with the woman who bats her eyelashes and flips her hair. They want a Woman, not a girl. Someone who is independent, smart, and confident enough to know what she wants to how to get it. And yes, that includes them. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Terry December 16, 2014 at 5:27 am

    I agree with everyone who said that different cultures have to be looked at and understood without the bias of our own. I also know the history of Denmark enough to understand why Danish men are the way they are. They act according to the norms of their society, that’s all. However, as a American, I can say that this bridge is almost impossible to cross.

    Speaking first in general terms regarding men and women in public: For me, when men hold the door or offer to help women, or when a woman smiles and says ‘thank you’ in return, it is a public and in fact, quite lovely way of acknowledging that gender differences do exist. Whether women (I am one) want to admit it or not, most men are physically stronger than most women, and I believe men feel just a bit more manly when they are able to help women in small ways with something physical, even if it’s just a door or carrying groceries. And most men love to get smiles and thank-yous from women in return. Men like to feel useful and helpful. On the other hand, most women like the feeling that a man notices her femininity and is willing to do something quite simple and ordinary, just to show he appreciates and respects women. These little gestures are not mean in any way to be demeaning to women; in American culture they are mean to honor women.

    Speaking from a personal viewpoint: when my man reminds me through unspoken gestures all day long that he is willing to do little things for me -even if I am capable of doing them myself- it is a subconscious foreplay. When I smile and admire in return, it is the same for him. My femininity and his masculinity are in constant acknowledgment of each other, and that is very powerful. I do not want to suddenly “feel female” or admire a man’s physicality in the bedroom.

    I find these actions of appreciation for the physical attributes of the opposite sex
    – to be honest (that differences do exist)
    – to be kind (because that is the intention)
    -to be romantic, because there is always an undercurrent of physicality
    – to be sexy, because I love to feel female all day, every day

    I think a world without the daily interaction between the sexes to be a bit sad. We are in a world of strangers where interaction is limited. The least we can do is to acknowledge humans’ basic desire to feel acknowledged, and these gestures do that.

    That is why I said the cultures of Danes and Americans makes relationships extremely difficult. These gestures make Americans feel respected, and Danes disrespected.

    Please note, my appreciation of gestures is about the social and physical – not the intellectual.

    • Avatar
      Reply Theresa Puatu December 17, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Correction to a sentence in my previous comment (paragraph 2; last sentence)

      These little gestures are not considered insulting or demeaning to women; in American culture they are quite the opposite: they respect and honor women.

  • Avatar
    Reply Arikia January 8, 2015 at 8:01 am

    I found your blog by Googling “dating danish guys” and this post and your other one about the tree stump lad had me laughing out loud. If my Hawaiian fling with a Dane can span the distance and I wind up going out there, I will be buying your book for sure.

  • Avatar
    Reply Hannah February 7, 2015 at 12:20 am

    I don’t see a problem with guys not being aggressive. I mean, I’d feel uncomfortable with a man who thought he had to prove his manliness — unless a person is happy with themselves, they can’t be happy with another person. And I don’t think it fair to call them “tall, timid boys,” either. There’s no real wrong way to be a man, and their way is just as valid as anyone else’s. As long as they’re not hurting anybody, why does it matter?

  • Avatar
    Reply jane April 7, 2015 at 1:17 am

    This article was quite humorous,I’m dating a Dane and I must say,he is quite quiet in public,but is a real gentleman and knows just what to say when,he’s comfortable with himself and tells me how amazing I am everyday,very funny and chilled guy,I like being treated like a lady by a man so he’s great lol

  • Avatar
    Reply Novo July 23, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Hi, all. I am a Filipina and confused with my Dane. Not that he’s “mine” because we’re not really officially anything. But to tell you how confused I am, I have never ever thought of seeking help through forums like this in my entire life…until now.
    Anyway, I’ve sort of been seeing this Dane, and like most of you described, he is intelligent, gorgeous, and unbelievably sexy. We met online and after the small talk and a few funny convos, this escalated into steamy messages, and then to lots of sensitive, deep, personal conversations. He is putting up a company, and he asked me to be his partner. He was reluctant at first, saying he didn’t know whether to date me or do business with me, because if we get into business together, we can’t date–but sex is okay.
    So now, we are moving on to being partners. Now I really really like this guy, in fact, I love him. And my problem is that I like him too much that I don’t think I can handle it if and when one day, he starts seeing someone. He does mention “other girls” from time to time, I’m not sure if he’s joking or not, but I slide it off with a giggle (while secretly dying inside). One minute he’s talking about other girls and the next minute he’s telling me maybe we should have a child together—again I’m not sure if he’s kidding or not. And I get even more scared of the thought of (1)having a kid (2)with someone who’s gonna be sleeping around.
    Anyway, this is driving me nuts. I am thinking of backing out of the partnership to save my sanity. 😛
    If you can give me some insights, I would be very very thankful.

  • Avatar
    Reply Mariana January 31, 2016 at 12:55 am

    This article really had me laughing. I’m Brazilian and have been with a Dane for almost two years. Brazil has a very sexist society and here it’s very odd for women to make a move. The start of our relationship was all me and this had me insane because getting to him was the hardest I had ever had, even though he liked me back.
    However, I think the generalization isn’t true, since my Dane is very romantic and a real gentleman. Feel like I have gotten the best of both worlds: he treats me as an equal, but at the same time is willing to do things for me like cooking me dinners, carrying things and opening doors.

  • Avatar
    Reply Craig January 27, 2018 at 11:42 am

    I am pitting it down to feminism and makng men out to be serial predatores that women should be afraid of. It has scared the Danish men off for fear of being accused of attempted sexual assault.

  • Avatar
    Reply Christa Pålsson September 6, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Dear Kay Mellsih
    I have just ordered your two books from Saxo and look very much forward to reading them. However, I also saw you poster about How to Live in Denmark (inspired by the one by Claus Deleuran). We have a small bookshop for learning languages in the center of Copenhagen and would very much like to sell it to the crowds of tourists passing by our shop. Is it possible? The address is Sankt Peders Stræde 51 – and we are open from Thursday to Saturday from 11 a.m.

  • Avatar
    Reply GlobalGal November 23, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Here I was, so looking forward to coming to Denmark in a few years only to hear that dating in Denmark is like dating in Australia. Seems a lack of true confidence, tall poppy syndrome, social cliquishness and reliance on alcohol to overcome social barriers dominate both countries – who knew? What a bummer.

    Still looking forward to visiting but, will take each day and each encounter as it comes.

    P.S. You’ve got a real easy, tongue-in-cheek writing style. Thanks for the random laughs 🙂

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