How To Date in Denmark, Stories about life in Denmark

Dating in Denmark: Get Drunk and Find Your True Love

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.

On my very first night in Copenhagen, I went with an American girlfriend to a downtown discotheque. I’m a blonde, and she’s an attractive black woman, so you could say we had something for every taste.

We sat at a table roughly the size of a pizza. Three men sat across from us, a distance of approximately 25 centimeters. For an hour. Without saying anything. I think Zulus or spacemen would have found some way to communicate with us, but this was apparently beyond the capability of three well-educated Danes.

Finally, fortified by gin and tonics, we spoke to them first, and they turned out to be nice guys. But that was a lucky night: Since moving here, I have been to many a discoteque where women shake their booty with their girfriends for hours while men watch with pretend disinterest from the sidelines, their eyes radiating invisible beams of desire: Please, miss, ask me to dance.

Dating in Denmark
How do Danish men and women meet each other? I know it happens; the streets are full of Danish babies. But much like other reported miracles, such as Christ walking on water or an American president delivering a speech he wrote himself, it’s something I’ve never seen with my own eyes.

For one thing, Danish people seem to think that talking to strangers is uncouth. Ask Danish men why they don’t chat up women, and they say that women don’t want to be approached. They’ll make fun of you; they’ll think you’re desperate. They’ll think you want something from them.

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What men want of course, is the same thing that has produced a world population currently approaching 7 billion. Most women want the same thing, although they’d probably like it to last longer than three minutes. Yet you see Danish men and women in parks in the summer, sitting alone on blankets, or in cafes in the winter surrounded by their buddies or girlfriends with their hair carefully gelled, lonely and horny but contemptous of anyone who dares to approach.

Extreme drunkenness is socially acceptable
The icebreaker of course, is alcohol, and I have little doubt that if it vanished from the Earth tomorrow Danes would never reproduce. It didn’t take me long to learn that in Danish parties and nightclubs, there was a window of time, roughly from 1am to 3am, where social interaction was possible. Before 1am, Danish men weren’t drunk enough to talk, and after 3, they were too drunk to talk.

Extreme drunkeness seems to be the accepted way to meet that special someone, as explained to me in the days when I still was seeking a Danish boyfriend.

“What you do,” a Danish girlfriend explained to me, “is you get trashed and go home with somebody. Then in the morning you decide if you want to be boyfriend and girlfriend.”

This one-night stand culture is very difficult for foreigners to understand. One-night stands certainly take place in the US, but it is something unusual and embarassing, like making a lot of money in Denmark.

What do we tell the kids?
Here, drunken sex with a complete stranger seems to be the hopeful prelude to a serious relationship, possibly marriage. If children result from this, it is hard to imagine what their parents tell them about the night Mom and Dad first met. My grandparents once told me that they met outside a Depression-era dance hall, since my unemployed grandmother didn’t have the 10 cents necessary to get in, but maybe I just didn’t hear the whole story.

Which leads me back to dancing. Here is what I have learned: in Denmark, it is bad manners to ask a girl to dance, but it is good manners to get very drunk, make sure she is drunk too, and ask her to come back to your place. She will quite likely say yes, if only in a misguided audition for the role of girlfriend, leaving you both a little sad and bitter the next morning.

Long ago, before I ever thought of living here, a Danish woman told me that her country was a place with a lot of sex but not very much love. I wonder.

 

Moving to Denmark

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

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18 Comments

  • Reply laura December 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    well-stated. wow.

  • Reply Jens Jacob Baumspieler January 21, 2014 at 12:58 am

    You are saying it like its a bad thing? I really dont see the alternative.. Meet people while sober?? What is this, prison camp? bible study?

  • Reply Gabe February 2, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t think she’s implying this is a bad thing. Just trying to let people know what to expect when visiting/going to Denmark.

    I spent a month and a half traveling through Europe last summer and Denmark was one of my stops. I can very much say this is how it appeared to me while I was there. You go out to a club/bar and people don’t really talk to strangers too much at all. Even when walking down the street people in general avoid making eye contact. A Danish girl I met told me basically the exact same thing when I asked her about this. She told me it’s generally seen kinda rude approaching strangers and try to make conversation. We kept in touch and met in jamaica for vacation. Every time strangers would try to talk to us, she felt kinda uncomfortable as they are not used to that.
    Overall Denmark was my favorite place to visit and Copenhagen is just amazing. I would go back there for sure whenever I get the chance. Breaking the barrier at first can difficult but once you get to know people there, they are some of the friendliest people you could ever meet

  • Reply April February 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Very humorous !! Im a US woman looking for a danish love and very much enjoyed and appreciated the insight.

  • Reply Jacob February 17, 2014 at 10:05 am

    After a month in Copenhagen, I would say that this seems to hold fairly true. A “first round draft” occurs right at 1am, and the most attractive girls are spirited away by the tallest guys, and over the next two hours, other people settle, get too drunk, or sober up too much. At “only” 180cm, I find that I am lost in a sea of giants and can’t get any attention from the girls. I miss not feeling short, and now know how it must feel to be 174cm (4cm below average) back home.

  • Reply Leon February 28, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    There’s no ritual. It’s nice.

  • Reply Lena - from Denmark February 28, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    I think that this is a sad story about Denmark – but true I’m afraid ๐Ÿ™ You go to the disco and get drunk if you want to find a girl/boyfriend. As a mother of two sons – it worries me a lot that this “getting drunk” is nessecary. I don’t want my sons to drink all the time and I don’t want them to end up beeing alcoholichs. Even when they started their educations – high school/college.. you also have to go drinking to make new friends. Other students from the schools are arranging the bar tours. I almost feel that the teatchers/schools indirectly incourages the youth to go drinking and that is absolutely not okay. I think they ought to come up with some healthy alternatives instead and show them the right way. I’m proud that my oldest son keep on saying “no thanks – I’m not drinking” – that is his own choise. He is only eating healthy food – no soda, cookies etc. But it takes a strong person to say no. It is very hard making friends when you do say no – and that worries me too. But I think that things are about to change here in Denmark because a lot of things are changing in our society right now. We are eating much more healthy food than a few years ago for example so therefor I don’t think that we will keep on accepting the drinking eather. It will change but in one step at a time – so don’t be afraid to come and visit us again ๐Ÿ˜‰ We would very much love you to come here. May be you could teach us some alternatives – that would be very nice. And finally – it is not all danes who doesn’t want to talk to strangers. But we are tought that we should be carefull to strangers because of rape, violence, murders and so on.. so may be that’s the reason. I love to have a little chat with people even though I don’t know them and so far no one has turned their bag on me when I have started a conversation. So do come and visit us – you are very welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Nicolaj March 1, 2014 at 3:58 am

    I love this, as a 30 year old man & native Dane, i can testify that this is true.
    I found this rather funny because we’re aware of this and over the years i’ve had several conversations about this, because we don’t understand it either.
    But usually what i can decode from friends/acquaintances when we talk about the subject, is that men wants to be approached by women & not the other way around.

    These are some of the thoughts i often hear.
    Men are afraid of being ridiculed publicly, and many believe women will do that quite often when they’re being defensive.
    Men are seen as the predatory figure, and therefore when a man approaches a woman, they often get defensive.

    Men wouldn’t do this, so even if we’re not attracted to you, we respect your approach & we welcome it.
    So many believe that it is up to the woman to initiate contact.
    That’s usually why you see groups of men keeping to them selves until they’ve build up the courage, with alcohol.

  • Reply Tony November 7, 2014 at 5:37 am

    I am a =n educated Mulatto Jamaican living in the Pacific North West, U.S. and am interested in going to Denmark to find wifey material this December. Is this a possibility and is there lots of racism there?

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish November 7, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Hi Tony. Racism in Denmark is mostly directed against Middle Easterners, so I don’t know that you’ll have a big problem because of skin color. You will have a problem, however, if you approach Danish women as ‘wifey material.’ Danish women are very independent, and are unlikely to be looking for traditional male-dominated marriage set-up. Also, marriage is becoming less common here: people tend to form non-married partnerships, in which they remain together and unmarried even after having several children.

  • Reply Sebastian December 13, 2014 at 3:52 am

    Nice article and great humour! Can’t do anything but agree as a dane.

    also
    “but it is something unusual and embarassing, like making a lot of money in Denmark.”
    best line ever!

  • Reply Annihilator February 27, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Hi, i`m new in denmark and looking to Girlfriend can i found or not
    Can i have problem about racsim??

    Note: Iยดm Middle Easterian

  • Reply Rueben March 16, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    I find this really interesting , I will be studying in Denmark starting this year , I hope to make friends in Copenhegan , Please hook me up…!

  • Reply Cheryl November 1, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks for tis post, Kay.
    I am an American woman who is planning to emigrate. If I understand correctly, it is ok for me to approach men but not to expect them to approach me?
    If so that works out just fine for me.

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish November 2, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Yes, that’s pretty much the size of it. Of course, the person who does the approaching also has to put up with the occasional rejection! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Shaurya March 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    This is so weird and funny. I am going to be in Copenhagen for 2 months for my internship from may and I hope people will be friendly with me there. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Reply Amalia October 31, 2016 at 2:04 am

    Great article! However, the zulu joke was a bit silly! Have you ever met a zulu and what makes you think they are the opposite of educated people?
    #correct me if I am wrong!

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish October 31, 2016 at 6:32 am

      Hi Amalia! Yes, I met many Zulus during a trip to South Africa, and have read some basic Zulu history. The story suggests that the Zulus would have been more communicative than Danes which – in my limited experience – they were. Danes are not good at chatting up people they do not know.

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