My Danish friends who are about to spend some time in the U.S. often ask me for advice about surviving American culture, and I give them all the same two tips.
First, in the U.S. it’s a good idea to be polite to police officers. Danish cops often come from the countryside and have funny rural accents and since Danes generally don’t like hierarchy and authority anyway, they have no problem being sarcastic and a little smart-ass with a police officer.
That doesn’t work in the States. That Highway Patrol lady with the mirrored sunglasses who has just caught you speeding down Route 66 is unlikely to have much of a sense of humor. If she pulls you over, say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” a lot and keep your hands in view at all times so she can see you’re not reaching for a gun.
That’s the first tip. The second tip is that, should you go to a bar, it can happen that a stranger or two will offer to buy you a drink. If the stranger is of the opposite gender, or same gender depending on the bar, that person is interested in you. Let them buy you a drink. And chat with them while you drink it. If there’s no chemistry, when the drink is finished, you can both go your separate ways.
That’s a little shocking for Danes. Buying a drink for someone is a big deal in Denmark, a place where a loving couple who go out for a romantic candlelight dinner often split the bill. For Danes, buying someone a drink is like buying them a birthday present. Many Danes are not comfortable with a stranger making that level of commitment.
The How to Live in Denmark project was recently featured on DR.dk, the website of Denmark’s national broadcaster DR.
The journalist chose to focus on love and romance in Denmark. Here are a few translated excerpts:
Having lived in Denmark for 15 years, Mellish has noticed that there are special rules for love here.
“Many of the dating mechanisms that work in the rest of the world don’t work here in Denmark. No one knows who should take the initiative. Women can’t figure out if a man is ‘Danish passive’ or just not interested.”
“Danish men are ‘nice boys’ that won’t go after a girl who doesn’t want them. There’s very little mystery and a woman simply cannot expect a Danish man to seduce her.”
Instead, Mellish has found, romance is facilitated with large amounts of alcohol consumed in the evenings.
“In Denmark, it’s easy to find sex, but hard to find love. People drink a lot of alcohol and go home with someone they don’t know well, and then figure out the day after if they want to get together for coffee.”
Cheating on one’s romantic partner is also common, Mellish says.
“I see a lot of infidelity, and I believe that’s because in Denmark, everything is so secure. There’s no war at the moment, people are financially protected by the welfare state, but you can still be unfaithful! That’s still dangerous! In Denmark, people are so open about sex that there is very little ‘forbidden fruit.’ But forbidden fruit is one of the things that makes sex sexy!”
Photo: Roman Boed via Creative Commons
I was on Danish morning TV recently, which isn’t really something to boast about. In a country of 5 million people, 10 guests a show, 365 days a year – you do the math. Just about everyone gets on TV sooner or later.
Some of my friends and colleagues mentioned that they had seen me, stumbling through with my imperfect Danish, trying to promote my book, How to Live in Denmark. But just some of my friends and colleagues. Specifically, it was my friends and colleagues who work in trendy creative industries – advertising, app designers, actors.
That’s because I was on TV at 8:45 in the morning, when people in those industries are just getting out of bed in preparation to roll into the office around 10.
My friends who have more conventional office jobs, like working in a bank, have to be their desk at 9am, so some of them had seen teasers – you know, coming up next, someone who doesn’t speak Danish properly, trying to promote a book – but they hadn’t seen the show itself.
And my friends who do real, physical work had no idea I was on TV at all. Airport tarmac staff, postal carriers, builders. They start work at 7am. Or even earlier, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had your deep sleep interrupted by a Danish builder banging on something outside your house at, say, 5:30 in the morning.
While there’s no official class system in Denmark, there is when it comes to working hours. And working clothing – people who work with their hands often wear blue jumpsuits to and from work, or painters pants, or bright fluorescent vests if they work outside in the dark. People in the creative industries wear aggressively ugly eyeglasses, and unusual shoes, and the men have chic little Hugo Boss scarves around their necks.
Different clothes, different starting times, that’s not big news, but recently other forms of inequality have been increasing in Denmark. In fact, according to the official Danish Statistics, the GINI coefficient, which measures inequality in Denmark, has been rising faster than in any other country in Europe. It’s now 27.9, compared with 22 at the turn of the century.
The book is an easy-to-read collection of essays from the first year of the How To Live in Denmark podcast, which premiered in summer 2013.
It includes material from some of the most popular podcasts, like ‘No Planned Hangovers: Ways I will not Integrate in Denmark’ and ‘Tips for Dating a Danish man’ and ‘Tips for Dating a Danish woman.’
There’s also an extra essay with a little bit more personal information about me, such as how I first came to Denmark.
I hope you enjoy the book, which I’ve tried to price at an affordable level for everybody – around DK50, varied only slightly by your local level of sales tax.
Please contact me if you’re interested in a volume package to distribute to your student or work organization, of if you’re interested in having me stage a live ‘How To Live in Denmark’ event.
Let’s watch “Matador” together – join the Facebook group
Quillette article: Life in Denmark under the Corona lockdown
Coronavirus and Denmark
Drinking in Denmark
Debt in Denmark
Secrets of a non-Danish mom
Christmas Eve: The Danish Church’s Big Moment
What ‘hygge’ is and isn’t: Thoughts on a misused word
Get the “How to Live in Denmark T-shirt” via Spreadshirt
The Christmas tree on the bicycle, and other stories of a bike-only household
Get the “Working with Americans: Tips for Danes” audiobook on Amazon Audible
Small talk with Danes: A few tips ahead of your Julefrokost
Politeness in Denmark: Some thoughts on Danish etiquette
Get the “Working with Americans” Hoodie
When American Holidays Come to Denmark
Nudity in Denmark: The Naked Truth
Get the How to Live in Denmark T-shirt
Making friends in Denmark and Dating: Tips from Kay Xander Mellish at Copenhagen International Day
Preview the “How to Live in Denmark” T-shirt and merchandise collection
What I say when I’m welcoming newcomers to Denmark
Tips for Danes visiting the USA: What I tell my Danish friends travelling to America
Summer Vacation in Denmark: The Agony and the Ecstasy
“Amerikaner skal stemme for første gang – ét parti får aldrig min stemme” Read Kay’s first BT column in Danish
“My first time voting in Denmark – who should I vote for?” Read Kay’s first BT column in English
April Fool’s in Denmark, and the Rough Game of Danish Humor
Danes and Spring: Hot Wheat Buns and Highly-Educated Drunks
Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers
The sound of Denmark? Quiet, very quiet
Read about Kay in the Berlingske Tidende
Danskerne lever i et fladt land med et fladt hieraki. Det dæmper lyden af en dansker – indtil der kommer alkohol på bordet, mener kulturchok-skribent.
Buy “Top 35 Mistakes Danes Make in English”
Tips for living with a Danish family
Christmas alone in Denmark: Here’s how to have fun anyway
My gift-giving tips: Gifts from Denmark for Local and Faraway Friends
Christmas in Denmark: The Cultural Importance of the Adult Elf Hat
Buy How to Work in Denmark: The book
Click here to buy the book, with links to Amazon, Saxo, iTunes, Google Play, and our own web shop.
Come join us for the “How to Live in Denmark” Game Show
Gift-giving in Denmark: Package games, almond gifts, and why it’s OK to exchange whatever you get
Copenhagen vs. New York City: Reversal of fortune?
Hello, Denmark – Kay’s presentations for newcomers to Denmark
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 one of the right-wing nut-cases from the Danish People’s Party recently went on a rant about how most foreigners in Denmark were criminals, my friends and I were furious. Here we were, foreigners, and we were clearly not getting our cut of the criminal millions being made on the streets of Copenhagen. All we did was go to work every day and pay Danish taxes. We figured we had better get started.
After considering a variety of profitable crimes, we decided on a male prostitution ring, with the idea that our workers could do internal projects on slow nights. But our male escorts would not provide sex: that was too easy to get in Denmark.
Instead, they would offer romance. Specially imported from Mediterranean countries, these Romeos would bring flowers, write poetry, and say things like “Your eyes are like the ocean.” In short, they would do things that Danish men wouldn’t consider even if it would give the local Copenhagen team an instant victory over the German national squad.
Longing looks and sweet words
Foreign men play a curious role in the world of Danish romance, since they can sometimes make a Danish woman realize exactly what she is missing: those longing looks, those sweet words, that masculine worship that makes her feel so wonderfully female. A man in Madrid once told me that Danish girls on vacation were easy. Well, no wonder. Nobody’s said anything nice to them in years.
Take a deep breath, everybody, but in the world outside of Denmark, florists are not just for buying a centerpiece for Aunt Bente’s Sunday lunch. They are for sending roses to your wife or girlfriend, and in France, to your mistress too. In foreign lands, men buy women jewelry and furs to win their favors: they open doors and carry furniture. Some even earn a lot of money and pay all of the household expenses.
Sometimes Danish women capture these men alive and bring them back to Denmark, where the government punishes them by making them sit through infinite Danish courses and refusing to allow the couple to live in sublet apartments. I suspect that the new restrictions on marriage to foreigners are just Danish People’s party founder Pia Kiersgaard’s sour grapes about ending up with a Danish husband.
Longing looks and sweet words
Of course, there are already a large variety of foreign men available right here in Denmark. Many are tall, dark, and handsome, many are Muslim, and many are lovely people – one of my closest friends in Denmark now has a Pakistani boyfriend who treats her like a queen.
That said, one of the sad lessons of a multicultural society is that fools come in every color. I’m ashamed to agree with the Danish People’s Party about anything, but there are, unfortunately, some “new Danes” who cannot understand the difference between an ordinary blonde girl on the street and the blond bimbo they saw soaping her plastic breasts online. Some of them see Danish girlfriends as temps until their future Mrs. Muslim right comes along. I’ve fallen for this one myself; it took me a while to figure out why the sweet Muslim surgeon I was dating would never introduce me to his friends, and always wanted to sit at the very back of cafes.
I have met these embarrassments-to-Allah; I have occasionally removed their hands from my inner thigh on the dance floor at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse. (In one particular case, I handled the situation New York fashion, firmly grasping the gentleman’s hand and bending it back so far I almost broke his finger. He won’t try that again.) Anyway, these jerks do more than cause bad karma between “new Danes” and standard Danes. They get in the way of truly nice immigrant guys getting laid.
Kissing courses in France
Maybe, instead of importing romantic manpower, we could train Danish men to do better. Instead of those scuba courses they’re so fond of, Danish guys could be sent on kissing courses to France, or seduction courses in Italy. Since I like a man who stands up for himself, even when confronted with lunatics carrying lethal weapons, I might even suggest “misguided macho” courses in the USA.
In return, Danish men could provide exchange courses in the things they do well: housecleaning, meal preparation, child care. Forget Danish foreign aid – this is what would really win Denmark a place in the hearts of the world’s women. And, darling Pia, it just might cut the immigration rate. Plenty of men will choose another destination when they find out that in Denmark, they must help do the dishes.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2020