Podcasts

Danes and Singing: Danish drinking songs, party songs, and foreigners who try to hum along

 

There have been very few international singing stars from Denmark, and that’s a surprise, because Danish people love to sing.

Joining choirs is very popular, and Danish schoolchildren often start the week with a song – in my daughter’s school, all the grades get together and sing something from the school’s common songbook.

There’s actually a kind of common songbook for all the children of Denmark, called De Små Synger, where you can find classics like Se Min Kjole (See my dress), Lille Peter Edderkop (Little Peter Spider) or Oles Nye Autobil, (Ole’s new car). Ole’s new car is actually a toy car that he uses to run into things, like his sister’s dollhouse. De Små Synger

In general, the Small Songs are a throwback to an older Denmark, a quieter Denmark where most people lived in the countryside. Many of the songs refer to green hilltops, or forests, or baby pigs or horses, or happy frogs that live in a swamp. And of course, all the humans in the Small Songs are entirely Danish – or ‘Pear Danish,’ as the local expression goes. One out of five children born in Denmark today is not an ethnic Dane, but there’s no such thing as Little Muhammed Spider or Fatima’s New Toy Car.

Still, everyone who grows up in Denmark learns these songs. And other songs that are just part of the Danish canon. Back when I was looking around for a school for my daughter, I went to a parent introduction meeting where the principal asked everyone to start by singing The Autumn Song. All the Danish parents got up, there were probably 200 of them there, all smiling, brought back to their school days, and happily singing the song. They all knew the words. I had no idea what was going on. I just stood up and hummed along.

Danish drinking songs

But Danish singing is not just for children. Danish teenagers and young adults, who tend to drink a lot, love Danish drinking songs. Snaps songs are made to be sung right before drinking a shot of snaps, they’re an important part of Danish student culture. One you’ll probably hear is ‘Sail up the river.’ The lyrics are easy to learn: ‘Sail up the river, sail down again. That was a great song, let’s sing it again.’ And then, of course, you sing it again. Many times. My neighbors were doing that last weekend.

Danish adults don’t have to be drunk to sing. If someone has a ‘round’ birthday – 30, 40, 50, 60 – or is retiring from her job after many years, it’s considered good manners in Denmark to write them a song. You don’t have to write the melody, you just use one of those Danish songs that everyone knows. And then you write lyrics that gently satirize the person’s lifestyle or interests, plus how much you care for them – if it’s a birthday – or how much you’ll miss them, if it’s a retirement.

The good news is, you don’t have to write these lyrics yourself. Some people do this professionally. You can google ‘festsange’ and you’ll find dozens of people using Google Adwords to sell their services. It costs about DK400 to get a song written for your event, and the songwriter will ask you for a few light-hearted stories about the person being celebrated – like he’s good at fixing things around the house, or she’s very messy and can never find her car keys. It doesn’t go much deeper than that.

Singing songs about yourself

So, when it’s time for the party, there will be a copy of the song for everyone attending, and you’ll all stand in a circle and sing it. I usually don’t know the song they’re singing along to, but I hum at the beginning and then just pick up the melody by the second or third verse, and there are usually around 7 verses. You get tired by the end. One thing I find funny is that the person being celebrated generally stands there with his own piece of paper sings along to the song about himself. And at the end, everyone raises their glasses for a toast. ‘Skål!’
 

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

 

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019

Working in Denmark or hoping to find a job in Denmark? Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for tips on finding a job, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or Saxo.com or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-8-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, including special orders with your company logo. You can also plan a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.

How to Live in Denmark is the updated version of our very first book based on the popular podcast and the essays you’ll see on this site. You can purchase it on Amazon and Saxo.com, or get the original book on Google Play in English, Chinese, and Arabic. You can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage an event tailored for your company or organization, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show, a great way for Danes and internationals to have fun together.

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1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Reply eliza March 31, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    The photo featuring the subtitle “Danes and singing” is in fact of a very famous norwegian 60s music and showbiz group called the Monn Keys! 🙂 There is Soelvi
    Wang (the lady), Arne Bendiksen (standing next to Soelvi), next to him another guy (unfamiliar with his name), and last to the left, is Per Asplin. Although they are norwegians, they are very much scandinavians, norway was once even in union with denmark. The Monn Keys
    did tour and held concerts in denmark. I am sure they would be happy and proud to be discovered on this site! P.s. Fun to see this picture here. Thanks.

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