Danes and Authority: The giant penis on the wall, or how to deal with Danish civil servants


When you think you’re talking to the authorities in Denmark, you’re often not talking to the authorities. If it’s about bus service, train service, unemployment compensation, homeless shelters, even fire protection and ambulance services – you will be talking to a private company hired by the authorities.

Denmark has a really high level of privatization. Of course, these companies get subsidies from the government to provide transport service, or to counsel to the unemployed, or to put out the fire you started while trying to barbecue ribs, but their employees are not civil servants. They can be hired and fired and trained and promoted – they work for private companies.


That said, some things are still run directly by the government, like the immigration service and local affairs. So there are some times when you do need to speak to civil servants in Denmark. There is a way to do this.

How to approach Danish civil servants
First of all, plan in advance. You have find out their ‘telephone time.’ Civil servants often only take the phone for three or four hours each day, or sometimes only on specific days of the week. Tuesdays from 10-2 or something like that. And, of course, never on the weekend.

So, find out your civil servant’s telephone time, and put at least a half an hour aside, since you may have to wait in a telephone queue. When it’s your turn, the first thing you do is identify yourself by name. ‘Hi, this is Kay Xander Mellish.” And then calmly state your business. “A graffiti artist has drawn a giant penis on the city-owned wall right outside my living room window. Could you send someone to remove it?” That’s an actual case, by the way.

When you speak to the Danish civil servant, tone is really important. You want to go in there with a positive, we can do it together! spirit. Danes respond very badly to anger or conflict, but very well to a spirit of co-operation.

It may be shocking to people from other countries, but most state workers in Denmark are pretty competent. Working for the state is paid well, and they never ask for bribes. Like most Danes, they want to do their job well, within the time they’re paid for it, and they feel that they do. Civil servants in Denmark have pride in their work.

That said, it still took six months and several phone calls to get that giant penis graffiti removed.

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 2021

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1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Reply Nico September 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Compared to french standards, my personal experience with civil servants in DK is very positive. As the telephone time thing can be pretty annoying in the first place, at least you are pretty sure to get someone on the line. French administration doesn’t have fixed telephone times, but is in most cases impossible to reach by phone (nobody picks up)

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