I was in London this week, and did a little fall wardrobe shopping. I got tired after walking for awhile, and it was lunchtime, so I sat down in a pub. I had a beer and a fish and chips and a British guy next to me was also having a beer and fish and chips and so we just chatted through lunch. We talked about politics, the weather, the job market. After lunch, we waved goodbye and I went back to shopping. I never found out his name.
The reason I mention this is that it never could have happened in Denmark. Danes don’t talk to strangers. They talk to their friends. The idea of a casual lunch with someone you will never see again makes no sense to them.
Foreigners often say it’s hard to make friends in Denmark. This is because Danes take friendship very seriously. A friendship is a commitment, often a lifetime commitment. You will often meet adult Danes who have friends they met in kindergarten.
Acquaintances and no-obligation friends
For you, as a foreigner, this can be tough. Danes don’t really have the idea of ‘an acquaintance’ – they have the word, en bekendte, but it isn’t used very often. If you were in some other countries, an acquaintance might invite you, maybe your partner, over for dinner and then, three months later, you’d invite the acquaintance and her partner and maybe it would continue and maybe it wouldn’t.
That light, no-obligation friendship – Danes don’t do that. In Denmark, friendship is an obligation, and a trust. Friends don’t let each other down. So, when a Dane meets you, he may think ahhhh he’s a great guy, but I really don’t have room for another friend. I have no time to see the friends I have. Meaning, the people he’s known since he was three years old.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2020