A decade after moving to Denmark, I am pretty well integrated into Danish society.
I’ve learned to speak Danish, I pay my taxes, I bike everywhere, I send my daughter to a Danish school. I even enjoy a nice slice of dark rye rugbrød – even when I’m on my own and don’t have to impress anyone with how healthy I’m eating.
But there are a few ways I simply refuse to integrate. I will not do things the Danish way.
Introducing people to each other
Here’s one example: The Danish way of introducing people to each other. Where I come from, if I’m with one friend – let’s say, A, Anders, and we run into another friend, let’s say B, Bente, I introduce them to each other. I say, Anders, this is Bente, one of my favorite clients. Bente. Anders is my personal trainer.” That way they know a little bit about each other, so we can all participate in the short conversation that follows.
That’s not the Danish way. In the Danish way, people are expected to introduce themselves. Anders sticks out his hand and says “Anders.” And Bente sticks out her hand and says, “Bente”. That’s it. And then I chat briefly and uncomfortably with Bente while Anders kind of stands there like one of the bronze statues in Ørsted Park. Or, worse, stands there while Bente says, I hear you’re looking for a new personal trainer. I know a great guy!
So, I do try to introduce them to each other, in my American way, and they try to introduce themselves, in the Danish way, and it’s all a mess, we’re all talking over each other. I have failed to integrate.
I don’t watch Danish reality programs
Another way I’ve failed to integrate is that I don’t listen to Danish pop music, and I don’t watch Danish TV. Now, I know that there are some Danish TV dramas that have become famous all over the world – ‘The Killing’ is one of them – but there’s also a lot of the usual entertainment filler.
The same reality programming, dancing and singing contests, that you see in any other country. But Denmark is a small country, 5 and a half million people, and most of them are shy. Trust me when I tell you that there is not that much talent to choose from.
But it makes my Danish acquaintances concerned, and sometimes upset, when I say I don’t watch their TV. DR, the national TV channel, is seen as a way to kind of bind everyone together. That’s why everyone is legally required to pay about $600 a year for it, whether they watch it or not. If I was going to watch trashy entertainment, I’d watch American trash. God knows we have enough of it.
Not over the moon about licorice
Danish food. I have not integrated my diet to Danish food. I don’t eat nearly enough pork, and I’ve yet to master fried fish balls. I don’t like herring, and I’m not over the moon about licorice.
Licorice to a Dane is like a chili pepper to a Texan – it is their culinary ne plus ultra. You can buy sweet licorice, salt licorice, chocolate covered with licorice, licorice syrup for your coffee, powdered licorice to put on chicken or fish…they are nuts about it. I swear, I think it’s something genetic. If you have this specific gene, licorice tastes amazing, like, say, chocolate to everyone else.
In general, Danes do eat a lot of candy, and they binge, and teach their children to binge. The way we do it at my house is, I let my daughter have a little bit of chocolate or a cookie each day after dinner, as dessert.
Danes don’t do this. There is, theoretically, no candy all week, and then a giant bowl of candy on Friday night. Friday candy, it’s called, and it’s linked to a special Disney show on TV.
Stink-o on the weekend
They have the same attitude towards alcohol. I’ll often have cocktail at the end of the workday, or a glass of wine with dinner. I know my Danish friends think is a little suspect.
Danes don’t do this. What they do is avoid alcohol all week, and then get absolutely stink-o on the weekend, or when they go to a party. Getting stink-o is an expected part of the evening’s entertainment. Sometimes I try to make weekend plans with friends and they’ll say, no, we’ll be out the night before, so we’ll have a hangover that day. They plan their hangover!
I have not integrated to the Danish binge drinking culture. But I do like a glass of wine now and then.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2020