Stories about life in Denmark

No planned hangovers: 13 years after moving to Denmark, here are some ways I won’t fit in

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.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Jessica October 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Haha, SO TRUE!

  • Avatar
    Reply Anatolie October 27, 2013 at 11:55 am

    “They plan their hangover” – so true, I do the same 😉

  • Avatar
    Reply Tanya November 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Your writing is fabulous!! I love this- classic!! Wish I were in Denmark planning to get hungover with my best friend in the world– she lives there now with her young family! Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned so much from her about the awesome Danish culture and I so miss having her in the U.S. –We are best friends since university here in the mid-late 1990’s, and we worked/lived in DC together for many years before being moms, etc.!! Best-T

  • Avatar
    Reply Crystal November 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I love the first observation of introducing people. I remember when I moved here I thought it was because the person I was with was embarassed about me! It is totally insane. What is worse that I had a foreign friend who has adapted to Danish ways and did the same thing, needless to say I was appalled.

  • Avatar
    Reply Birgit January 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Great writing! Of course, we are happy to live in DK and we adapt to Danish culture. But we also have our own culture and that can make a nice difference for us. The world is colourful.

  • Avatar
    Reply Erik January 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I think you’ve chosen wisely, which parts to integrate and which not to 😀 The part about introductions is definitely something danes need to work on, it is simply bad manners not to introduce strangers to each other anywhere in the world.

    I personally don’t mind a glass of good whisky during the workday, but then again I am my own boss so that helps.

  • Avatar
    Reply Wade Larsen January 25, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Well written! As an American, I find Danish culture fascinating. I’m eighth-Danish and would like to learn Danish and also visit Denmark.

    By the way, Kay, you are just gorgeous. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Jesper February 21, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Introducing people to each other …

    Kay you are missing something here. When you introduce 2 people to each other the “Danish way” they do have something in common, something to talk about.

    You! They both now you and they will have to talk about you, that`s nice isn`t it?

    • Avatar
      Reply Maya February 26, 2014 at 6:18 am

      Yeah, I was just thinking that. If I left the two alone, the ensuing conversion would go as follows:
      “So… how do you know Maya?”
      “Oh, we’ve been friends since elementary school”
      “Really? Wow, that’s a long time. Tell me, was she just as odd back then? :D”
      *snickering and friendly talking behind my back ensues*

      I should add the +1s don’t usually find it embarrasing to stand on the side line, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

      I do, however, do the ‘American introduction’ on occasion, when I find the two I know have something particular in common, like doing the same sport, having gone to the same university (like you said, it’s a small country :)) or, most importantly, when it’s my boyfriend. If he’s the one who is with me, I always introduce him to whom I meet.

  • Avatar
    Reply Mrembo March 21, 2014 at 10:37 am

    I enjoy the humour with which you write about Denmark. That thing about introductions is completely spot on!

    I identify with the whole post after close to 8 years here.

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