Many Danes meet their future spouses at work. Yet there are also strict laws in Denmark against sexual harassment.
Where do you draw a line between harassment and two adults developing tender feelings for each other?
Keep your hands to yourself in the office
First of all, the obvious: you are not allowed to touch your co-workers where they don’t want to be touched. (A good general rule is to stay away from everything except hands and shoulders).
And you are certainly not allowed to imply that the people who work for you can enhance their careers by spending one-on-one time with you outside of the office.
Furthermore, it’s important to remember that the laws of romance common in many cultures do not apply to Denmark.
For example, men don’t always make the first move. A woman who is interested in a male colleague can also set things in motion.
Also, Danish men and women do not play “hard to get.” If you get a sense that someone is going out of their way to avoid you at the team lunches or other social events, it’s not because they want to intrigue you. It’s because you’re making them uncomfortable.
Unlike in some other cultures, a “no” in Denmark really is a no. It’s not an invitation to keep trying.
A good way to get to know someone
With that in mind, meeting someone at work can be the start of a long and happy relationship.
You get to know them in a relaxed, group environment and see how they handle a variety of different situations and challenges.
It often starts with alcohol
Given the Danes’ fondness for alcohol, many inter-office romances start at the annual Christmas party. Ms. X and Mr. Y drink a bottle of wine or two, wiggle suggestively together on the dance floor, and depart to one or the other’s home in a taxi to complete the evening. The next morning, they discuss whether they are interested in a future romantic relationship.
If that doesn’t sound like your style, or if Christmas is too far away, there are other ways to handle the matter.
How to ask your colleague on a date
For example, if you have your eye on Mr. Y., you can use your team lunches together to find out if he’s single and, if so, what he likes to do on weekends. If he likes professional handball, classical art, or monster movies, find an event that’s happening two or three weeks from now and ask if he’d like to attend it with you.
(Never ask a Dane to attend something with you last-minute: they are not spontaneous people and often have their calendars arranged weeks in advance.)
Even if Mr. Y says no, he now knows you’re interested in meeting outside office hours, in what the Danes insist on calling “private time”, aka personal time. He can then ask you for a get-together outside the office if he’s so inclined.
Alternately, you can wait a month or so and then ask him to another event. If he says no again, he’s not interested, and you should leave him alone. Further date requests could be seen as harassment.
Should you tell your colleagues about your romance?
Most couples who meet in the office in Denmark keep their romance to themselves for the first few months. Some don’t announce it until they have a major life event, such as moving in together, a wedding, or a baby on the way.
Danes have a great respect for privacy, so even if your colleagues suspect that there may be something going on between you, they are unlikely to bring it up. As long as you don’t blow kisses to each other in the office or have screaming fights about who overcooked the previous nights’ dinner, they will do their best to stay out of it. Even colleagues that accidentally spot you two in local restaurants or movie theaters will usually keep it to themselves.
The one exception is a boss dating a person he or she directly supervises. The boss half of this relationship should report it to his or her supervisor, or HR, after a month or so of loving togetherness, especially if the relationship looks like it could become long-term.
If that happens, and if the company is big enough, one half of the couple usually transfers to another department or team.
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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2023