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Work

Danish business etiquette can be difficult for foreigners to master.

Shaking hands upon meeting with eye contact is an important part of Danish business etiquette.

So is a casual approach: the local equivalents of “Mr” and “Ms” are almost never used.

Most Danes dress casually in the office: a business suit is almost never required, and dresses are uncommon. A high-quality sweater and well-tailored business trousers is acceptable business wear for any gender.

Some Danes are very direct: Danish business etiquette doesn’t require a lot of extra words, and Danes can sometimes seem a bit harsh.

In the Media

Kay on Go’ Morgen Danmark: Tips on Making Friends

Making friends was the topic on Go’ Morgen Danmark when Kay Xander Mellish visited the national morning show to discuss a recent report saying that Denmark was one of the hardest countries in the world for internationals to make friends.

“Danes are actually very good friends – they are good friends you can count on. But because they want that kind of relationship where you can count on each other, they want to have a limited number of friends. They often make those friends in primary school or high school. So if you’re 39 or 49, it’s very difficult to find new friends.”

How did Kay make friends when she arrived in Denmark? asked host Mikkel Kryger.

“I took the initiative again and again and again, even when it came to dating. Danes are very nice people, but they don’t want to impose on others. They don’t want to disturb you. So if you want to be friends, or date them, you have to ask the first time…and the second time…and maybe even the third time if you want to come into their circle of friendship.”

The number one tip
“Kay, another thing one can do is read your book, because you’ve written almost a guide for coming to Denmark, How to Live in Denmark. You’ve shared some of your own experiences,” said host Mikkel Kryger. “What do you think are some of the solutions to these challenges internationals face when moving here?”

Kay said, “The number one tip I give to people is – if you want a Danish friend, find a Dane who didn’t grow up where you live now. So if you’re here in Copenhagen, you need to find someone who grew up in Aalborg, or Viborg, or Sønderborg, because they don’t have their network. They don’t have all their old school friends, or family friends.

“If you find someone who grew up here in Copenhagen, they’re always busy.”

Danes who have recently returned from living abroad are another good focus group, Kay says, since they’re often looking for more diversity in their social circles.

In the Media

Tips for Working with Americans in Børsen

In a recent edition of the Danish business newspaper Børsen, Kay Xander Mellish offered seven “Tips for Working with Americans“.

“I hear it again and again when I speak to my clients who deal with American colleagues, customers and suppliers: We thought the cultures were pretty much alike, but they’re not,” Kay writes in Danish.

“The US is a high-risk, high-reward culture that can seem both exhilarating and cruel to a Dane raised on social cohesion, trust, and safety. And American business culture reflects both the excitement and energy and unforgiving nature of American life.”

Tips for working with Americans
In the Børsen article, Kay offers several tips from her new book Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.

Act enthusiastic.The cool, controlled behaviour and flat speaking voice that signify a mature adult in Denmark can be misinterpreted by Americans as disinterest or even boredom. Americans live life with an exclamation point. If you want Americans to get excited about your product, you will need to act as enthusiastic as they do.

Think big. Danes sometimes make the mistake of “thinking small” when going into a negotiation and focusing only on the potential deal at hand. But their American counterparts may not want to limit themselves. They may think bigger, bigger, bigger. In American business as American life, you can always go much lower or much higher, in price or in scope. Be prepared for upselling if the opportunity presents itself.

Give positive feedback. Danes often take the approach that “We hired you to do a job, you’re doing it, and we’ll let you know if there is a problem.” But Americans raised on a culture of constant positive reinforcement often perceive this as “You only call us when something goes wrong.” Keep your US employees and suppliers happy by adopting the habit of regular appreciation for everything that goes right.

Avoid sarcasm and Danish humor. Humor is always tough to export, and the Danish conviction that everyone should be able to make fun of themselves can clash with American sensitivities in a politically correct age. Sarcasm is another risk – the Americans probably won’t understand it and it could get you branded as a negative person, one of the worst things to be in American eyes.

Set specific targets and outline assignments. Danish employees like a feeling of independence, of being given a project outline and trusted to finish it well and on time. American employees are accustomed to clearer instructions and goals. Some may find the Danish approach refreshing, but most will find it nebulous and confusing. Americans also expect more monitoring. If you’re not watching them, some employees will take the opportunity to goof off.

US customers expect high availability. If you’re dealing with a US customer or business partner, don’t count on them to be understanding when you take an extended Danish-style summer vacation and they can’t reach you. In the US, the customer is king and convenience is queen, so if you make access to you or your product too difficult, competitors may see an opening. Limited “telephone times” like in Denmark don’t work; you need to be available at any time within working hours, and sometimes outside them.

Hiearchy is a part of the meritocratic culture. One aspect of American life Danes don’t always understand is how hard it is to make to the top, even for people who come from a relatively privileged background. Once a man or a woman has become a boss, they want the respect and the power that comes with that position. They like their titles, and they’ll often make decisions on their own, without seeking consensus from their team.

Before you go, study the differences
The most important thing to remember is that even though the US and Denmark have a lot in common – like a lack of patience with formalities, and the love of a good deal – the business cultures are very different. Study those differences and plan how you’ll handle them before you go.

Read the original article in Danish.

Image mashup credit: Kay Xander Mellish 2019

In the Media

Kay on Go’ Aften Danmark Live

How to Live in Denmark’s Kay Xander Mellish recently visited the Danish national TV program Go’ Aften Danmark to discuss politeness in Denmark.

Kay joined two other expats to respond to the hosts’ challenge: how can Danes be more polite.

One of the other expats encouraged Danes to be more outgoing; another suggested using more kind words, such as please.

Kay’s input was that Danes could perhaps avoid English-language profanity around native speakers.

You can see the entire interview on TV2Play.

Photo credit: Kay Xander Mellish 2019

In the Media

Tips for Danes Working With Americans on DR Radio P1

“Today I have in the studio Kay Xander Mellish, and she’s here to talk about her new book, Tips for Danes Working With Americans”, announced host Tore Leifer on DR’s Radio P1 the other day.

It’s always enjoyable to visit the DR studios on Amager – so enjoyable that I didn’t mind that Tore had misunderstood the name of the book, which is actually Working With Americans: Tips for Danes.

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Books, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Working with Americans: Tips for Danes – Get the book!

Working with Americans: Tips for Danes, my new book, is now available!

Many Danes work for companies that are US-owned or have US divisions. Others deal with American colleagues on the telephone or online every day. Some even travel to the US to meet customers, suppliers or colleagues.

Because Danes speak great English and are exposed to so much American TV, movies, and radio, they tend to think that they have a handle on the American culture and way of doing business.

As the great American composer George Gershwin once wrote, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Working with Americans: Tips for Danes covers aspects like:

  • What should you expect in meetings and negotiations with Americans?
  • How can you make small talk with your American colleagues – and which topics should you avoid?
  • What do American employees really want from a manager?
  • Why do your US customers expect you to be available all the time?
  • Why won’t American employees go outside their job descriptions?

How to buy the book
You can buy the paperback book from Saxo.com, Amazon.com, or direct from our webshop. You can also order it from any bookshop using the ISBN 978-874-301-0111.

Contact me directly if you’re interested in a bulk order for your team. The book can also be branded with your company’s logo on request.

If you’d prefer an eBook, you can download it from Amazon, iTunes, or Google Play.

A companion volume, Working With Danes: Tips for Americans, will be published in 2020.

Visit our Books about Denmark page for information about all our books, including How to Work in Denmark: Tips for finding a job, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss; How to Live in Denmark: An entertaining guide for foreigners and their Danish friends; and Top 35 Mistakes Danes Make in English.

Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers

When you’re not from Denmark, understanding the way Danes think can take a little time. And if you’re an international manager in charge of managing and motivating a group of Danes, you may not have a lot of time to experiment before you’re expected to produce results.

So I wanted to share some of the tips I gave to a group of international managers recently on motivating Danish employees.

Motivating Danish employees is very different than motivating other groups of people because there are two big factors missing – hierarchy and fear.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

The How to Live in Denmark Podcast 5th Anniversary – The Story Behind the Show


This is a special episode, because this is the fifth anniversary of the How to Live in Denmark podcast. Hard to believe, I know, but this podcast began in the summer of 2013. At the time I’m recording this, it is near the end of Summer 2018. We’ve had more than 80 episodes and around a million streams and downloads. Most importantly, I’ve received a lot of messages from people like you saying that the podcast and the books that have come out of the podcast have been really helpful for you in adjusting to Denmark. I’m so happy to hear that.

For me, one of the best things to come out of the podcast is that I’ve gotten to see so much of Denmark. As some of you know, I work as a keynote speaker, booked by organizations and schools and companies around Denmark. So over the past 5 years that’s helped me get out of Copenhagen and get out of the mindset that Copenhagen equals Denmark, which I think a lot of people suffer from.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Will I ever be promoted? Plus, how to leverage your annual review

Foreigners in the Danish workplace tend to be clustered at the very top of companies – several of Denmark’s largest firms have Dutch or Norwegian CEOs – or at the very bottom, in entry-level service positions.

Even skilled workers like engineers and nurses are more likely to be found in hands-on functional roles than in middle or upper management. Berlingske Tidende, one of the country’s major newspapers, publishes a list of the Top 100 upcoming business talents every year, and at least 90 of them are ethnic Danes.

Some companies like to talk a lot about their open-mindedness, but in practice believe that only Danes are really capable of managing other Danes. Language certainly plays a role, and foreigners are also seen as unable to understand the Danish national psychology and secrets of employee motivation.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

How to listen to the “How to Live in Denmark” podcast

Little-known fact: This website originally started out as the transcripts for the How to Live in Denmark podcast, which has been running since 2013.

The transcripts became so popular that they were collected into a book, How to Live in Denmark, and then the basis for the my series of How to Live in Denmark events, which I offer all over Denmark and internationally as well.

When I noticed that the podcasts and blog posts about working in Denmark seemed to be the most useful, I collected them into another book, How to Work in Denmark, which is also available as a live How to Work in Denmark presentation.

But what if you just want to listen to the podcast?

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Never lose the trust of a Dane: Lies, corruption, and when to give birthday presents

Trust is so natural to the Danes and such an integral part of their culture that it is like the water fish swim through: even though it’s all around them, they barely notice it’s there.

As a foreigner, if your culture has a different outlook on honesty and trust, it’s important to adapt to the Danish way for as long as you’re in Denmark. If the Danes decide they can’t trust you, you might as well pack your suitcases and go home. Once you lose the trust of a Dane, it’s like losing your virginity: you’ll never get it back.

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