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.
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.
Denmark vs NYC – what’s the difference in working in Copenhagen vs. Manhattan?
#DenmarkinNY – the Danish Consulate in New York’s blog – recently took time out to chat with Kay Xander Mellish, a longtime New Yorker who now lives and works in Copenhagen.
Danish humor is a tricky thing for many foreigners. Danes compete with the Brits for world leaders in dry humor and sarcasm, but it can be hard for foreigners to figure out what’s a joke and what’s not.
For example, a friend told me about a foreigner who was standing by the elevator at work, just getting ready to go upstairs for a meeting, when a Danish colleague walked by and said “God rejse!”
In other words, Bon Voyage. Have a nice trip. In the elevator.
Is that funny? I don’t know if that’s funny.
In some countries, such as the US, “working sick” is a badge of honor. You are supposed to be so dedicated to your team or to the assignment that you come to work even if you have a bad cold or a slight fever.
In Denmark, the opposite is true. If you feel you’ve got the beginnings of something that could be contagious, particularly a stomach virus, you are considered a better team member if you stay home that day and care for your health. You are not expected to work from home or answer emails if you are ill.
It’s also considered OK to take a day or two off if you have a sick child at home, although in these cases you may be asked to participate in a phone meeting or some other work-related activity while your little darling sleeps.
Kay Xander Mellish’s TEDx Talk “The Privileged Immigrant” looks at highly-educated immigrants who choose to relocate for professional or personal reasons.
What responsibilities do these privileged immigrants have to the places where they’ve chosen to live?
In the talk, which was delivered April 14, 2018 at TEDx Odense, Kay suggests that immigrants with options need to research the basic values of the place where they intend to move in order to make sure that their own values are in line with the people who already live there.
Learning to speak Danish can be difficult, even if you speak its close linguistic cousins, English and German.
While the written language isn’t too tough to figure out, the spoken language is a headache. Danes pronounce only small bits of each word and smash those small bits together.
One foreigner told the story of two boys he saw trading football cards on a train. “Davilik!” “Davilik!” the boys kept crying out.
The foreigner, who was working hard to learn Danish, tried to look up Davilik in his dictionary – without success. There was no such word.
It was only months later that he realized they were saying, “Det vil jeg ikke!” or “I don’t want to make that trade.”
Even the Swedes and Norwegians have trouble understanding spoken Danish.
A Danish business meeting is just one element of the Danish decision-making process – which can be extensive, as the people involved seek consensus on whatever issue is being discussed. There’s an old Danish saying that “A disagreement is a discussion that ended too soon.”
So get to the meeting location precisely on time – or even a couple of minutes early – and be ready to say your piece. On some occasions, you should also be ready to be in it for the long haul.
One thing that sets apart Danish (or Nordic) meetings is that every single person, from the boss down to the student helper, will be having his or her say on the matter at hand.
When you get your first pay slip from a Danish company, the first thing you’ll probably notice is how small it is. What you thought would be your income in Denmark will have been diminished by Denmark’s world-champion income taxes.
Understanding your Danish taxes can be tricky, however, because they are divided into so many different parts.
Understanding your Danish taxes
The most important two lines on the pay slip are brutto, which is what your employer is paying you, and netto, which is what you’ll actually get to take home. In between will be several lines of taxes you must pay.
There’s no reason to spend a lot on what you wear to work in Denmark. Danes, by nature, are not flashy dressers.
In most Danish business environments, you’ll be perfectly well dressed in a fitted pair of business trousers, dark shoes, and a solid-color sweater or dress shirt. Male or female, you’ll never go wrong with quiet colors like burgundy, dark blue, dark green, brown, or black.
Subtle good taste is the preferred style. Obvious designer labels are considered tacky, but quality cut and fabric are appreciated.
The “How to Work in Denmark” book is now available!
Working in Denmark comes with a lot of benefits – but a lot of unwritten rules, too.
- Why is it so important to take a break and eat cake with your colleagues?
- How can you promote your skills in a job interview without breaking “The Jante Law”?
- Is learning to speak Danish necessary? Can you succeed in your career without it?
- What’s the secret to understanding Danish humor at the office?
With its high salaries and good work-life balance, Denmark is an attractive place to work for professionals from all over the world. But the Danish workplace, like Danish culture is a whole, is built on unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.
“How to Work in Denmark”, the book, explains some of the rules of the road in the Danish workplace as well as how to find and keep a job in Denmark.
How to buy the book
You can buy the paperback book from Arnold Busck on Strøget in Copenhagen or from Bog og Ide in Frederiksberg Center.
Or order the paperback from our webshop, or from any bookshop using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8.
You can download the “How to Work in Denmark” eBook from Amazon, from Saxo, from iTunes, or from Google Play.