When I first arrived in Denmark, you could shut down any dispute in Denmark by appealing to the common good. Solidarity – solidaritet– and fælleskab, or community, or even samfundssind, societal spirit.
These were magic words, and they still are, particularly with the older generation that built Denmark’s welfare state. If you want to convince this generation of anything, just make a reference to solidarity and community and societal spirit. Works like a charm.
What about “Jante Law”?
I’m often asked if the younger generation is as dedicated to these principles as their elders, and if they still follow the Jante Law.
Jante Law is not really a law – it’s like a legend, in which people living in Denmark are not supposed to act like they’re better than anyone else, or smarter than anyone else, or know more than anyone else.
This, of course, is tricky if you actually are better than someone else, or smarter than someone else, or know more than someone else. But the idea is, don’t try to speed ahead of others. We all move at the same rate.
Young people aren’t too keen to put up with that, in particular in an environment where they are competing internationally.
For many Danish young people, the idea that all Danes are equal and we must all move together, at the same pace, seems outdated.
And one contemporary example is the rise of the electric bike.
When you’ve been an international in Denmark for a while, as I have, you sometimes forget what it was like to arrive here for the first time and know nothing.
I remember arriving just about this time of year and being astonished by all the public holidays in spring. I’d arrived to work, but the office kept shutting down.
Now one of my various gigs is cultural training for newcomers, paid for by the big corporations that bring them here. The questions they ask bring me back to the time when I first arrived.
One of the most popular questions is pretty basic: How do I send a letter in Denmark? What does a postbox look like? Where do I buy a stamp?
First of all, you can buy a stamp through your phone. Denmark is a highly digitalized society, you rarely use cash for anything, and you can pay to mail your letter through an app. It will give you a nine-digit code that you write in the space where the stamp usually goes.
Then you drop it off in one of the red postboxes that can still be found around Denmark, even though the Swedes took over the postal service a few years ago and repainted everything else to do with the post office Swedish blue, including the carriers’ uniforms.
The red post boxes survived, maybe out of nostalgia. You will frequently hear Danes describe a color as “postbox red.”
The Swedes also sold off all the good real estate that Denmark’s post offices used to occupy, so Denmark doesn’t have post offices any more. If you want to send a package that can’t fit in the postbox, you take it to a special counter in one of the big supermarkets.
Moving to Denmark as an American has become a hot topic recently; I hear a lot from Americans interested in immigration to Denmark.
Since I’m selling books called How to Live in Denmark and How to Work in Denmark, you’d think I would encourage as many Americans as possible to look into Denmark immigration.
But moving to Denmark with a U.S. passport isn’t as easy as just buying a plane ticket and a lot of sweaters.
Unlike the Norwegians, Swedes, and some Germans, the Danes don’t show their cultural pride by dressing up in 19th century folk costumes. (As a matter of fact, the first time I ever saw a Danish folk costume was at a festival in California.)
Instead, Danes express their cultural pride through food.
When visiting Denmark, you’ll be offered Danish cuisine, and expressing enthusiasm for it will go a long way towards generating harmony with your Danish friends.
Flæskesteg, Denmark’s national dish
The good news is, dining in Denmark offers something for everyone.
If you’re a carnivore, don’t miss the Danish pork dishes, particularly flæskesteg. That’s a crispy, fatty fried pork that’s often called Denmark’s national dish, served with sugary caramelized potatoes and braised red cabbage.
For people who prefer fish, there’s a great selection in this country surrounded by water.
Working with Danes: Tips for Americans, Kay Xander Mellish’s new book, is now available in print and eBook form.
Denmark is a great place to do business. Infrastructure is superb, corruption minimal, and the Danes sincerely enjoy a good business deal.
Yet when Americans arrive with their burning ambition and enthusiasm, they sometimes experience tensions with the modest, calm, practical Danes.
This book is a companion volume to last year’s popular book, Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.
Working with Danes: Tips for Americans covers aspects like:
📘 Two words to better understand your Danish colleagues
📘 The sacred value of time
📘 Danish names
📘 Flexicurity and unions
📘 Americans, turn down the volume!
📘 Selling to Danes
📘 The Danish calendar, and holiday weeks to avoid
📘 Managing Danes
📘 Jante Law, and why Danes sometimes underplay their skills
📘 Rating systems, and why Danes and Americans rate things differently
📘 Denmark is not just Copenhagen
📘 Differing concepts of privacy
📘 Gender equality in Denmark
📘 Danish meetings
📘 Don’t say “let’s have lunch” unless you mean it
And much more.
The book also includes tips on dining, driving, and diversity in Denmark, plus tips on what to wear, how to give gifts, and why someone might put a Danish flag on your desk on your birthday.
It also includes a short section with ideas for how to prepare for long-term stays in Denmark.
You can get this book and all of Kay Xander Mellish’s books, including the flip book Working with Danes: Tips for Americans/Working with Americans: Tips for Danes on our webshop, or at Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.
Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.
If you’ve always wanted to listen to more Danish music, now probably isn’t the time: thousands of Danish songs recently disappeared from YouTube due to a copyright dispute.
Music isn’t one of Denmark’s most famous exports, even when it is available. While Danish housewares and furniture design are popular all over the world, most Danish music fans are local, particularly when it comes to Danish-language rap.
But that doesn’t mean Danish music isn’t deeply loved by its fans.
The overflowing back catalog of “greatest hits” from the past decades’ pop charts will get Danes on the dance floor at any party, particularly if they’ve been drinking.
You can pick out the internationals in the group by noticing who is still on the sidelines, looking a little bewildered and trying limply to catch the beat.
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?
Book an event
If you represent a company or organization and would like to have an American keynote speaker in Denmark make a presentation to your group, contact Kay via this site’s contact form for more information.
Alternately, you can read more about all of Kay’s events on the How to Live in Denmark events page.
Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.
Tips for Danes working with Americans, and Americans working with Danes
Danish Managers and American Managers: 5 big differences
Tips for Working with Americans in Børsen
US and Denmark: The enthusiasm gap
Amerikansk foredragsholder Kay Xander Mellish
Denmark is a boating nation, from the days when the Vikings built innovative ships to the present, when the coast is dotted with marinas for pleasure boats.
The country has won 30 Olympic medals in sailing – 12 of them gold. That’s more than it has won in any other sport.
And many of the comforts of the Danish welfare state were paid for by the (now reduced) profits of Maersk, the world’s largest operator of container ships.
Anyone who takes a walk around Copenhagen is bound to run across one of the hundreds of concrete bunkers that were built to defend Danes from air raids during World War II.
There are a couple in the park near my house, huge slabs of grey concrete now partially covered by greenery. Many of the interiors have been renovated, and the bunkers are very popular with up-and-coming rock bands, who use them as soundproof rehearsal halls.
The bunkers were never used for their intended purpose.
The German occupying force rolled in by land, and Denmark surrendered almost immediately – the flat Danish landscape would have been no match for the powerful Nazi tank divisions of 1940. Denmark was occupied for more than 5 years.
Tomorrow evening – Monday, May 4, 2020 – many Danes will put a candle in the window to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of that occupation.
Among the many cultural questions I ask audiences during my How to Live in Denmark Game Show is “Which animal represents Denmark best?”?
There never seems to be an obvious or generally agreed-upon answer. Sure, the bear represents Russia, the elephant Thailand, and the bald eagle the United States. But what about Denmark?
Denmark does have a national animal – the mute swan (Cygnus olor) – but an image of a swan doesn’t provoke the kind of immediate association with Denmark that, say, a koala bear does with Australia.
That said, mute swans are easy to find in Denmark. You can see them sailing down the quiet streams of the country’s historical parks, such as the vold in Fredericia or Utterslev Mose in suburban Copenhagen.
But these strong, individualist, and often angry animals are a strange fit for a country that prides itself on co-operation and peacefulness. They’re also not really mute – in fact, they have a noisy hiss that can signal an attack if they feel their nest is threatened.
Given that these muscular birds are about a meter tall and their wingspan can be twice that, you may feel threatened too.