The relaxed approach to nudity in Denmark can be a surprise for many newcomers.
It’s something they’re often confronted with at the local swimming hall, where a very large and strong attendant insists that they take off their entire swimsuit and shower thoroughly before going into the pool.
Stripping off in front of strangers is new for a lot of internationals, and some try to place it a larger context of Danish morality.
It hasn’t been entirely forgotten that Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography in 1967. Some people still think of Denmark as a place where there is easy sex available and a generous display of naked boobs and butts.
If you’re newly arrived in Denmark, making Danish friends is not easy – in fact, surveys show that one of the main reasons internationals end up leaving is the difficulty of building a network.
The irony is that Danes are actually very good at friendship. Their friendships are strong, reliable, and deep-rooted. Friends can count on each other.
But because Danes take friendships so seriously, they like to keep their number of friendships under control. They don’t want to take on more friends than they can keep their deep commitment to.
The statement “I just don’t have room for any more friends” sounds perfectly sensible to Danes, and utterly stunning to foreigners.
Danes from other parts of Denmark
When internationals ask me how they can make Danish friends, I have one primary piece of advice.
Fall is one of my favorite times of year, because it is time for one of my favorite types of speaking engagement – introducing Denmark to some of the smart, motivated young people arriving from around the world to study at Danish universities.
The university people have wisely decided that another foreigner might be best suited to explain some of the quirks of Danish culture when welcoming newcomers to Denmark.
So since the publication of my first book, How to Live in Denmark, I’ve been speaking regularly to audiences of new arrivals, and I probably learn as much from them as they learn from me.
What Danes are most proud of
One of the things I’ve learned is that the aspects of Danish culture that the Danes are most proud of can be troublesome for newcomers.
“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.
This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on July 3, 2019.
As summer vacation season begins and some of my Danish friends and business contacts tell me they are heading to the US on holiday, I’m always pleased but also a little nervous. Oh, dear, I think to myself, I hope they have a good time, and get to see the good side of America and not the bad.
And I try to give them a few tips for Danes visiting the USA.
Planning your summer vacation in Denmark is like playing the lottery. You could hit it lucky, with golden days and long, warm evenings, when you can sit with friends in the soft light and drink hyldeblomst cocktails.
Or you could get grey day after grey day, interspersed with a little rain whenever it is least convenient. The weather could be chilly, leaving your cute new summer clothes to sit disappointed in your closet while you wear your boring long trousers again and again.
April 1st is April Fool’s Day – Aprilsnar in Danish – and each Danish newspaper will feature a clever but false story for the unwary to be fooled by.
Last year, for example, there was a story that the Danish police were switching their siren colors from blue to red to match the Danish flag.
There was also a report that the perennially messy discount supermarket Netto was launching a discount airline – Jetto.
And a local TV station ran a piece about how an acute shortage of daycare workers meant the Danish army had to be called in. It showed video of the battle-hardened tough guys in combat uniforms, reading aloud from storybooks and helping with toilet training.
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.
Travel brochures usually talk about the sights and the smells and the tastes of a new place, but they don’t always talk about the sound of a place. Denmark has a sound, a default sound. And that sound is quiet.
Denmark is a quiet country, even within the cities. Especially this time of year, February, when it’s too cold to do anything but scurry from place to place, when the street cafés are closed and no one wants to eat their lunch in the park. The Danes are hibernating in their homes until the spring.
And especially when a blanket of snow covers the cities and countryside. Then everything around you will be beautifully, peacefully, totally quiet.
This Danish quiet can freak out a lot of internationals when they first arrive. If you’ve read my first book, you’ll know I tell the story of a refugee who’d just arrived in Denmark from Cairo, Egypt, and he asked another more established refugee to show him downtown Copenhagen.
The established friend took him to Strøget at, like, 9pm on Tuesday night in February, and the refugee was like, this is not a city! There’s no one here! He accused his friend of tricking him.
But it was the city. It was the capital city. And it was quiet.
As the new academic semester starts up, some of you may be planning to live in a Danish home. It could be you’ll rent a room in a household, maybe you’ll be part of a Danish host family, or maybe you’ll just be staying with Danish friends.
I thought it might be useful to have some tips on living with a Danish family.
First of all, if you’re used to having your parents or domestic workers do most of the household chores – things are about to change.
Danish families generally don’t have live-in domestic workers. A few wealthy families with small children have au pairs, and it’s common to have a weekly cleaning person, but on a day-to-day basis, household chores are done by all the members of the family.
Male, female, young, old, everybody does their part. (In fact, statistics show that Danish men do more household chores than any other men in Europe.)