Browsing Tag


Stories about life in Denmark

Politeness in Denmark: Some thoughts on Danish etiquette

“Is there politeness in Denmark?”

That was the question I was recently invited on a national TV show to discuss.

The implication was that I was supposed to say that Danes were not at all polite, because effusive praise and cheerful agreement make for a rather dull TV show.

But Danes are not impolite. They have their own version of courteous behaviour, which is based on reinforcing aspects of their culture that they care about.

Chivalry died so feminism could live
Gender equality, for example. Gone are the days when a gentleman would pull out a chair for a lady or walk on the outside of the sidewalk to protect her from mud and rogue horses.

Chivalry died so feminism could live. No one expects the modern Danish man to take off his costly high-performance all-weather rain jacket and put it over a puddle so a lady can walk across without dampening her feet.

She has her own costly high-performance all-weather rain jacket, and probably some spiffy high-performance waterproof boots to match.

Gender equality is why it is considered polite in Denmark for couples to split the bill on first dates. It is courteous to make the lady pay for her own hamburger. This shows that a Danish man respects her autonomy and earning power.

It’s also why some Danish women enjoy dating non-Danish men.

A gender divide on the bus
I find there still is a gender divide when it comes to giving up your seat for the elderly on public transport, however. Old ladies are quite pleased when you give up your seat for them – in fact, they often demand it.

Older men, by contrast, can get rather huffy when you offer your seat, because they like to think of themselves as still quite vital and handsome, in a Sean Connery kind of way.

I have learned to avoid offering men seats unless they are using a cane or wearing a long, 1960s style dark raincoat, the universal sign of a man who is extremely old and owns it.

Respecting people’s time
Another important part of contemporary Danish etiquette is respecting people’s time.

Everyone in Denmark is extremely busy or likes to think that they are. That’s why turning up to appointments on time is so important. Not just in a business context, but in a social context.

I’ll never forget the time I planned a 7pm dinner party on a chilly winter night. I happened to look out the window at 6:55 and was surprised to see all of my guests sitting in their cars, with the heat running, ready to push my doorbell at precisely 7pm but not a minute before.

This social punctuality is a shock for many internationals, whose own version of politeness is to be “fashionably late”. Even in New York City, where I lived before moving to Denmark, an 8pm start time suggests that you should turn up at 845 or so.

If you turn up at 8pm for that New York appointment, you will encounter a host or hostess with wet hair, wearing sweats, still folding the napkins and putting them on the table.

Turn up at 845 in Denmark, by contrast, and you will get a burned dinner and a boiling mad host.

Booking in advance
Another part of Danish social etiquette is booking your engagements very far in advance. Internationals always gasp when I tell them that mid-October is already far too late to invite your Danish friends to a Christmas party.

And once booked, an appointment is a nearly sacred obligation. Even if the date is months in advance, you simply turn up at that date and time without ever needing to reconfirm.

You don’t cancel unless you’re sick, you have a family emergency, or there is some kind of natural disaster like a hurricane.

It’s considered very poor form to cancel just because you got a better offer, or because your team just made the playoffs and the game is on TV, or worst of all that you are simply too busy. This would rudely suggest that you are busier than the person you cancelled on, or at least think you are.

When time management goes out the window
Of course, once you sit down at a Danish dinner table, time management goes out the window.

You’re expected to spend hours talking, eating a bit, drinking a lot, and talking some more. Being in the moment and enjoying the other guests’ company is hygge.

And prioritizing friends and family for a short time above the cares and stresses of all the other stuff you need to get done is the highest form of Danish politeness.

This column originally ran in the Danish tabloid BT on October 9, 2019.

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).

Stories about life in Denmark

Making Danish friends: A few strategies based on experience

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.

Continue Reading

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Tips for living with a Danish family

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.)

Continue Reading


The 8:00 meeting is not an 8:05 meeting: Faux Pas in Denmark


I did a little crowdsourcing for this week’s podcast. I asked some of our listeners, and some people on Facebook – what were some of the small cultural mistakes – the dos and don’ts, the faux pas – you made when you first arrived in Denmark?

I got a whole selection of answers. Don’t keep your shoes on while entering someone’s home was one thing. Don’t arrive even a few minutes late was another. The 8:00 meeting is not an 8:05 meeting. Trying to bum a cigarette – not done in Denmark. Telephoning a friend after 9:30 in the evening or so – if you’re beyond university age, this is not done in Denmark. Dropping by to see a friend unannounced – not done in Denmark. Danes like to plan in advance – and they are proud of their homes, and don’t want you to see them messy.

One girl mentioned that she had eaten the last piece of cake on a plate. You should never eat the last piece of anything in Denmark, at least without asking every single person present. If you don’t want to do that, the proper etiquette is to slice the piece of cake in half, and take half. And then the next person will slice that half in half. And so on. In the end there will be a little transparent slice left to shrivel up in the middle of the plate.

Continue Reading


‘Friendship in Denmark is a slow-growing plant’


I was in London this week, and did a little fall wardrobe shopping. I got tired after walking for awhile, and it was lunchtime, so I sat down in a pub. I had a beer and a fish and chips and a British guy next to me was also having a beer and fish and chips and so we just chatted through lunch. We talked about politics, the weather, the job market. After lunch, we waved goodbye and I went back to shopping. I never found out his name.

The reason I mention this is that it never could have happened in Denmark. Danes don’t talk to strangers. They talk to their friends. The idea of a casual lunch with someone you will never see again makes no sense to them.

Continue Reading

Stories about life in Denmark

The Little Mermaid is four feet tall: Better options for tourists in Denmark

It’s summer in Denmark. The evenings are brighter, the winds aren’t quite as chilly, and the wild blue anemone flowers are bursting up through the grass. And the tourists are on the way. Understandably, Denmark attracts most of its tourists during the spring and summer, when you don’t need to pack heavy winter clothing. Although maybe you do – it depends on the summer.

Anyway, the tourists will be coming, and some of those tourists in Denmark may be related to you. What do you do with them? They want the Danish experience.

Based on my 14 years of showing parents, aunts, former colleagues, old college roommates and friends of friends around Denmark, these are my tips. They’re a bit Copenhagen-centric, but I think most of them can be applied throughout Denmark. And at the end, I’ll tell you about an amazing new museum I just found last week.

The Classic Tourist Day
OK, here’s the classic tourist day. First of all, start your tourists in the morning with a trip to the local bakery where they can pick out their own Danish pastry. Or two or three pastries. I know it’s called Wienerbrod – Viennese bread – but Danish pastries really are some of the best in the world. And get some coffee or black tea. Carbs and caffeine will set your tourists up well for the day’s busy program.

Once your tourists are energized, now is the time to take them walking. Walk them around the old city center, and past the largest, most visible historical monuments in your town. In Copenhagen, you can take them up the Round Tower or to the Queen’s Palace. In Aarhus, maybe tour the Gamle By, and in Odense visit Hans Christian Andersen’s home.

Now, part of this trip may take them down a shopping street. This is critical – don’t let them shop yet, or they’ll be carrying bags around all day. Or, if it’s your mom, you’ll be carrying bags around all day. Save the shopping for another time.

Lunchtime: Picnic or Restaurant
After you’ve seen the city and the major sites, it might be time for an early lunch. If the weather is good, a picnic in the park is great. Denmark has beautiful parks. Maybe buy some Danish open-faced sandwiches and some drinks.

If your visitors are elderly – or if they’re rich and will be picking up the tab – a touristy restaurant with Danish food is another option.

In Copenhagen I always recommend the Royal Copenhagen café, which is hidden in a quiet square right off of Amagertorv, the center of town. It has a nice atmosphere and some traditional Danish food made slightly fancy and fun in the form of “smushi”, a cross between smørrebrød and sushi.

Your tourists are now re-energized, so now is a great time for the local museum. I find that men are usually most interested in the Viking artifacts, you know, iron sticks with points on the end, while women are more excited about the art and glass museums.

My favorite museum in Copenhagen
Being a woman, my personal favorite is the Museum of Modern Stained Glass Art in Copenhagen. It’s also known as the Cistern Museum, because it’s housed in an old underground water tank, which means it’s the only museum in Europe with no natural light. So it’s dark, and the floors are wet, and there’s water dripping from the walls. Your voice echoes. But amid all this gloom is wonderful, bright stained glass in all sorts of modern forms. It’s really cool. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.

But back to the tourists. If it’s late afternoon, now, they’re getting a little tired. I recommend a boat trip. Your guests can sit down with a chilled Danish beer and see the city from the water. In Copenhagen, these boat trips are a great way to see Denmark’s most disappointing tourist attraction, the statue of the Little Mermaid.

If you’ve seen it, you know the Little Mermaid is only about four feet tall – that’s 1.25 meters. You probably own pillows that are bigger than the Little Mermaid. But all the boat trips go right by it, so your tourists can get the photos they need for their Instagram or Facebook feeds. If they want, they can climb out of the boat and onto the slippery rock where the mermaid sits for a photo. That’s best performed before too many beers have been consumed.

You can round out the day at one of the local music festivals, or Tivoli if you’re in Copenhagen. Tivoli is a tourist attraction that actually lives up to expectations. The Copenhagen Zoo is open late in the summer and it is very nice, now that they’ve temporarily stopped killing off their animals. I’m afraid I can’t offer you any nightlife recommendations. Ask someone under 30 who doesn’t have any kids.

And while I’m not an authority on nightclubs, I am a bit of an authority on museums. When I was unemployed many years ago, I made a project of going to every museum I could. But there was one I did not know about until just this week.

The Danish Museum of Immigration
It is the Danish Museum of Immigration – it’s a whole museum about foreigners coming to Denmark. It’s in Farum, which is a suburb of Copenhagen. They don’t publicize themselves very well. I would never have known about it myself if I hadn’t had to use the ladies room at Farum City Hall.

The museum covers 500 years of immigration into Denmark, from 17th century German soldiers to 21st-century Syrian refugees. It’s a well-designed, modern museum, with some excellent visual exhibits. That said, this museum about diversity and inclusiveness in Denmark…is entirely in Danish.

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).


Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.






Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019

Stories about life in Denmark

The Little Match Girl and the Fur Industry: China and Denmark

One of the many things I do for a living is work as a voiceover, and one of my regular gigs is with a Danish company that makes high-end microphones. Frequently, they present their microphones to visiting customers from around the world, and my role is to be fitted out with six or seven different microphones at once – a headset microphone like Britney Spears wears, a necklace microphone like the ones on reality shows, a lapel microphone like newscasters wear, even an old fashioned tabletop microphone. Then I read a text while the company switches the various microphones on and off, so the customers can hear the difference between the different models.

When the customers are from China, I always choose to read a text from Hans Christian Andersen. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are extremely popular in China. Many Chinese read them as children. So, when I’m faced with a room full of Chinese microphone buyers, I usually read The Little Match Girl. The Little Match Girl, if you haven’t heard it lately, is a very sad story about a starving little girl on the streets of Copenhagen in the 19th century. She’s supposed to be selling matches to help support her family, but it’s winter and she’s so cold that she keeps lighting the matches to keep herself warm. In the end, they find her small, frail body frozen to death.

So, when I read this story, strapped into seven different microphones, I find that by the end these highly technical Chinese sound professionals are sniffling and sentimental, transported back to their younger days.

Photos around the Hans Christian Andersen statue
Hans Christian Andersen means a lot to the Chinese. Down by Copenhagen City Hall, there’s a statue of the man Danes call H.C. Andersen, and it’s almost always surrounded by Chinese tourists, taking one photo after another with the guy who wrote the Ugly Duckling. He also wrote the Little Mermaid, and the one time the famous Little Mermaid statue has been out of Denmark, it went to Shanghai, as part of a World Expo.

Denmark and China have a surprisingly deep relationship. Denmark was the first Western government to recognize the postrevolutionary Chinese government, in 1950. These days, China says Denmark is its top partner in Scandinavia, and the countries have a strategic relationship. Their leaders visit each other a lot – Danish prime minister Helle Thorning Schmidt was in China this week – and the two countries exchange thousands of university students ever year. You wouldn’t think it, but China and Denmark have much more in common than both having red flags and a love for green technology.

Basicially, the Chinese are helping keep three major Danish industries afloat.

The first is the pork industry. Denmark has millions of pigs – more pigs than people – and its other big growth market, the Middle East, is strangely uninterested in its pork products. China is interested. Denmark sells about 13 billion crowns a year of pork products in China.

The second industry is the wearable fur industry. In parts of the US or UK, wearing fur is controversial. It’s sometimes seen as cruel. I once wore a fur scrunchie in New York City – this was the 1990s – colleague said to me “Why do you have a dead animal on your head?”

In Scandinavia, fur is totally acceptable, as it is in China. As a matter of fact, in China, wearable fur is still seen as a sign of luxury. I was cleaning out my storage room last year and selling the stuff I didn’t use, and I found a ratty old vintage coat with a fur collar. When posted it for sale on Facebook, all the interested buyers were beautiful young Chinese women living in Denmark. The girl who bought it put it on and looked like a film star from the 1930s. It looked a lot better on her than it did on me. Anyway, mink skins alone account for about one-third of all Danish exports to China.

China loves the Danish Royal Family
The third Danish industry that China helps support is the Danish royal family. Some people in Denmark love the royal family, while others think they cost too much. One of the local newspapers calls Crown Prince Frederik Denmark’s biggest welfare recipient. But the Danish royal family is popular in Asia. Businesspeople in Denmark say that when it comes to making a deal in Asia, bringing along a prince really helps. That Chinese mogul who doesn’t have time to meet someone from little Denmark – oh, but the Danish Crown Prince will be there! Suddenly, the mogul has time for the meeting.

Actually, the Danish Royal Family has another significant tie to China. The Crown Prince’s brother married a woman who is partly of Chinese descent. She was the first Asian to join a European royal family. Her sons, who are 7th and 8th in line to the Danish throne, are the first people of Asian descent in a European royal line. Now, that prince and princess have since divorced and she’s been pretty much tossed on the junk heap, but that can happen to anyone – look at Princess Diana in Britain.

As an American living in Denmark, I have only one complaint about the Danish-Chinese relationship. It is almost impossible to find good Chinese food in Denmark. Denmark has good Thai food and OK Japanese food, but the only Chinese food available here is usually at greasy little grill bars in the bad part of town. So, having lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years, I generally make my own Chinese food at home. So we have an American, in Denmark, making Chinese food. That’s globalization.

Hear all our How to Live in Denmark podcasts on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts (iTunes).


Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. It can be ordered via Amazon or or from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook. You can also book a How to Work in Denmark event with Kay for your school, company, or professional organization.






Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019