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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Gender equality in Denmark: A story of mixed results

Denmark has had two female prime ministers and about forty percent of the people elected to the Folketing, the Danish Parliament, are women, which one might think is a good indicator of gender equality in Denmark.

But when it comes to private industry, Danish women have one of the lowest participation rates in management in Europe. According to the OECD, only 26.9% of managers in Denmark are female, compared to 40.7% in the US.

It’s not unusual to see a senior management team made up entirely of Danish males, with perhaps a Swedish or German male thrown in for diversity.

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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

Finding a job in Denmark as a foreigner: Some tips from my experience

If you’re a foreigner, finding a job in Denmark is not easy, but it can be done. It depends a lot on what you can do. And what you can do better than a Dane. Because, let’s be frank here, if all things are equal between you and a Danish person, they’re going to hire the Danish person.

The Danish person knows the language, the Danish person knows the culture, the Danish person knows not to bring Brie cheese to the Friday shared breakfast. In every Danish office I’ve ever worked in, there’s been a Friday shared breakfast, and they always eat exactly the same cheese. Sliced, medium-sharp Riberhus Danbo cheese.

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Books, Denmark and the USA, 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?

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.

Flip Book Working with Americans Working with Danes

Buy Kay Xander Mellish’s new 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.

Read also:
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

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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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

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

Danish humour: Dry, dark, and weird

 
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.

In Denmark, if you drop the ball at work, drop your lunch entrée down the front of your business shirt, or make a fool of yourself for any other reason, you’re supposed to be able to laugh at your own bumbling.

In fact, the Danes have a tradition called the kvajebajer (failure beer) or kvajekage (failure cake.)
The person who makes a big mistake offers this beer or cake to others as a way of playfully admitting that he or she failed to live up to expectations.

One of my LinkedIn contacts, for example, worked for a company that failed to meet an important delivery date by two days. When it finally delivered the product, it also delivered a brightly-colored “failure cake”, which everyone took a few moments of the workday to enjoy.

Not all Danish humor is funny

Making fun of yourself can be fun and light-hearted, but Danish humor is not always so gentle.

Danish humor

Unik, the spokesman for a chain of cosmetics shops, says “I don’t shop here.” Classic Danish humor.

When directed at others, Danish humor is a perennial source of confusion for foreigners, and it can be a source of misunderstanding and discomfort in the office.

The basis of Danish humor is keeping people’s egos in line by cutting down anyone who thinks himself better than others. At its best, it’s self-deprecating, good-natured and playful, but it can also be dry, dark, and weird, and occasionally passive-aggressive and cruel. It is rarely laugh-out-loud funny.

For example, I was in a meeting held at one of the renovated 18th-century buildings beloved by the Danish creative class. We were upstairs in a room that had been converted from an attic. Thick wooden beams held up the slanting walls.

One of the meeting participants reached down to plug in her computer and, sitting up too quickly, bashed her head against the thick beam. There was a loud “thunk” as her skull hit the heavy wood, and an uncomfortable moment as she clutched her aching head.

Then someone in the room broke the silence. “No damage done,” he said cheerfully. “Not much in there anyway.”

She was Danish – she thought it was funny. Someone else might not have.

Sarcasm is seen as a sign of intelligence

For Danes, biting sarcasm is seen as proof of intelligence, confidence and wit. Foreigners already dealing with cultural confusion don’t always see it that way, particularly if the sarcasm is coming from their supervisor.

Most Danes are smart enough to avoid the worst aspects of Danish humor with newcomers, but sometimes a little barbed comment slips out anyway.

For example, if you arrive at a meeting a few minutes late, the meeting leader might say drily, “I hear you can buy watch batteries at the supermarket these days.” That’s a joke – and a reminder that tardiness is not appreciated.

It’s often said that when a foreigner is included into a circle of Danish humor, it’s because Danes know they can take it, and that they have accepted you as part of the group.

Until then, remember that if a Dane seems to be making fun of you, they are trying to laugh with you, not at you.

Or they are trying to get you to fall in line. It’s hard to be sure.

If you’re not sure if what someone is saying is supposed to be a joke, ask them.

No “big arm movements”

While passive-aggression is common in Denmark, open warfare is not.

Don’t raise your voice. Don’t yell. Don’t wave your arms around to make a point. (The Danes have a saying for people they see as too expressive – “he has big arm movements.”) And never, ever lose your temper.

In many cultures, losing your temper is seen as a sign of power and passion. Make a scene is a way of showing that you really care about something. If that something is an important personal relationship or an honorable political position, losing your temper is seen as noble and justified.

This is not true in Danish culture, where losing your temper is seen as a sign that you are childish, unable to control yourself, and basically untrustworthy.

Danes immediately lose respect for someone who “melts down.” If you think you’re going to blow your top at work, excuse yourself and go take a walk. (I’ve done it myself a few times.)

Someone who has been on the receiving end of your anger won’t forget quickly, and won’t be afraid to tell his friends or business contacts about your “crazy” behavior.

You never want to have an enemy in a small country like Denmark, where you will meet the same people again and again.

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Kay Xander Mellish books

Buy Kay’s books about Denmark on Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2021

Read also:
April Fool’s in Denmark and the rough game of Danish humor
The Kvajebajer, or “Failure Beer”, and what it means for Danish working culture

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

Don’t work when you’re sick, plus dealing with stress

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.

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

Is learning to speak Danish worth it?

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.

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