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Scandinavia

Stories about life in Denmark

Danish, Dutch, Deutschland – Why Denmark gets confused with its neighbors

I run a small business, so often I outsource minor tasks. This week I outsourced the writing of some Tweets to Jessie, a college student in the United States.

Jessie did a good job, with one major exception: in all 100 Tweets, she confused the word Danish with the word Dutch.

For example:

Copenhagen Fashion Week – Check out the latest in Dutch fashion!

Stay healthy like the Dutch: Bicycling in Denmark

10 top restaurants in Copenhagen: Enjoy Dutch cuisine!

Now, don’t give me that stereotype about geographically dumb Americans. At least not until Europeans can tell me the difference between Iowa, Idaho and Ohio – and yes, there is a difference.

Understandable confusion
The fact is, confusing the Dutch and the Danes is understandable. They both represent small, peaceful countries with seafaring traditions. Countries which are today best known for healthy blond people on bicycles, rushing home to see their monarchs on TV and eat potato-based dishes.

The Dutch are known for their windmills. The Danes are known for their wind turbines. It’s an understandable mistake.

But among the neighbors to Denmark, it’s actually not the Dutch who resemble the Danes most. It’s not the Norwegians, even though Norway actually used to be a part of Denmark. It’s not the Swedes, who now serve as a low-wage workforce in Copenhagen shops and fast food restaurants.

It’s the Germans.

Awkward and aggressive
Now, my Danish friends might not like to hear me say that. There have been wars, and the Germans are sometimes seen as awkward and aggressive.

But the Danes are more German than they’d ever want to admit. For example, the Germans love punctuality. Pünktlichkeit muss sein.

So do the Danes. In Denmark, if you have a business meeting at 10am, you need to show up at precisely 10am. 10:03 is not good. 10:05 is embarrassing – you’d better apologize. 10:10 is a humiliation. And it’s not just business. I’ve had dinner parties where my guests actually circle the block so they can ring the bell at 8-dot-00-dot 00.

Now, this is not entirely a bad thing. The buses run on time in Denmark. The trains often run on time. Otherwise mass transit wouldn’t be so popular.

For the sake of good order
Both countries also like order. If a Dane wants to say that someone is a stand-up, trustworthy guy, they say he’s ordentlig – orderly. When they want you to clarify something, they ask you to do it ‘for the sake of good order.’ For god ordens skyld. For the sake of good order, let’s write this contract down.

Of course, the German love of order is well-known. Ordnung muß sein! Everything must be in order. And, of course, if you come across a German friend crying, wailing, in despair, you say Ist was nicht i ordnung? Is something not in order?

In general, the languages are very similar: Danish, like English, is a Germanic language.

I used to live in Berlin, long before I moved to Denmark, and I still confuse the languages. When I’m speaking Danish I sometimes reach for some long-forgotten adjective and I take a moment to wrestle with the question – is this word I’ve found German or is it Danish? At least half the time I’m wrong.

No Bundesflagge on birthday cakes
Of course, there are differences. Danes are wildly and openly patriotic in a way Germans are not, for obvious historical reasons.

The Danish flag is almost always used on birthday cakes, but you won’t seen the Bundesflagge on top of a geburtstagstorte, unless maybe the German team is in the World Cup.

And Germans love their hierarchy, in a way Danes do not. In Denmark, just about everybody uses his or her first name – teachers, doctors, bank officers. An incredibly old lady might be Fru Jensen, but I don’t think I’ve used the corresponding masculine title, Herr Jensen, in the 13 years I’ve been in Denmark.

Germans, on the other hand, love their titles, and even pile them on top of each other. Herr Doktor Professor von Schmidt.

People who know German – or French or Spanish for that matter – know there’s two ways to say ‘you’, formal and informal.

In French it’s tu and vous, in Spanish it’s usted and tu, and in German it’s du and Sie – and woe be it to you if you use du when the German you’re talking to is expecting the formal Sie.

That’s not true in Denmark. Everybody is du There is a formal Danish ‘you’, called De, which immigrants still learn in language schools, but it’s never used.

Except for letters you get from your bank. Don’t ask me why.

The dominant neighbor?
Now there is one irony in the Danish-German relationship. For many years, Germany has been the dominant partner. Even today, Danish schoolchildren learn German – German kids don’t learn Danish.

Danes drive into Germany to buy beer and soda pop, not the other way around. And Germany has invaded Denmark several times, most recently in the 1990s, when Germans were buying up all the summer houses in Western Denmark, driving out the Danes.

This is true – Denmark got a special dispensation from the EU to prohibit Germans from buying summer houses in Denmark.

But in recent years, the flow of influence has gone in the other direction, particularly when it comes to Berlin, the German capital.

Locals there have been complaining because foreign investors are buying huge blocks of apartments, driving up the prices. And the biggest group of foreign property investors….are from Denmark.

 

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 Saxo.com 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

Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the Statens Museum for Kunst / Danish National Gallery

I do a lot of writing in the lovely, sunny cafe at the Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the Danish National Gallery.

This museum is free to the public and has a great collection of both historic and contemporary art.

Now I’m excited to say that you can get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English at the Statens Museum for Kunst gift shop.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the shop at Denmark’s National Museum, at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s also available in Aarhus at Stakbogladen near the university.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

National Museum of Denmark shop book
Books, Stories about life in Denmark

Get your ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book at the National Museum of Denmark

Stop by the shop at Danmarks Nationamuseet /The National Museum of Denmark to get a paperback copy of the ‘How To Live in Denmark’ book in English or Chinese.

Denmark’s National Museum is located in downtown Copenhagen, and it’s got a great collection of Viking artifacts as well as a wonderful kids section where kids can dress up as Vikings and ride in a play Viking ship.

You can also buy a copy of the book at the Politiken Bookstore on Radhuspladsen, or at Made in Denmark on Brolæggergade 8. It can also be special-ordered from any bookstore in Denmark, although you may have to wait a couple of weeks.

Not in Denmark? You can get the How to Live in Denmark Book sent anywhere in the world, or download the How to Live in Denmark eBook right now!

Podcasts

Danes and Swedes: The world’s worst haircuts are Swedish

 

I don’t regret many things in life, but I do regret not going to a party I was invited to almost 14 years ago.

That was in 2000, when I first arrived in Denmark. It was a party to mark the opening of the Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden. There were no cars on the bridge yet, so you could easily walk or bike between these two countries that had been bitter enemies for hundreds of years.

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Podcasts

Danes and Norwegians: Bitter envy and brotherly love

 

Danes and Norwegians were part of the same country for hundreds of years, and they’re still family.

Written Danish and written Norwegian are very similar – so similar that I once tried to find a Danish-Norwegian dictionary and was told there was no such thing. The spoken language is a little more different, but still Danes and Norwegians can understand what the other is saying.

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Podcasts

Danes and Vikings, plus: Two words to use to get Danish people to do what you want

 

I play a little game sometime when I look at Danish people. I imagine them as Vikings.

It’s easy now that big beards are in fashion on young men. Sometimes on the metro I’ll look up at the hipster guy playing with his iPhone next to me and imagine him wearing a big fur cloak. Maybe a rope belt, with a sword dangling from it.

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Stories about life in Denmark

Danish political parties: ‘Left’ is not leftist, and other tips for voting in Denmark

Last week, political posters went up all over Copenhagen, on streetlights, on bridges, and on train platforms.

The posters are for the local elections this month, and even though the candidates are supposed to take them down afterwards, they usually don’t.

So, the candidates will keep smiling and making promises through Christmas, and through the winter snow and ice. Come spring, you’ll see a faded, battered photo of somebody who failed to win anything at all hanging from a light pole near you.

The ‘left’ party is not leftist
I like Danish politics, and I follow it, even though I don’t follow Danish sports or entertainment. I like Danish politics because it involves a lot of intelligent women running things, with men standing in the background to help them out.

candidate-poster-with-drawn-moustache-225x300Even though I’m an American citizen, I can vote in local Danish elections, having lived in Denmark for more than 3 years. Of course, you can pay taxes from the moment you step off the plane, but after 3 years, you can have a say in how those taxes are spent.

Now, Danish politics are all about putting together a coalition, because there are 9 main parties, maybe 5 of whom you need to know about. And their names are confusing. For example, the sort of solid, suburban conservative party is called Venstre – the Leftist party.

The sort of hip, young, new media entrepreneur party is called Radical Venstre – the Radical Left. Neither of these parties are in any way leftist.

Giving them the finger
What IS leftist is Enhedslisten – Unity List – a relatively new party built on top of the old Danish Communist party. As a student in Denmark, you’ll notice that a lot of your friends may vote for this party. Enhedslisten has done a great job of branding: they have a gorgeous, likeable young woman as their leader, and they’ve become the cool protest party.

They’re also still communists – they want to shut down the stock exchange, get rid of the army, and abolish private property. A lot of people who vote for this party don’t really want them to come to power. But voting for them is like giving the finger to middle-class Denmark.

The ultra-left Enhedslisten sometimes votes in harmony with the ultra-right party, The Danish People’s Party. This is because they both hate Denmark’s membership in the European Union. Now, that ultra-right-wing party, the Danish People’s Party, is an anti-foreigner party. They’re always trying to tighten immigration restrictions, or close up the borders.

Even trust foreigners
Many Danes don’t want to admit, at least to you, that they vote for the Danish People’s Party. But a lot of people do – it’s the third biggest party in Denmark.
There is a party that wants you and wants your votes as a foreigner.

That’s Radikale Venstre (the Social Liberals) – the hip, entrepreneur party I mentioned before. They had a terrible ad campaign during the last election: “We trust people. Even foreigners.”

But their heart is in the right place. The Radikale have a multi-cultural team of candidates, and they do what they can to soften immigration restrictions, in part because their business supporters need the foreigners’ skills.

Oh Frank
Anyway, I will not be voting for the Radikale. I will vote for the team lead by Frank Jensen, the Mayor of Copenhagen, who is a Social Democrat. I voted for him last time, after reviewing all the various campaign videos, and after I’d made my decision, my vote was solidified because Frank Jensen had a great campaign technique.

The red rose is the symbol of the socialism, and Frank found lots of attractive young men from the Social Democrat youth wing to stand outside train stations and give a single red rose to middle-aged women.

It was great – I mean, these are women who haven’t gotten a rose in 20 years. I think he got 85 per cent of the middle-aged female vote. Including mine! And I’m a registered Republican in the United States. I’m sure it was the first time ever I voted Socialist.

Vote at McDonalds
But not the last time. I’ve liked Frank’s work with the city, and I’m going to vote for his team again.

The percentage of Danes who voted in local elections was a little disappointing last time, so this time, people have been allowed to vote anytime from August until November. You can vote by mail, at libraries, in old folks’ homes, in jails, in hospitals, and at McDonald’s.

Yes, McDonald’s. McDonald’s is co-operating with the Danish authorities to get the youth vote up, so candidates will be holding rallies and speeches there.

And whenever you pick up your Big Mac and fries, you can also vote for the candidate of your choice.
 

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 Saxo.com 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

Podcasts

Painful hugs and Poison Gifts: When the same words mean different things in Danish and English

 

Danish words and English words can look similar, but some of the similarities are deceiving. A Danish hug is not comforting. And slut is not a slut.
 

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 Saxo.com 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