Do you have any Danish friends? Usually expats have a mix of international friends and Danes, but one of the biggest complaints heard from expats is how hard it is to make good friends with the locals.
It is true that it is hard to make friendships quickly with Danes as they are generally private people and they already have established circles of friends. There is a joke I heard from a Dane that Danish people are given a set number of friends tickets when they are born and these are usually used up by the time they leave university so unless someone dies or moves away, there are very few vacancies.
Making friends with Danes at work is also difficult, as socialising is often relegated to lunch time chats and the occasional Friday bar outing or other planned social activity, but on the whole workmates tend to head off the spend their leisure time with family or their real friends.
Another common perception is that the only Danes that are good friends with expats tend to be those who have spent significant time outside of Denmark.
However I wonder if this challenge in making friends is unique to Denmark. If I moved to a new town or job in my own country I think I would find it equally hard to make friends. I have lived in apartment buildings in the UK and spoke less to my neighbours than I do here. And in the entire time I lived in Berlin, I had only passing acquaintance with a few neighbours. The tactics that have proven successful in Copenhagen (regular chats, greetings and pleasantries) seemed to fall flat in the German capital. Expat friends in other European countries tell me that the situation there is the same.
But regardless of where you live, without something like sport, school or a hobby in common, it simply becomes harder to make friends as you get older. Having a child can help in meeting new people but as most children in Denmark are in daycare by the time they are one, so the chances of meeting other parents are limited after that stage.
Throw into that equation the fact 63 percent of Danes still live in the same area they grew up in and you can start to understand how so many of them have seemingly used up their ‘friend tickets’ by the time you come along.
Expats also, often by necessity, have a different approach to making friends. They are often used to a more transitional nature to friendship as people tend to come and go a little more frequently. While members of the international community may have no problem making fast friendships and confidences in this environment, it might not be something that Danes need or necessarily want.
So how do you make friends with Danes? Putting out what you would like to get back is a start. Friendship isn’t a one-way street nor is it something that happens fast. However over time I would say that by being friendly on a regular basis to my neighbours and colleagues here in Copenhagen I have struck up friendships. I wouldn't consider them to be bosom buddies but I know they are people I could certainly call on if I needed help.
The second Christmas we lived in Copenhagen, we invited everyone in our building to our apartment one afternoon for mulled wine and mince pies. It was a great way to break the ice and to show our welcoming side — as I said, making friendships is a two-way street. We also make sure to always pitch in on the apartment building clear-up days and get involved in building activities such as lighting of the communal Christmas tree.
I believe you can make friends with Danes but it does require time, effort and patience. It is not an overnight thing but once established it is worthwhile. I would say that I have never found Danes unfriendly, obstructive or unwelcoming to my friendly advances, so if you want Danish friends, stick with it. But you may need to adjust your expectations as to what form this friendship will take.
Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at helping expats called Dejlige Days Welcome. Her ebook, Dejlige Days: A Guide to relocation, will be published soon.