How to make friends with expats in Denmark (and why it’s OK)

There is a lot written about making friends with Danes when you move here and how hard it is, so there is no wonder that many expats find themselves becoming friends with other expats.

How to make friends with expats in Denmark (and why it’s OK)
Photo: Iris

The circles you move in make this inevitable — language school, your kids’ schools and clubs, international workplaces, the list goes on.

And I think that it is important to recognise that this is OK. Making friends with Danes is a long game and worthwhile but one of the biggest fears that people, especially women, have when relocating to a new country is how they will find and make friends.

Importance of active connection

It may seem obvious but unless you are putting yourself in places where you will meet people and being outgoing and friendly to people you do meet you won’t find making friends easy. People won’t be seeking you out so you need to put in the leg work initially. Language school is one of the best places to meet new people if you are not working in an office environment. Secondly, look at your (and your family’s) hobbies and interests and join groups related to these — it may even be virtual groups at the start.

Not all expats are the same

In the main many expats you meet will be living in the country for a shorter and specific period of time. If they are expats who move around a lot they will be used to making friends quickly with others as time is of the essence. You may find that your new expat friends will share personal details about their lives much quicker than you are used to and you may become fast friends. It is important to remember that this group of friends will be very transitional and situational and you will get used to saying good bye a lot. Depending on how long you plan to stay in the country depends how much the nature of this kind of friendship affects you as you will may be the one to be leaving after a few years.

Then there are seasoned expats, those who are not actually expats in the traditional sense but people who have left their own country to settle on a permanent or long term semi permanent basis. These people will often already have strong groups of friends but will be open to newcomers as they recall what it was like for them. They will take things a little slower but are great people to add to your circle as they will have longer term knowledge to share, are less likely to be heading off to a new place any time soon and therefore take things a little slower. They may also be a bit more integrated into Danish life.

Same nationality doesn’t mean automatic friends

One thing I have noticed is that you will often see people together who would never have been friends in their home countries. There could be a positive reason for this and that is when you move somewhere new you lose some of your previous reservations and judgements about others and take them more of face values and common interests.

But I think in some cases people gravitate to others from their own country as almost a life raft. They speak your language and they understand your cultural references but it is important to take care with making friends with anyone just to have friends. That said there is certainly something comforting about being about to speak your own language and know you will be understood.

READ ALSO: Ten surprising things that happened to me after moving to Denmark

A two way street

There needs to be a strong element of reciprocity in friendship and even more so when you are the newcomer. Make sure you are not always taking and asking for favours with nothing in return.

Having kids helps

Having children is a massive help in connecting with people and making friends. You can take your child to a music group and meet people, you can strike up conversations with interesting looking fellow mums using the children as a starting point. There are tons more places geared up to getting children together than adults and you can cash in on this. And if the worse comes to the worse at least your child will speak to you if no one else does!

Be genuine

It is very easy to find yourself falling into a mould to try and fit in with a new circle of friends but stay true to yourself and be genuine. This will help you make more real and true friends. I am generally quite outgoing and friendly but I do have a quiet side which I don’t hide. It is important that people have the chance to meet the real you.

Of course moving to a new country does give you the chance to perhaps reinvent yourself a little. We can also find ourselves outwardly becoming a certain way or show a certain personality to others, when our true personality gets hidden within. Perhaps you have always been creative and this has been stifled a little — now is the time to let that side out and give her a chance to flourish.

Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for nine 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 expats called Dejlige Days Welcome and works with Copenhagen Housing to offer an integrated settling-in and home search service. Her book ‘My Guide to a Successful Relocation’, is available here


Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend

Many foreigners living in Denmark struggle to make friends with born-and-bred Danes. We spoke to five who have successfully made the connection.

Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend
Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private

Fernanda Secca from Brazil and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt 

When 32-year-old Fernanda moved to Copenhagen at the start of 2017, one of the first things she did was find a place to do pole-dancing, which had been her hobby back in São Paulo. Marie Peschardt, 29, was her teacher, and before long they soon realised they got on well.

“Coming to class a few times a week made us create a bond that was eventually taken to a personal relationship,” she remembers. “We now do everything together. We hang out several times a week. We go travelling together, we have dinner, we go to bars, we go dancing.” 

The two still train together at the dance studio. 

Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private 

“I think the friendship was possible because we were both open to meeting new people and building connections,” Fernanda says, adding that she doesn’t think Danes are particularly difficult to become friends with.

“There is no secret. Danes are not aliens. I think finding something in common that you can bond around or relate to helps in the beginning, because people are more likely to respond to that than a random request or small talk.” 

“Also taking a chance, inviting a person you feel could be interesting for a coffee or a drink, can be something spontaneous or quick. Some Danes might even appreciate being spontaneous because no one here really is.” 
On the other hand, it is important for those from more free-wheeling countries to understand that Danes like to plan ahead, she adds. 
“Appreciate that they have their schedules and bookings weeks in advance and you might need to fit into that type of style as well if you want to build a connection.” 
Marcele Rask and her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina
Marcele Rask, 36, a manager at Danske Bank specialising in financial crime and sanctions, met her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina at her previous job because they all worked in the same department. She said the three of them shared a similar appetite for adventure. 
“One thing that connected us three a lot is the fact that we are all very curious and like to try new things. So we programme ‘adventure days’  where we go somewhere new, or that we like or something and spend some hours there or even the day,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, or crazy or anything, but something nice to know.” 
She said they tend to do this about once or twice a month, either two of them, or all three together.
“Just after Denmark started to open from the lockdown, we went to a Gavnø slot for their tulip festival, and afterwards we went to eat MacDonald’s by the harbour.” 
She says that both Jasmine and Carina are quite internationally-minded, which she feels made them more open to making friends with a foreigner. 
“Jasmin lived some years abroad and was an expat herself. Carina has worked on international companies and is used to the expats’ life, having herself another great expat friend,” she says. 
She said they now spoke a mixture of English and Danish together, but were speaking Danish more and more as her command of the language improved. She said she felt her own openness had helped her make Danish friends. 
“I think one thing that it is very important to be as an expat is open — open for anything and everything — and not just to sit around bitching about the country, the language, the food, and everything else.” 
Ashley Norval and her Danish friend Mia Garner 
Ashley, 31, met Mia, 28 almost as soon as she arrived in Copenhagen a year ago from Australia and the two were paired together for a group session during her university course. They have hung out together ever since. 
“I hear from her two or three times a week usually, and we do all kinds of stuff together,” she says. “We’ve travelled together, we catch up for dinner, we go to the movies, or just go to each other’s place. Sometimes we go walking or running, sometimes we just go and get an ice cream and sit in the park.” 
Ashley Norval (right) and Mia Garner at the Gisselfeld Klosters Forest Tower south of Copenhagen. Photo: Private
Ashley believes that many foreigners think, often mistakenly, that the Danish reluctance to impose themselves on others means they are not open to making new friends. 
“I think Danish people genuinely don’t want to encroach on your personal space and territory and I’m convinced that once you kind of invite them to something and show them that it’s fine, and that you do want to see them outside of your professional space or whatever, then it’s fine.”
She said that foreigners in Denmark needed to realise that they might have to make the move, and suggest going to see a film or get a meal. 
“If you make the effort to get to know any part of Danish culture, that is always well received with Danish people,” she adds, although she concedes that Danes might view Australians more favourably than people from many other countries. 
Camila Witt and her Danish friend Emilie Møllenbach
Camila, 36, met Emilie over the coffee machine when they were both working for a Danish payments company, but bonded over their academic interests. “Emilie and I had a I have a very strong academic background, so we just started to talk about different theories: physics, science and this kind of thing. And we connected over that and I think that the relationship grew from that.” 
They go for walks together, make chocolate together, go for dinner, or a cup of tea at a café. 
“Nothing really fancy, to be fair, just being each in each other’s companies and I think that both her and I share this perspective that we like we were there for each other and not to be on our phones.” 
Camila believes a lot of foreigners wrongly think that when Danes say they’re busy or booked up, that that means they aren’t open to a friendship. 
“Danes require more planning. I think that something we need to understand if we come from countries where you’re used to spontaneously say ‘let’ go out tonight, let’s go out after work and just have a beer’. 
“It’s really important to you know, proactively invite them and not take them saying, ‘I don’t have time this week’ as them shutting you off because in all honesty, many times they are booked. So it’s about finding that slot of time. It can happen in three weeks, but it will happen you know.”