For members


Five Danish social norms that might be new to newcomers

If you’ve lived in Denmark for a while, you might be well acquainted with social conventions peculiar to the Scandinavian country.

Five Danish social norms that might be new to newcomers
The Copenhagen Metro: normally a quiet place. Photo: Vibeke Toft/Ritzau Scanpix

For others who have recently relocated, certain things might come as something of a surprise.

Here are five Danish cultural norms that probably feel natural for those who grew up in Denmark, but are far from commonplace elsewhere.

Small talk with strangers

Try passing the time of day with somebody in a supermarket queue or on public transport and you are likely to end up feeling as welcome as the proverbial fox at a chicken convention.

Don’t take it personally, though. Casually greeting strangers is just not the done thing in Denmark, particularly in cities, where people who live in the same building pass each other on the stairs with a steely resolve not to acknowledge each other’s presence.

Although this can feel incredibly unfriendly if you’re not used to it, it reflects Danes’ tendency to eschew superficial relationships and only be personal when they are sure both sides are comfortable with the situation.

Wearing shoes indoors

Go to Korea, Japan, the Middle East or countless other places and you’ll learn very quickly that it’s incredibly discourteous not to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home. In Denmark, the lines are more blurred on this point.

There’s nothing wrong with automatically taking your shoes off indoors, but it’s just as normal to ask your host whether this is necessary. If you see others wearing shoes inside, you can assume it’s fine to do the same yourself. There’s no black-and-white rule on this in Denmark, so in some cases you will find everyone is walking around in socks or even slippers (which many bring with them when visiting friends).

Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Avoiding conflict

Reaching consensus is a key part of Danish culture, even in the current political climate of polarisation – in any disagreement, argument or discussion, the two sides commonly keep the dialogue going until some element of common ground can be found, no matter how small.

This perhaps reflects the culture of joining associations, societies and unions that is a big part of Danish public life. The long struggle to find an eventual agreement between public employers and unions in the lockout crisis earlier this year is a good example.

Keep this in mind if you find yourself engaging in a discussion with a Dane – whether this is about football, politics or X Factor, it’s probably best not to walk away until you’ve found something you can both nod along to.

Don’t brag

The Law of Jante, or Janteloven, is a code of conduct that has been around for centuries across the Nordic countries and still pervades the Danish subconscious today. The concept can be summed up with a phrase that is not unusual to hear in Denmark: ‘du skal ikke tro, du er noget’ – literally, ‘don’t believe you’re anything (special)’.

That sounds like a drab way to tell people not to believe in themselves or try anything innovative or break with conventions, and it is commonly criticised for these reasons, not least by Danes themselves. But at the same time, it means personal success is often received with an admirable level of natural humility and dignity.

In short, if you have run a marathon, completed your studies or moved to a new apartment, then by all means let people know on social media or in person, but go easy on the showmanship – or you might be considered ‘for meget’ (too much or over the top).

READ ALSO: ‘Denmark’s Jantelov is similar to what we call ‘tall poppy syndrome”

It’s your birthday? You buy the cake

If it’s your birthday, don’t expect to receive the adulation of colleagues unless you bring in something sweet to set the celebrations in motion.

The expectation in Denmark is that the birthday girl or boy provides cake to mark the occasion. If you do this, however, you’re likely to be heartily congratulated all day, and probably for several days afterwards by anyone who didn’t see or speak to you on the day itself (even if that means they missed out on the cake).

File photo: Stine Munk Jensen/Ritzau Scanpix

Do you disagree with any of the points listed in this piece? Did we miss anything? Let us know and we might include your suggestions in a future article.

For members


What are the hardest things about moving to provincial Denmark as a foreigner?

Foreign residents who have moved to lesser-known regions of the country share their experiences of life in provincial Denmark. 

Provincial regions of Denmark want to attract skilled foreign workers, but what are the biggest challenges faced by relocators?
Provincial regions of Denmark want to attract skilled foreign workers, but what are the biggest challenges faced by relocators? Photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Editor’s note: there are of course also many positives about living in provincial Denmark, and people based in those areas were happy to share those too. Read what they said in this article.

When Lea Cesar moved from Slovenia to the town of Ringkøbing in 2011, she didn’t know much about the region of western Jutland. 

“In the beginning, I didn’t like how difficult it was to find a job as a foreigner in a smaller city,” Cesar told The Local. Back then she didn’t speak Danish, and that made it hard to find a job that matched her skills and qualifications. 

“I later took it as a challenge and started my own company,” Cesar said, opening a cafe and bakery called Baking Sins in central Ringkøbing. Once she’d taken things into her own hands, she thrived and came to love her town. 

“I love the small shops with handcrafted products,” she said, drawing a comparison to the big shops and chain stores of larger cities. “The culture here is totally different. Ringkøbing is a smaller town, but feels big enough for me.”

Considering the pros and cons of a life in lesser-known parts of Denmark has never been more relevant, as the Danish government amps up efforts to decentralise Denmark and municipalities look to internationals to balance out declining populations. 

READ ALSO: Is it easier for foreigners to find a job outside Denmark’s major cities?

There may be fewer job opportunities, depending on your industry and Danish language skills

Fewer job opportunities, Cesar said, is one of the primary differences between living in a town like Ringkøbing versus a larger city. 

“There aren’t as many companies here searching for employees that only speak English,” she said. “I think it’s important to speak at least basic Danish; otherwise it would be hard to come here.”

Antoniya Petkov, originally from Bulgaria, faced similar challenges finding work when she moved to Ringkøbing several years ago after her husband accepted a job at a wind energy company in the area. 

“Most of the job opportunities in my field in the area require a high level of Danish language, which I am still working toward,” Petkov told The Local. 

In the meantime, she continues to commute to Aarhus, where she works as a technical recruiter in systematics at a large Danish software firm. “However, there are a lot more opportunities for developers, engineers and people with a technical job profile where Danish isn’t required,” Petkov said.

Even in technical roles, Danish proficiency helps. 

Victor Balaban, originally from Moldova, moved to Vejle while working at Siemens Gamesa. Although he said there are plenty of job opportunities in the region, Balaban said his options would be significantly more limited if he didn’t speak Danish.

Candice Progler-Thomsen, an American living in Lolland, said Danish proficiency is “almost essential” to find a job in the municipality. “There will be greater job opportunities here for individuals who learn Danish,” she told The Local. 

And, because it’s a smaller area with fewer employers, Progler-Thomsen said people may need to be willing to commute or otherwise expand their job search.

READ ALSO: Why (and how) Danish provincial areas want to hire skilled foreign workers

On the other hand, there may also be less competition for jobs in lesser-known parts of Denmark, said Mariola Kajkowska. 

Originally from Poland, Kajkowska moved to Vejle in 2019, where she works as an employee retention consultant. “There are often fewer applicants for each job, which increases your chance to be selected for the position,” she said.

Speaking Danish is important, professionally and socially

When Petkov first moved to Ringkøbing, it was challenging that she didn’t speak Danish. It was hard to do daily tasks, like communicate with workers at her children’s daycare or chat with her neighbours.

“People were distant at first when we bought our house in a typical Danish neighbourhood,” she said. 

It was very different from Aarhus, where they had lived before moving to Ringkøbing. “Aarhus has a huge international community,” she said. “We were always able to find friends and it was easy to get by speaking English.”

Petkov also missed the variety of English events and activities available in Aarhus. “But, we compensate by going to international events in the municipality,” she said.

Balaban, who established baseball clubs in both Herning and Vejle, said being a part of the community and getting involved is integral to building a social network and making friends in Vejle. “You have to be an active part of society,” he said.

Although learning Danish was a challenge, Petkov also saw it as an opportunity. “I’m not sure I would have learned Danish if we were living in Copenhagen or Aarhus,” she said. “You just don’t need it much there.”

Now, she’s learned enough Danish to engage in small talk with her neighbours. “Once people got used to us, we felt very welcome,” Petkov said, “though I don’t think we will ever blend completely.”

Chris Wantia, also a resident of Ringkøbing-Skjern Municipality, has found Danish to be integral to life in rural Denmark. 

He lives in the village of Bork Havn, population 300. “When I walk out of my house, I don’t expect my 65-year-old Danish neighbour to speak to me in English,” Wantia told The Local.

“English may be fine in the big cities, but speaking Danish here is important,” he said, adding that it would have been very challenging to purchase and renovate the two homes he and his wife, Janine, own in the municipality if he didn’t speak Danish. 

A second silver lining Petkov has identified is that living in Ringkøbing has also enabled her family to engage more deeply with Danes and Danish culture, adding that most of her friends are Danish. 

“If you really want to dive into Danish culture, a place like Ringkøbing is amazing,” she said.

There’s less to do, depending on your interests (and you might need to drive)

“You can count on one hand the number of good restaurants within 50 kilometres of Bork Havn,” Wantia told The Local. Although that wasn’t a dealbreaker for him and his wife, Janine, it might be worth some consideration before moving to a village like Bork Havn. 

“If you want many restaurants, parties, or meeting new people all the time, this isn’t the place for you,” he said. “It’s quiet here. Some people might not like that, but it’s perfect for us.”

Vejle, though much larger than Bork Havn with a population of 113,000, also isn’t a very lively city in terms of nightlife, according to Balaban.

“I’d say it’s a mature city,” he said. “It’s a quiet city that attracts a lot of families and people who are more settled down.”

Ultimately, having ‘things to do’ nearby depends on which activities you prefer. 

In Lolland, Progler-Thomsen said it’s “a bit of a sacrifice” to not have easy access to the cultural activities the family had in Copenhagen. 

READ ALSO: Are provincial parts of Denmark a good option for international families?

In exchange, her family has access to activities it enjoys that weren’t available in Copenhagen, including many outdoor activities and sports. “We love the Safari Park that’s only a 7-minute drive from our house,” Progler-Thomsen said. 

That’s something else to consider, though: driving. 

Kajkowska, in Vejle, said driving will play more of a role in one’s life, living in these parts of Denmark. “I was at a party the other night and two cars had driven one and a half hours from Sønderborg to come to the party,” she said.

READ ALSO: What benefits does life in provincial Denmark offer foreign residents?

For the most part, Petkov said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out by living in Ringkøbing.

She enjoys several favorite cafes in town, an Italian restaurant where they are regulars and enjoy chatting with the owners, exploring the beaches and woods, and escaping to the wellness hotel near their house for mini-breaks. “In the summer, it feels like living at a resort,” Petkov said. 

“Ringkøbing is a great place for our family,” she said. “The benefits outweigh the drawbacks for us.”