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The Danish social taboos you should never break

The Local Denmark
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The Danish social taboos you should never break
Don't forget the plastic dividers at the supermarket checkout. Photo: Mads Joakim Rimer Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

We asked our readers to tell us about the Danish social taboos they've encountered, so you can avoid making the same mistakes and spare yourself some blushes.


From saying ‘tak for mad’ to using the plastic bar on supermarket conveyor belts, here's a look at a few of the highlights, in the hope that the uncomfortable silences and averted gazes suffered by others may spare you from the same fate.

Tak for mad

You’ll be considered a polite dinner guest if you use the expression ‘tak for mad’ (thanks for the meal), according to a number of the responses sent by readers – but remember to say it after, not before, you eat.

While the French have their wine, Danish drinking customs involving snaps (or schnapps), the eyewateringly strong herbal liqueur, are not to be taken lightly.

“I was a 20-year-old college student, freshly installed with my host family at the beginning of the Easter holidays. At the first of many fancy dinners that week I sipped my akvavit (schnapps) rather than downing it in one gulp. All the older men around the table got a big laugh out of my mistake and made sure I understood how it should be done. Then they laughed even harder when I coughed and gasped after following their example,” wrote Maria Hein, who lives in Thy.

Notifying neighbours

If you live in a Danish city, it’s important to let others in your apartment building know if you’re planning any kind of social gathering, Joshua Cunningham of Copenhagen observes.

Letting people know noise levels might be above normal will probably keep you in good books and stave off complaints – although it seems that, in Cunningham’s case, the reaction was the opposite.

“I organised a gathering without leaving a note in the corridor. Some neighbours didn't know how to behave,” he writes.

Although you should inform neighbours about parties, you probably shouldn’t do it in person. Danes are not forthcoming about casually greeting strangers, including neighbours.

“I said ‘hej’ to a neighbour when he exited his house and I was entering. Awkward! He replied with an uncomfortable ‘hej’ too,” wrote Pavlos Rizos, who lived in Copenhagen.

Personal space

Punctuality and personal space, were both mentioned by Ilse Polanco of Aalborg as ways of inadvertently winding Danes the wrong way with socially inappropriate behaviour.

“I hugged one of my roommates a few days after meeting her because it was her birthday. I’ve never seen anyone more uncomfortable,” Polanco wrote.

“I arrived one hour late to my own birthday party. The host wasn't happy,” Lorenzo Luis Albano of Copenhagen said.

But if it is your birthday, don’t forget to buy your own cake – coworkers might consider you a bit of a killjoy if you fail to follow this convention, several readers observed.

Chivalry, meanwhile, is not a concept valued particularly highly.

Do not “be polite and open the door, letting another person go first,” Pavlos Rizos wrote.

The reaction to the gesture was as if the other person was thinking: “Why?! Am I incapable of doing this myself?”, Rizos writes.

It's also unacceptable to make chirpy sounds in public.

“Never whistle outside your house,” Hailey Landren, who has lived in Søborg, Odense, Copenhagen, Vejle and Birkerød wrote.

“I whistled while riding my bike and everyone looked at me and would stop walking around to see where the heck the whistling was coming from,” she explained.


“Putting the bar down on the conveyor belt at the supermarket after you've put all your groceries on,” is crucial if you want to avoid being on the end of “sighs and bad looks”, Alex Campbell, who has lived in Copenhagen for five years, said.

We also asked whether any Danish social faux pas were particular to specific regions of the country.

Not many of our readers where aware of geographical taboos, although Aleks Dimitrova helpfully advised not to “ask people from Fyn if Albani is Albanian beer”.

READ ALSO: What's it like to work in Denmark as a foreigner? Here's what you told us



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