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LIFE IN DENMARK

The Danish social taboos you should never break

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.

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

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.

Supermarket

“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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WEATHER

Essential rain gear for a wet Danish winter (and autumn, spring and summer)

Winter in Denmark is a shock to the system, particularly for those of us who come from warmer, drier climes. But if you know where to look, you can find the right rain gear to keep the Danish drops off your head.

Bicycling in wet Danish weather doesn't have to be
Bicycling in wet Danish weather doesn't have to be "træls" (bothersome) if you're kitted out in the right water resistant gear. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

This roundup is unsponsored and the fruits of much googling, review-reading, and recommendation-begging by a sad, damp American.

Where to shop? 

To try things on, the best places are Intersport, Spejder Sport (home to Columbia, Patagonia, Asivik and FjällRaven) and Eventyr Sport, as well as outdoor outfitter Friluftsland.  

To shop the Danish way, put in the hours combing the racks at your local second hand or charity shop. If you strike out there, search by brand on DBA.dk or Facebook marketplace.

Rain jackets: Regnjakker

Your rain jacket is your second skin in Denmark during the damp winter months. Helly Hansen is a go-to brand, according to a Johannes, a Jutland native who offered his recommendation to The Local. The Norwegian company offers well-made jackets at a reasonable price point, ranging between 600 and about 1,500 kroner. These can be ordered direct from the manufacturer or on Amazon.de (the German one) for delivery in Denmark—if you want to try before you buy, go to Eventyr Sport.  

A budget pick is McKinley, which you can pick up at Intersport. These cost between 200-400 kroner.

The classic Scandinavian splurge rain jacket is Fjällräven—these are available in stand-alone Fjällräven stores, Friluftsland, Eventyr, and Spejder Sport, and cost a not-unsubstantial percentage of your rent starting at about 2,500 kroner and climbing north of 6,000 kroner.

Rain pants: regnbukser

Rain pants are a novelty to those of us who don’t come from bike cultures, but after your first rainy day cycling commute leaves you at the office with drenched trousers you’ll understand the appeal.

The New York Times’ product review service Wirecutter highlights the Marmot PreCip Eco Pant as the best pick—here in Denmark, they’re available for men and women at outdoor gear purveyor Friluftsland for about 700-800 kroner.

McKinley also makes rain pants that will set you back around 200 kroner.  

Some of Patagonia’s rain pants, which we found at Spejder Sport, have side zippers for ventilation—if you’re on the sweatier side, this may be a good call. (Their website also proudly reports these rainpants roll up to the “size of a corncob.”)

Rain sets: regnsæt

Also on the market are rain sets, which are coordinating jacket-pant combos like this one from Asivik. It’s cheaper to buy the set rather than both pieces separately, but for many people it makes more sense to invest in a higher-quality rain jacket and go for a more affordable rain pant.

Backpack rain covers: regnslag til rygsæk

Backpack rain covers are an easy buy and cost orders of magnitude less than the laptops and other electronics they protect. Snag one on the way out the door at Intersport, Spejder Sport, or most anywhere that sells rain gear. Expect to pay about 60-180 kroner—just make sure it fits your backpack.

Gloves: Handsker

Your favourite fluffy mittens may not be well suited for your bike commute. GripGrab, a Danish company popular all over the world, offers a variety of waterproof and winterproof gloves— including the lobster style, which has split fingers that allow you the dexterity to ring your bell, pull your hand break and do a Spock impression at a moment’s notice. These are available at specialty cycling stores.

Rain boots: Gummistøvler

Perfectly serviceable budget rainboots are available at the same retail stores discussed above—though for longevity, look for boots made from rubber rather than PVC.

At a higher price point, Hunter rainboots are sold by Danish online retail giant Zalando and keep you dry and in style.

Tretorn is a Swedish brand over a hundred years old—their rain boots are available for both men and women through Spejder Sport and, of course, their website.

For women: available on the German Amazon website is the Asgard Women’s Short Rain Waterproof Chelsea Boot, one of the best reviewed women’s rain boots that doesn’t make you feel like you’re wearing clown shoes.

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