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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.


“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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For members


What changes about life in Denmark in June 2021?

Coronavirus rules, travel restrictions and car registration fees are among the areas set to see announcements, updates or rule changes in Denmark in June.

What changes about life in Denmark in June 2021?
An electric-powered harbour bus operating in Copenhagen in June 2020. Photo: Claus Bech/Ritzau Scanpix

Changes to coronavirus restrictions

Denmark initially outlined a phased plan to lift its coronavirus restrictions back in March. The plan has been updated (and accelerated) on a number of occasions, with politicians meeting regularly to discuss adjustments based on the status and progression of the epidemic.

Initially, the government said it would lift the majority of restrictions by the end of May, when it expected to have vaccinated everyone over the age of 50 (apart from those who choose not to be vaccinated). Although the vaccination calendar was pushed back, restrictions are still being lifted, with the government citing progress with vaccinations and general good control of the epidemic.

In an agreement reached earlier this month, the government said rules requiring the use of face masks and corona passports will be revoked when all people over 16 in Denmark have been offered vaccination. The end-stage of the vaccination programme is currently scheduled to be reached at the end of August. But more detail on the plans for phased lifting of these rules is expected to surface in June.

READ ALSO: When will Denmark stop requiring corona passports and face masks?

A return to offices and shared workspaces, already set out to occur in three steps, will continue. In the first phase, which began on May 21st, 20 percent capacity were allowed back at physical workplaces. Remaining staff must continue to work from home where possible. This proportion will increase to 50 percent on June 14th (and 100 percent on August 1st).

Public assembly limit to be raised indoors, lifted outdoors

The current phase of reopening, which has been in place since May 21st, limits gatherings indoors to 50 people. This is scheduled to increase to 100 on June 11th.

Outdoors gatherings, currently limited to 100 people, will be completely revoked on June 11th.

August 11th will see the end of any form of assembly limit, indoors or outdoors, according to the scheduled reopening.

Unfortunately, this does not mean festivals such as Roskilde Festival – which would normally start at the end of June – can go ahead. Large scale events are still significantly restricted, meaning Roskilde and the majority of Denmark’s other summer festivals have already been cancelled.

Eased travel restrictions could be extended to non-EU countries

Earlier this month, Denmark moved into the third phase of lifting travel restrictions , meaning tourists from the EU and Schengen countries can enter the country.

The current rules mean that foreigners resident in EU and Schengen countries rated orange on the country’s traffic light classification (yellow, orange and red) for Covid-19 levels in the relevant countries, will no longer need a worthy purpose to enter Denmark, opening the way for tourists to come to Denmark from across the region.

Denmark raised the threshold for qualifying as a yellow country from 20-30 to 50-60 cases per 100,000 people over the past week.  

However, the lower threshold only applies to EU and Schengen countries, which means that, for example, the UK does not qualify as a yellow country despite falling within the incidence threshold.


But the 27 member states of the European Union recently announced they had agreed to allow fully vaccinated travellers to enter the bloc.

A Ministry of Justice text which sets out the plan for Denmark’s phased easing of travel restrictions suggests that the fourth phase, scheduled to take effect on June 26th, will see Denmark adopt the EU’s common rules on entry for persons from outside the bloc, meaning non-EU countries could qualify for the more lenient rules for yellow regions.

New car registration fees come into effect

New rules for registration fees for new vehicles, adopted in February, take effect on June 1st.

The laws, which will be applied retroactively from December 18th 2020, mean that different criteria will be used to calculate the registrations fees applied to cars based on their carbon dioxide emissions, replacing the existing rules which used fuel consumption as the main emissions criteria.

New rules will also be introduced offering more advantages for registering electric and hybrid vehicles.

You can find detailed information via the Danish Motor Vehicle Agency.

READ ALSO: Why is it so expensive to buy a car in Denmark?