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Five ways to make a good impression at a Danish home

If you get invited to a Danish home for the first time, there are a few small ways you can leave a positive impression.

Five ways to make a good impression at a Danish home
Photo: Jonas Allert on Unsplash

Although house invitations have been a little sparser, that’s probably the more reason to make the most of them when the opportunity comes along.

Besides, once Denmark (and everywhere else) gets to the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will feel nice to be as considerate as possible on the many social occasions that will hopefully come our way.

Here are few small ways you can make a good impression as a Danish house guest.

Get there on time

Whether it’s a birthday celebration, konfirmation, Easter lunch, family get together or university reunion, Danes tend to arrive punctually. This is not the case in all cultures, so it’s worth aiming for the exact time you’ve been told the occasion starts, rather than interpreting too much leeway.

If you arrive ten minutes too early or too late you should be fine, but anything more than that will probably need some degree of declaring undskyld (sorry) to smooth over any awkwardness.

Bring a gift?

This one doesn’t apply to all occasions, but if it’s a birthday, for example, you should bring a present – just showing up is not considered a gift in and of itself.

The present doesn’t have to be expensive or a huge gesture – feel free to judge this on the nature of your relationship to the person who is being celebrated. But by bringing a gift – no matter how token – you are effectively thanking them for inviting you.

If you’re going to a more general gathering that is not a celebration of a particular person, you don’t need to worry so much about a present.

Eye contact

When glasses are raised and it’s time to say skål (cheers), do your best to look into everyone’s eyes, one person at a time. Making eye contact when toasting is an important way to be polite and show engagement with the situation.

Thank them for the food

The phrase tak for mad (literally, ‘thanks for the food’) is ubiquitous at the end of all Danish mealtimes, whether mundane or celebratory. But if you’re a guest at someone’s house for the first time, thanking them for the food is essential if you want to come across as thoughtful and polite.

Make sure you wait until everyone has completely finished eating before you say thanks. If you say it too soon, and people are still drinking their coffee or finishing their cake, it might seem like you’re in a hurry to get away. If you say tak for mad at the beginning of the meal, everyone will just think you’re a bit strange (I did this once having been brought up to say thanks as soon as food is served). Saying tak for mad is only appropriate once everyone is finished and about to leave the table.

If this seems like a tricky etiquette to follow, don’t worry – everyone is going to say tak for mad at some point, so you can just wait until someone else sets off the chorus and then join in.

Offer to help with the dishes

Danish culture is quite egalitarian and there’s no harm in asking the host if you can help with the dishes or where you should take your plates once the meal is done.

You might notice other guests take their dirty crockery and silverware out to the kitchen with them as they leave the table – if so, feel free to follow their example.

Although your offer to help with the dishes will likely be turned down, it will probably be appreciated and you certainly won’t be imposing.

Did you find these tips useful? Did we miss any? Are there any similar topics you’d like to hear about? Let us know.

READ ALSO: Here’s what I learned after two years living like a Dane

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For members


Six useful products I discovered in Denmark

Denmark is well known for its tradition for high quality design, but which products make a difference to everyday life?

Six useful products I discovered in Denmark

Inbuilt bike locks 

There’s no need to carry around a heavy and impractical chain to lock up your bicycle in Denmark, as these all come fitted (or you can cheaply add) an inbuilt lock on the frame of the bike.

The lock is the form of a circular bar which is released by a key and goes between the spokes of the back wheel, meaning it can’t be turned when the lock is in the fixed position.

This way, bikes can be locked while still standing freely – which is just as well, since there are not enough railings and bike stands in the country to accommodate the many, many bicycles.

Of course, a locked bike can, in theory, be picked up and carried away even if the wheel doesn’t turn and unfortunately, this does happen sometimes. But not enough to undermine the public trust in bicycle wheel locks.

Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Rain trousers

Rain trousers/pants (regnbukser) can be bought on their own or with a matching jacket as part of a regnsæt (“rain set”).

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

They are designed to fit over your regular trousers and can be stretched over the top of your shoes and held underneath them with a piece of elastic attached to the bottom hem.

While primarily designed for cycling, they also come in handy for walking around during Denmark’s regular spells of cold, damp weather.

Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

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

The flatbed toaster

There’s something indefinably satisfying about putting two slices of bread in a toaster and waiting for the ‘ping’ as they pop up, warm and ready for spreading.

However, there’s no getting around the fact that toasters are a bit impractical when it comes to thick slices and rolls.

Of course, you can also warm bread in the oven, but it’s more hassle and not for quite the same result.

Enter the flatbed toaster. This device is much more popular in Denmark than the pop-up version and enables easy, simultaneous warming of several slices of bread of various shapes and sizes – including of course, the national favourite, rye bread.

Pro tip: turn the dial less for toasting the second side of the bread, because the element will already be warm. This way you avoid burning the second side.

Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The cheese slicer

Cheese products popular in Denmark include havarti and the Cheasy range from dairy Arla.

These are both soft cheeses and should be cut with an ostehøvl (cheese slicer), a quintessential Danish kitchen utensil.

There are two types of ostehøvl: a wire-based type and a version that looks a bit like a trowel, with a raised edge and a gap in the middle for the sliced cheese to pass through.

Cutting Danish soft cheese with a knife will turn the block into a crumbling mess, so in this setting you can’t really avoid using the specialised slicers. And while their usefulness is diminished for something like cheddar, there are plenty of softer cheeses in other countries that would surely benefit from being set about with an ostehøvl.

One thing to be aware of: injudicious use of the slicer can cause a “ski slope” cheese block, creating uneven slices and leaving one side of the block thicker than the other. Slice evenly.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

Foam washing cloths for babies

If you’re a parent and have found yourself struggling with a pile of dirty wet wipes or cotton pads after changing your baby, you may have found yourself wondering if there’s another way.

In Denmark, there is: the engangsvaskeklude (disposable washing cloth) comes in tightly-stuffed packets of 50-100 small, square foam cloths, around 20 square centimetres in size.

The cloths are made from thin slices of polyether foam, a type often used in sofa cushions. Manufacturers say it is better for the environment than other types, and the advantage against wet wipes is they are perfume-free.

They just need to be made damp with a splash of lukewarm water, then you’re ready to wipe – they tend to have a good success rate for picking up baby poo.

A sticker saying ‘no thanks’ to junk mail

We’re talking about physical junk mail here, not the type that goes into your email spam box although if there was a sticker for this, I’d be at the front of the queue.

The reklamer, nej tak (“advertisements, no thank you”) sticker can be ordered from FK Distribution, the company which operates Denmark’s tilbudsaviser (“special offer newspaper”) deliveries. These result in piles of paper leaflets, detailing offers at supermarkets, being pushed through letter boxes every day.

These leaflets are useful for bargain hunters, but many people take them out of their overfilled letter box and dump them straight into recycling containers. If you have a nej tak sticker on your letter box, you won’t receive any of the brochures in the first place.

You can also choose a sticker which says “no thanks” to adverts but excludes the offer leaflets, so you can cut down on the junk mail while still keeping abreast of good deals.

Have I missed any good ones? Let me know.