‘They act like you are complete strangers’: Why it’s hard to make friends with Danes

In an unscientific poll of readers of The Local Denmark, 81 percent of respondents agreed Danes are tricky to befriend. Here's your explanations as to why.

'They act like you are complete strangers': Why it's hard to make friends with Danes
Many foreigners who move to Denmark say Danes can be cliquish and intimidating to approach. In this photo, a cyclist near Dybbølsbro in Copenhagen makes intense eye contact with the photographer. Photo: Kristoffer Trolle/Flickr.

The responses to our survey were very passionate (and some included words we can’t print here). A third of the respondents said they haven’t made a single Danish friend – some after living and working in Denmark for 5, 10 and even 30 years. 

But not everyone was negative. Some of you have taken to Denmark’s social scene like en and til vand (a duck to water). 

Reader Liliya Atanassova said she had expected to be a loner in Denmark after hearing tales of standoffish Danes from friends, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth in her experience. “I have never fitted in somewhere so well in my life before,” she wrote. “The key was to ask them if I could join, instead of waiting for them to invite me.” 

Unfortunately, only 12 percent of our respondents agreed with Atanassova that finding Danish pals wasn’t that hard. 

READ MORE: 3 phone apps to help you make friends in Denmark

A common gripe was that Danes don’t seem to like speaking English, even if they’re fluent. It’s “very intimidating when you find yourself in a company where they all speak Danish even knowing that you cannot understand everything,” one reader from Odense said. 

A reader from Copenhagen, alias ‘Bob Marley,’ agreed. “You don’t realize how awkward it can be to remind people (even the same people repeatedly) that you don’t speak Danish yet.” 

But speaking Danish is neither necessary nor sufficient to make friends, others chime in: “After almost 7 years in DK, and speaking the language since year 2, I have only few Danish friends,” Emilie from Copenhagen said. 

“Speaking the language is no guarantee of being included more,” said Timo Hilton-Jones of Valby. 

READ MORE: How to make friends with expats in Denmark (and why that’s okay) 

Another shared frustration was that Danes keep work and leisure very separate. 

“Even though you think you befriended some Dane at (for example) the Friday bar at work, when you call them the next day for a chat or invite them for a coffee, they act like you are complete strangers,” said Daniela of Copenhagen, who has lived in Denmark for five years. 

Medha from Copenhagen said that Danes are lovely acquaintances – it’s just hard to convert that to a friendship. “I often find the Danish person I had had a great conversation with earlier absolutely ignore to even say hello the next day.”

More than 10 respondents said it’s clear that Danes make their friends in the cradle – or high school/gymnasium at the latest – and nurture those friendships for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t leave much room for new friends. “Danes are extremely reserved towards foreigners,” reader Karen said. “Reserved to the extent that they are hostile. They focus on this obsession with ‘hygge’ which is, in my opinion, a better way of calling themselves anti-social.” 

Some of our readers are having, clearly, a more hyggeligt time – they say Danes aren’t aliens and are very easy to get along with. “Most of all stop emphasising that you are a foreigner, act weird or go on and on about things that are different in Denmark vs. your own country,” Mira of Aalborg said.   

Others made it in by waging a slow war of friendship attrition. “After five years of living in Denmark my husband’s friends finally sorta accepted I’m not going anywhere,” admitted Yasmine Trudslev, who lives in Aalborg. Good job, Yasmine!

As part of our series on friends in Denmark, we’ll unpack your answers about readers’ advice on how to successfully make friends in future articles.

Member comments

  1. I have been here 6 years. The Danes I am friends with I had to work at. They also had to be accepting of my English speaking and realize my Danish is not sufficient for more than basic talking. They also are people that are more relaxed about Danish rules of food, making schedules, and social rules. I don’t know these unwritten rules and my friends say being relaxed is nice! It is still weird for me that you can be a friend at work, but that can’t transfer to outside. What a waste of great experiences in life.

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READERS REVEAL: The lesser-known parts of Denmark that are great to live in

The likes of Copenhagen and Aarhus are popular for a reason – they’re great cities. But other parts of Denmark perhaps don’t get the love they deserve.

Wind turbines peek out above the mist on an autumn morning on Zealand. We asked our readers in Denmark to let us know what's great about their local areas.
We asked our readers in Denmark to let us know about their local areas. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

We asked our readers to let us know what’s great about the parts of the country they call home. Thanks for those who took the time to get in touch.

Most of the people filled in our survey live in Greater Copenhagen or elsewhere on Zealand, though some were located in other parts of the country.

With house prices high and rent in the major cities – particularly Copenhagen – more costly than anywhere else, outlying areas may find themselves gaining popularity.

Hvidovre, only 10 kilometres or so outside of Copenhagen to the southwest, is “central, cheap and close to the airport”, writes Scott Wilson.

“A few years back it was a bit of a backwater, now has its own very good beach, lots of new families moving and prices of houses are climbing,” Scott said.

The area would still benefit from a few more cafes, he added. Another drawback of the area is its high municipal taxes, he also said.

Were he to move, however, Scott wouldn’t swap Hvidovre for another part of Denmark. He’d stay within the same local authority but move closer to the coast, he told us.

If you plan on living within Copenhagen Municipality, you might not have considered Sluseholmen, a former industrial area to the south of the city centre across the harbour from Amager and close to the motorway bridge linking Amager and Zealand.

The area is less well-known than the ‘bridge quarters’ of Nørrebro, Vesterbro and Østerbro, but offers modern architecture and proximity to the harbour not found in the more central areas.

“The canals and location (close to city centre, nature, water and motorways)” are what make Sluseholmen a unique neighbourhood, wrote Edward Horton. The area lacks charging ports for electric cars, he observed.

Were he to move anywhere else in Denmark, Edward wrote that it would be somewhere else on Zealand.

People swimming in the sea near Middelfart. File photo: Michael Drost-Hansen/Ritzau Scanpix

Despite its small size, Denmark’s geography makes it difficult to find a spot with easy access to all other parts of the country. But the town of Middelfart on the west coast of Funen comes close to fitting the bill, wrote Tony, who moved there because it is the hometown of his partner’s family.

“The area is central to everything,” he wrote, but said that the town itself would benefit from more diverse consumer offerings.

There are “too many empty shops in the town centre and too many shops doing the same trades,” Tony wrote, adding that he’d move to Copenhagen if he could pick anywhere else in Denmark.

Herning has on occasions been host to some of Europe’s most famous football clubs due to the recent success of local side FC Midtjylland. Photo: Claus Fisker/Ritzau Scanpix

Another city that can boast an advantageous location is Herning, almost right in the centre of Jutland.

Jennifer wrote to us to praise the area, which she moved to when relocating due to her partner’s work.

“There is such a lot of natural history in the areas all around Central Jutland… it’s a great way to explore the rich Danish history. There are also the beautiful lakes around Silkeborg for fun summer activities like kayaks or paddle boards,” she wrote.

One thing she’d like to see more of in Herning is vegetarian options when eating out.

“Everything is meat,” she noted.

If she could move to another part of Denmark, Jennifer said she would choose nearby Aarhus or perhaps Copenhagen.

Cycling near Holbæk in Spring 2018. Photo Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Holbæk, on the coast of the Isefjord in the northwestern part of Zealand, is remarkable for its “beautiful fjord” and is a “nice friendly town”, wrote Bev Lloyd-Roberts.

Unlike anyone else who wrote in to us, Bev said she wouldn’t swap her adopted home town for any other part of Denmark.

But it could do with “more bins in the street” as well as “more benches to sit on to look at the fjord”, she suggested.

Do you agree with the places mentioned in this article? Do you have any suggestions you think we should add? If so, let us know – if we receive enough suggestions we’ll write a follow-up article.