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

'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.
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.

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

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  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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