‘You always have to take the first step’: Advice on how to make friends in Denmark

'You always have to take the first step': Advice on how to make friends in Denmark
Many readers said persistence is absolutely the key to forging friendships with Danes. Photo: Robin Skjoldborg/Visit Denmark
Adapting to social etiquette in a foreign country can be extremely disorienting – do all my coworkers secretly hate me, or is this just that Danish chill? Am I being obtuse by inviting my neighbor to dinner multiple times, or is this what it takes to break through in a "coconut" culture?

As the saying goes, in some cultures the people are like peaches—soft and sweet on the surface, but with a hard and private pit once you reach a certain level of depth in the relationship. In others, the people are coconuts, hard and bristly on the outside but well worth the effort once you manage to crack through their thick shell.  

The Danes are famously a coconut culture, with a reputation as polite but reserved and difficult to get close to. The results of our recent (entirely unscientific) survey on how easy Danes are to befriend weren’t rosy—about a third of our respondents said that they have yet to make a single Danish friend, some after five, 10 or even 30 years of living and working in Denmark. But the 70 percent who have managed to lure at least one Dane into their social orbit offered some words of advice.

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

Make the first move, and be persistent

It’s vital to reach out to prospective friends proactively, our readers with Danish friends said.  “You have to invite them, you have to initiate the friendship,” said John Smith from Herning. “Otherwise you’ll always be acquaintances.”

Anne from Copenhagen agreed. “They would never come to you so you have to do the first step, always!”

Danes are generally hyper-scheduled, so don’t be put off if they break out their year calendar when you ask them to go to lunch.

“Invite often and don’t be depressed if it takes a while to find a time that works for you both.  Remember, Danes schedule their cleaning and alone time as seriously as their social outings,” said MC from Nordjylland.  “And holidays often mean although you may be available, they are booked solid between extended family obligations and their own family’s hyggeligt time (which likely won’t involve you!).”

“Expect to book an appointment two months in advance,” said Nour Hemici of Nørrebro.

Readers say: break out the booze and host dinners

Danes can benefit from a little social lubricant, eleven respondents said. “Get them drunk,” said Yasmine Trudslev from Aalborg.

Many readers reported success inviting potential friends to their house for a home-cooked meal, particularly one with food from your home country.


Be a joiner

The most common recommendation was to join sports clubs or other affinity groups, such as garden cooperatives. “Danes may feel more comfortable with talking to an immigrant and forming a friendship when they know that they have a common interest,” said Kevin Marks in Odense.

Recruit a gateway Dane

Several readers said that the first Danish friend is the hardest – once you have one Dane to vouch for you, you gain access to their social network too. “I found that once I made good friends with one Dane they were very eager to introduce me to their friends, who were all very welcoming,” reports Maggie from Copenhagen. “You just need one connection!”

One way to achieve this is to purposefully seek out Danish roommates, said another reader from Copenhagen.

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

Do your homework

Learning the language can be helpful for integrating into existing friend groups, since many Danes who speak fluent English prefer not to speak it in social settings. It’s “understandable” if Danes aren’t as interested in international friends “if we don’t speak language and don’t follow the jokes and slangs,” said Herman T. from Aarhus. “I’d do the same if I were in my own country.”

Beyond that, “immerse yourself in Danish culture,” said Marcus Hardinge from Copenhagen. “Keep up with Danish news, Danish TV shows, music and other pop topics. From my point of view, Danes like it when you show an interest in Danish affairs.”

READ MORE: Danish shows take TV world by storm 

Consider time travel, or procreation

One cheeky reader who’s lived in Denmark for 11 years suggested friend-seekers “travel back in time and go to school with Danes” since it’s very common for people to establish their social circle during kindergarten. Then there’s always the nuclear option, as offered by reader Sune: “Having kids with a Dane is the only way.” If you’re not ready to make a new Dane that has to be your friend, W. M. from Silkeborg Kommune says the next best thing is to date a Dane. “Instant Danish family!”  

 Don’t get discouraged…

Many readers said persistence is absolutely the key.

“[Don’t take] their apparent disinterest too personally,” Justine Beaule from Copenhagen said. “Don’t be afraid to work a little harder to forge a bond (as annoying as it is).”

“Hang around until they tell you to go away,” advised Scott Wilson of Copenhagen.

…or, alternatively, go ahead and give up 

In the interest of full disclosure, a substantial percentage of respondents said the best advice they can offer is to give up trying to make friends with Danes.

“I tried very hard in the beginning,” explained Colin, who lives in Copenhagen. “The more the Danes rejected invitations of friendship the harder I believed I needed to try. Now I am comfortable that all my close friends are foreigners. All my close friends’ friends also tend to be foreigners. I have just accepted that Danes are not hostile (or necessarily xenophobic), but maybe a bit closed and insecure around the issue of letting ‘unknown’ people/culture in. There are also many great things here to compensate for that missing social dimension.”

“The Danes in general see no need to make an effort with foreigners – there is simply no real interest since they already have their set friends and family – so they do not bother,” said Timo Hilton-Jones, who lives in Valby. “All of the expats I know face the same challenge and many like myself have more or less given up and are at peace with this.”

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

“If you want to befriend Danes, you have to always be the one putting a lot more effort into maintaining that friendship. To be honest, I would rather have just expat friends than feel like I’m forcing a friendship on someone,” said Daniela from the Greater Copenhagen area.

“Overall, I would rate Danes as the most likely people to help when asked to and to talk when talked to,” said a reader from Aarhus who made Danish friends through studies. “Nonetheless, I would say that I still find it challenging to maintain more close, open, and long-term relationships with my Danish counterparts, especially when the relationship relies heavily on mutual initiation, or in other words, the ability to follow-up after an initial positive social experience and the willingness to initiate a second social gathering after an initial good impression has been made.”

A blended approach 

Several readers advised reaching out to the expat community early on to form a support network – for dentist recommendations, lunch buddies, and help when you’re in a bind with childcare. Then, you’ll be able to play the long game and nurture relationships with Danes without such a sense of urgency and isolation nipping at your heels.

Some people said the extra investment in befriending Danes is more than worth it. “You do need to not only meet halfway but actually step over the line,” said Tony from Copenhagen, who’s made most of his Danish friends through his partner, work and neighbours.  “Once you do that, you have friends for life.”

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