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FAMILY

Five Danish children’s songs international parents will inevitably have to learn

Some are ear worms, some are repeated endlessly, and some might even help grown-ups to relax after a busy day. Sooner or later, even international parents will learn these Danish children's songs. You may as well start now.

Five Danish children’s songs international parents will inevitably have to learn
You won't be singing "Happy Birthday" at Danish kids' parties. Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Godnatsangen 

Nu er solen gået i seng

Udenfor står natten på spring

Vi skal sove nu

Vil skal hvile vores krop for i morgen skal vi op

“Now the sun has gone to bed, the night is waiting outside, we must sleep now, we must rest ourselves, for tomorrow we’ll get up”.

Popular entertainer Sigurd Barrett (no relation to the author of this article, although many, many Danes have asked me) has a long back catalogue of kids’ songs but this lullaby is probably the most played and definitely the most relaxing.

It has an excellent track record for getting tired toddlers to sleep in cars (based on my sample size of one) and its gentle piano melody even lulls mums and dads after a long day.

Elefantens vuggevise

A lullaby about bedtime for elephants, ostriches and rhinos, this song has been around for decades and has seen several versions since it was written in 1948 by Harald Andreas Hartvig Lund.

There are several popular versions, including by legendary singer Kim Larsen and a more recent one by Sys Bjerre.

Its lyrics paint a vivid and wonderful picture of zebras in pyjamas, flying squirrels and cribs made of green bananas. I wonder how many exciting dreams kids have after being sung to sleep to the adventures of little Jumbo the elephant.

I dag er det Oles fødselsdag

The classic birthday song “Happy Birthday to You” has variations in many languages. In Denmark, however, you’ll find yourself at birthday parties singing a version of I dag er det Oles fødselsdag (“Today it’s Ole’s Birthday”), with the birthday boy or girl’s name replacing “Ole” in the title and lyrics.

The text and melody were written in 1913, so the song has been around for generations and part of its popularity is the fact that you can switch out the original name for that of whoever’s birthday it is.

While you can also personalise the English version of “Happy Birthday”, that’s not the case in all language versions of that song. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why a different birthday song caught on in Denmark.

Now sing after me: hun sikker sig en gave får, som hun har ønsket sig i år
med dejlig chokolade og gaver til

Der sad to katte på et bord

I might as well apologise now for annoying you for the rest of the day and probably tomorrow too, because this is the ultimate in ear worms. I’m sorry.

A sweet tale about to two cats who address each other as “my friend” and can’t decide whether to sit on the table or the floor, it’s the Kritte vitte vitte vit bum bum refrain between lines that will really get into your head. Kids love it.

You can listen to the song below, if you dare. 

Langt ud’ i skoven lå et lille bjerg

Like the previous entry, this song has a repetitive element to it. Its title translates to “Deep in the forest there was a little mountain”.

Each version adds an element to the description in the title: a tree on the mountain, a branch on the tree, a twig on the branch, a leaf on the twig and so forth.

It’s a fun one to sing with kids because they enjoy the play element of trying to remember the new part on each repeat. By the end, it gets very long and can descend into farce.

These five songs do not even begin to form an exhaustive list of Denmark’s wide, wide, wide repertoire of children’s songs. Which ones can you not get out of your head? Which means something special for you or your children? Let us know in the comments below!

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LEARN ABOUT DENMARK

26 sure-fire ways to truly offend a Dane

From keeping your shoes on inside someones' house to making smørrebrød with strange toppings: We don't recommend it, but you might find yourself inadvertently annoying a Dane with any one of these apparently innocuous actions.

26 sure-fire ways to truly offend a Dane

Don’t put a divider on the conveyor belt at the supermarket

A Dane probably wouldn’t tell you directly that they found this annoying, choosing instead to demonstratively place the divider (skilleren) between their items and yours instead. Perhaps accompanied by a tut.

Keep your shoes on indoors

This makes sense in a country with snow, rain and general damp weather for most of the year. If you wear your shoes indoors, you’re forcing your Danish host to get out their vacuum cleaner and get rid of all the dirt you’ve traipsed around their house once you’re gone. Take them off at the door, and consider bringing a pair of slippers to wear indoors if you’re staying with a Danish friend.

Hold the door open for a stranger

It might seem polite, but holding doors open for others doesn’t sit well with Danish flat hierarchy culture. As a result, you’ll probably be considered strange if you hold a door for a stranger.

Mention you don’t care about handball

Invented in Denmark in 1898, handball is a passion in Denmark. As of January 2023 the national men’s team are triple defending world champions. Denmark women’s handball team is the only team (women’s and men’s) in handball history to win the Olympic Games three consecutive times, earning the gold medal in 1996, 2000, and 2004.

While this is clearly evidence that Denmark produces some of the world’s best handball players, you could equally argue that it shows how obscure the sport is in most other places. But it’s best not to say this out loud in Denmark, where handball is the second-most popular sport after football (badminton is probably third).

Danes amass in a freezing Copenhagen in January 2023 to pay tribute to the national men’s handball team, who had just won the sport’s world championship. Again. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Don’t recycle properly

Recycling is second nature to most Danes. Put the wrong items in the wrong bins (or not folding your cardboard boxes properly so they take less space) and you risk a passive-aggressive note from your neighbours.

Say you don’t like coffee

Denmark is the fourth most coffee-drinking country in the world, according to the International Coffee Organisation. Apparently 67 percent of Danes drink coffee every day so saying you don’t like it, will result in strange looks. But there IS something worse you can do…

Ask for decaffeinated coffee

Good luck finding this in any Danish restaurant or supermarket. 

Coffee

Photo: Betina Garcia/Ritzau Scanpix

Ask for a cup of tea

Tea bags only come in very small packages in Danish supermarkets because no one drinks it. And if they do, it’s flavoured tea, probably liquorice or ‘forest fruits’ flavour. If you’re lucky you might score some Earl Grey or English Breakfast, but forget about PG Tips or Tetley. Asking for a cup of tea at a Dane’s house will leave them in a fluster.

READ ALSO: Five Danish food mistakes you only make once

Attempt to make small talk

Danes are famously private, with neighbours offering no more than a quick hej hej in the hallway if they’re unlucky enough to pass by at the same time. Small talk, known as småsnak makes them very uncomfortable.

Arrive late with no explanation

Danes take punctuality seriously, so they won’t appreciate you arriving late without letting them know in advance that you’re delayed. This applies even if you’re only going to be five minutes late: make sure to send them a quick text as soon as you know you’re running late so they’re prepared.

Arrive early with no explanation

They don’t just take punctuality seriously, they take predictability seriously too. Arriving early will make them feel like they need to rush to get there so you’re not left waiting for too long, and will make them feel like they were rude for being late even if they arrived right on time.

Eat smørrebrød like a sandwich

There are strict rules when it comes to eat Danish open sandwiches (smørrebrød), from toppings to what bread you choose. Do not add whatever is on the table and stick another piece of bread on top. Safe combinations include rare roast beef (cold) on rugbrød topped with remoulade, grated fresh horseradish and crispy onions.  Or shrimp, eggs and aioli with an optional topping of salmon, cucumber, lemon or cress.

smørrebrød

Photo: Anastacia Dvi, Unsplash

Eat lunch at the desk

And as smørrebrød is often eaten at lunch (frokost), it would be be very messy to eat this at your desk. Picking it up like a piece of toast is also a no-no, by the way. Use a knife and fork. Desk eating in general is not the done thing in Denmark and taking time to eat lunch with colleagues is valued.

Walk in the bike lane

Bike lane etiquette is no laughing matter. That applies to pedestrians, who should never walk in the bike lane (except when getting on and off a bus), and also to cyclists, who should never bike on the pavement. Rules are rules, and don’t expect Danes to turn a blind eye if they spot you breaking them.

Hog the bike lane

On that note, don’t cycle side-by-side with a friend in the bike lane, especially during commuter hours. This is used as an overtaking lane and it can get speedy.

Copenhagen cycling

Rush hour in Copenhagen. Photo: Sofie Mathiassen/Ritzau Scanpix

Cross the road when there’s a red man

Jaywalking won’t just annoy Danes, you can get a fine for doing it.

Take a pram onto a bus with two other prams

The rules are clear on buses: no more than two prams. As a mother with a small child you’ll probably have other things to deal with than remembering public transport capacity rules, and there’s also a good chance you’ll be keen to get home as quickly as possible.

None of this will matter if you try to squeeze a third pram or barnevogn into the designated part of the bus. You’ll get disapproving looks and possibly a rebuke from the driver.

Pay for a ticket while on public transport

You cannot wing it and think you can buy your ticket once you’ve boarded a bus, train or metro and you can’t start downloading it from the DOT (or other regional company) app once you’ve entered the mode of transport. If the ticket inspectors find this out, you’ll be fined heftily.

If you buy the ticket in time but your phone battery runs out, you’ll also be fined but you can appeal to have the fine withdrawn.

READ ALSO: READERS REVEAL: Is public transport good value in Denmark?

Jump the queue

Denmark has a queue culture although it is different from the deep devotion to orderly queuing for which the United Kingdom is famous.

Instead, you must take a ticket from a machine in pharmacies, certain bakeries, post desks and other places where queueing is in place. You can stand where you want, but you still have to take your turn. If you don’t take a ticket and just go up to the till, you will find out about it.

Put your child in a coat with a scarf

The only correct answer to the question “what should my child wear outside in winter” is a flyverdragt (snowsuit) and elefanthue (balaclava).

All children wear the same outdoor attire at Danish nurseries and kindergartens and they don’t like deviations. Scarves are a no-go and covering legs essential. In the Spring and Autumn, the little ones will be needing termotøj (quilted jacket and trousers).

Keep your baby inside to nap

You’ll find most babies napping outside like in the photo below. It is also how nurseries get babies to nap, with prams lined up outside or in a shed with monitors.

Putting babies to sleep inside is considered a poor alternative, only to be used as a second choice.

Babies in Denmark often nap outside in the pram. Photo: Niels Ahlmann Olesen/Ritzau Scanpix

READ ALSO: Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Hold a party in your apartment without warning the neighbours

Most apartment buildings have rules about noise in the evenings. Usually this will be something like no loud music or DIY after 8pm on weekdays and 10pm on weekends.

Parties are not completely forbidden, but unless you want to be persona non grata in your opgang (building entrance), you’d best put a note out to warn your neighbours and promise the party will be over (or you’ll have moved on to a bar) by no later than midnight, and make good on this promise.

Don’t say the neighbours are welcome to drop by if they want to. That would be awkward for everyone.

Bumble around in conversation

Danes are direct. Don’t beat around the bush with what you’re trying to say, they simply won’t understand what you’re on about. Say it how it is.

Take their laundry slot

Danish apartment buildings usually have a shared laundry room or vaskeri in the cellar which can be booked for residents. The slots in after-work hours book up fast, meaning many people working normal hours book their slots days or even weeks in advance. Taking their slot would make you very unpopular.

Failing to empty the fluff from the dryer

There’s a lot of potential for causing offence in your apartment’s vaskeri. You’re expected to clean up after yourself, which includes wiping out the detergent slot of the washing machine and removing your fluff from the dryer. Remember: your neighbours can see which apartment booked the laundry room, so they’ll know it was you.

Did we miss any? Do you disagree? Let us know.

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