These are the biggest culture shocks for foreigners coming to Denmark

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These are the biggest culture shocks for foreigners coming to Denmark
Denmark's winters can be hard work, even if you come from another cold country. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

We asked The Local's readers in Denmark what culture shocks they have experienced when moving here from abroad. The answers we received were partly unsurprising, but others upended stereotypes about Danes and Denmark.


Emotional unavailability 

“One of the biggest differences between Denmark and Poland is that you don't speak about emotions, especially in public,” said Wito, who moved to Funen last year.

It can be easily misunderstood - in Poland I could say to my woman friend, ‘I love you’, and it will be ok, just showing that she is really close to me, that's it. If I say here, jeg elsker dig, it will be a very serious commitment,” he explained.

“You have to know each other very well to say that, otherwise it probably be a bit too much,” he said.

“The Danes are not as friendly as other cultures” a reader from Ireland wrote, while another said they were “detached” and lacked empathy.


“The social distance” and “how hard it is to befriend Danes” were a culture shock to Chilean reader Salvador, who has lived in Copenhagen for five years.

How hard it is to make Danish friends was mentioned more than anything else by our readers as a culture shock – so much so that we can’t include all comments on it.

“People are very closed off and while they are polite they do not open up to making new friends as they get older,” wrote a reader from Australia.

On the other hand Kelsey, a reader from the US, described Danes as “like the Germans, but with a smile”.

Language skills (or lack of them)

Denmark is generally considered to be a country where the level of English proficiency is very good, but some of our respondents said they were surprised at the lack of English that was spoken, or the reluctance of Danes to do so.

Often, these observations came from people who live outside of cities.

“The high concentration of people who can’t speak English” was a culture shock to one reader from London, who moved to southern Zealand three months ago.

She added that she was also surprised by “how helpful many people are”, however.

A reader from South Africa meanwhile also cited “language barrier” as the biggest culture shock she had met.

The opposite was the case for another reader, Jennifer, who is also from South Africa. She said she had found it very hard to learn Danish, “especially as in Copenhagen, they always switch to English”.


Recycling and food waste 

In a culture shock that arguably goes against stereotypes about Denmark, Ellen from Germany said that “food is thrown away as soon as the best by date is reached” and that this was the biggest culture shock she has experienced in her time in Denmark as an exchange student.

“As food waste is a rather negative topic, I would love to add that, compared to Germany, people in Denmark are extremely friendly, welcoming and kind - something I was frequently surprised by as this is much rarer in Germany,” she also said.

Safety and consideration towards children

Culture shocks don’t have to be negative. A reader from Brazil described how safe he feels in Denmark.

“Migrating from Brazil, the overall safety of the Danish society is, still after four years here, a major source of shock,” wrote Rodrigo, who lives in Odense.

“Walking around everywhere, any time without any worry about being mugged is unbelievable,” he said.

“Children are very much taken into account in Denmark,” said Lisa, who moved to Aalborg from Italy three years ago.

“Restaurants offer you crayons and other games, many shops have dedicated play areas, I was at a pub a few hours ago and the owner offered the girls a lollipop, bakeries offer you børneboller [bread rolls for kids, ed.],” she explained.   

“Every bar/restaurant has a changing station and shopping malls fancy nursing rooms. There is access for prams everywhere. Adults are much less patronising towards children and treat them with the same respect as other adults,” she said.



Do you think of Denmark as a nation that loves to eat fish? This is yet another Danish stereotype that appears to be confounded by readers’ descriptions of their culture shocks after moving here.

“For being a country surrounded by a body of water, I am surprised Copenhageners aren't big on fish!”, wrote Punitha, who moved to Denmark from Malaysia last year.

“I am aware of the abundance of salmon and cod, and the infamous pickled herring but I miss other types of fish,” she elaborated.

The Danish custom, particularly at workplaces, of eating lunch before noon was a culture shock to an Indian reader.

READ ALSO: Why do Danes eat lunch so early?

The darkness and the cold 

It's perhaps not strictly a culture shock, but several respondents said they had been unprepared for how arduous Denmark’s long winters are and how much the darkness affected the locals. 

“Weather is another challenge if you`re coming from a country where you have 200 days of sun on average per year, but it is a challenge for all; and you should not let it demotivate you,” said a reader from Turkey who lives in Vejle with his family after moving to Denmark two and a half years ago.

“The winter is hell,” wrote John from Canada – a country that probably beats Denmark hands down when it comes to cold weather.

John also referred to the difficulty in befriending Danes and making small talk as culture shocks. Generally speaking, Danes tend to retreat into their private spheres even more than usual during the winter.

“Long winter. Long songs. Long dinners. Long looks in others eyes. Poor queue etiquette. Inability to apologise,” wrote James from England, who has lived in Denmark for 10 years.

Xenophobia or racism

Several of our respondents said that discrimination was the biggest culture shock they have experienced in Denmark. The responses to our survey make it clear that this topic can’t be ignored.

“How unaccepting Danes could be of non-white foreigners,” was the biggest culture shock for a US national who studied at Copenhagen Business School and has been in Denmark for five years.

Monica, who moved to Denmark from Italy in 2019, named people being “a bit racist” in Denmark as one of her culture shocks.

“I’m American and they usually say we’re bad but I’ve lived in other countries and I’ve never had anyone turn me down for a job because ‘you’re not Danish’. They say it’s illegal here to discriminate and it is….on paperwork. To your face, it’s open season,” said Abi, who comes from Alaska in the US.



Danes can come across as potty-mouths if English is your first language, since they tend to sprinkle their speech with swear words loaned from English – which are not seen as being as harsh in Danish.

Mo, a reader from South Asia, said he was shocked that Danes use the “F word (swearing) in professional meetings around many people”.

READ ALSO: Why you shouldn't be surprised to hear Danish children say the F word


Many foreigners in Denmark might be used to having a cake to celebrate their birthday, but not having to supply it themselves.

“Baking your own birthday cake and bringing it into the office!” was the biggest culture shock for Anne from the US.

“In American workplaces, other people bring the cake because it is the day everyone else celebrates you - you do not throw your own birthday party, someone else organizes it and you just enjoy it!,” she said.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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