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'Look for friends everywhere': How to settle after moving to Denmark as a family

Emma Firth
Emma Firth - [email protected]
'Look for friends everywhere': How to settle after moving to Denmark as a family
Families moving to Denmark can struggle with building a new network. Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

Families moving to Denmark from abroad can face struggles settling in, despite the country's family-friendly reputation. Culture Consultant Elisa Sievers shares her advice to ease the transition for families moving to Denmark.


One of the most common struggles Culture Consultant Elisa Sievers has found in families moving to Denmark, is that their expectations don't always match the reality.

"Denmark is supposed to be one of the happiest countries in the world and have a good family structure, working hours and be great for children. So families come with this great picture and then they are shocked when they start to struggle.

"Denmark is actually one of the most difficult countries to find friends in and the third worst to settle in out of 53 countries so when it comes to settling in and finding these Danish friends, it comes as a surprise for most of the internationals I’ve worked with," Sievers told The Local.

Sievers provides integration packages for international families in Denmark, as well as workshops and mentoring, to help explain Danish culture and set up a network. She told The Local what the most common cultural shocks were for families moving to Denmark and how to overcome them.

No one meets for drinks after work

"n Denmark, there is no culture go to to the pub with work colleagues, you have a more divided work and private life. 4pm is the so-called Cinderella hour because parents 'magically' seem to be gone at 4pm to pick up their kids, so it’s hard as grown ups to build up a social life.

"Don't take it personally if Danes don't immediately say yes to meeting up outside of work, we have a habit of scheduling well in advance. Keep asking and make the arrangement as simple as possible that can fit into everyday life with children. So if it's a no, it's not a 'no i don't want to see you,' it's probably a 'no, I'm so busy I can't work out how or what the expectations of the meet up are'.

"Also, try and learn the language to have a polite beginner conversation which can break the ice" Sievers said.



It's difficult to make Danish friends

"Danes are very loyal to their first friends, even from kindergarten. There’s an expectation that once you’re friends with someone, you really stick to each other, no matter what happens. That also means that after high school or university, there isn’t much new network building in general for Danes. They’ve got their friends and if they want to build a family, there doesn't seem to be much room for finding new friends.

"I say to anyone coming to Denmark, get a hobby right away. For families with children it can be tough to find the time but it really pays off to do something outside of work where you can be sociable. 

"In Denmark we have a strong foreningsliv, literally translated as "association life." It's this idea of different people being able to meet without work or the state interfering too much. Usually they are supported by the local municipality and by volunteers so there's lots of communities that meet locally and people who volunteer in groups such as scouts.


"It doesn't mean you have to be really outdoorsy or that you're excellent at football to join to join a football club, it's more the social community thing and being together and inventing this third place, outside of work life, where people can meet.

"And look for friends everywhere, through kindergarten, parent meetings, be open to friendships everywhere," Sievers suggested.

READ ALSO: Why do foreigners find Denmark such a difficult country to settle in?

Are Danes rude or is it me?

There's a Danish concept of not wanting to invade someone's privacy, so Danes won't necessarily look in your direction, as there's a sense of I don't want to intrude on your privacy. But as soon as you look straight at people and ask a question, they're more than wiling to help.

"There also isn't small talk in Denmark, that 'how are you?' private life chat before getting to the point. It's a way of speaking that can seem rude but isn't meant as being rude. In a work situation a Dane can actually think the opposite and get annoyed, if you say too many polite phrases and they instead of getting to the point," Sievers said.


Parents seem very hands-off, and so does my manager

"It can be uncomfortable for new families in Denmark making playdates with Danish parents because they let their children have a lot of freedom, for example letting them go to the nearby playground on their own. It's a nice ideal but if you come from a place where things can happen and you are taught that it's dangerous from a young age, it's hard to adapt to a culture where it's safe and accepted.

"Children in Denmark grow up with a big sense of trust. It happens on day one when they are left outside to sleep in the stroller. 

"There's also a concept in Denmark that children are capable of being responsible and can take the right action without too much interference. Of course they need grown ups but it's more as a guide. Children at school are expected to raise their hand, speak out loud and say if they disagree with the teacher. They are also encouraged to make mistakes because you learn from mistakes.

Culture Consultant Elisa Sievers. Photo: private

"This goes into the workplace where managers will almost invisibly guide the person to manage themselves. There's nothing a Dane hates more than micro-management. There's the belief that every worker is equal, as in society and in that sense we should make our own mistakes and plans and be respected in that way and not have a manager interfering all the time.

"This can feel really mysterious to people because they feel a safeness in the hierarchal structure but we teach a lot of responsibility to our children and as workers, we expect them to take full responsibility for their work," Sievers said.

My partner can't find a job

"In Denmark it's not typical to see stay-at-home parents the way you see in other countries so there isn't a network for that. It's almost not acknowledged as a job, to settle a family, take care of the home and family.

"So if you are a spouse who wants to work I'd start throwing out balls straight away, hire a job coach at some point, look at those advertisements and see what are the needs in Denmark right now, how can you sell yourself.

"There can be a 'pat on the shoulder' element to getting a job in Denmark. It's all about network which takes time and effort.  From my personal view, finding a job is like starting a business. You need to be at networking events and be at the right spot at the right time, talking to the right people, selling yourself and analysing what the job market needs right now. Then the strategy is answering those needs by going to the right place. LinkedIn is a powerful took in Denmark.


"Brush up on LinkedIn to give the right idea of who you are and who you’d like to work with. Post regularly on the topics you see there’s a need for or you know something about, so you can make yourself a name," Sievers suggested.



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