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10 Things Not to Do in Denmark

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Overall, Danes are more concerned with the greater good of the group than about their own individual accomplishments. Everything works like a well-oiled machine because they observe the rules. People tend to be punctual and precise, and will expect the same common courtesy from those they meet. Play by these rules, and you will find Danes warm and welcoming...

1. Don't Be Sexist

If you are a male, this does not mean you have to be a full blown chauvinist before this rule applies to you...but Danish women do not like to feel patronized, and they especially don’t like being called “Darling”, “Sweetie” or anything else that might come across as derogatory. Overall, Danish women are highly independent and are regarded with the same esteem in the workplace as their male counterparts. It is nothing strange for a working mother to balance a successful career and a family life, and Danish women are proud of this achievement.

2. Don't Break Rules

As mentioned, there is only one proper way to act in Denmark under most circumstances. Danes in general are disciplined rule-followers, so don’t you dare to jaywalk across a street. Courteous behavior is expected from everyone, be they local or tourists. If you break the rules, expect to be admonished in a most civil manner.

3. Don't Forget Hand Signals

It is a lovely day outside and you fancy a bike ride around the city. You’re pedaling happily away, taking a right corner without signaling. Who still uses hand signals anyway, right? Remember the point about rule breaking. Failing to signal your anticipated action in advance will result in a chain reaction of violent swerving and braking, and most likely a few Danish curses flung in your direction.

4. Don't Judge Family Values

"Children should be seen and not heard." We’ve often heard this phrase when growing up. In Denmark, things work a little differently. Danish children are encouraged to express their opinions from a young age, and will be informed about more adult topics the moment they are old enough to curiously ask about them. To the less liberal among us, these open-minded family arrangements might seem a bit strange. Also, marriage is not a prerequisite and many couples with children life together without ever making the relationship “official” through marriage. This may be a beneficial relationship for both parties. It is not your place to question the family dynamic.

5. Don't Expect a "Thank You"

This might sound like a contradiction, considering how highly Danes value good manners. Make no mistake, Danes are polite and respectful, but the lack of social pleasantries might shock non-Scandinavian travelers. The thing is, the words for “thank you” or “please” in the Danish language are simply redundant when you're polite to each other constantly anyway. So when a Dane tells you to pass the salt, don’t glower at them and ask for the magic word. Just pass the salt and tell him to pour you a drink.

6. Skip the "How are you?"

"Hi, how are you?" This is a source of great amusement to the Danes; asking after someone’s well-being without taking the time to stop and listen. It does not form part of the standard greeting that we have become so accustomed to. Only ask a Dane how he’s doing if you really mean it, preferably at a bar when you have to sit down. Remember, there is no such thing as small talk. This rule generally applies to the rest of Scandinavia as well.

7. Don't Forget the Three Ps

Privacy, privacy and privacy. I can not overstate this enough. Danes value their privacy highly, especially in the large city of Copenhagen. It forms part of their culture and who they are. People won’t ask after your health or your homeland because they assume that you would not like to be bothered with trivialities. However, if you make the first move and introduce yourself, they will respond warmly to you.

8. Don't Expect Confrontations

Generally speaking, Danes don’t lose their cool. If they get upset, they will tell the person off in a cool and collected way. As a rule of thumb, Danes are all about good vibes and comfort. There is even a word for it; “Hygge”. It is difficult to explain exactly what ‘hygge’ is about, but it can relate it to food, places, atmosphere and even people. If a person is ‘hygge-like’ it means they have a good and relaxed presence about them. This will win you many friends during your travels.

9. Don't Ask for Decaf

You won’t find any decaf. It’s like asking a butcher for a vegan-friendly alternative. Danes firmly assert that there is no such thing as decaf. It might just be a conspiracy theory, for all they care.

10. Don't be Surprised by Frank Opinions

Danes don’t sugar-coat to win your favor. They believe an honest approach is the best one. If you ask a question, expect an honest answer. This does not mean to say that Danes are always serious and without humor. They are outspoken and lively once they warm up to you, but in serious conversations, they will not mince words.

About the Danes...

While most Danes enjoy companionship and are generally laid back, there are certain formalities are observed and practiced throughout Denmark. There is this unspoken rule about privacy; Danes believe that everyone has the right not be pestered in public, and they enforce this right quite passionately. This is a world free of awkward social niceties and general inconveniences. They express themselves openly and meaningful conversation is the central element of Danish culture.

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