A column devoted to deconstructing and demystifying immigration and integration in Denmark, one disruptively uncomfortable and embarrassingly trivial emotional meltdown at a time.
Text: Antesa Jensen
Like many, I moved to Denmark "for love." Quotation marks because I was always perplexed when my story would get distilled into two words like that. To me, it lacked important nuance. It was as though, in one fell swoop, my very real, very human experience — which involved the high peaks of shared aspirations and the low ravines of heartbreak, and everything in between — could be distilled into a statistic.
We met on a train in Northern Mexico. We fell in love. We intended to spend the rest of our lives together. I got a job offer and a visa sponsorship and moved my entire life to Copenhagen.
Predictably, the love story which brought me here didn't last. I say predictably because I've heard this story so many times from so many internationals in Denmark over the past decade that honestly, it probably is a statistic.
Much to the shock of every Dane who has ever heard this story, I chose to stay. And what I learned in the following years from working and dating in Denmark ultimately led me to change careers and begin to teach emotional intelligence, communication mastery, and the tools to build intimacy* with anyone.
Yes, even Danes.
I read somewhere once that Americans are like peaches, and Danes are like coconuts. We're soft on the outside and hard as a rock at the centre. Danes are tough to crack, but once you get past the thick outer shell, they're liquid in the centre.
This metaphor was an important reminder for me as the years went on because, on the surface, every time I met a new person, it felt like they were the most avoidant person in the world. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a way in.
There is a lot of obvious advice about how to get close with Danes, how to experience hygge at the source and build a community here. Learn Danish. Join a club. Have kids and piggy back on their more obvious social connections through school. Get a job. Put down roots here and stay long enough that Danes trust you won't abandon them.
Systematically following these suggestions is not foolproof, though. There is a whole other arsenal of emotionally intelligent ways of showing up that make this whole process of finding your people — and maybe even your person — a lot easier.
1. Be forthcoming
It took me years to understand that, in many ways, Danes approach making friends almost the same way they approach dating. If you're interested, someone will need to make a move. Do you have a friend crush? Tell them, see if it's mutual and if it is, invite them to hang out. Leaving things to inference will most definitely keep things on the surface.
What I love most about Danes is that they'll be honest if they aren't interested. So on that note, it's time to get right with any fears of rejection and learn to receive no as the most loving gesture a person can muster. After all, do you want to be friends or lovers with someone who isn't really interested in who you are?
"Danes are like coconuts. We're soft on the outside and hard as a rock at the centre. Danes are tough to crack, but once you get past the thick outer shell, they're liquid in the centre."
2. Be consistent
The free spirit in me abhors telling you this, but the reality is that building unbreakable bonds requires continuity no matter where you live. Most Danes aren't going to be available for intimacy with a person who can't keep an appointment or commit. And understandably, very few are interested in becoming close with a person who is only temporarily here.
My way around this as a person who hates planning months in advance? One of my closest friends here was my neighbour. We met at a board meeting for our building, and I overheard her and her husband planning to renovate their bathroom. I had the same plans for mine and proposed we coordinate and share bathrooms. There is no faster track to intimacy than showing up at your new neighbours' front door in your towel. We seldom made plans, but we ran into each other in the stairwell almost daily and shared meals in our garden when the sun was out. When she went on maternity leave, I made my move, and our daily spontaneous walks during her youngest's naptime turned her from neighbour to friend to kindred spirit in a flash and her young family into my extended one.
3. Get curious and listen
Out of all EQ tools I know, curiosity and listening are the most universally effective ways to build closeness with others. And, out of all the places I've been in the world, these two practices are by far the most helpful with Danes. Asking questions that evoke thought, leaving lots of room in the conversation for contemplation, silence, and presence, and paying close attention to the other person and following the natural conversation thread will have them bloom like a rosebud. Soon enough, you'll both be swimming in coconut water together!
Curious questions are not the same thing as an interview. They demonstrate that you're genuinely interested in getting to know someone for who they are and not just hearing the answers to your questions. Paying attention to what they say, how they respond, and listening deeply before responding, has a person feel seen and heard.
And no matter your cultural background, we all need that.
(*Intimacy, by my definition, is not implicitly sexual. Rather, it is a closeness derived from continuity, trust, and emotional and psychological safety.)