Dining with the Danes
So, new to Denmark? Have you started a new life with your family, or maybe you’ve arrived alone? You are happy with your professional life, but how about your new social life in a new country? Our newest addition to our editorial team, Jane, our cultural detective, helps you debunk Danish social etiquette.
Text: Jane Elgård Petersen
Even though Denmark is in the top 10 “Quality of Life” countries, the Danes are often seen as very introverted and spend a lot of time with their families and friends. However, this doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in socialising with internationals.
So, how do you meet Danes on their home turf?
Their home turf is often their private home where you can meet their family members and get a chance to see how they live when not at work. Whether it’s a garden party, a relaxed get-together, or a dinner party, you need to know some unwritten rules.
If you get an invitation to a private dinner from neighbours or colleagues, do not hesitate to accept it. Whether it’s a dinner party (which can be more formal) or a more social gathering, it will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about your new friends. It will also give you the chance to practise your Danish. If you haven’t been in Denmark that long, it’s always an excellent opportunity to give it a shot – nothing ventured, nothing gained!
So how do you best handle this?
Accepting the invitation is the first step. If it’s the first time, you’re visiting your new friends, bringing a hostess gift indicating your gratitude is always courteous. The gift could be a bunch of flowers – this is always a good starting point. A box of chocolates could also be an idea, but this is sometimes less popular.
Something more personalised would be to bring a little gift from your home country. It does not have to be expensive, but if it represents something from your hometown or country, this is an excellent idea if it’s a local speciality or a piece of art.
At the dinner table, some informal rules are good to know as an international. Topics such as politics and religion can be sensitive topics - so best to avoid those.
"Compared to people from many South European and South American countries, we are pretty reserved regarding personal space. Most Danes prefer to give a good solid handshake until they know the person a little more."
As a guest, never arrive too late. If you are invited to a dinner party at 19:00, you should arrive on time, as everyone will be seated at the same time after having welcome drinks. However, if you get an invitation to a larger social gathering, it’s more relaxed.
Compared to people from many South European and South American countries, we are pretty reserved regarding personal space. Most Danes prefer to give a good solid handshake until they know the person a little more.
If you’ve received a written invitation to a dinner party, be aware of what type of clothing might be expected, which will most probably be noted on the invite. If you’re dressed incorrectly, this could be perceived as an insult to the host. However, you will be very welcome to dress more casually for larger social gatherings.
When to leave an event might also be different, whether it is a dinner party or a social gathering. Leaving a dinner party is usually not that late; very often, all leave at the same time. It’s the opposite during larger social gatherings where there is more flexibility.
Social faux pas
In some countries, it’s traditional for a new employee to invite their new boss and partner to your home for a private dinner. However, this is a big no-no in Denmark, as it’s seen as trying to win favour with the boss and will be seen as odd behaviour by your Danish colleagues.
By following these basic steps, you will in no time become a part of a friendly, welcoming inner circle of Danish colleagues and friends.