International families talk about their misunderstandings of Danish culture.
Photographs: Pexels / Various
Text: Natália Šepitková
According to Statistics Denmark, the share of the population of immigrants and their descendants will constitute 15,4 % in 2023. The majority of immigrants in Denmark come from Turkey, Poland and Romania. Many of them moved to the country because of love. I talked with two women and one man about cultural diversity and ethnic inclusiveness in their relationships.
The fateful exchange experience
The educated teacher, Vanessa, is from Peru. She moved to Denmark in late March 2022 after she and her boyfriend, Hans, decided to get married after many years of travelling to see each other. They met at a party in Løgumkloster Højskole in 2019, where Vanessa was on an exchange experience. Now they have one beautiful 10-month-old baby and are living in Aalborg.
New life hasn't been easy for Vanessa. "Last year, I moved, got pregnant and realised I had to start from scratch in Denmark. I have been searching for a part-time job since I got my baby to care for and am studying Danish," Vanessa says. "That is very different from my single life. I used to be economically independent."
Her husband helps her a lot with managing it. "Being through stressful situations does help to strengthen our love since we learn to work as a team. Surviving the first months as parents was harder than an IKEA furniture assembly manual."
Different ways of parenting
The most important for them as parents is to raise their child to be tolerant and open to other cultures. "We want to teach him to be respectful and helpful and to express and manage his feelings well," Vanessa explains. "I don't want my kiddo to be macho - there is still some chauvinism in my country. For example, a boy should get more food on his plate, and a teenage girl shouldn't be outside at night because it is dangerous and shouldn't have many boyfriends. Gender equality is improving, but there is still a long way to go."
Vanessa also talks about many other differences in parenting between the Danish way and the way in her homeland. In Peru, families are more united, and most people live with their parents until their late twenties or even later while they work and study because it is cheaper to pay rent at home. One is still expected to do home chores, however. Also, parents are cared for by their kids when they grow old because the state doesn't have a policy to ensure a good lifestyle for older people. "It surprised me here in Denmark how safe the country is and how things work so well and that the government works to make life better for its people," Vanessa adds.
"We want to teach him to be respectful and helpful and to express and manage his feelings well. I don't want my kiddo to be macho - there is still some chauvinism in my country." - Vanessa from Peru
Love at work
Robert is a Romanian from a small village called Sarmasu, and he found himself in Denmark completely unplanned. His cousin convinced him to try to study here, so before Christmas of 2013, he announced to his family that he would leave home. Robert studied renewable energy and building envelopes, but his current profession is different. He is a technical operations lead in a company trading with medical equipment.
He met his Danish girlfriend Pia at work, and although they have been together for almost two years, Robert has already learnt a lot from Danish culture and lifestyle. "It made my integration easier and more interesting," Robert explains. "She helped me with my language skills and showed me the Danish way of living, which for me counts a lot, and I am grateful for that."
Even though Robert is European, he sees many differences between his and his girlfriend's culture. For example, Danish women are more independent. "I have observed that women make many decisions in their families, which is opposite to my culture. But I can see that is not necessarily bad," Robert admits.
His girlfriend has one daughter from her ex-relationship, but Robert does not need to interfere in her upbringing. "My girlfriend plays the most significant role in raising her daughter. I am assisting and advising if required. We took it with small steps and built our relationship in time with my girlfriend's daughter."
Like a couple from different backgrounds, they adapt to each other and sometimes make compromises. Robert has learned to take care of his health and to be more active, and she has learned to be more adventurous, embrace change, and improvise.
However, two things significantly changed Robert's previous lifestyle. "I think food is one of them. She tends to eat much healthier, and I neglected this aspect of my life a bit. And then economic resource management. I tend to spend a lot, maybe because I am spending on things I wanted and couldn't afford while I was home in Romania. Now it is different," Robert confesses.
When I asked him about his initial feelings after moving to Denmark, he readily responded: "The lack of curtains was my first cultural shock, and then I discovered that daycare kids were sleeping in the stroller outside. That came to surprise me as well. Dirty shoes on a girl's feet was a "no go" for me. Another shock was when I invited Danish colleagues to my birthday party, and by the end of the party, they took home the drinks they had brought."
"Danish women are more independent. I have observed that women make many decisions in their families, which is opposite to my culture." - Robert from Romania
Rebecca is a specialist in learning and development, and she is from Manila in the Philippines. She met her spouse, Jens, through a mutual friend, and in August 2019, they moved to Denmark. "First, what surprised me in Denmark was the unpredictable weather," Rebecca begins her story. "And then how reserved Danes are. I grew up in an environment where people are more friendly and welcoming. In Denmark, people are polite and trustworthy but generally more reserved. It takes more time to make friends with them."
Still, Rebeca and Jens have far more similarities than differences. The difference between them is in terms of culture and language. "When you live together, you always adapt to each other, but when you come from different cultures, there are so many new things to explore and understand. This is very exciting but can also be challenging because you can misunderstand each other, so you have to be open-minded and prepared to deal with misunderstandings when they happen," Rebecca explains.
"In Denmark, people are polite and trustworthy but generally more reserved. It takes more time to make friends with them." - Rebecca from the Philippines
When partners want to create a solid and long-lasting relationship, cultural differences and background do not have to play such a fundamental role as long as there is sincere and genuine love. On the contrary, a multicultural environment can enrich your relationship and raise you to another level.
"Through my husband's encouragement, I discovered strength training, which I now love. He has learned about aspects of my culture, especially the strong community and family values. Learning about a different culture makes us understand our own culture better for both of us," Rebecca thinks.
Her life changed after she moved to Denmark, in small daily ways too, such as the work-life balance or the lower stress level. In Rebecca's family life, being equals is essential - for example, they always divide household chores fairly. And are Danish men different from men in her homeland? "There is no fundamental difference, but Danes are generally more straightforward," Rebecca adds.