6 Danish things I will never get used to
Although I have tried my best to integrate in Denmark, learned to say “rød grød med fløde”, and got rid of most colours in my wardrobe, there are still some things that I feel I will never master. Like:
1- Not stopping when you meet someone in the street.
I have already mentioned it in one of my LinkedIn articles: Danes generally do not stop to chat when they meet someone they know on the street. They will smile, say “Hej”, and keep walking. I always forget that and start slowing down to small talk (Danes don’t do small talk), while the other person passes me by. Somehow I know it, but my French politeness is too engrained in me. Nowadays I just laugh about it and move on, but in the beginning I used to feel bad and take it personally.
2- Knowing what week number it is.
Danish institutions like universities and companies love to plan things by referring to the week numbers. “The potato holiday break (that name is also something we need to talk about…) is in week 42” or, “The office will be closed in weeks 30 and 31“. It is something we never use in France, so I can tell you that in my browsing history, “what week is it?” is in top position.
3- Remembering the difference between højskole and efterskole.
I have asked some Danes around 36 times, and yet I still always confuse the two. I know that in both of them you can do extra-curricular activities such as dancing, horse-riding, but from what I understood, one is about a year or two long, while the other is evening hours, after school. It’s a concept we certainly don’t have in France, just like gap year(s) after high school (although it sounds amazing). Can someone please clarify once and for all? Mange tak.
4- Getting the right pronouciation of Had / Havde / Hadede / Hedde…
A funny story to illustrate the importance of getting the pronouciation right: I had a Vietnamese girl in my language class, whose name was Mai. She also had troubles pronoucing “Jeg hedder Mai” (My name is Mai) correctly. A Dane once told her that she should be careful, as what she was saying sounded like: “Jeg hader Mai” which means “I hate myself”. The combination of an H and a soft D is a killer for me. I tried for many years, pushing my chin forwards everytime, as if it would help the words come out. But I have now found a trick: I simply avoid that past tense and replace it with a more pronouncable tense. For example instead of saying “Jeg lavede mad”, I would say “Jeg har lavet mad”. No, it is not grammatically the same meaning, but at least it allows me to keep some dignity. And that’s worth it.
5- Danish humour
I can still not watch the Danish series “Klovn” without holding my mouth and feeling the “cringe” deep in my bones. I just feel bad for the guy (and yes I know that’s the point). Danish humour is either about self-humiliation or quite dark and politically uncorrect, and that just does not make me laugh. But that’s okay because Danes often don’t get my French sarcasm. It turns out that humour is very country-specific.
6- Wearing a hat while indoors
Keeping your cap / beanie / hoodie on when you enter a room is considered rude in France. I don’t know whether it comes from religious traditions (you should always take off your hat when you enter a church), or something else, but in France it would be considered disrespectful to keep a cap on in class. A hat can metaphorically isolate you from the outside world (or hide a bad hair day, or protect your eyes from the bright light when you’re hungover) and my French teachers always made sure that we removed it as soon as we entered class. But in Denmark, it is not uncommon to see a whole row of guys with caps in an auditorium.
However there are things that I have become good at:
Biking while carrying all sorts of objects.
My record is a clothes rack, around 1 meter long and strapped between my back and my backpack. Big mirrors or frames are also common. And beer bottles, selvfølgelig. Even biking safely without objects is an achievement, if I judge from the wobbly students on rental bikes cruising all over town these days, and especially the one who cut my way too close this morning (wow am I turning into a grumpy bike rule fanatic?).
This may sound silly to my Danish readers, but I had to learn how to hug people. As it is not something you do in France (unless you’re very intimate), it took me some time to know which arm to put up and down (hint: it depends on the height of the other person), how long to hold for (too long makes it weird), how hard to squeeze (that depends on how much you like the person), which side to put your head on (that’s VERY important if you wish to avoid an accidental kiss…), etc… I wish to thank my German roomie of the time, Elisa, for actually teaching me all that.
Dressing up for the weather
AKA: always carrying a rainjacket or an extra jumper. And I threw away my umbrella. They are useless in Denmark where the rain is horizontal and the wind restless. Another word: rainpants! They will transform your biking experience. Ever heard the Danish saying: “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”?
As always, let me know what you think about this list, or if you’ve had different experiences about Denmark! 🙂