I wish the Danes were more…
A question I have always been asked, every time I meet a new Dane is: Do you plan to stay in Denmark? And my answer to that question has changed over the years. In the early days, it was a clear and loud “Yes!”, while now it is more of a weird face followed by: “… I don’t know“.
One reason for that is of course the weather. I would like to live in a place where my hair is not constantly blown in my face or wet, where I could wear non-waterproof shoes and enjoy a drink on a terrace at least once a month (terrace life is also culturally very French). But to be honest, I think I could live with that. The other things that I miss are: tasty vegetables, and the French façon d’être (the way of being, if you can say that)…! I never thought I would ever say that, as when I first left France, I thought French people were the most annoying in the world, and used to avoid them as much as I could, hiding my accent when I heard theirs from afar. Well, guess I changed my mind 🙂
No matter what, Denmark has provided me with more opportunities than France could. And there is no doubt that the Danes have many qualities that I appreciate such as being relaxed, humble, etc. However, based on my own experience and after speaking with my international friends and the many others I met along the way, I noticed some common misunderstandings. It’s actually typical among the international community, when talking about someone acting weirdly, that your friend just casually says “Danes…”, and then everyone nods as if that explains everything. We don’t mean this in a mean way, but Danes are strange for internationals. So, if I were to make the perfect country for me to want to live in, I wish the Danes were more:
In Denmark, everybody pays for their own things. Except on very rare occasions with good friends, people don’t buy a round of drinks or invite someone to the restaurant. If someone has to pay for others, they will expect the money to be transferred asap. In France on the other hand, it is common that someone pays for one round of drinks, then someone else for the second, etc, but nobody actually checks how much every single person has paid. I have noticed for example, that Dutch people in Denmark (I like Dutch people) tend to want to pay the first round of drinks for everyone, but never get the favour returned. Another common thing here is splitting the bill at the restaurant (even on dates #equality), or even sharing the grocery bill when you invite people over for a casual dinner. This can be annoying if you don’t get a warning beforehand.
Willing to make new friends
I have already talked about it extensively before, as it is a topic close to my heart. Danes are in general satisfied with a handful of really good friends from school, and do not really want to make any effort getting to know new people later on, especially internationals. And before you ask, yes I have tried to make the first move, but it gets tiring when you’re always the one pushing to meet up, or when they only answer your questions without ever returning the questions, that becomes a one-way conversation and makes you feel like they do not care about you. ALTHOUGH, in my experience, this is not true for Danes who have lived abroad (for more than 6 months) or descend from an immigrant family. Those people are more open-minded and friendly, and if I look at the Danes I’ve become “friends” with, they’re all in that category. Cheers to them, they’re the real MVPs <3
In Denmark, any coffee meeting or get-together has to be planned at least a week in advance, if not two. Surprise birthday parties or spontaneous beer after work that turns into a night clubbing are really rare. But what I wish to tell my Danish readers is: You don’t have to have your life figured out by the time you’re 23, already live with your boy/ girlfriend in a nicely decorated design hyggelig apartment, your career on track, top grades, a great social life and be at the gym every other day. I feel like so many people are trying so hard to keep it together by following all of society’s expectations, that they end up letting all the steam blow off by getting wasted every friday/saturday or one week a year at Roskilde festival, where the point is to not follow any rule and just be yourself (which is probably the reason why I love this festival, spontaneous Danes are so much more fun than serious Danes). Many also end up divorcing after marrying young, and I find it very sad to meet 30 years old single men with a child. So, my point is: don’t be so serious ! And take your time.
Humour is of course subjective and culturally-defined. Therefore, Danes might not find my French sarcasm or puns funny. But I feel like many Danes need to know a person very well before allowing themselves to be funny or sarcastic – maybe in fear of offending them..?-. Also, Danish sarcasm is not sarcasm to me – I will talk more about that in a post about humour-… The truth is that I have never laughed to tears with a Dane. And more commonly, that has led me to some very boring conversations, especially if I dare talk about my experience on some dating site (hum..), French guys would always start the conversation with something funny or even provocatively mean, while Danes tend to stay very basic with questions such as: “what do you do?” “where do you live?” etc… and get very confused if you try to be funny.
I guess politeness depends on the culture, and since Denmark has an informal culture, politeness is not the center of social interactions there. If you come to Denmark for the first time, be careful not to get a door slammed in your face as you enter a shop, as it is not so common to hold it for the next person (most people do not even look behind themselves as they enter). Accidentally bumping into someone in the street? A “sorry” is not automatic here. Standing in a long queue at the supermarket and an employee opens another cash register? Watch as people from the back start to rush to the front of the new cash register, not respecting the tacit rule of who was queuing first (one of my friends gets especially annoyed by this, hello Marrit!). And don’t even think about gentlemen manners here, women will never be let in first, or offered to carry their heavy luggage in transports (whereas in the Parisian metro, men rush to help you every 5 meter, which is a little strange for me now and I usually politely refuse, but I appreciate the thought). But this is probably due to Denmark’s very equal culture. The positive side is that, as a woman here, I have never been harassed or made uncomfortable in a public space, and that is priceless.
Okay, this one may be a little far-fetched, and maybe I just haven’t met the right persons (or the ones I talk to are too young to think that deep ;-)), but I have often been disappointed by the shallowness of my conversations with Danes. I personally love to talk about the meaning of life, the evolution of the world, the fate of our planet and anything deep in general, maybe even politics if you push me (even with people I just met). However (and sorry if I offend anyone), I have found that many Danes do not think that deep, and prefer to focus on day-to-day life or materialistic plans (the “grocery list” of car, house, baby, wedding, etc). But I am sure that many French people do as well.
In Denmark, people tend to only get interested in politics every 4 years. The rest of the time, they trust their politicians to handle the country, and it is extremely rare for them to protest or demonstrate. I am aware that France is at the other extreme and that demonstrating has become a national sport for us. But it seems to me that Danes always try to avoid conflicts, and that leads to them never really criticizing their government or new laws that they disagree with (and don’t even think of talking badly about the Royal Family!). Sure they might give you a sad look and say “yeah it sucks”, but I would love to see them get passionate about it, or even just about any cause. I mean there are too many revolting things happening in the world to just say “pyt” (“whatever”). However, it is important to say that the state basically takes care of everything and everyone in the country, and the level of corruption is the lowest in the world, so they have little to get upset about at home. But I have been told that talking politics or sharing any strong opinion is not “hyggeligt” – that’s maybe why I am starting to dislike that word more and more… More on that later-. But if avoiding unpleasant conversations is the secret to the Danish happiness, I feel cheated.
Thank you for reading this far ! I know this was a long post, and probably not a pleasant one to read for my Danish friends, but I needed to get it off my chest. Again I want to emphasize that I like living in Denmark, and since living here, I have learned to be more positive and to slow down, but I am not sure whether I can thrive here. Keep on following this blog to know how it ends 😉 And if you disagree with me or would like to share your own experience, I would love to read your comments ! Please tell me how much French people annoy you 😀