Guide to Denmark & The Danes

Internationally seen, the Danes are known for being the happiest people in the world. High quality of life, high social standards and a safe and secure society in all aspects. In fact Denmark is often mentioned as one of the countries in the world, with the lowest difference between rich and poor.

The 5,5 million inhabitants live in peace and harmony and when they finally have a discussion, leave their comfy lounge chairs and get on the fences, it is usually about the little things. There really are not many dangers in Denmark, in any way, and you can feel safe and at ease almost wherever you walk on the street.

Throughout the years Denmark has attracted millions of tourists. H.C. Andersen's house in      Odense. “Hamlets Castle” Kronborg in Elsinore and of course Rosenborg in central Copenhagen are just some of the highlights, that are usually marked with a fat highlighter in all the guidebooks. Most of central Copenhagen, including Nyhavn, Amalienborg and Tivoli are also on the prominent lists. 

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Denmark is old “Viking-land”. During the Viking Age (from 700-1060 appx) Denmark was a real rogue state, embarking on raids, plundering fortunes and conquering large areas of land throughout Northern Europe. To this day, there are many remains from the Vikings in England and Ireland. 

But just what, exactly, are the Danes like? Many foreigners have a very positive impression of Denmark and the Danes. But is it always justified? And how do you get to grips with the Danes? Here is our list to help you get a better understanding of the world’s happiest congregation.

1. Danes are very informal and do not care much for the difference between social classes. This is simply not important in their daily game of life. As just mentioned above, Denmark is one of the most “equal” countries in the world, and the Danes are rather proud of this.

2. The price for being equal is, of course, that the Danish government and state machinery is HUGE. It is all paid for by the income taxes, which are among the highest in the world (depending on how you calculate the details!). But the Danes have been brought up through generations to happily pay their taxes, and they do enjoy free hospitals, education, roads etc. in return. Taxes in general are a constant subject for debate as many Danes do not believe that the money is always spent well and that there is too much bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the welfare model of Denmark is never really seriously threatened. 

3. Many people believe that “The Danish Model” is equal to socialism in the worst sense of the word. In fact the Danes have a high level of influence on their own society and daily life, and they like to debate. Danes do not feel that they live in a socialist country. Truth be told, the average Dane’s political standpoint should be found somewhere in “the middle” - compared to general European conditions. And this has been steady for generations. Sometimes the Prime Minister is a social democrat. Sometimes a conservative. However, all serious politicians are well aware that the political battles are fought “in the middle” and that they have to flirt with the median voters to get anywhere in Denmark.

4. Although the Danes like a good debate, they are most comfortable with agreement. The good sentiment is very important and politics are only discussed up until a certain point. In the beginning they will “take your temperature” and if they find that you are too far apart, the discussion will be dropped instantly. Political questions are important, but not THAT important. A good atmosphere is much more important. For this same reason, the personal political standpoints of the Danes are usually considered “private matters” and it should be respected if a Dane does not want to disclose his/her political views.

5. Just as with political matters, the religious beliefs of the Danes are a well kept secret. The vast majority of the population are members of the “National Church” (Evangelical Lutheran). There are laws against registering peoples religious beliefs in Denmark, and complete religious freedom. There are many small religious groups, and people may believe “whatever they want” in the eyes of the Danes. It is absolutely a private matter. Therefore the Danes do not care whether their politicians have any spiritual beliefs or not, or whether they even go to church. Most Danes going to church only go there for weddings, funerals or holidays (Christmas, Easter etc). Only about 20% of the Danish population see religion as an important aspect of their daily life. Among the lowest in the world.  

6. VAT is a whopping 25% on all items, which is in the absolute top of the “world elite”. Because of this, you will find groceries extremely expensive if you visit as a tourist.Prices on most luxury goods have been corrected from the manufacturers side, so that all prime brands are sold for more or less the same price as everywhere else in Europe. You should only do extensive shopping if you are able to get the VAT returned when you leave the country. Many shops can help you with that!

7. The informality of the Danes is also seen in the workplace. Any “Open door policy” is to be taken literally, and most managers have one. There is not far from “highest” to “lowest” employee. In fact most Danes never see themselves as neither “higher” nor “lower” than others. Of course, most people do have a boss, whom they better get along with, but in the daily life in the office hardly anyone ever think about this. Suit and tie is nowadays mostly seen in the financial sector. Generally Danes wear casual (but still nice) clothes in the workplace. 

8. Should you ever need to apply for a job in Denmark it is a very good idea to have a few trusted references up your sleeves, that you can hand over to a potential, future employer, for them to contact. It is important for Danes to know about your personality, what you are like as a colleague in the workplace and how you handle professional challenges. Not many (if any) places in Denmark will ask you about a written testimony from previous employers, as they generally do not say much about how YOU will fit into their team anyway. A Danish manager will prefer to call 2-3 previous managers and/or colleagues to gauge whether you are a good fit or not, and to clear any questions out of the way. 

9. Education is just as important in Denmark as anywhere else. Having said that, experience has become an increasingly important (and highly demanded) factor. So when polishing up that CV of yours it is important to tell exactly WHAT you have accomplished in any of your previous positions and how you would deal with professional challenges. In fact, together with your list of references to call, this is THE most important thing to mention on your CV. A 25 year old diploma for a degree, that you may or may not have used ever since, should be mentioned as well, but can be toned down.

10. Humor is important to the Danes! They regard themselves as a “cozy” and pleasant people which, generally speaking, is also true. The Danes like to use themselves as examples for telling jokes or funny tales, and stereotypes are often used in humoristic commercials or reports in the media. The “Danish Humor” is oftentimes dry and very ironic, which is something foreigners often struggle to understand and completely figure out. Many people will say, that in order to understand the Danes at all, it is important to understand their sense of humor. Because humor is used as an essential part of he daily, interpersonal game of life, both at home and in the workplace.  

11. Danish cultural life means world class cultural life! Whether you are a fan of opera, theater, rock- or classical concerts you will have plenty to choose from. International artists are frequently visiting the larger cities in Denmark (not only Copenhagen!). If you want to experience some DANISH cultural life you should not leave disappointed either. Many museums are on the list of the best and most influential museums in the world and they have very fine collections. Louisiana, Arken and ArOS are good examples!

12. If you stay in Denmark long enough you will, sooner or later, most likely encounter “The Law of Jante” (Janteloven). The concept derived from the dano-norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, who in his novel “A fugitive crosses his tracks” (En flygtning krydser sit spor) from 1933 writes down the ten rules of the law. In modern Denmark the term is mostly used when someone is trying to distance themselves (too much) from the ordinary, when someone has risen to fame and fortune too fast or if someone is trying to break their social “heritage” or pattern a little too eagerly. The Danes do not like to brag and show off their wealth. A successful salesman or real estate agent arriving in a fancy car, wearing an expensive suit and watch will be frowned upon, as they will automatically believe that THEY are paying for his/her expensive lifestyle. In Denmark any wealth should be downplayed. Discretion is a virtue!   

The Law of Jante:

1.You're not to think you are anything special.
2.You're not to think you are as good as we are.
3.You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
4.You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
5.You're not to think you know more than we do.
6.You're not to think you are more important than we are.
7.You're not to think you are good at anything.
8.You're not to laugh at us.
9.You're not to think anyone cares about you.
10.You're not to think you can teach us anything.

13. The Danish alcohol legislation is fairly relaxed. Especially compared to the other Scandinavian countries. You can buy alcohol in any supermarket once you are 18 years of age or above. This also applies to alcohol consumption in restaurants and bars. Do not be surprised, though, if you look under age and they ask to see some ID. 

14. Alcoholic beverages and driving has absolutely no place in Denmark and the limit is 0,05% It is considered absolutely “Un-cool” to drink and drive and the fines are substantial! You may even go to prison!

15. As in so many other countries the Danish television and movie theaters are filled with foreign films and programs. Usually broadcasting is with sub-titles. Only children’s programs and of course nationally produced programs and films are completely in Danish.

16. Everywhere you go in Denmark you can pay with debit- or credit card. The Danes have been used to electronic payments since the mid 1980’s and the most commonly seen card is the national “Dankort” which most Danes over 18 carry in their pocket. Oftentimes the “Dankort” is combined with either VISA or MasterCard.

17. Denmark is online! 94,6% of the population have internet access, either at home or in the workplace. Hence it is also completely standard to maintain your network, being private or professional, through the social platforms such as facebook, twitter or LinkedIn. Any banking business, payments, shopping and even contact with authorities such as “central registers”, police, municipality, tax authorities etc is done online in the comfort of your own home. The Danes are completely familiar with this. There HAVE been some rare (but highly debated) cases of electronic “security breaches” but in the long run this has not given the Danes any reason to question or revise their online habits significantly. Since the mid 1990’s it has been official Danish policy and goal that all Danes should be online. This also means that Danes are used to CHEAP internet access. You get far with an average investment of 15-20 dollars a month compared to what internet access will cost you in any other country in the world! 

18. In sharp contrast to the German neighbours just south of the border, the Danes have a somewhat sad and depressing car-fleet. Taxes on cars are apprx. 180% of the factory value, which means that in order to even sell ANY cars in Denmark most car manufacturers will give the Danish dealerships a “rebate”. Thus cars WITHOUT tax are actually some of the cheapest in the world. Sadly, the Danes do not feel the benefit of this at all. Japanese, Korean and particularly small, energy-efficient cars are very popular. The Danish tax system is designed so that the less your car will go per liter fuel, the more you pay in annual taxes. Actually quite smart, and the huge 4-wheel driven monster trucks are rarely seen anywhere in Denmark. One could also argue that there is no need for such cars, as Denmark is FLAT. The highest “mountain” in Denmark, “Ejer Bavnehøj” in Jutland, is only just rising 179 meters above sea-level. Cross country cars are only for fun and not really needed.

19. Although the Danes do not own the funniest and largest cars in the world, they are capable of “considerate driving”. Highway regulations are usually respected and the Danes have, by now, learned that electronic speed cameras are EXPENSIVE experiences. Law enforcement on this particular area is merciless and consistent. 

20. The bicycle is popular in Denmark! Needless to say many Danes are biking for the exercise, but in fact Denmark takes the lead in Europe when it comes to commuter-biking. Particularly in the cities you should pay attention to the many “soft road users” as they are called. Perhaps the popularity of the bicycle has to do with the high taxation on cars...

21. The Danes are comfortable with foreign languages. English is taught in ground school and spoken by most people. German and Scandinavian (Norwegian and Swedish) is understood by many as well. Should you want to live and work in Denmark on a more permanent basis, with daily business hours in an office, you might consider to learn Danish PROPERLY. During the daily, informal interaction in the office the Danes often forget to show any consideration to foreigners that may not completely understand their language. This does, in fact, make many newly arrived foreigners feel less welcome. Many Danes will argue that if you want to come and live and work in Denmark, the least you could do is to integrate properly. This does include learning the language!

22. Integration of foreigners is oftentimes THE area where foreigners get to see a different and slightly less appealing side of the Danes. Denmark is enforcing some of the most strict immigration rules on the planet and for many people around the world the country is in fact a “sealed off area”, unless they come with a signed contract for a permanent job. Because of the effective social security system and high standard of living Denmark is a very attractive country for many people. But you will not get a residence permit unless you can prove that you can take care of yourself and your family.

23. The Danish cuisine can best be described as solid! Unless you are extremely lucky to get a table at NOMA - one of the best restaurants in the world (NOMA stands for “Nordisk Mad” - Nordic Food) - where they will serve you many small dishes strictly made of ingredients grown or produced in the Nordic countries. Cheese, butter and bacon are among the most famous (and important) Danish export goods. The Danish kitchen has developed a lot in the past few decades and many Danes are now aware that although they may live in a chilly country with a “fair amount” of rain, there are actually plenty of herbs, berries and plants in the wild that can be eaten. Many tourists will experience the famous Danish lunch tradition of eating “Smørrebrød” - open rye sandwiches. Many Danes eat this as well every day for lunch, albeit without all the fancy decoration and accessory that will come along in a restaurant. When the Danes are not eating traditional Danish dishes like “Frikadeller” (Meatballs), “Flæskesteg” (Roast pork) or “Medisterpølse” (Pork sausage) they like to eat either Italian, French or Thai. 

24. Yes, apprx. 99,9% of all Danes above 50 have been playing with LEGO as kids. The most famous Danish brand BY FAR is in fact a common household item in Denmark. 

Danish Design Classics

Danish Design Classics

25. IKEA is also thriving in Denmark. But should you get an invitation to visit a typical Danish home you will see that Danes like to surround themselves with “discreet luxury” and Danish Design. Lamps, tables, chairs, shelves, couches etc will often be of “Danish Design”. It goes all the way down to kitchen utensils, plates, coffee-mugs and more. Danish Design is NOT cheap, but the Danes prefer to pay a little extra for good quality. And you have to give it some credit, as it usually IS of better quality - with few exceptions. So before you jump on that plane home, do take a look into the many design shops at the airport offering Danish Design. Royal Copenhagen, Georg Jensen, Eva-Trio and Stelton are just a few good examples.    

/Anders

Click here for our guide to Copenhagen! 

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