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Like every other culture, the Danes have their own unique perspective on life, that sometimes can come as a stumbling block to foreigners living in Denmark and trying to adapt. However, this article should give you a crash course in the Danish way of life!
It is near on impossible to explain Danish culture without starting with ''Hygge''. So, what is this ''Hygge''? To be honest, there is no specific definition of the concept. Even the Danes don’t know how to explain exactly what it means. The general idea is ‘to enjoy life to its maximum, being present and living in the moment’. Some have tried to translate it as ‘cosy’, but strictly speaking, that doesn’t quite cover it.
Living in Denmark, you will see the locals gathering in parks, or even by themselves, reading a book, drinking wine or playing games, no matter what day of the week it is, like Danish lotto. This is especially evident during summer, when parks, beaches and other open areas will be packed with people, enjoying the '‘hygge’' with various activities. Danes love participating in open-air activities, and no matter your interests or taste, Copenhagen has it all!
As mentioned above, ''Hygge'' means finding time to relax and live life to its fullest. Denmark has only 37 hours work week, making it one of the lowest in the world. Balance between work and personal life is of particular importance to the Danes, which plays a big part of the '‘Hygge lifestyle’'.
If you are not from Scandinavia, listening to and understanding Danish can seem like an impossible task. If you speak English or German to a good level, then you will be able to understand some written Danish, but despite their common Anglo-Saxon roots, it can be rather difficult to grasp.
The main problem of the language is the word pronunciation. The pronunciation is not like the written form, and can change based on the neighbouring letters. To make things even more complex, Danish has more letters than the normal 26 letter English alphabet (e.g. æ, ø and å).
The main saving grace for foreigners in Denmark is that most Danes speak English to a very high level. Therefore, communication is not usually a problem. You can see an extensive list of language learning resources here.
Like most of the other Nordic countries, it can be hard to get to know and befriend Danes as it is difficult to gain the trust and attention of them at first. At first contact, do not expect a lot of cordiality and empathy. You can expect something more "cold" and straight to the point. Also, if you don’t ask, don´t expect a Dane to assist you if you need any help.
On the other hand, you can expect them to be very polite and trustworthy once they know you. Most of the time Danes follow the rules strictly and are aware that they don’t only need to think of their own wellbeing, but also in the community that they are involved in too. Beautiful isn’t it?
I once heard a quote that describes the weather in Denmark perfectly:
In Denmark, there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.
If you live in Denmark, you need to be prepared for radical changes in the weather during the day. It is normal to go out with a beautiful sunny day and come back home with a huge storm raging over your head! It is even possible to see rain with no clouds in the sky.
If you like to monitor the weather (and even if you don't) you will/should become a weather specialist. Make sure to download a weather app or look at the weather forecast on the internet before you leave home. If you don’t want to have such issues every time you go out, just take a small umbrella with you and everything is solved.
Another very important thing regarding the weather, is constant and sometimes very intense wind. Denmark is windy all year round, and sometimes it will make the temperature feel a lot colder than it actually is. Therefore, do not forget your umbrella and a good windbreaker.
Some interesting facts:
• Copenhagen is considered the first bike city in the world
• In 2016 Copenhagen was considered the best city for cyclists
• 9 out of 10 Danes own a bicycle.
Need I say more?
Bicycles are part of the Danish culture and life. As soon as you leave the airport, you will see a bicycle track with some bikes. At rush hours you will see bike traffic! Also, as a pedestrian, you need to pay more attention to the bikes than the cars, as they are more likely to run you down! Denmark is by far Europe’s top country of bikes, which many would have considered as being the Netherlands
When visiting Denmark, especially Copenhagen, you will feel obliged to get a bike to go around the city. They are also easy to hire, and some of them come with a GPS to help you navigate around the city. Furthermore, it is a great alternative if you want to save money in transportation, which is a little expensive.
Cakes are not just a cultural thing but almost an obsession for many Danes. A lot of social interactions, especially in the work environment, revolve around cake. People bake and buy cakes for seemingly whatever reason.
If you buy a new house, your son/daughter is born, you got a promotion, then it is a reason to celebrate with cake! When it’s your birthday it is an obligation for you to bring a cake for everybody at work.
Of course, since the cake is something intrinsic within Danish culture you can expect a huge variety of types of cakes and fantastic quality.