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Nov 16, 2015

What Newly Arrived Foreigners in Denmark Don't Know about Danes: (Plus Some Myths Debunked)

Hello there, after working for almost three years as a communication professional in some companies in Jakarta, now I am a Master's student in Aarhus, Denmark and by the time this article is published, I have been here for 1 year and 3 months. Each and every year, there are thousands of international students coming to Aarhus to study and it will increase to a bigger and bigger number. It is not only in Aarhus anyway, but Aarhus is a student city in Denmark where there are so many young people live in it. Other international students will also come to other cities, like Copenhagen, Aalborg, Odense, Herning, Randers, Horsens, Roskilde, etc. and one of the common things of those who just arrived in Denmark (international students and professionals) share is a "big question mark" for many things they see here.

So what are those surprising things or myths about Danes? Before coming to Denmark, I never heard about these, either, but then now my experiences, interactions, and personal relationship with Danes will guide you to know those things.

1. Danes put their national flag almost everywhere, especially in the birthday cake and some of them put the flag up in the garden like forever, but normally they put the flag up during special occasion.
Why? Are they patriotic? Hmm, not exactly. In my observation after having some conversation with some Danes, it can be because of their culture (that they will always have the tiny national flag put on the birthday cake even though they live abroad) and it can be because they are proud of their identity. By the way, I was taking a course called Cultural Identity in Times of Globalization in which we had a discussion in the class about it and I wrote a very good paper for my exam (about different topic, though) in case you have some doubts about my credibility.

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2. Danes eat carrots as a snack by just crunching the whole of it like eating apples. It's not that they put the sliced carrots in salad (while they also do), but my point is they do bring the whole carrots to school for example, and eat them "crunch crunch crunch" during the class break.
Why? Again, because it's culture, and other reasons are because carrots are healthy, always available all year round, and cheap. Anyway, I read an article saying that crunching carrots has positive effect with healthy mouth and teeth in which the carrot will act as a toothbrush by removing plague and there are more benefits of eating carrots that can be found here.

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3. Danes really like lakrids (licorice). While many other people from other countries find licorice's taste to be strange like a cough medicine syrup, apparently many Danes and other Scandinavian people like them. In the summer time, lakrids ice cream is also a popular choice. However, some lakrids are also sweet (while of course a bit bitter and sour), but some others are very bitter and some Danes also can't stand those very bitter ones. Nom nom nom.

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4. Danes eat rugbrød (rye bread with seeds) very often like eating pasta for Italians or eating rice for Asians. They will eat rugbrød by putting some toppings on it (e.g. bread with slices of cold meat like salmon, bacon, sild a.k.a herring, vegetables, bread, lemon, etc). And when those toppings are there, then it becomes 'smørrebrød'. Smørrebrød is very popular in Denmark for easy but tasty lunch option and there are many restaurants that has this as their specialization, for instance Restaurant Ida Davidsen in Copenhagen and Kähler Spisesalon in Aarhus.

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5. Danes' mood are super affected by the weather and the sun. So don't be surprised when the dark winter comes, if many of them will look grumpy. However, in the summer time, they will laugh all day in the park (even in the park where there are grave yards) because of the sun. At first, I didn't believe it when a friend of mine (also an international) told me when I just arrived, but then now I know that it is not a myth. Then what they do when the weather and season are not so nice to make them happier? They will do 'hygge', especially in the winter time. Hygge is a term and just available in Denmark referring to an activity that Danes call to get cozy and warm with close friends or loved ones. Drinking coffee in a cafe is hygge, cuddling while watching movie at home is hygge, home party with friends while drinking beer is also hygge. Oh, and Danes also the ones in the whole Europe who burn candles the most compared to other countries. This art of hygge even becomes an example for other countries in Europe, for instance in England. You can read more about hygge here.

6. Still relevant with drinking, yes, many Danes drink beer a lot, even in the sunny afternoon. Aside of the fact that Carlsberg (yes, that famous beer is from Denmark), Danes drink beer not only in the party. They could also drink beer in the afternoon at school while hanging out in the park. What is cool about this drinking habit at school, is that many faculties in the university have 'Friday bar' every Friday night where students will have a party and enjoying weekend. And other than that, there's a famous 'Kapsejladsen' (a unique boat race tradition at University Park in Aarhus University every year), where thousands people occupy the park and drink beer all day. Some of them are not there to really support their favorite team and watch the match, but just to be in the 'annual party' atmosphere and hanging out with friends. If you want to know how crowded 'Kapsejladsen' is, it is super crowded like a massive concert and everyone seems like having a great time. So basically, many Danes socialize by drinking. (Don't get surprised if some Danes you know will turn to be very outgoing and talkative under alcohol, but when they don't, some of them will be very quiet). I don't know why, but most of them are just like that. So alcohol plays a big role in some of their lives, maybe.
Oh, and still about 'Kapsejladsen', there's a naked run at the beginning and this situation might be a bit different in other countries (even Western countries) in which here, surprisingly the municipality and university support this activity. Even my American friend was a bit shocked about this kind of outdoor party at university.

7. And it's still somewhat relevant with drinking. When gymnasium (high school) students graduate or finish their last final exams in the final year, they will go 'party' or marching around town all day long even for two or three consecutive days and go marching around the town with big open deck car while drinking beers, yelling, singing, and honking the car often. And it's quite surprising that this tradition has been there for a very long time, maybe for many many decades. These students will be wearing a hat from their high school in which the colors will be different from their type of gymnasium (business-type gymnasium, general one, etc). There are also many traditions from that 'prestigious' hat, like they should wear the hat all day for one week straight wherever they go, they will write down the name of their loved one in the middle inner side of the hat, if they get straight A's or become the best student then there is other thing they should do with the hat, etc. This 'marching' can look a bit dangerous because the car is opened (without windows) and these students might be drunk, however, the government and municipalities still allow it until now. This tradition according to Danes, can be one of the most memorable things happened in their whole life. It is also interesting to see that in the university graduation level, there is no formal ceremony with the black academic graduation gown and hat like in many other countries.

8. Now about nudity. In Aarhus, there is a nude beach area for women only. (I have been there - but I was not joining the naked movement, though, because I don't get used to it). No photography allowed, and there are walls and a door that has to be always closed, so don't worry to get there in the summer if you want to get tan. Anyway, in some other areas, in public beaches and parks, you might spot some Danish women get topless and they don't feel embarrassed of that at all. It seems that some Danes really don't care if they want to enjoy the sun.

9. If you are on the road, beware of the bikers as much as you beware of the cars. In general, Danes are avid bikers, they bike very fast and look a bit persistently crazy, even when it's raining, and some of them will feel reluctant to stop just for 3 seconds when the bus on their side stops and passengers get off from the bus (that means you have to be very very careful).

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10. Danish language might be the toughest language to learn in the world. According to Indonesian speakers, English speakers, Chinese speakers, French speakers, Italian speakers, Spanish speakers, Dutch speakers, even German speakers who share a bit of similarities (basically everyone). Those who say that Danish is not difficult are the Norwegians and Swedes, (and maybe Icelandic too - a bit), that's it. Why is it difficult? How it is written and pronounced is super different, same letters (especially consonant) will be pronounced differently depends on the structure of the word. Do I learn Danish? Yes. For how long? Until now, eight months. Can I speak a bit? Yes. Can I speak fluently? No, not within eight months, unless miracle comes.

Do you know what Koldskål is?

11. Most of the shops in Denmark will close on Sunday (but not supermarkets), unless they are big shopping malls. And if they open, usually they will close earlier around 5PM (on Saturday most shops will close at 5PM as well). And during bank holidays, in general, supermarkets also close (unless they're German's chain (Aldi) or Norwegian's chain (Kiwi) ). So before bank holidays, be prepared to stock up your food supplies, and be patient to queue in the cashier's line, especially if you live in a small city in Denmark where supermarkets are more rare. However, the good thing about supermarkets in Denmark is that there are so many varieties of dairy products (cheese, butter, milk) plus wide varieties of organic vegetables and fruits that will make you confused for a simple thing like which milk should you buy.

12. Many Danish parents will put their babies in the baby stroller outside in the garden alone, even when it's winter. Why? Because it's considered as a training to resist the tough weather when they grow up. When I first saw that, I was SHOCKED. However, the baby will wear a very warm clothes, so they should be fine. Danes might be one of the strongest people in the world!

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13. Danish government seems to enjoy building bridges to connect between islands. There was a big debate in few of the construction process, though, because it was crazily expensive. As a result, it will take a very long time to build those. For example, Storebælt that connects Zealand and Funen took around 10 years to complete. There is also a bridge that connects Denmark and Sweden (Oresund bridge) that opened in 2010 and have made easier cum faster for those who live in Copenhagen to travel to Malmo, Sweden everyday and vice versa, In addition, I heard that many people who work in Copenhagen live in Malmo (or the other way around maybe?) Read more about the list of the bridges in Denmark here.

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14. Gender equality will affect so many things. One of them that I noticed is : that some Danish women are physically strong, even the 60-year-old Grandma (because many Grandmas still go to the gym). Some women will enjoy to do weight training very much when they go to the gym more than cardio training or dancing. And when I was in the dancing class having a Grandma as my dance partner, surprisingly her power is so strong. Another thing is that some Danish women will refuse to get helped by men when they carry a heavy material, including getting off a baby stroller from the bus. The good thing about this gender equality, however, is the long paid parental leave from work for both mother and father and that the fact that men would be willing to cook and take care of their children.

15. Danes are very persistent and water-resistant. There are so many Danes go on jogging everyday, even in the cold windy rain. They might just say to themselves, "Keep running." It is very surprising that they won't stop. And when it's almost summer, even the water in the sea is still below 20 degree celcius, you will see many Danes swimming and they just ignore the cold water.

16. If you heard a bit that Danes are reserved and cold to foreigners, actually.... they with the other Danes even don't or almost never do small talks (especially with strangers). It's just simply not their culture. However, if you ask them for a help, (e.g. direction on the street) they will be very helpful. Anyway, if you can get Danes to like you, they will be very very loyal and liking you. (the fact is that it is quite rate I heard that Danes will invite internationals to come to their house, having dinner, party, etc). So it has to be you who invite them. Some ideas could be invite them to grab a cup of coffee, you volunteer to cook your national dishes to them, or... join the clubs in Denmark. I heard that by joining clubs, (e.g. kayaking club, football, handball), there you will find Danes become more talkative and welcome and they will assure that you will feel comfortable in that club/activity.
Other than that, many Danes seem like enjoying their private life, I think, and family is always in the top priority. That's why in many companies and offices, when it's 4PM sharp, people will go home right away. Work-life balance sounds tempting, aha?

BONUS, the myths part....

All wear black, except that one lady

17. Have you ever heard about the Danes like wearing black clothes? That is true. And why? Some say, that it is because of the Jantelov (Law of Jante), that is a 'law' in society in sociological way (no punishments for the breakers and not part of a nationally written law). Generally speaking, Jantelov is about being equal in the society. In these ten rules, it is written 'You're not to think you are anything special'. The complete list can be found here . So it can be concluded that by wearing black clothes, they won't look strikingly 'different' or irritating to others' eyes, especially when it comes to winter or dark hours. However, I have noticed that many older people (ladies in the age of 50s above) will wear more colorful clothes. So what is exactly the reason of this black clothes? My close Danish one said that it is simply because of the trend because black looks very classy and will create slimming effect, and many Danish designers will play more in the cutting, rather than in the colors by the way. It doesn't have to be black actually, but in general the colors of the clothes will be something dark, like dark blue or brown or dark green or grey. However, it is quite surprising that some decades ago, in Denmark the trend was colorful dresses, and in the beginning of 90s there was a trend of guys wearing pink shirt to support homosexual movement. Anyway, I could combine those argumentation into that Danes really think and push themselves to blend in with their surrounding, from the way they dress up until some other behaviors. One more thing, I don't know why, but I observed that old ladies in Denmark wear more colorful dress  than the young ones.

18. It might seem harder to get a Danish girlfriend than a Danish boyfriend. I have observed that there are more couples with composition of Danish guy and international woman, rather than Danish woman and international guy. Do you agree with that? And now, the question is why? Some say that it is very hard to approach Danish girls (and some say that they will approach the guy instead), This is true that in the bar or club, some Danish girls might buy a drink to a guy they flirt with. But why would that it is a rare case finding a composition of Danish girl with international guy as a couple? I have asked my Danish female friend and the perspective of the Danish guy, too. The answer and assumptions are that Danish girl might feel insecure of having a long distance relationship when they guy should leave Denmark, that they are more comfortable to speak in Danish, that they get used to the Danish guys (who know so well how they should apply gender equality and also being physically tall and strong), and that.... because of the fact that many Danish guys they used to know don't know how to approach or send 'signals' to girls. For the case of couples with Danish guy and international woman, it can be that these guys like 'exotic' look and more feminine trait in these women (cooking everyday for their partner and very rarely try to be dominant in the relationship - I mean, in the gender equality context, to be properly 'equal' is very hard to apply, though). But don't get upset, it is still possible to get that hot and blonde Danish girl you crush into, when you can 'communicate' properly (I believe that it doesn't always have to be in Danish). Just make sure that you guys are physically and mentally strong enough, cause I guess it is one of the requirements :p

I hope that these tips and answers of myths are useful for you who just settled down in Denmark. Good luck and let me know if you hear more facts or 'myths'!