It took me a long time to figure out Danes… and I’m still years away from completely understanding the dark sarcastic Danish humor. Danes are accomplished, yet humble. Reserved, but next level wild. They are the champions of the understatement and humility.
My level of confusion with Danes only deepened when I began dating and getting Danish friends. Dating in Denmark left me feeling like I grew up in the stone ages, because this was the complete opposite of anything I had ever experienced. I’m breaking down Denmark’s progressive gender roles, dating in Denmark, the Danish understatement, and night life transformation. Hopefully this can clear up the confusion that is Danish people 🙂
Table of Contents
The Danish understatement
When I first began dating my Danish husband Rune, it took many months for us to get all of the language and slang kinks out. There was a big learning curve. Before long, I was quickly introduced to the Danish understatement. Meaning the opposite of embellishment.
Humility is embedded in the cultural code of Danes. It is looked down upon to brag in any way or boast about yourself. This come down to Janteloven: Thou Art not Better Than the Other. Essentially this is a set of ten unwritten rules with an overall theme of modesty. This encourages Danes to not be full of themselves or overly ambitious because the goal is always the collective good.
Here is prime example. The largest beer company in Denmark has the following slogan “Carlsberg. Probably the Best Beer in the World” Budweiser quickly fired back with their slogan and deep confidence that their brand was the “King of Beers.” This modesty trickles into all areas of life. So much so that I have to generally tone down my praise of the hostess’ meal, because she keeps modestly insisting it wasn’t a big deal.
Night Life Transformation
Danes are generally more reserved in public and keep to themselves, while never talking to strangers. They do this in order to give one another privacy in public. This means never talking to the person next to you on the bus, or strike up a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store.
However, Danish people become the complete opposite during the night time on a Friday evening. Of course the main culprit for this night time transformation is alcohol, which Danes do love. This complete shift took me for surprise. Everything I was learning to be true in the daytime, went completely out the window on at night out.
Let me paint a picture.
I came to Denmark on a one year student exchange program to study abroad at Aarhus University (AU). While studying at Aarhus University at the library at 3:00 PM on a Friday and suddenly everyone around me closed their books. Everyone made their way to a “Fredesbar” (Friday Bar), which I quickly learned was the place I needed to be on a Friday. Each department at the school has their own canteen, which morphs into a bar on Friday evenings. Fast forward towards the end of the night,
My once shy fellow Danish students that I was with all week, were now the antithesis of their reserved being.
Suddenly, the tables we were studying on mere hours before, nearly twenty of us began dancing on the tables. Minutes later the center table collapsed and people were still dancing as they were tumbling on the floor. I have now learned that this specific type of party is called an “ape party.” However, this is not exclusive to the university scene. There is nothing more wild that 2 AM in Denmark. Literally. However, come Monday morning everything is back to its orderly and reserved self.
I grew up in Helena, Montana with fairly traditional gender roles. It was common for the man to be the provider of the family and the woman’s role is to take care of the children. I was in quite the shock when I discovered it is quite the opposite in Denmark. Because Denmark is an egalitarian society, there is a huge focus on equality amongst everyone. But especially among men and women. Even in non-romantic situations.
For example, my big brother Russell came to visit me during my first year in Denmark. While he was in Aarhus, I introduced him to my Danish girlfriend and we all met for coffee. There were a few social stumbles and awkwardness between my brother and friend that I wasn’t expecting. As the waitress came over to take our order Russell said, “ladies first.” Something in the States, I would view as a kind gesture. However in Denmark, this is seen as a bit derogatory. After we finished coffee my brother tried to pay the entire bill. My Danish girlfriend abruptly said, “why would you do that? Do you not think I can support myself and afford my own coffee?” I have come to understand that this is very typical of Danish girls and actually indicative of how dating works in Denmark. They are proud to be self-sufficient and equal about all.
Dating in Denmark
Before I met my Danish husband Rune, I lived in Aarhus for six months and was single. Coming from the United States, I did not understand the Danish dating scene at all. It was nearly the complete opposite of what I had experienced in the United States. Dating wise in America, it is common for a man to pay for dinner, open doors, and be a gentlemen. One time my college boyfriend and I got into an argument because I tried to pay the bill. America men see it as their role to take care of their woman in this way. Considering Danes have more progressive gender roles, even long term couples will split the bill after a romantic evening out.
Danes are also very direct. They say what the mean, mean what they say, and don’t play games. This can be a bit shell shocking. There is much more sugar-coating things in the United States and beating around the bush. However, this took a lot of the guessing out of dating.
I also found the timeline of relationship milestones and events was the opposite of what I had grown up with in Helena, Montana. In the United States it is common to date your significant other, get married, and then have children. In Denmark many Danes date their significant other for a fairly short time before moving in with them, then have a child, and get married when the child is small (if at all.) I have come to learn the Danes reasoning behind this is that you will get to know your partner the best when you live with them. And instead of marriage, Danes see a child as the ultimate commitment that is much bigger that a legal paper.