It’s not always easy coming to Denmark to work as a foreigner. Danes have a reputation for being reclusive, irreligious, naive – and weird! But according to anthropologist Dennis Nørmark, if international newcomers have a better understanding of the Danes, it gets easier to crack the code to Danish society.
Some 350 internationals and a group of curious Danes attended Nørmark’s fully-booked seminar ‘Why are the Danes so weird?’ on Tuesday December 18 at Aarhus University.
Nørmark took his audience on a journey through Danish mentality and culture. Judged by the reaction of the cheerful audience, Nørmark hit the nail on the head more than a few times without being too hard on the natives in the crowd.
“I have lived in Denmark for quite some time now, and I’ve always wondered why Danes behave like they do without really being able to pinpoint the cultural differences,” said physiotherapist Katie Leabourn from New Zealand, who was among the attendees.
“Dennis was able to identify many common Danish peculiarities that most foreigners have probably experienced, and he did it without being mean to either Danes or foreigners. For instance, I always thought that Danes were just closed off, but most of the time it just turns out that they have a huge respect for others’ privacy and are very formal. I actually understand Danes better now. Dennis put my thoughts into words.”
According to Nørmark, the biggest cultural shock to foreigners often comes when they attend social events and are introduced to the Danish way of drinking alcohol.
“If you don’t drink – reconsider,” suggested Nørmark. “And if you get the chance to go to one of the infamous Danish Christmas lunches, please go. But be prepared for the Danes opening up and everything coming out – it is like the ketchup effect. And when you go to the office on Monday, it didn’t happen.”
According to Nørmark, Danes value the rules and trust that they have created for the common good. But some of them make no sense to foreigners.
“If you are out late and there is a red light, you will see Danes waiting patiently for the light to turn green even though there are no cars in sight," commented another audience member, market researcher Francois Guillome from France. "You don’t see that anywhere else in the world. Sometimes Danes have too much respect for the rules and just do as they are told instead of going their own way.”
The seminar was co-hosted by the international network organisations International Community and Expat in Denmark, who work to support international employees and their families by offering platforms for networking, a wide range of events and practical information about settling in the country. The hosts were impressed by Nørmark’s performance and hope that his insight can be valuable to internationals trying to settle in Denmark.
“With so many people showing up wanting to get insight knowledge about the Danes, it just proves that many internationals wish to crack the code to Danish society,” commented International Community’s project manager, Tiny Maerschalk.
“And since International Community is here to build bridges between internationals and Danish society in general, I hope that an event like this is another step in the right direction for some of the participants.”
If you did not attend, you’ll get the chance next year as Nørmark will give the same presentation in Herning on January 21, Copenhagen on January 29 and Esbjerg on January 31. Visit expatindenmark.com or internationalcommunity.dk for more details.