The Director’s Cut: What to say and not to say in Denmark

To offend or not to offend


These days, I consider myself more or less Danish, even though my Danish pronunciation sometimes sounds like the Swedish chef from ‘The Muppets’ choking on a pizza after ten pints of Tuborg, but hey I do try.

Datter: Din dårlig dansk
Of course, even though I’ve spent longer on Danish soil than my nine-year-old daughter, she speaks remarkably perfect Danish with a super guttural lushness that makes me jealous. And to add insult to injury, she sneers at my “dårlig dansk”!

But then again, I’m a gift to her as I can teach her English, so she teaches me Danish in return. Fair enough. Although, I have to say, it’s Irish-English, so therefore a bastardised version of the queen’s immaculate version as I’m sometimes reminded via the school curricula books, but still, we communicate, and they say bilinguals live longer, so I hope she takes care of me when I get old.

It’s good to talk!

I had a friend over to visit last week, and he remarked how the Danes are quite casual and open – especially after some drinks. He also mentioned how good their English was.

We then got into a discussion about how not to offend the Danes – it’s important to understand we have a pretty wicked sense of humour around Valby, so don’t take it too seriously.

We broke the list done as follows: what to say and what not to say. It was quite long, but here are some highlights, or lowlights, depending how you look at it.

Say it, don’t say it

SAY: Danish is the hardest language in the world, but once you master it, you’ll have an understanding of Swedish, Norwegian and even a bit of German. With English, you’ll have five languages!

DON’T SAY: I thought it was derived from German? It sounds like the noise made by a plughole when you empty a bath.

SAY: Denmark can win the European Championship again – just like ’92!

DON’T SAY: So have you ever won a tournament you actually qualified for?

SAY: Danish food is organic, diverse, and among the best in Europe!

DON’T SAY: Is the reason why Noma’s so expensive because it charges extra for norovirus?

SAY: What a fantastic country: free medical care, great infrastructure and relatively stress-free. No wonder it’s the happiest country in the world – totally deserved!

DON’T SAY: If everyone’s so happy why is the divorce rate so high? Hang on, is that why everyone’s so happy?

SAY: You came out top in World War II. Clever strategy and fantastic underground warfare, you outsmarted those Germans. The Danes are masters of intelligent warfare.

DON’T SAY: Given your propensity for surrender, have you ever considered eliminating the red from your national flag?

SAY: What a fantastic cultural, ethnically diverse and open country Denmark is!

DON’T SAY: What a fantastic cultural, ethnically diverse and open country Sweden is!

SAY: Lars von Trier is a genuine maverick filmmaker!

DON’T SAY: Lars von Trier – isn’t he the one whose father was a Nazi? Oh no, that was most of the children born during the Occupation.

And finally, when someone says to you in English: “Are you finished.”

SAY: Yes, thank you.

DON’T SAY: No, I’m Irish …

… No humans were harmed in this article!


David Noel Bourkeweb

David (, a Denmark-based, Irish-born indie filmmaker, is best known for the 2008 neo-noir thriller ‘No Right Turn’.   Married with two children, he is currently working on several film projects (