Opinion: Five pieces of advice for non-western immigrants

It is always difficult trying to adapt to a local culture – particularly if it’s very different from your own.

Based on my 44 years in Denmark, I would like to offer a few pieces of ‘integration-friendly’ advice that might help you to decipher Danish culture and get to know ‘the natives’ a little better.

In practical terms, I believe these small pieces of somewhat controversial advice will make social and working life a little bit easier.

Sign up for some sort of team sport
Sport activities are a short-cut to social interaction and an excellent way to close in on the Danes. In Denmark, team sports such as football or basketball transcend class and ethnicity and language barriers are less of an obstacle.

Engage in activities relating to your children’s school or daycare institutions
At around 30-35, many Danes have formed their social networks and are less open to new friendships. The social life centered around the children can however still be a way in. Expectations are high! You are expected to engage heavily in the social life of your children online as well as offline, including numerous mandatory meetings and waves of online communications. It’s too much even for most Danes, but try giving it a chance. It can pay off.

Drink alcohol
Danes drink a lot of alcohol, and undoubtedly too much for their own good. But when offered alcohol, try to accept. You don’t have to drink much, but if you refuse the offer, you might categorise yourself as an outsider, especially if you are a man. Danes generally don’t trust a man who doesn’t drink at all. It’s a bit primitive and a little old school, but it’s a cultural thing.

Get a bike
Bikes allow you to get around. A single person on a bike will be positively received as opposed to four brown guys in a car, which will make some Danes a little nervous.

Try a little harder
Some 60 years ago, the traffic would stop, and people would stop and turn their heads if say an African man walked down the street in Copenhagen. I know, because that was my grandfather’s personal experience in 1957. Even today you walk in a spotlight, if you are a non-western immigrant. Any wrong move will be noticed and it takes ten rights to correct one wrong. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is, so you simply have to behave and try a little harder!