Danish Etiquette

Being in a new country requires you to learn some new rules of etiquette so that you are not spoiling your chances for further invites. The rules below revolve around dinner parties and small gatherings at people's homes.

The Danes have some traditions, which they hold very dear and expect others to respect and uphold. Ignoring these Danish rules can spoil your chances of being invited back for other dinners.

Punctuality: The first rule of being invited to dinner is that you must be punctual. Being late is unacceptable and not considered polite. If you are invited for 6 p.m., than you should arrive at 6 p.m., and no later than 5 minutes past. It is acceptable to be a few minutes early, but late is never acceptable.

I am always early, yet I never ring the doorbell until the appointed hour. I will wait down the street at the nearest bus stop or window shop at a nearby shop.  If you see people walking up and down your street with flowers in their hands, they are probably going to a dinner party and just waiting for the right time. It is a common sight in Denmark.

Even if you are only delayed 5 minutes, proper Danish etiquette dictates that you should call and let your host know that you are running 5 minutes late.

When your hosts open the door, it is proper etiquette to shake their hands and thank them for the invitation or say how nice it is to see them. "Hvor dejligt at se dig".

Gifts: Next thing to remember is that you should never arrive empty handed. It is customary to bring a small gift like a bottle of wine, flowers (should be wrapped), chocolates or small trinket. I always like to bring a candle holder or glass ornament. If it is a birthday or type of anniversary, than you should also bring a larger gift for the honorary.

Shoes: It is impolite etiquette to wear your outdoor shoes inside a person's home, so it is expected that you remove your shoes when entering a persons home. In order that you do not go around in your socks, you should bring along a pair of slippers. Sometimes the host will have extras, but it is advisable to bring your own.

Now this is not always the case, especially if the party is being held partly outdoors or it is a fancier type party - ball or large banquet. But you should be prepared with a pair of slippers in your bag. You can always ask the host what is expected.

Introductions: Depending on the size of the party, you may not be introduced to everyone individually. You should take it upon yourself to go around and greet each person. Say hello and shake their hand. This is very Danish and would be impolite not to introduce yourself.  You also shake hands with women. Hugging and kisses is frowned upon unless you know them well.

Before Dinner:  Dinner is usually served pretty soon after the appointed time. Invited for dinner at 1800, you will be eating by 1815 or 1820. It is always appropriate to ask if you can help your host with any prep. (bringing food bowls into the dining room, opening a bottle of wine, etc.). Also if it is your first time in someone's home, you can ask for a tour, but if the host if busy, it may have to wait til after dinner and maybe before desert or after dinner drinks. Danes are proud of their homes and like to show them off to their friends and guests.

Seating etiquette: When it is time for dinner, your host will announce that dinner is served. You should than proceed to the table and find your place. Depending on the size of the party there may be table cards indicating your seating arrangement. At other times the host may assign your seats. You now stand behind your chair until everyone is at the table. When your host says "Vaersgo or Velbekomme" that means it is time to take your seats.

P.S. Depending on the circumstances it is okay to hold a ladies chair and help her, but it is not expected. Equal rights and all, so you should play this by ear. Watch what other guests might be doing and take a clue from them.

Courses: There are usually several courses served during an evening meal. Pace yourself since dinners can last several hours at a formal event.  The host will usually announce that dinner is served by saying "velbekommen". That is when you sit down, but wait to start eating until you see others (the host/hostess) or you hear them say "værsgo", which literally means here you go or go ahead". You will start with a fish dish as an appetizer, than a main course and than dessert. You are not expected to help clear plates between courses, but after the entire meal is finished, you should tell the host "tak for mad". This means thank you for the meal. 

After the meal you will usually retire to the living room and have coffee/drinks/snacks and than the evening will end after that is served.  It is polite to offer to help clean up or assist the hostess. If you ask, you will very likely being thanked and asked to assist in some small way.

Conversation: Depending on the occasion, it is usually improper etiquette to talk business unless that is the purpose of the dinner invitation.  The Danes do not take themselves to seriously, so it is okay to make fun of yourselves and even laugh at others. It is improper to brag or take yourself too seriously or act as if you are better, richer or smarter than other guests.  Always try to speak some Danish, even if it is just simple phrases like hello, how are you, my name is, etc.  Danes will quickly pick up that Danish is not your native language and often switch to English. I have found out that most hosts will take the time to seat people who do not speak Danish next to Danes who enjoy speaking English. 

I have always been told not to talk politics and religon at dinner parties, but it seems that the Danes realy enjoy talking politics, but rarely mention religon.  Topics that are always winners include sports: handball and soccer are always good. Family, food and vacations are probably next.  If not sure, let the Danes guide the conversation.

 Dining Etiquette: It is always best to try everything, but Danes are tolerant if you do not like something. They do understand that not all foreigners like all Danish food, but Please, at least give it a try. It is customary to eat everything on your plate, so if not sure if you like something, take a small portion to start. You will always be offered second helpings.

Basic manners like no elbows on the table, talking with food in your mouth, keep hands visible while dining (wrists resting on edge of table is quite appropriate), 

When you are finished eating it is customary to place your fork and knife together on the "empty plate" with handles facing to the right.

When dining there will often be someone who will give a toast by saying "skål". At that time you usually pick up your snaps glass and drink it. If snaps is not being served you hold up your wine or other glass and say "skål" when the toast is done.  When you raise your own glass, it is proper to make eye contact with the people around you.  It is okay not to drink alcohol, you can toast with a glass water, soda, etc., but do participate in the toast even if it means you only take a small sip each time. As a guest you do not ever make the first toast, which is the honor of the host.

Departure: When leaving the party, proper etiquette requires you should tell the host that you had a good time by saying "Det var rigtig hyggeligt". You can also say it when saying goodbye to the other guests. This is the polite way to let everyone know you enjoyed yourself.

The Next Day: The following day or the next time you meet the host or any of the guests from the dinner party, you should say "Tak for sidst!", which means "thank you for the last time". You say this to everyone that was at the party, since everyone contributed to the success of the party.

P.S. I always find it amusing, when after an office party, as everyone comes to work all you hear for the first hour of conversation is "tak for sidst" repeated to every person walking into the office.

You will find some more manner terms here

Other Danish Etiquette Tips

Dress Attire: At work it is usually quite normal to dress casual. Most offices have a casual but clean attire policy. Ties and suits are not as common as in the US or UK. Even at parties, people come in casual clothes. Always check with the host/hostess if in doubt.  Clean Jeans are quite acceptable attire in work environments.

Meetings are always prearranged. Dropping in is poor etiquette and frowned upon.  You will often get a cold reception. Punctuality is again important, so be on time or call if delayed.  When meeting for business, small talk does occur but it is usually brief.  Try to keep it short or follow the lead of the Danes.  Some Danes try to emulate other cultures in business situations and may decide to make more small talk, etc. if they feel it is part of your culture.  Rarely more than 15 minutes.

Being Personal: I am not sure that is the correct heading for this tip. Danes are not easy to get to know, so if someone asks how you are doing, you should just answer fine, good, etc.. They do not really want to know "how you are doing". Once you get to know someone, it is okay to go into more detail. It can take a long time to make a close friend in Denmark. Danes have a tight circle of friends/family that they have grown up with and usually do not have room in their social network for more friends, so you will have to earn a spot.

Socializing in Denmark is totally different than the US or UK.  Social events are often planned by your work place/employer. You do not go out with your coworkers after work for a drink or dinner. You do not spontaneously decide to unwind after work doing something fun. This has to be planned, so if you ask someone to go out for coffee after work, they will usually say thank you but they can not do it. They will have family obligations or other scheduled things to do. Do not be offended, but the Danes have their schedules and changing them is often not possible or they just do not WANT to change them.  If you want to get to know your coworkers join them at scheduled work events and it will become easier to break the ice and make a new friend.

Greetings: Most people are on first name basis and you will rarely address someone as Mr. or Mrs.. Shaking hands is quite common when meeting in social gathering. Shake hands with woman instead of hugging or a friendly kiss, unless you know them well. Shaking hands with their children is also very common and you should do it if introduced to them.

Since I mentioned shaking hands rather than hugging, I should mention another etiquette no-no in Denmark. As an American I am use to being very hands on, often touching someone's shoulder or arm when talking or making a point. This is not favored in Denmark. Being touchy/feely is not in vogue, so try to avoid it. Again let the Danes guide you by watching how they interact with you.

Finally, two more etiquette tips.

1. Equality: It is the norm to treat women equally and opening doors or doing what I call "being a gentleman" can cause some irritation. Women want to seen as equal. That is not to say that holding a door open if someone is walking in behind you is bad, but do not hold the door and wait for them to enter first.

2. Politeness: Even though Danes do not have a word for please in Danish, they do like the word thank you a lot.  Saying "tak" is very very common and Danes say it all the time. Even if they do not mean it, they still say it. So try to remember to say "tak" whenever the opportunity arises. If you stay in Denmark awhile you will soon notice this.

When coming to work, it is good form to say "morn" or "gomorgen", which means good morning. If someone says it first, you should answer with the same. Don't need to start a conversation, it is just a greeting. Going to work in the morning can get you dozens of "morn" if you work in a large office or company.

Hopefully these etiquette tips will serve you well. Remember not everyone follows these rules to the letter, so see how other Danes are behaving and let that guide you. Danes do not expect you to know all the rules, but you can quickly ingratiate yourself by showing that you are trying to be proper Dane by doing some of the things mentioned above. But above all try to have fun while doing them.

See some common Danish phrases here that will quickly help you feel more like a Dane.  learn more about everyday life in Denmark.

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