In all countries and in all cultures, you’ll find a set of cultural rules. They might be clear and obvious; they might be unspoken and difficult to figure out. In Denmark we are generally a very open-minded people, and we do not shy away from a discussion about cultural codex. However, if you want to stay clear of offending anyone, of if you’re simply too tired for a talk about culture, take my advice and stay clear of these 7 don’ts in Denmark.
Danes are open, Danes are out and proud, and we celebrate this every year across the country with Pride Parades (Tip: attend the Copenhagen Pride Parade if you can – it is magical!). However, what our sexual orientation is, is our own business. If we want you to know, we will tell you. So, try to resist the urge to ask, and start thinking like most Danes: What difference does it make? Why do I need to know? The only time it is okay to ask, is if the person in question is open to it, or if you need to know for medical/legal reasons (I don’t know if this is ever necessary).
- Marital status
Unlike a lot of countries and cultures around the world, we do not call each other by our marital status. Whether we are a Mr., Mrs., Ms., Sir, or Madam (Danish: Hr., Fru, Frk.) is a somewhat private matter, and it does not say anything about us or the role/status we have in society. However, we do have exceptions to this rule: Elderly people might still use these titles, it might be on some of your official mail, you need to check the box in some official documents, and in our parliament our politicians are called by their marital status, by each other, as a sign of respect. But we call our teachers by their name, we call our Prime Minister by her name, we call our family members by their name (well, their relation to us).
- Are you pregnant?
You see a woman. She has a big bump on her tummy. She walks a little funny. You go up next to her, and ask if she is pregnant. She is not. It is awkward, really awkward. Don’t do this. It is never okay to ask a woman if she is pregnant, unless she told you beforehand. Never! Just imagine being that women who might have a few pounds on her, because life (!), and then being asked if she is carrying a litter. No woman would find that flattering, funny, or acceptable. In fact, this probably goes for all women around the world.
This one differs from one person to another, but the general rule is that Danes do not talk about money, income, expenditures, and their general wealth, or lack thereof. This means that if you want to negotiate a salary bump with your boss in Denmark, don’t expect your colleagues to tell you about their wage or bonuses. And likewise, if you visit someone’s house for the first time, don’t ask about the price of the house. If you are curious, ask ‘if you don’t mind me asking…’, but expect a ‘I do mind, actually’. It is not because we are impolite, or that we don’t want to help you negotiate a salary bump, but merely because money is not something we talk about, because we want to avoid awkwardness or jealousy, and because the financial inequality in Denmark is very low compared to other countries, meaning that the difference in income does not make us different people.
It is not uncommon for a woman to have a child outside marriage, or on her own. It is not uncommon for a woman to have had as many sexual partners as a man. It is not uncommon for a woman to go to a bar and bring a man home with her, just like it is not uncommon for a man. It is not uncommon for neither a woman nor a man, to sleep together on the first date. It is not uncommon for a woman or a man to go from one relationship to the other. Neither of these examples says anything about the women or the man. They are people, they have urges, they have needs, they have desires, and they have a basic need for love and affection, just like everyone else. Slut-shaming is a serious no-go in a country where we take pride in our sexual liberation, and our (relative) gender equality – and really should be in all countries and cultures, if you ask me.
- Missionary work
As you might have noticed, Danes rarely practice their religious beliefs. It is written in our constitution that we are Christian, and we do attend church at Christmas, and at the important rites of passage, but it is the exception rather than the rule that we practice our religion more than this. This also means that we do not appreciate missionary work, no matter the religion. Some people might be open to a conversation about belief, but most Danes will get annoyed, and maybe even be rude – especially if you come to their house to do missionary work. If you would like to talk about your religion, seek like-minded people, or talk to people who seem open to it. Of course you can have a discussion about religion, and a lot of Danes find that interesting, but actual missionary work will irritate most Danes.
Post #metoo this should really go without saying: Don’t catcall. In Denmark women can wear whatever they’d like to, and do whatever they want. If you see a woman looking good, think it, don’t yell it. It is most often not appreciated if you comment on a woman’s looks, even if it is meant as a compliment. However, this really depends on the relation between you and her, of course. If you know her, you know if she finds it flattering or not, but if you don’t know her, leave her in peace. Of course you can compliment a woman’s new haircut or her new clothes, but how those clothes fit, is not okay. Of course there are exceptions where women actually love to get compliments, but there’s a fine line between compliments and catcalling aka sexual harassment.