Danish Survival Guide

Traditionally Danes are very reserved people, on top of that they do expect that you behave in specific ways, in other words there are certain unwritten rules that the Danes expect that you follow. Don’t expect Danes to give you any instructions or clues, but if you get frequent “stares” from Danes, chances are that you’re breaking the unwritten rules.

I used to be married to an American, and she had great difficulty understanding the unwritten rules, as a result she found the Danes to be terribly inpolite, and vice-versa.

Below is a list of some of the most common unwritten rules taken from the book “Tak skal du ha´ – En bog om dansk takt og tone” ISBN 87 7399 558 4 written by Kirsten Ahlburg, the translation was done by yours truly and the publication of the translation to my website was approved by the author – thank you very much. I think that this list would have been quite useful to my ex-wife.

When to give thanks when visiting:
Thank you for inviting me
Thank you for letting me come
Thank you to the host when dinner is served
Thank you for the dinner
Thank you for the evening
Thank you for the previous time me met

When to give thanks in general:
You thank somebody when you borrow something
You thank somebody when you receive something
You give thanks when somebody helps you
You say “Yes thank you” or “Yes, please” (in Danish: “Ja tak”) and “No thank you” (in Danish: “Nej tak”) when you’re offered something
You give thanks if somebody offers to hold a door, helps you with a baby-stroller, offers you a seat in the bus, or otherwise show politeness towards you
At the table:
Do not smoke while dinner is still on the table
Do not try to get something if you have to pass over somebody who is still eating
If you have to sneeze or cough, cover your mouth with your hand. But try to avoid both
Do not comb your hair
Do not burp
Do not chew chewing gum
Do not make eating noises. You keep your mouth shut while eating
Do not speak with food in your mouth
You cover your mouth with your hand if you have to yawn. But try to avoid yawning
If somebody proposes a toast, you have to return it
When to say “you’re sorry” (in Danish “undskyld”):
If you made a mistake
If you forgot an appointment
If you push somebody
If step on somebody’s toes
If you slam the door in somebody’s face
If you accidental hit somebody with your hand, body or luggage
If you sidestep somebody in a queue or line
If you’re late
If you said something you didn’t mean
If you’re positioned so that you’re obstructing other people (this is a really weird one)

On the phone:
You always ask if you can borrow the phone, before doing so
You only borrow the phone to make short calls, and never to make long distance calls
If you promise to return a call, remember to do so
You do not make private calls while at work or in a classroom
You always turn your cell-phone off in the classroom, at work, in a movie-theatre, a theatre or the like
If you use a cell-phone in a public place, keep your voice quiet so that you do not disturb other people
If you borrow a phone, you immediately offers to cover the costs
If you call somebody to conduct a long conversation, you immediately ask if you’re disturbing
You announce yourself when answering the phone. It is not considered polite to say “hello” (in Danish “Hallo”) or “yes” (in Danish “Ja”)

If you dial a wrong number, you say “Excuse me, I dialled the wrong number” (in Danish: “Undskyld, jeg har fået forkert nummer”)
Appointments:
You’re always on time
You leave on time, if a specfic end-time of the appointment has been announced
You announce if you’re not coming in a timely manner
You never miss an appointment without announcing that you’re not coming

You never try to use “bad excuses”, like I missed the bus etc., for being late for or missing an appointment
You never:
Point your fingers at strangers in public
You do not brandish your middle finger
Threat somebody with your fist closed
Refuse to shake an extended hand
Drum your fingers at the table to show that you’re impatient

2 Responses to “Danish Survival Guide”

  1. Dave Isaacs Says:

    Hi,

    Can you tell me how to say in Danish “Thank you for your time” as in “Thank you for taking the time to listen to what I have to say”

    This would be very helpful

  2. Kim Says:

    Sure…

    “Tak fordi I tog Jer tid til at lytte til hvad jeg havde at sige”

    “havde” is the past tense of “to have” and I fell that that would be more correct than the present tense.

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