Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Cracking the Norse code: how to make Danish friends

Moving to Denmark from the UK, I assumed that the culture wouldn’t be too different as both countries are situated in Northern Europe and have many historical ties.

On the surface level, this does seem to be correct. Most Danes enjoy socialising, drinking, and eating bland and under-seasoned food – exactly like home! However, not long into being here I realised that although I was meeting and making lots of international friends (with the help of Bumble – a dating app with a ‘friends’ setting!!) , I just could not seem to get in with the Danes.

Don’t get me wrong, most Danish people I’d met were friendly, fun and polite – the people I went to class and worked with all showed an interest in having conversations, in their respective settings. But when it came to making social plans outside of these settings, it kinda just fell a little flat; they always seemed to be busy and I was left wondering if maybe they didn’t like me after all. So, I decided to conduct some ‘highly scientific’ research (mainly by grilling my Danish boyfriend, and pestering international friends who have lived here a number of years into telling me their experiences), and I found out

"Danes just work a little differently."

Making Danish friends:

Admittedly, meeting new people and socialising has been a little difficult this year, due to the Corona situation - but with the vaccine being rolled out, hopefully next year things will go back to normal!

So, here are my top tips for making Danish friends in non-Corona times:

  1. You have to put yourself out there! Many Danes have a solid friendship group, therefore they may not be actively seeking more friends – so this means a lot of effort will have to come from your side. Luckily, there are two really easy ways to interact in a more social environment in Denmark: Friday bars and clubs/associations.
  • Each faculty at the university has its own ‘Friday Bar’ – an on-campus party. These usually start at around 3 or 4pm on Fridays (yes, they start drinking quite early here!) and go on all night. It’s a really nice way to socialise and bridge the gap between being just classmates and actually learning a little more about each other on a personal level. Ask your class to go together for a hygge time!
  • Not all Danish social activities involve alcohol, in fact, most of them don’t! Many Danes are part of clubs and associations, whether its sports, crafts, games etc. – there really is something for everyone. The International Community can help you find a club which doesn’t mind having English-speaking members.
  1. Planning is essential – spontaneous activities are unlikely. This is just one of those things to accept, and can be hard when you’re left bored at home on the weekend. Back home I would see my friends very regularly, and most of my free time was spent with them, without too much careful planning (usually we’d meet at the pub an within an hour of a ‘what you up to?’ text). But over here a careful consideration of calendars is needed before an activity can be arranged. This is due to older friendship groups, clubs/associations, and also because family activities are very popular. Combine this with time taken to work or study, and you can imagine things start to look quite packed in – so when Danes say they’re busy, they really do mean it!

If you plan ahead I promise you’ll have way more success in organising something fun – even if you do have to wait a few weeks for it!

  1. Be open, honest and direct – tell people you would like to be friends with them! This may sound quite basic but, as a Brit, being very forward and open with people I don’t know so well just doesn’t come naturally to me - I guess the ‘stiff-upper-lip’ stereotype is definitely true in my case! But one thing I’ve learned is that Danes really value you sharing personal experiences, and see it as a way to form a bond of friendship and trust. Bonus points if you can do this in a hygge setting – a dinner and drinks in a smaller group is a good way to begin. Additionally, they will really appreciate you being straight-up and telling them you would like to be friends. Just bear in mind that the friendship may not take the form you’re used to (see point 2!). Danish culture can really be a case of ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ sometimes, as if you don’t reach out, it’s often assumed that you are fine as you are!

So, with all that being said, you might be wondering… is it worth the effort?! And the answer is yes, yes 1000x yes!

Why, I hear you ask?

The answer is networking! So much in Denmark is done through networking – you may have heard that Danish culture runs on trust, and that is most definitely true. I noticed that when job hunting, having a recommendation from a Danish person made my application so much more successful. This is because Danes really trust each other to only recommend people who they actually believe would do a good job.

Having a Danish network will also allow you to hear about more job or internship opportunities in your friends’ places of work, potentially before they are advertised. And if your friend can recommend you to their employer, you have a good chance of at least getting an interview.

In addition, the Danish friends I have made are some of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met. Being friends with a Dane is rarely on a superficial level – and you will end up with a very deep connection. Having that kind of support network is wonderful when you’re in another country, away from friends and family – and has been vital for me during these strange Corona-times. They have shown me ways of socialising that don’t revolve around alcohol (but often do revolve around cake!), and taught me the meaning of hygge. I’m so glad I took the plunge and put myself out there – it was most definitely worth it!