Category 1

Danish etiquette

December 5, 2021

"Ignoring people is polite here"

Danish culture is premised on various values such as trust, equality and respect for privacy. Whilst this has many virtues, from an outsider perspective, this can also appear to play out in scenarios where Danes come across as... well, a bit rude.

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This week on What The Denmark we have a really "foundational" episode that gets to the heart of how Danish culture/ society functions: what does it mean to be polite?

In many cultures, politeness comes from being overtly welcoming to people you don't know. For example, asking questions to strangers and helping out in situations where someone seems to be struggling.

In Denmark, however, such behaviour isn't normal.

From the outside, this can seem a bit... rude. But is it?

Studying the Danes

To find out, we invited Danish anthropologist Dennis Nørmark into the studio.

Dennis spends his working life looking at different cultures through an academic lens, and trying to pinpoint how different societies behave, and what could be the cause.

We talk about a whole range of scenarios in Danish culture that can seem perplexing to outsiders, but begin to make sense when viewed through the Danish prism (for example, buying your own birthday cake on your birthday?!)

We discuss various other things such as:

  • How whether cultures seem cold/ rude is linked to the sense of privacy
  • How Denmark (and Scandinavian countries) are in fact living a sort of extreme individualism
  • Why Danish people won't instinctively help people struggling in public
  • How Danes view specific reciprocity vs generalised reciprocity in other cultures
  • How the trust in Denmark means there's not the need to "get to know" people you do business with
  • How the smiley face is the Danish word for please
  • Giving and receiving gifts
  • The fear (or not) of being laughed at

You can learn more about Dennis' work at: https://dennisnormark.dk/

Thank yous

Thanks to Hotel Mayfair in Central Copenhagen for hosting us for the recording. You can get 25% off your stay by using the code WTD at checkout

Learn more about What The Denmark via @whatthedenmark on Instagram

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