Cultural peculiarities of Denmark

To settle in Copenhagen took longer than I thought it would. Probably because I had gone there on holidays a couple of times before and thought the city would be more familiar to me due to the days that I had spent here before. But it showed me once again how differently you look at a city when you visit it on holidays or when you try to start to live in that city. Questions that seem easy at home like where I can buy a pan, food for dinner or a duvet can make you struggle in the beginning. Google maps was one of my best friends in the first few weeks as you need to find out where you have to go to, what’s the shortest way and how far something is by bike. Apart from that, I didn’t expect how lonely you can feel in a country where you do not understand and speak the language. Even if the Danes speak English very well, it makes everyday life much more difficult when you have no idea how to pronounce the name of the bus stop in front of your dorm. Often when you want to reassure yourself that you are in the right bus by asking the bus driver if he stops at “Sølvtorvet” he will look at you quite confused and doesn’t understand where you would like to go (Danish people shorten their words while speaking, which is why it is so hard to pronounce their words). Also, if you sit in a lecture with almost no other exchange students and everyone talks Danish in the break it makes it more difficult to get in contact with others and make new friends. The struggles mentioned above may happen most of the time when you move to another country. Luckily at some point, you start to come to terms with it. But there are also Danish cultural habits that appeared strange to me from the beginning, and some of them probably will stay strange to me. For example, if you go to a coffee shop, a supermarket or any other store in Denmark and you see a baby buggy in front of you, you don’t have to be surprised if it is not empty but has a baby inside. It looks like it is rather common for Danish people to leave their baby just outside of the store while they are doing their grocery shopping or meeting a friend for a cup of coffee. This is a habit that I have never seen in Switzerland. I guess Swiss people would never leave their baby out of sight or even next to a crossroad in a big city while doing their daily shopping or having a nice chat with a friend inside a store. I wouldn’t say that the Danes care less about their children, but it looks like they are less protective respectively anxious about them.

Another cultural practice that I find striking is their reaction to rain. It is quite common that the weather in Copenhagen changes really fast and the sun may shine in one minute while in the next minute it’s pouring down. Usually, it is pretty easy to find out which are the Danes and which the non-native people. Most of the time, Danes show no reaction to the rain and just continue to do their shopping on the market, walk along the sea or bike home with no care in the world for the weather while foreigners immediately start to take out their raincoat or umbrella. Probably this is because it usually never rains for a long time and Danes think it’s not worth to let yourself be interrupted by the rain. Furthermore, the wind that is usually blowing may dry your clothes afterwards.

Last but not least they have a striking birthday tradition in Denmark. On the day when you turn 25, and you are not yet married, your friends and family will cover you with spices. Most of the time they use cinnamon, and of course, they make sure before that it will stick on you. This tradition dates date back hundreds of years when spice salesmen were travelling around the world and were never long enough in one place to settle down with someone. Nowadays it is not unusual to marry after 25 so I would suggest that either the Danes are still really conservative when it comes to marriage (what I definitely don’t think) or that they just like to play a prank on their friends.

Greetings from Copenhagen

Manuela Häusermann


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