The Danish tribe is perhaps the weirdest in the world. That is the claim made by anthropologist Dennis Nørmark, who has studied the Danes and who is now trying to help expats understand our weird ways.

Understanding a new culture can be at least as challenging as learning the language. A lot of questions pop into your head. Why do they discuss things for so long? Should I wear a new deodorant since no one talks to me? Basically, why are Danes so weird?

Finding your way through the Danish labyrinth of codes and mystic behaviour might be even harder than in other countries. Anthropologist Dennis Nørmark, who has recently written the book “Cultural Intelligence for Stone-Age Brains“, makes a living of holding foreigners’ hands through the labyrinth teaching them the meaning of Danish culture. If Denmark seems strange to you, no worries, you’re not the only one. Dennis Nørmark explains that the country is in many ways an extreme case.

[quotebox]Basically, why are Danes so weird?[/quotebox]

“When you choose things, that I think is relevant for comparing cultures, there is certainly a tendency for Danes to pop up at the extreme end. In the area of religiosity we are one of the countries that has less faith, when it comes to general trust we trust each other the most.”

Because of its position at the extreme poles Denmark can be seen as an extraordinary country. Not always in the positive sense. Dennis Nørmark says, in his experience, it is hard for many expats to get to know people in Denmark because they are a bit of an odd case.

“We know that a lot of people that come to Denmark are struggling with the culture,” he says.

Coldness and black humour

Danes can be misunderstood as reserved and uninterested. But they are not, they just have a different way of being polite than most people. Instead of offering you help they wait for you to ask for it. It is a way of them to signal that they respect your privacy and your ability to handle things yourself. However, the minute you ask they’ll be very willing to lend you a helping hand, says Dennis Nørmark.

It is the same when it comes to making friends. You have to approach them and ask if they want to hang out. Also the Danish humour and forward manner can be quite an obstacle.

“Sometimes the way the Danes talk to the expats is fairly direct and sometimes it can be sounding a bit harsh, he says.”

24-year-old Raul from Mexico has no trouble dealing with the Danish humour. His is rather sarcastic one too. Raul came to Denmark two months ago to do an internship at Fynske Medier. So far he thinks the largest Danish oddity is, how much they change when drinking. They do not just become a bit tipsier, they suddenly open up. A lot.

“I went into this bar with some guys from work, older guys in their fifties, and after a couple of beers they had their arm over my shoulder and were sharing about their wife and children. That would never have happened at lunch!” Raul says.

Handshake or kiss

On top of the changing when having drinks, Raul has experienced a typical Danish problem – only in an extended version. The considering of whether it’s appropriate to shake hands or hug when meeting someone was not an issue for him, until he tried to kiss a Dane hello.

[quotebox]So far he thinks the largest Danish oddity is, how much they change when drinking.[/quotebox]

“It’s still weird for me, because in Mexico it’s neither a handshake nor a hug. We kiss and then hug. So the first time I tried that everyone looked weird at me like ‘Why are you kissing me? You’re completely unknown,’” Raul says.

Raul likes being in Denmark because it is like taking a cold water dive into a completely different environment, as he says. He thinks it is when you do that you learn the most about yourself and grow the fastest. Raul knows about this because before moving to Denmark he lived in Austria.

In exchange for the talk of how foreigners adapt to Danish culture, Raul has got a piece of advice for the Danes: do not be so hard on yourselves.

“Pretty much every Dane I’ve met so far has said ‘Oh we’re reserved, oh we’re racists, oh it’s hard to break the Danish code’ – it’s not that hard. I think the idea of being proud of your culture is still a bit of a taboo. Denmark’s an amazing country, I’m loving being here.”

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Anne Sofie Feld

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