Meeting the Danes

Danes. They’re everywhere and yet they can seem like an elusive rarity in your life as an international student.

Naturally they are there physically, but how do you meet them? Let alone, how do you get to know or befriend them and maybe even (drumroll) date them?

It can seem like an insurmountable task, and maybe it’s easier to just hang out with the other international students and joke about the antisocial Danes, but if you want a local network as a student (the shortcut to jobs, housing and an all-around fun time in Denmark), befriending the Danes is a must.

Cultural differences:

First of all: The Danes aren’t antisocial or hate hanging out with international students such as your self. Yes, there are antisocial and dismissive people amongst us, but it’s not the rule. We just socialize and form friendships in slightly different ways compared to what you might be used to in your home country.

Denmark has been a culturally homogenous country for centuries, so your Danish classmates might not even realize that other cultures don’t do “friendships” and “hanging out” similar to how they do them.

In the same way, you might misinterpret the Danish behaviour as a lack of interest or as them being “weird”, because it’s different from what you’re used to.

Use the cultural differences to your advantage by being curious and interested in your fellow Danish students and talk about their culture compared to yours. Most people love to talk about their background and appreciate people who are genuinely interested.

Most Danes learn to form social bonds through school, hobbies, sport and work. This means that we’re in no way used to socializing with strangers, and many Danish students who haven’t developed friendships within those traditional categories also struggle with being lonely at times.

The ones who aren’t lonely might still be interested in new friends too, but they probably already have a fully packed life with old friends, family, jobs and hobbies, so they might not be as active in looking for new friends as you are, leaving you to believe that they aren’t interested in hanging out.
The thing you need to remember is, that even if your new Danish classmates don’t say so, they might be interested in getting to know you. You just have to approach them in the right way, and maybe take a bit more initiative than you’re used to doing in your home country.

Generally speaking, many expats will say that “Danes only talk/hang out with people they know”, which of course can become a problem if you’re interested in meeting new people and forming a network in a new city. However, there are ways around this and we will cover those as well as certain quirks of social interaction that are culturally typical for Danish students.

As with all people, regardless of culture, your fellow students have individual personalities, so unfortunately we can only offer tips and tricks, not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Hygge

We have to cover it, right? The elusive and alluring Danish concept of hygge…

Google translate will tell you it means “fun”, “cosiness” or “comfort”, but you can’t really grasp the idea until you have experienced it.

Hygge is both hanging out with friends, cosying up on your own, being outside in the summer or inside by candlelight in the winter.

Try asking your Danish classmates to explain it, and you will get at least 5 different ideas about what hygge can be.

Meeting people

The first step to finding “new Danish friends”™ is knowing where to meet your fellow students. Certain circumstances make for excellent time windows during which you can meet and make Danish friends, even if you don’t know anyone yet.

Some of the ones you’ll encounter as a student are:

Friday bars and parties at your course/institute:

They’re cheap, local and jam-packed with other students from your own area of education. This means, that you will definitely have something to talk about, while drinking cheap beer, drinks or soda, playing board games and complaining about exams together.
Often the institutes have a cheap student-run café, where you can hangout after classes, and chat to fellow students.
If you have any initiatives like this at your school, go there! It is great ways to meet Danish students, especially at the beginning of the semester, where everyone will be looking for new friends and will normally be very social and more open-minded.

University clubs and activities

Most schools have a wide variety of clubs, activities and foreninger (see explanation below) that you can join as a student.

Are you interested in music? Join the choir, the glee club or the yearly revue… Like your local Friday bar? Join the group organising it! Do you want to play a sport? Most institutes have their own football team. If not, the universities should have bigger central sports organisations that you can join. Each institute will often have academic clubs and an alumni organization, both of which have members who will plan social and academic events for their members.

Mentor/buddy programs

The universities have various mentor and buddy programs that provide a safety net, practical contacts and a social network for new international students. If you get a chance to join one, it’s a great way to meet other people from both Denmark and the rest of the world, and the people signing up to be mentors or buddies are most likely interested in getting an international network.

Even if you haven’t been in one of the programs yourself, and are a long-term international student in Denmark, ask your local international office if it’s possible for you to become a mentor or buddy in the future. This is a great way to use your experiences to help new international students and to meet new people in the process.

Studenterhuset aka the Student House

All the major university cities in Denmark have their own Studenterhus aka Student house. They are volunteer run non-profit organisations that organise social activities for the entire university (or all the universities if there are more than one in the city), and provide a social space for all students.

The prices are student friendly and the Student Houses function as cafés, bars, concert venues and event spaces, while providing a host of activities for the student community.

Additionally, the student houses often offer valuable activities for students besides the cheap beers – there can be job fairs, housing events, networking events, and current affairs debates.

Since the student houses are mainly volunteer run, you can either participate in the activities offered as a guest or sign up to help as a volunteer. The latter will definitely ensure that you meet a lot of new friends, and maybe even get some useful job experience on top of that.

Become a volunteer

Student volunteers run most of these aforementioned activities either partly or completely. Getting involved in a volunteer activity is a great way to meet Danes and provides an opportunity to bond over mutual interests and projects. People will usually be happy to hire you or have you join their organisation if you offer your time and dedication as a volunteer, so ask around if you are interested in joining an activity at your university or local student house.

There are many other ways to volunteer, and these are covered in the specific volunteering section in this chapter

Humour

Another thing that you might find “weird” about your Danish friends could very well be their senses of humour.

The Danish humour is “dry”, sarcastic (irony is BIG here) and irreverent.

You can poke fun at all authority figures and are not expected to “spare” people in leadership positions or religious figureheads.

It is also very popular to be self-deprecating (often called selvironi) in your jokes.

Research shows that the Danes generally don’t have a problem looking foolish or laughing at their own mistakes.

The emphasis on “cringe-worthy” situations and stories might seem weird to you, but try to watch a Danish comedy show or Danish stand-up with subtitles to get an idea regarding what the Danes currently find funny.

Remember that it’s okay to not find Danish humour funny or to not participate in the joke telling, but try to not take the sarcastic and irreverent jokes too personally. They are rarely meant as an insult.

How to get involved

“Foreningskultur”

A thing that is unique to Danish culture and socialising is the emphasis on FORENINGER. This is relatively complicated to translate, as it is a Danish/Scandinavian concept that has been a pillar in these countries civil societies for almost 150 years. A “forening” is a democratic, membership-based organisation with a common theme, goal or activity. A board, consisting of members from the organisation, runs the forening and every member has the right to vote and participate in the activities, given that you pay the membership fee. So essentially those members participating are also the people running the activities voluntarily.

This is how almost all sports clubs, leisure activities, interests based clubs and societies and many of the volunteer organisations work in Denmark, and it is where many people form a network outside work and school. Around 90% of all Danes are a member of at least one forening, chances are there’s a relevant one for you as well out there.

Getting involved in a forening is not only a good way to meet new people; it is also a great way to see one of the culturally specific “very Danish” institutions at work.

If you join a forening to play sports (instead of the local “pay&go” gym), not only do you get to do the sports, but there are normally also a host of other activities connected to it, like parties, fundraisers, commitees to join within the club etc. Therefor it is a great way to get to meet many Danes and form a network.

Volunteer organisations

A lot of students in Denmark do volunteer work, either on a regular basis or for special events in their city, community or within their fields of interest.

If you’re interested in regular (weekly or monthly) volunteer work, your local Studenterhus is a great place to start. They normally have a big community of volunteer students and do activities related to your life as a student, whether it is bartending at their café, organizing events or doing social activities for other students. If you want to join, contact your local Studenterhus (links below).

The various non-profit cafés and charity organisations in your city can also be a great place to volunteer, especially if you’re in Denmark for more than a few months. The volunteer opportunities here are many and diverse. A lot of these jobs are visible on frivilligjob.dk, but you can also ask your fellow students about volunteer opportunities in your city.

Remember that a lot of volunteer work is done within the various foreninger, so if you’re interested in a particular forening, there are normally many opportunities to get involved here as well.

Many Danish students also volunteer on a more event based volunteering too. This is normally done at music festivals and other cultural events (film festivals, fashion week and historical celebrations are all based on volunteer work as well), and can be a great way to meet new people, have fun and get new experiences without having to commit on a weekly basis.

Google the events you’re interest in several months before the event, normally they do posts about looking for volunteers on their websites.

For big music festivals like Roskilde Festival, you can also sign up to volunteer alongside some of your friends and fellow students, so it becomes a social event in itself. This is how many Danish students finance their festivals, as it does get expensive otherwise on an SU.

Scheduling, punctuality and spontaneous hanging outs

Some things you might discover when being friends with the Danes is that the average Danish student like to schedule most things in their life, including their social time.

Since this is the norm, punctuality is valued, and you will be expected to at least let your friends know in advance when you are running late or have to cancel. Text messages are acceptable here, and cancelling “in good time” is considered to be polite if you realize you can’t meet up.

The scheduling also means that it can be a bit complicated to find time to make plans with your Danish friends on a short notice. Don’t take this as an insult or a dismissal of seeing you – try instead to suggest a date further into the future, so you both can make it.

Due to this; while the individual Danish student might be fine with spontaneous visits, your success rate for spontaneous plans are probably better if they are in the form of a “wanna do something later today” text, rather than you simply turning up on their doorstep because you were in the neighbourhood.

Danish Friends

– it is a process, not a magic fix.

Many Danes are still friends with people they go far back with; they might have friends from their primary school, high school or from their junior football team and scout patrols back when they were 10. Even though they might not tell you, many Danes think forming new friendships as grown-ups is just as complicated as you might find it. This is because we are primarily used to forming friendships in certain ways.

It’s worth remembering that Danes often distinguish between FRIENDS, who are understood to be the few you’re really close to, and then friends/acquaintances/classmates/colleagues, who are the people whom they know and are social with, but don’t hang out with just the two of them/don’t plan things exclusively with. The Danish word for friends “venner” tends to be used in a more exclusive way than the English term, and you might even hear a Dane say, “yeah, we hang out and it’s fun, but we’re not venner (yet)” about people they know. This does not mean that the person doesn’t appreciate hanging out with you, but that they aren’t close enough to qualify you as one of their exclusive venner.

So how to befriend the Danes?

– Like a Dane…

Most Danish students have met their friends through school, work, volunteering, sports and hobbies.

Even though they have met through a common activity, it is however rare to consider yourself friends right from the start. You do that activity “alongside” each other for a time; probably chatting casually and realizing you click and have fun together.

Maybe that leads to casual socialising, which still relates to the thing you do together, talking while biking home from sports, eating lunch together at school etc.
Then you go on to do something social – but not just the two of you, since you are still “getting to know each other”. These social things can be a party for your class, a trip for the sports club or with your hobby, a dinner for the entire volunteer crew. These are good ways to be social while still in the safe context of what you do “together”, which will make the Dane feel like the friendship is developing naturally and not something that they are being trapped into.

If alcohol is involved, that might speed up the process (sad but true), but it’s not a necessity.

After this social activity (or several of these), you can safely ask to do something social together that is separate from the activity which you initially met doing.

A word of warning though: Danes rarely say, “let’s have coffee” to people that they aren’t already good friends with. Having coffee in a café is often used as a way to catch up with people you already know. However; if you feel like having coffee with your new friend, try to invite them – they might very well say yes if they feel like they know you from your common activity.
Now you are entering the “good friends” territory and it’s perfectly normal to do things together without having to make up excuses to justify being around them.

Friendship tips

Be patient. Social relations with Danes tend to take a little a more time to form.

Join some clubs/projects/hobbies that you find fun and engaging. Doing things together is a great way to meet people.

Talk to people and go to the social gatherings of the things you’re involved with.

If the Danes seem closed off, remember that they might be trying to respect your private space or simply are shy or unsure. Approach them and see what happens.

Danes can also be shy and might find it just as hard to make friends as you do.

Don’t expect to jump straight to best friend territory immediately.

But do take the initiative and suggest doing stuff together.

Do the Danes even date?

– Cue: not really…

In all honesty, Danes don’t really date… not in the way you might be used to dating at least.

There is no “formalized” dating structure in Denmark, no unwritten rules about who-calls-who or who-pays-on-the-date? The arrival of various dating apps might have changed how often the Danes go on dates with people they don’t already know, but the word ‘date’ is still used just as often about an already established couple who have been together for awhile.

80% of all 19-year-old Danes have had sex – so please don’t expect your Danish date to be a virgin. It does not mean that they are bad people; sex is simply a natural thing for young people to have experienced in Denmark. You have sex-ed all through primary and high school, and it’s normal for Danish parents to let their teenagers’ boyfriends/girlfriends sleep over as well.

Remember to take care of yourself and use protection – condoms are the only things that protect you against sexually transmitted diseases. It’s your own responsibility to insist on using protection, don’t let your partner convince to skip it before you’re in a monogamous relationship and have been tested for STIs. And it’s not embarrassing to tell your sexual partner to use protection – though we admit it can be awkward for everyone, also for the Danes.

Also remember that though many Danes are sexually experienced, you have every right to enforce your own personal boundaries, and say yes and no to intimate activities depending on what you want.

No matter what, sexual intercourse requires consent from the involved partners, so always make sure to have that!

Please note that consumption of alcohol neither negates nor constitutes consent in a Danish legal context. So avoid drinking so much alcohol that you are no longer able to make safe and informed decisions about sex and your body. If you believe that you were sexually assaulted, there are clinics in all of the major Danish hospitals that are designed specifically for this purpose. You are and should feel safe to report it to the police.

Most people meet their romantic partners through friends, school, work or the clubs and organisations that they are a part of, meaning that they’ve often gotten to know that person before getting involved or starting to date.

The Danish word “kærester” is considered more serious and committed than “just” dating, and can mean both boyfriend and girlfriend as well as “live in partner” in many instances.

The awkward art of the Danish invitation:

If it’s bigger social events like a Friday bar or a class party, everyone in that context is considered invited. This means that you might not get an “official” invitation to these events, but you are still invited. If you are unsure about going by yourself, ask your fellow students if you’ll see them there, and make plans to meet up at the event.

For more private social events, you’ll normally be invited. If it’s a private party, it’s common courtesy to RSVP no matter if you can attend it or not.

When attending private parties or hanging out with an already established group of friends, it’s considered polite behaviour to ask before you bring someone outside the group along with you.

Explore your city

Meeting the Danes is also about doing activities “like the Danes” with your friends.

During the (short, but sweet) summer, most university cities in Denmark have a great outdoor life.

People take disposable grills out into the parks and have a low-key, social barbecue, bring wine and beer to the beach, go to outdoor movie screenings (often for free) in parks and play ballgames on the nearest patch of grass.
If there are outdoor sports facilities in your area, these are often also used for social purposes.

During the colder seasons you can still go for a walk outside (remember your raincoat and a warm sweater) or even go to the skating rinks that most cities have during winter.

All through the year there will be a ton of cultural and social events in all of the major Danish cities. These events can be various festivals (music, film, art, food), cultural happenings, carnivals or big block parties. Sometimes all of these are combined into big city-celebrations like Aarhus festuge or Golden Days in Copenhagen. Bring your friends, go out, explore what your local city has to offer and discover new experiences. Often these activities are for free or have student discounts on tickets. If not, it’s often possible to volunteer as well.

Even in the biggest cities in Denmark, there are rarely neighbourhoods that are actually dangerous for anyone to visit. Of course it’s a good idea to keep updated on whether there are tensions in your local area, but other than that you can safely assume that your city is safe. You should feel safe to explore the various neighbourhoods in your city and we recommend that you do so to ensure that you see and experience things outside of your university and home.

Maybe you’ll find beautiful street art, a hidden park or your new favourite pizza place?