Category Archives: Denmark

The Danes 5 – Working hours and work ethics

Danes at work 

So here we are again. While the rest of Europe is witnessing heavy storms and even snow in certain parts (in the middle of May I might add) good old Vikingia is witnessing ‘extremely’ good weather with 20 C temperatures and only partly cloudy skies.

This also means that the average Dane’s work drive  decreases proportionately with the rise of temperatures. But I guess that goes for everyone.

So when do Danes work, how much and most of all how do they work? Given that I work in the public sector, in academia, my observations might be one sided. However, some general observations can still be made by talking to other people and looking around in town.

When and how much do Danes work?

There used to be a saying when I was interning in Brussels ‘Nothing happens in Brussels before 10 o’clock’. And boy it was true. Most of the people started working or arriving to work at half past 9 am, staying in the office till 6 pm. It might sound like 8 and a half hours but one forgets the 1.5 hour long lunch break. Brussels followed the more French way of beginning work late, leaving work in the evening with a nice lunch/siesta in the middle.

The Danes are more used to the 8 am – 16 pm set-up. However, it is sometimes rare to find someone in the office at 8 am. Most of the people arrive around half past 8 and by 4 pm they are long gone. There is also a half an hour lunch break which unlike in Brussels, is kept really short. While in Brussels this is the time to pig out, and eat well, in Denmark most Danes eat a sandwich (or rye bread with lever paté, rugbrød med leverpostej) and keep the lunch break as short as possible.

leverpostej på rugbrød

If there is a meeting, Danes are quite punctual but I would not say that they are as punctual as Swiss. There is a general sense of being a bit laid back.

Like all around Western Europe the average working hours per week are decreasing. The average Dane works 35-37 h/week and unlike the workaholic Americans, they do quit the office before 4 pm (on Fridays before 3 pm). Also, Danes have a considerable amount of paid holidays as well as a lot of useless small public work-free days, such as Constitution Day (Grundlovsdag), Pentecost, Prayer Day (really???) and so on. If such a day falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, you bet that someone will have a nice long weekend taking Friday or Monday off as well. Also, given that a lot of jobs require a laptop, many Danes sometimes don’t even show up, as they are ‘working’ from home. Let’s believe that they do so.

One might ask how they can work so few hours but have such high wages. Well several explanations exist. The first one is that Danes are really efficient and they do the same work in less amount of time. Ammm…..Neeeaaahhhhh… The second explanation might be that most of the work has been done by their forefathers who set down a well-functioning system in the 60s and 70s and this generation is enjoying the benefits of a system where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A third explanation has to do with modern globalized economies. Many Western economies are the heads of economic octopuses that stretch their tentacles to many other countries. Let’s think of major/global Danish companies such as Tuborg, Carlsberg, Grundfos, Vestas etc. If as a company you manage to outsource the shitty work to low paying countries but keep the office jobs in your country, then you can afford to have well-paid office jobs in the home country and the taxes paid by these companies will produce great revenue in the home state.

I think the answer is all the above three combined, with the last two explanations being the key factors for high wages and low working hours. From what I have seen, I can say that there are people with way better working efficiency. Tough luck for us Eastern Europeans who have a 50 year old communist draw back and a 20 year old ‘transition’ period filled with Western privatizations and corrupt politicians.

Also, speaking at least from my experience as an inhabitant of the second biggest Danish city, the city dies after 6 pm. Yes, you got me right. After 6 o’clock it is muerto! The buses all of a sudden come as often as the Halley’s comet. Most supermarkets close by 8 pm and boutiques, stores close by 5 pm. Oh, and good luck finding a bank or public office open after 4 pm. This is extremely frustrating (plus a lot of shops are closed on Sundays) if you come from a place where you are used to non-stop shops, late opening hours etc.

How do Danes work?

If you ask an international person, the questions can vary but most will ask you. ‘What? Danes work?’. Like I said, the laid back attitude and the low amount of working hours and early closing times create the impression, that well, Danes don’t work. What I can say is that they have the best free-time/work ratio in the world; meaning that every Dane has enough time to go to work and has enough time for family, friends and hobbies. And I must admit, I do respect them for this, as you also have time to enjoy life.

hygge

But I think you can do this once your society has reached a point where the roads are built, the universities are well functioning, the hospitals are clean, the politicians are less/least corrupt. Once you have this stability, then you can work less and enjoy life. But try explaining this to a guy in India or a guy from Eastern Europe, that chillax dude. Life is good! Quite simply, a society can afford to be laid back, after some previous generations have busted their asses to reach that stage.

Another good thing in the work mentality is that any type of work is respected. Back home, you are a respectable citizen if you are a lawyer, doctor, architect. Here it is different. As long as it is honest work, it is accepted and not looked down upon. Also, the hierarchical relationship is latently present, but the boss-employee relationship is a lot more horizontal.

A thing, which I find weird and probably not as good for the individual, is the lack of support given to excellence. Due to the overly egalitarian Danish society, sometimes people who are more talented than others don’t receive any recognition for this. It is considered quite impolite, almost bragging, if you talk about a good result you’ve achieved at work. Sometimes it is more important to attend the common ‘group’ social activities than one’s ‘individual achievements’. I do personally feel that the Danes are not the most competitive of people and in general are not used to the more competitive and ‘let me climb up the ladder’ attitude of most foreign employees.

So there you have it, the Danish working hours and work mentality with its ups and downs. Would you like working like this?

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The Danes 4 – ‘Small talk’ and Danes – two parallels which can’t even intersect in the Bolyai type of hyperbolic space

chiacchierare

‘When in Rome, do like the Romans do’ or so they say. As you have probably guessed by now, the Danes are a particular bunch, even among other Scandinavians. I will focus today on whether Danes are familiar with the concept of ‘small talk’.

Everyone knows what ‘small talk’ is. The Italians love it and call it chiacchiera(re – if it is a vb), although besides chatting, it might also mean gossiping. I would say that the best at gossiping are 70 year old rural grannies in Transylvania sitting in front of their porch. Here I only want to write about the type of chatting, when you bump into someone and stop for a couple of minutes to catch-up and exchange a couple of benign words. You know, small talk. I personally cannot stand gossip and gossipers.

Well, apparently Danes are not really familiar with ‘small talk’. For example, if I bump into an Italian friend or acquaintance I consider it rude not to ask that person, how he’s doing or what has he/she been up to. And this is how a small conversation of several minutes starts and becomes what we call ‘small talk’.

I noticed at work that Danes never stop for a two minute catch-up. You can work with the same guy on a corridor for over a year and when you pass him, the only thing you will get is a bleak ‘Hi’ which has to be followed by an equally bleak ‘Hi’. At the beginning you think that maybe they don’t like you, or you are awkward, weird, or maybe they don’t like immigrants? But then you realize that they do this among themselves as well.

So I decided to do a little experiment at one point. I was already working in the same place for over 6 months and to be honest was quite annoyed by this whole ‘Hi’-‘Hi’ thing. So at one point, when one of my colleagues said ‘Hi’, I stopped and asked him ‘Well, how are you on this fine morning?’ What followed reminded me off the typical weirdo guy in school, who sits in the back of the class and when you approach him, doesn’t know what to say. Or maybe, the 15 year old kid who gets to speak to the love of his life for the first time, but whatever comes out of his mouth is just wrong. I was amazed to see that grown-up people in their 40s suddenly could not find a word to say.

I could already see the scenario in his head ‘Oh Gosh! Oh Gosh! Should I say I am fine? Or amm, the weather is nice or amm….’ And this is how you end up with the most weird conversation of ‘well the weather was nice in the weekend and I was at a BBQ on Saturday’, skipping the part where you have to say ‘Fine, thank you. What about you?’ and after that I would ask ‘So what have you been up to this weekend?’

After this I did the same ‘empirical’ research with several other colleagues and got equally awkward answers. Danes simply don’t small talk for a couple of minutes. If you have something to say to them it has to relate to your work or they might come to your office to ask you a favor, about work of course. Or you might convince one of them to join you at the Friday Bar (it is a more rare occasion than spotting an extinct Dodo bird), although he/she will probably leave in 1 h, because many ‘important’ things need to be done, such as probably vacuuming on the wive’s orders.

So my dear Danes, I am trying to bridge this social gap but it doesn’t seem to work with ‘small talk’. Next time, we’ll look at how to become a ‘member of the group’.

The Key to Danish Happiness

In my previous post I wrote about the Scandinavian success model and this time I thought of writing about Danish happiness. According to the 2013 Forbes list for the happiest countries in the world, Denmark ranks second in the world after Norway and followed by Sweden. “Well it figures” some might say after reading the last post on the Nordic success model. This list is based on the Legatum Institute’s prosperity index, which analyses 89 factors in 8 categories: economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, personal health, safety, personal freedom and social capital. These studies follow strict methodological rules and look at factors that are mainly rigid and appear in every possible sociological survey.

Happiness chart

from: http://www.prosperity.com/RankingTable-1.aspx

Last year I heard the speech of a CEO (forgot his name, but remembered the message) and he states that a truly happy person is the one who manages to balance family, friends, health, personal ambitions and the workplace. So I thought of looking at these factors in the Danish context and whether there is more to it than meets the eye.

Family – Without generalizing, the average Danish family follows the Nordic family pattern. Kids start doing side-jobs in their teenage years and the child mostly leaves home at 18, 19 years of age. Of course there are other examples as well. For certain people, coming from cultures where the family is so tight knit, that it becomes suffocating, the Nordic families might strike them as colder. It does not mean that the parents do not care about the kid, but it means that parents realize that the kid needs to become independent and learn to live by him/herself. Of course this is easier in a system with a stable economy, part-time jobs and study-financing. Quite frankly a lot of my 26, 27 year old friends from home still live in the parental home for not having to pay extra rent from the already low salaries.

Friends – As said last time, the Danes have a ‘group mentality’. If you are part of the ‘group’ you are okei, but don’t even plan on going to a party uninvited, as a lost international, because they will ask you rudely to leave (happened to me twice). So yes, they are happy with the friends from the ‘group’, but in general will not make too much effort to open up for others. “We already got our gang. Why do we need someone extra”. This holds also true with how Danes relate to people. I asked my teacher during Danish class, whether she thinks it’s normal to go to a 4 day workshop with Danish colleagues, have a good time, drink etc and the other day they pretend they don’t even know you. The answer was “Why should I care about you the next day, just because we had a good time the day before”. So, you can draw the conclusions.

Personal health – I will not be too critical about the Danes in this regard as in general they do exercise a lot, bike, jog and a lot of middle or third aged people go to the gym. Of course you have plenty of people who don’t and they are known for using too much salt and have a ‘sweet tooth’, but in general they take fairly good care of their personal health.

Personal ambitions and leisure – Now the first part might be a bit of an oxymoron in a society that teaches you not to be better than your peer. So what ‘ambitious’ means for a Dane might mean something completely else to a foreigner. Quite frankly, I find Danish people good at what they do, but not overly ambitious. As to free time, Denmark ranks the 4th in the world on the OECD list when it comes to the ratio between work time and leisure time. And it is true that the average Dane works 35-37 h/ week and has plenty of time for the family and personal hobbies. And a lot of people do have personal hobbies, whether traveling, sailing, running, cycling, sauna clubs etc.

Workplace – Whatever job you do, it will pay extremely well in Nordic countries and will allow anyone to have a decent living. You will not have your brand new Mercedes (especially due to the horrible taxes to register a car) but you will afford yourself many things. As said before, Danes don’t strike me as the most ambitious and this can have repercussions on your work life. Firstly, you should not be too ambitious at work, yet alone talk about it. You should be a bit average and attending common workplace social events are sometimes more important than your personal achievements. I am an ambitious person who needs competition, so the Danish system might be too lax for me. Secondly, Danes are not critical and I do believe that sound and good criticism leads to better work as long as it is not overdone.

But there is something still missing. If you walk down on the streets of Sicily you see smiley faces, people who are fairly warm to you and who have a natural sense of what happiness means. And I think this is where the key lies. Happiness is relative and it depends on what people are used to. The subtleties in life differ from region to region. I am ethnically Hungarian and there is a saying that when God created the Hungarian, he said go enjoy the good things in life. So we like a good wine, a good meal and a hot blooded woman (over generalizing again). But what a Dane finds happy, an Italian might not. To be frank I would call it ‘blissful ignorance’. Quite simply Danes are used to being happy in their own environment, which for others has amazingly bad weather, cold people and tasteless food. So if a Dane was born into this, of course he will be happy with what this country has to offer in terms of weather, food, people plus all the economic factors the afore-mentioned survey listed. However, this will not make an Italian or Hungarian guy happy, who is used to better weather, food and warmer people.

The interesting thing is talking to Danes who lived many years abroad in countries where these three factors are different. They don’t behave like Danes anymore 😉 Once you get the taste of ‘honey’, it stays.

Aarhus, 29 April 2013

The Scandinavian Success Model

nordic council 

When we talk about the Scandinavian region, the first images that probably pop-up in our heads are red bearded Vikings, Swedish supermodels, Finnish mobile phones, the Northern Oil Emirates of Norway, Danish beers and Icelandic geysers. However, there is more to the story. This region, lying between the latitudes where wine is not produced anymore and where polar bears start showing up their furry faces, is one of the most economically stable and prosperous regions. Countries in this area regularly top the charts of human development, education or freedom to conduct business. But why did this region become so successful, given that the climate is harsh, the people cold and grumpy (although the Danes like to boast that they are the happiest on the Planet; just look at their faces on the bus) and the food is not exactly on top of my ‘must eat list’ (unless you prefer liver paté with onions and fish-balls).

Well in order for a society to prosper factors such as natural resources, social cohesion, religion, moral codes, education and so on play an important role. Let’s start with some of them.

a)      Natural resources – When it comes to natural resources, Denmark is not the ‘richest’ of the Northern lands. It is tiny, flat and has a bit of coal, wind for energy and some oil in the North Sea, but not too much. On the other hand, countries like Finland and Sweden are almost the size of or bigger than Germany (which is huge in European terms) and have vast forests, coal, iron and even fairly good agricultural lands in Southern Sweden. But the all-time big winners are the Northern Oil Emirates of Norway. The former underdogs, who were either ruled by the Swedes or the Danes or both, became the 4th biggest producers of petroleum in the world and one of the biggest producers of natural gas. So naturally they became the richest of the five. So the first big factors are natural resources and surface area. As we can see, the tiny and resource scarce Denmark is ‘poorer’ (whatever that means here) than the way larger and oil rich Norway. However, we also forget that the Kingdom of Denmark is still sovereign of the autonomous Greenland and with the opening of the Northern Ice-caps we might just see some Danish oil interests popping up on the shores of Greenland.

b)     Small population, social cohesion and trust – Now, if we check the demographics, Sweden tops the charts with a whopping 9.5 million inhabitants. For a country which is 20% bigger than Germany, it has the population of Paris. Denmark, Norway and Finland follow with their 5.5 million inhabitants, and Iceland has the population of a smaller city (they even have a website where you can check if someone is your relative so you accidentally don’t end up with your cousin after a couple of rounds of beer). Therefore, the amount of resources that these countries have (and they are quite vast) only have to be split among a small number of people. If we look at the current ethnic set-up, around 20% of the people are not Scandinavian (not counting Finland). But this is only due to the last 20-30 years of immigration. The bases of these societies were laid down by small populations, which were ethnically almost homogenous (not counting some Samis up in the north and some Germans in Southern Denmark). Therefore, the number of people and the type of people that had to be convinced to follow a certain social model was quite low. It is easier to convince 3, 4 million people in the 1950s and 60s, belonging to the same ethnic group, to follow a modern type of rich socialism, then to do so in a country of 50 million, which is also ethnically heterogeneous.

The other extremely important element is social trust. I cannot but emphasize how important this is. Some say it is dwindling in the last years, but for a person who comes from a system where the last one you trust is your government, Scandinavian countries are just a different thing. People trust their Government, the Government trusts the people and people trust one another. Given their historically small and homogenous groups, this might explain why trust is so high among people belonging to the group, but so low when it comes to people coming outside of the group. It takes ages until you befriend a Scandinavian, but if you do so, it stays for life. Social trust is also beneficial for business. I was amazed to find out that most business transactions in Denmark are carried out without lawyers and complicated contracts. Therefore, transaction costs are way lower. 

c)      Religion and moral conduct – now you might think why this is important, in societies that are more atheists than religious. Well because a lot of the morals that underline our societies came through religion, whether we admit it or not. And until recently, these countries were not just ethnically but religiously homogenous. Try explaining to someone like me, who comes from a city with 7 historic religious groups that in Scandinavian countries there are still concepts such as state religion, state church etc. The predominant Lutheran, protestant religion had also an effect on the working mentality and moral structure. All protestants know that you have to work hard but then again feel guilty for the wealth you acquired, so you have to give away some of it. The puritan-protestant model can also be seen in the northern states of the US and in general in the northern parts of Europe, which until this day are economically the most developed ones. Minus the catholic Austria and parts of Catholic German Switzerland and Southern Germany. But they are Germans, so quite efficient regardless of religion.

Another unwritten moral code is of course the Jante Laws. This is a set of commandments every good Scandinavian should follow, such as ‘You’re not to think you are anything special; You’re not to think you know more than us.’ It is an extremely important part of Scandinavian morals and society. And this can be seen at the workplace and during education where everyone is given equal chances and opportunities and you cannot boast or brag about your own achievements. You are as good as the ‘group’. Now tell this to a person who was used to always striving for more and being better than the ‘group’ he came from. As good as it is from a societal point of view I have two big comments. Firstly, it dis-favors individuals who excel as they will never get any reward for this. So you might kill excellence. Secondly, this mentality works in the Scandinavian ‘group’ but as anyone who has been living here for a while you will notice that the Scandinavian ‘group’ as such feels better than all the others. So these rules only apply within their group but they will make sure that you know that ‘they’ are better, than ‘you’ (plural).

d)     Education and Innovation – any successful society needs a high level of education and especially Finnish students are among the best in the world. In general Scandinavian youth is well educated and you can talk to them about various topics. This is also backed-up by free education and study-grants which are given to every student, and in countries like Denmark they can amount to 700 euros a month (and are non-refundable). Leaving university one finds that research is seriously backed-up and researchers, post-docs, doctoral fellows are paid proper wages just as any other employee. The principle is quite simple: you cannot create proper research and innovation on an empty stomach. And these countries rank high when it comes to innovation concerning the environment, reforestation, recycling, renewable energies, microbiology and so on.

 

e)      Language – Language is an important factor as well. Let’s not forget that the four Scandinavian languages are all related and at least in a written form Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are mutually understandable. Plus Icelanders learn Danish in school just as Finns learn Swedish. Besides this all Scandinavians speak excellent English (some German and French) so this means that new ideas can be dispersed more quickly and business can be done on a global scale.

f)       Taxes and wealth redistribution – Taxes in all of these countries are quite high if not too high in certain countries like Denmark. People are also taxed progressively so the higher the income the more tax you have to pay. This means that wealth is redistributed at such a level that anyone earning money in one of these countries can have a decent living. This also reflects in the attitude towards work. Scandinavians are proud of any type of work they do, while in other countries certain jobs are looked down on. Besides this, the high amount of taxes provides for free education, study grants, pensions, free health-care and a social net that makes it impossible not to have a decent living. The downside of such an overly generous system is that a lot of free riders can and do abuse the system and earn more money from all sorts of benefits than an actual employed person. Study grants give everyone equal chances at getting a proper education in life but this also means that a certain number of students will ‘stay’ students as long as they can get free money from the state.

g)      International cooperation and trade – Vestas, Grundfos, IKEA, Tuborg, Volvo, Carlsberg, Nokia and Statoil are just some of the internationally renowned Scandinavian businesses. All of these countries rank high when it comes to freedom of doing business and a combination of educated people, speaking foreign languages and innovating researchers, means that such companies can prosper on a global scale, bringing some of the proceeds back home. Also, all five countries are part of the European Economic Zone, three are EU Members and all of them form part of the Nordic Council. This latter means that there is a small EU within the EU and people coming from these 5 countries can easily resettle and work in any other. Besides Finland, the rest of the countries kept their currency (the Danish Kroner is pledged to the euro though) and their banks are not so exposed (not counting Iceland). The Northern Oil Emirates of Norway are even one of the biggest lenders of money, without any sovereign debt. Besides their openness to international trade and cooperation, at least Denmark and Norway are quite good at protecting their own markets, with high-level market entry barriers and quite a bad record on behalf of Denmark with complying with EU rules or opting out of many policy areas. Sweden also has state monopoly on alcohol. So besides their openness to foreign trade, they also keep their Scandinavian reserved character and try protecting the local markets as much as possible.

So there you have it. The countries that 100 years ago were mainly eating herrings and potatoes are now leading global economies. So if you don’t mind the cold and the Scandinavian cold character you might just come to one of these countries, as they seem to cope quite well with the crisis.

Aarhus, 25 April 2013

The Danes 3 – Bureaucracy

Denmark is no exception to bureaucracy, so before you start doing anything, take care of bureaucracy first! It might take a while, but in the end it will work out. Although you might get some white hair during the process

I. THE CPR NUMBER – THE ‘MAGIC PILL’ FOR EVERYTHING

 When moving to Denmark, there are three institutions you need to pay a visit:

aStatsforvaltnings (State management/Registration Office) – in order to legally live in Denmark, non-EU citizens need a ‘residence permit’ and EU citizens, staying for more than 3 or 6 (in case of job seekers) months, need a ‘registration certificate’.

b.  Borgerservice (Citizens Service) – once you have the residence permit/registration certificate you have to go to the town hall in order to get registered and receive the Danish Social Security number (CPR number).

In the same time you will need to choose a General Practitioner and you will receive a ‘yellow card’ (health insurance card) in your mail after 2 weeks

Important – You cannot have a CPR number without the residence permit/registration certificate!!!

The CPR number provides access to your bank account, library, university facilities, public institutions! You need one to exist!

c. SKAT (tax authorities)every person in Denmark has a tax card. For university employees this is withheld by the university, but you still need to register at SKAT.

d. International Citizens Service !!!there is a brand new ONE STOP OFFICE in Aalborg, Aarhus and Copenhagen, where there is a representative from all three above mentioned institutions and you do all your paperwork in 1 day!!

Be aware that if you do not choose ICS the whole procedure can take up to 1 month, a period in which you cannot open a bank account, and thus have no salary

II. BANK ACCOUNT – NO ACCOUNT NO SALARY

–          In Denmark you can only open a bank account, once you have your CPR number!
–          It takes approximately 5-10 working days to open a bank account
–          All information will be received by post (PIN number, cards etc.)
–          You shall also receive a NEM ID, which is a set of codes you will use to login to your bank account or when taking care of bureaucracy matters online (tax, registration etc.)
–          Be aware that in the first 3 months you will only get a provisional card which in many cases is not accepted in all places!!!
–          Only after the bank is sure that you are here to stay for a longer period of time (generally they look at whether you have received at least three salaries) you may apply to get a VISA DANKORT, which is accepted everywhere
–          Opening a bank account at Danske Bank costs 300 DKK (40 euros) which shall be deducted from you first salary
–          The two most widely used banks in Denmark are Danskebank and Nordea
–          Every employed person in Denmark has a mandatory NEM Konto (account) which means that the authorities can check your account when there is suspicion of tax fraud.

III.  EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT AND SALARY

–          Make sure you give your CPR number to the salary department and make sure they note it down correctly → in Denmark the authorities know your account (NEM Konto) by simply providing them your CPR number
–          the salary arrives on the last working day of the month
–          the amount stated in the contract is the gross amount – for.e.g. at a PhD level the overall taxes and contributions for the gross amount shall be around 42%

IV. CHANGING THE ADDRESS

 –          When you have changed your address you will need to notify this to the Borgerservice because you will receive a new yellow card
–          It is possible to do it online or by simply going there
–          You will also need to go to the Post office and fill out a form with your old and new address

Aarhus, 16 Nov 2012

 

The Danes 2 – Socializing in Denmark

Wait? Say what? Oh, yeah… socializing in Denmark. Where should I even start?

Well let’s begin with the fact that this is the sixth country I live in (and I am only 25) so if I learnt one thing over the years, is how to interact with people, regardless of colour, creed or nationality. There are some basic human needs (I am not talking about our basic instincts 😛 ) you have to take care of when you move to a new country, in this order: a roof above your head, food in the fridge and socializing. Then comes money, hobbies, personal fitness and so on. If one of these elements is lacking, then your stay in the new country might not be the best one. So for this reason the average international traveler, student or worker like me learns really fast that you need to adapt, be open and friendly with members of the new culture.

If I were to grade my level of socialization over the years I spent abroad, my Erasmus year in Utrecht would be on top of the list and at this current moment, after three months of living here, Denmark would be at the bottom of the list.

I do know that my status changed. I am not a student anymore. I am a university employee but I still live in the town in Denmark with the highest number of students and I do live in a campus building. And still…What is wrong with socializing in this country?

I will give you some examples:

  1.  Apparent fear and lack of eye contact – this is more often to be found when speaking to the older generation, but also very often with young people as well. Seemingly, a lot of Danish people are frightened to speak to a stranger and will do everything possible to avoid eye contact. I was even in situations where they would just say a frightened “Hi” and felt like I was in kindergarten and was talking to the socially awkward kid.
  2. Hei, we are going for a beer. FULL STOP – another feature of Danish socializing, which I find weird and even offending, is how people you already know, live with or work with act towards you like a complete stranger. It happened to me on numerous times that people will say the typical “Hei. So we are going for a beer/watch the game/a movie” and they stop. At this point you are waiting for the more than obvious question: “Would you like to join/Come with us?”. But this you will only hear in your head or dreams. I had the chance that after 2,5 months of living on a campus full of young people (!!!!) the guy living next by asked me whether I wanted to join him for a beer.
  3.  You are not part of the group attitude! – Germanic people are not like southerners. Period! I don’t care how many people I might offend but foreigners living in Germanic countries (whether Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands or Germany) will find it difficult to be part of “the group”. And this group attitude is evident when you live in Denmark as well. We are happy within our group, thank you! We do not want anyone else and we will notice that you exist but pretty much ignore you. It happened to me twice on campus that I heard that there was a party downstairs and went down to grab a beer. And slam in my face. “Ammm. Sorry, this is a private party and ammm you are not invited!”. Well now, put a bloody sign up moron. The first time I kindly smiled and left. The second time this happened I told the guy to go f… himself.
  4.  Hei. I’ve been living in Denmark for 3 years and I still don’t have Danish friends – This is another weird situation. I first noticed it in the Netherlands that although I lived there for 2 years, the number of Dutch people I would classify as friends is extremely lowww. And it looks like the same is true for the Danes. I met a number of people who have been living here for 2-3 years and the answer is the same. We don’t have Danish friends!
  5.  Lack of conversation – First I thought that this can only happen to foreigners, but it seems that it is the same among them as well. I have already written about how silent buses are (and a French guy even wrote in a comment that on some blue buses they even have quiet zones…Like it wasn’t quiet enough 😉 ). I have also noticed it at work or the gym as well that people just don’t know how to hold a normal conversation. And if you stop talking they will end the conversation.
  6.  Not being outspoken – There are many things I don’t like about Dutch people, but the one trait I do like is that they are straight forward and outspoken. Sometimes even rude. But they can simply tell you to f..k off because they don’t like you. I see that it is different with the Danes. You never here a proper opinion and a lot of times people just smile and you don’t know what impression you left on them.

So the list could follow, but it is enough for now. I hope it is only because I have been here for three months (strangely I spent less than 5 months in South Africa and I still have a couple of people I regularly talk to) and it might change over time. We’ll see. But I am not getting my hopes high.

Next topic, “The system”.

The Danes 1 – Unwritten rules on the bus.

God morgen (Goad mouuuen’) everyone. It’s been almost 3 months since I moved to Aarhus, Denmark, the second biggest city and one of the main university towns of the country. Now, I might have some excuses why I haven’t written anything about them in the meantime (bureaucracy, my PhD work, travels etc.) but I got “me” inspiration today on the bus to write about the Danish  habits on different means of public transportation, more specifically “the bus” (buset).

The idea really came when on Saturday night I was grabbing a beer (and sobbing over Bayern München’s defeat in the C.L. final) with some Danish friends (that is the next topic). We were discussing Danish socializing habits (are there any, one might ask?) and my friend told me that some researchers compared Spaniards and Danes on the bus. It turned out that Danes would only sit down next to another person, if there were no double empty seats left on the bus. It did not matter if it was in the back of the bus and you had to stumble your way through bags, grandmas and occasionally stepping on someone’s kid. The Spanish on the other hand, would sit down next to another guy on the bus, even if there was only one guy and all the seats were empty. It says a lot doesn’t it?

So I told myself, this is definitely true. I mean, I personally see it all the time. Today I made a small experiment. I got on the bus through the back door and was “too lazy” to go to the completely empty seats in the front, so I set down next to a bloke in the back of the bus (while there were completely empty seats in the front!!!). I got some funny stares. 😀

Another unwritten rule (besides sitting down next to people who might think you will bite them or something) is how you get on the bus. And in the province of Eastern Jylland (don’t say the English “Jutland” as it really sounds much better in Danish) you have two types of buses. The blue (blå) ones, which go outside of town and technically get the people from the adjacent small towns and the yellow (gul) ones which are for the city only.

Now it took me a while to get used to it. On the blue bus you always get on from the driver’s door (don’t even try sneaking up through the back-door when passengers are getting off) as you have to show your ticket/pass. Then you move towards the back of the bus (and maybe sit down next to someone, with the risk of getting “THE STARE”) and finally get of through the back-door.

On the yellow buses the story is the other way around. You get on through the back door (as that’s where the ticket vending machine is and technically no one ever checks for it on a yellow line) and like a nice flowing stream you move towards the front of the bus, and exit by the driver’s door.

Now this can lead to some confusion on the yellow buses, because if you are in the back of the bus but it is too crowded to shove yourself through to the front, then can you get off through the back door? Well sometimes you can, but if there is no passenger to be picked up at the stop, the driver might not open the back door, so just make your way through grandmas, grocery bags and kids to the front of the bus.

Next topic will be Danish socialization !

Aarhus, 21.05.2012

P.S. – and don’t be loud on the bus! Especially on the blue buses it is silent as if you were in a morgue or something 🙂