So you’re coming to Denmark. Lucky you! What a beautiful country full of gorgeous wide-open spaces, castles, Vikings and a capital chock-full of fairy tale charm where royals still rule and mermaids may swim. But, what is life actually like here in Denmark? Not sure what else to expect? Here to help. Here’s a little list of 65 decidedly Danish things that I have learned while living in Denmark for the past seven years.
Take a gander. Or a duckling. Even the ugly ones are pretty here.
Originally posted May 2017, updated 2021
65 Things I’ve Learned While Living In Denmark
EATING IN DENMARK | NOT JUST NEW NORDIC
#1 | Sandwiches have no tops, nor do some bathers at the beach.
#2 | Smørrebrød means buttered bread. But it rarely is. This classisk open-faced sandwich can be topped with anything. Like pickled herrings. Or potatoes. Or fried fish. Or shrimps in mayonnaise. Or raw beef and raw egg. It’s delicious. You should try one. Or two. Or more.
READ MORE: COPENHAGEN SERVES THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SANDWICHES IN THE WORLD
#3 | Danishes as you know them are not called danishes here. They are called wienerbrød. Vienna bread. They are not actually Danish. Surprise!
#4 | Porridge is a category of cuisine in and of itself.
#5 | Bread is dark and brown, grainy and chewy.
#6 | A loaf of rugbrød, this dark rye bread, could be used possibly as a weapon if needed. It’s that dense.
#7 | Milk is sold in nothing larger than 1-liter cartons.
#8 | There are 8,192 different varieties of yogurt products for sale. (I counted. Just kidding. But it’s close.)
#9 | Fish eggs are a delicacy here. So is eating the entire sack of eggs. Boiled. Then sliced.
#10 | Burgers are big here, not their size, but popularity. You only eat them with a knife and fork and rarely during the meal will you put down your utensils, potentially even using them as an extension of your conversation. The knife, not the burger.
#11 | You MUST put down the divider after your groceries on the belt at the shop. Seriously. It’s a rule. That no one tells you.
RELATED: 5 MOST UNIQUELY DANISH FOODS
DANISH HOME LIFE
#12 | When you rent an apartment, it comes devoid of any light fixtures. A slight challenge when you move in December and there are only 7 hours of daylight.
#13 | All home interiors are painted the same shade of white. Maybe to combat that lack of daylight issue come winter.
#14 | Danes take home decor very seriously. And they are exceptionally good at it.
#15 | Signs outside apartment buildings that kindly ask for no dog poop, usually get the most piles of poop on the street.
IT’S JUST LIKE RIDING A BIKE
#16 | Everyone knows how to ride a bike here. Over 50% of people commute to work/school by bike.
#17 | As soon as you learn to walk, you are thrust atop a strider bike to learn the balance.
#18 | I have never seen a bike with training wheels, but the tiniest humans zip by on the littlest cycles.
#19 | There are specific signals for biking here. They’re not what you think. They are actually very straightforward. Use them. Or get dinged. The bell is real.
#20 | Don’t walk onto the bike lane without looking. It’s dangerous. For us all.
#21 | There are more bicycles than humans in Copenhagen.
RELATED: DING! DING! Bike Etiquette in Copenhagen
SEE A SUSTAINABLE CITY IN ACTION ON A GREEN BIKE TOUR
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE
#22 | Everyone speaks English. Unless you are in small town in Jutland.
#23 | The Danglish accent is not definitive. It depends on where you learned English.
#24 | Danish lessons used to be free when you moved here. Now you pay a deposit.
(Note: as of July 2020, they’ll be free again, but with a refundable deposit.)
#25 | To say hello you say hej. Sounds like “hi.” To say goodbye you say hej hej. Or just hej. Don’t get confused.
#26 | In Danish, y’s are pronounced like the letter u. Nyhavn is not NIGH-HAVEN. It’s more like nu-hown. G’s are pronounced like y’s. And don’t get me started trying to pronounce d’s. There is no correlation. You just have to learn it.
#27 | You can express agreement by sucking in air here. It is a gasping sound, that at first, makes you think the person is shocked. They’re not. It’s a Danish way of nodding. Yep, I’m listening. Gasp.
#28 | Swearing is perfectly acceptable. Danes favorite English word is F*#k.
#29 | Danes don’t have a word for please. But they have a thousand ways to say thank you. Tak. Thanks. Tusind tak. A thousand thanks. (My personal favorite.) Mange tak. Many thanks. Tak for sidst. Thanks for the last time. Tak for mad. Thanks for the food. And on and on.
#30 | Tak for kaffe doesn’t really mean thanks for the coffee. It’s more like OMG in Danish. No way. Yes! Way.
RELATED: COPENHAGEN’S COZIEST PLACES TO GET COFFEE
#31 | To use a public swimming pool, there are explicit instructions on how to correctly wash all your bits. It’s communally enforced.
#32 | But public urination is ok.
#33 | Public nakedness is ok. No washing required.
#34 | Public drinking is ok.
#35 | These may or may not be mutually exclusive.
READ MORE: BEST PLACES TO GET A DRINK OUTSIDE IN COPENHAGEN
#36 | Rated R movies are perfectly acceptable for anyone aged 15+ here.
#37 | You can buy alcohol at 16, but you can’t go into a bar until 18. But public drinking is ok. Remember?
#38 | You don’t cross the street here when the light is red. Even if there is nary a car ANYWHERE in sight. It’s the rules.
#39 | Despite the love of structure and following the rules here, Danes are not great at queuing for the bus or train. It’s first come first serve around here.
RELATED: PARENTING TEENS IN DENMARK
WANT TO LOOK LIKE A DANE?
#40 | The wardrobe is black. Unless it’s white. Maybe dark, dark grey.
#41 | Buying used clothing is acceptable. Vintage is better. But the shoes. Those are BRAND NEW. Don’t mess with my trainers.
#42 | Oversized clothing is the norm. Unless it’s jeans. Then those are painted on. Jeggings work on men and women.
#43 | And don’t forget the shades. Those are key. And must be cool.
#44 | You can wear your heels while biking. And fur. And dresses and suits. Lycra? That’s for the weekend. And the other bike.
LIVING IN DENMARK
#45 | Your Danish CPR card allows you access to all the wonderful government afforded programs, like free healthcare.
#46 | Your CPR card is not only your medical card, but your library card, your tax number, your only access to a bank account, a cell phone contract and even an apartment lease. Big brother can track nearly every aspect of your life with that little number. Don’t lose your yellow card.
#47 | Every Friday is for candy. You make an outing to procure Fredagslik. Danes have some of the highest per capita consumptions of candy in the world. (This statistic does not include chocolate. Just candy.)
#48 | It feels like half of the candy sold here is some form of black licorice. That makes about half of the people here happy.
#49 | You can buy sweet licorice, salty licorice, licorice caramel, licorice gummies, licorice mints, licorice gum, licorice ice cream, licorice cookies, licorice pastries, licorice cough drops, licorice tea, licorice-flavored nuts, dates with licorice, licorice jam, licorice liqueurs and just plain licorice powder to add to all of your recipes to make them taste like like – you guessed it – licorice.
#50 | To combat all that sugar consumption, there is luckily a lot of organic produce readily available. At the grocery store, the organic options are packed in plastic to keep it from touching the conventional counterparts.
#51 | All that plastic and the rest of your garbage is burned here. That heats up water which is then pumped into your house and heats your home. Those pipes are sometimes too hot to touch.
#52 | There are advertisements on the bus for plastic surgery centers which include several real-life examples of bare breasts to choose from.
#53 | Mads Mikkelsen is everyone’s favorite actor. (Ok, maybe just mine currently.) But he’s Danish didn’t you know?
#54 | When the sun is out – no matter the season – Danes are outside with faces turned skyward. They will eat outside bundled in wool and scarves and fleece blankets to get that vitamin D.
CELEBRATING THE YEAR IN DENMARK
#55 | New Year’s Day is the only public holiday in Denmark that isn’t connected to an important church day. Still, most Danes are not actively religious.
READ MORE: COPENHAGEN HAS THE BEST NEW YEAR’S EVE IN THE WORLD
#56 | Kristi Himmelfart’s Day is a public holiday, but it doesn’t celebrate a famous Dane named Kristi. See point above.
#57 | It is not a proper celebration in Denmark if it doesn’t involve kage. Cake. And singing.
READ MORE: HOW TO INVITE DANES TO A PARTY
#58 | Halloween did not exist in Denmark until about 10 years ago. Danes have Fastelavn which they celebrate before Lent in February where children dress in costumes and play the ancient ritual – beat the cat out of a barrel. Or they used to. Now they just whack barrels filled with candy. Lucky cats.
#59 | If you break part of the barrel first, you are the kattedronning. Cat Queen. If you break the last board down, you are the kattekonge. Cat King. Both win a paper crown to wear for the day.
#60 | You can go your whole life and never win Cat Queen or Cat King. Or find the whole almond in the risalamande at Christmas. But it’s ok. You have hygge. You are happy. It’s Denmark.
#61 | Hygge is real. Candy can be part of it. But not all of it.
READ MORE: SUMMER HOUSE HYGGE
#62 | Candles help. You survive the dark winter. But you here, you will end up lighting them all year round.
#63 | Danish Christmas rocks. If you accept the ritual. Don’t mess with Danish Christmas.
#64 | Winter bathing is a thing here. Even when water temps reach near freezing. It’s good for the circulation and it makes you glad i låget! Happy in the lid.
RELATED: DON’T MESS WITH DANISH CHRISTMAS DINNER
#65 | Danes may seem private, a challenge to befriend or even downright aloof. But keep trying. They don’t chat at the grocery store. Or on the bus. But once you get to know them, they are truly super interesting, funny, warm, crazy generous, loyal and up for most anything. At least once.
READ MORE: PENCIL ME IN | HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS IN DENMARK
Velkommen til Danmark. Welcome to Denmark. Want to know more? Pick up one of these books about living Danishly.
25 thoughts on “65 Things You Need to Know About Life In Denmark”
Mange tak for this post 😉 You made this Dane laugh out loud! These are SO spot on but as a Dane I find that these behaviors have been instilled in my from such early age that I mainly reflect on them when I’m traveling.
Like when recently was in Barcelona and in a posh store my friends and I ended up chatting with another customer, and afterwards we all agreed that had we done so in Denmark she would have sighed, rolled eyes while swiftly backing away from us thinking “looneys!”
Tusind tak! Happy to hear a Danish seal of approval!
Lovely post ? I am very lucky to have a good friend who is Danish and lovely and funny and interesting and so welcoming. I hate licorice and seeing it in so many different flavours ?I brought some of the salted stuff back for my daughter who took one bite and went urghhhhh! I really like Denmark and will be back for a fourth visit at some point! Hej hej ?
Love it! So true <3
Erin, I LOVE this post so much I shared it with my friends! So many interesting fact I had no clue about, and I love your sense of humor too. I’ll share it in my monthly favorite’s post, if I may. 🙂
I’d love that – thanks Nano!
Hi! This is Natasha Fernandez and I’ve learnt alot after reading this site. I was planning on moving to Denmark and wanted to know who to get in ouch with. I would greatly appreciate if someone would reply to my request.
very interesting to read! I didn’t know they were so much into candy:)
Pretty close, made me smile,
Haha! Tak skal du have! Thanks for the comment – cheers, Erin
Love this post! Thanks for writing it!
Thank you kindly! Cheers from Copenhagen!
HOW CAN A STRANGER LIVE IN DANMARK?
If by stranger, you mean foreigner – there are many ways to be able to live in Denmark. Work and education are the main ways. See more here https://lifeindenmark.borger.dk/Coming-to-Denmark . A great resource for moving and setting up life here in Denmark.
I like what you wrote, I will be landing in Copenhagen on September 3rd, I’m flying from Spokane Washington in the United States ,my name is John, my family has a castle there. I’ve been waiting all my life to see where my Viking for fathers grew up. I know I have relatives there but I don’t know any of them. The castle is a very beautiful castle it has a moat and drawbridge a mead Hall and a museum. They’r having a celebration on the 3rd with a car and motorcycle show including food Mead music show and fireworks at the end. They don’t know I’m coming or that the 3rd is my birthday, going to film the whole thing making a documentary movie should be lots of fun ?
Sounds like a very fun surprise! As the Danes say Tillykke med fødselsdagen! Congratulations with your birthday!
This was sooo good! I laughed! I lived in Norway 3 years and coming from Mexico -a warm country, both in weather and culture- it was very enjoyable and yet a bit hard. I love Denmark and I was thinking maybe it will be less “cold” since it has people from different backgrounds and the big cities are more alive, but reading this is just funny to see how much these 2 scandi countries are alike. I’m used to coffee shops, shopping malls and maybe take some fun classes, but I do enjoy lots of hygge time at home :). Are you still in Denmark? I’ll tour your blog and take a look what you’re up to these days!
Yes! I’m still in Denmark! We do love it here. Truly. Happy to know there were some similarities between life in Denmark and Norway! Cheers from here!
enjoyed this so much. learned a lot as well
As a Dane, it’s always funny to read about our country from foreigners. Americans exaggerate the things not found in their own country, especially the food and the bikes. True that our food is weird and I stay away from a lot of it too, but generally, we are not so weird as long as you are willing to persevere with our less talkative ways 🙂
Is five years considered long enough to equate to perseverance? Still here! Also – I love the food here, just so we’re klar! Cheers. Thanks for reading.
“Rule #38: You don’t cross the street here when the light is red”
That’s perfectly relatable. And I must say the Danish people are so polite that they not only stop the cars when they see a pedestrian trying to cross the road, but also wave at him/her to persuade him/her to cross first. None of my counter persuasion ever worked in this case.
Quite witty and interesting. Thank you for sharing.. 🙂
Thanks kindly! (Some of that Danish politeness goes out the window when they’re trying to catch their bus!)
Hahaha.. That’s quite understandable. No one wants to be late for office.. 😉
My daughter, an American, lives there. I smiled at so many of these because they are spot on!,