Three [Almost] Impossible Things about Denmark

When I started my adventure in Denmark as an MSc student at DTU, I had no doubt that I would be successful in achieving my ambitious goals. But apparently, coming from a country with a lot of differences in habits and culture I had to give up in some parts. Besides, it turned out that I am also a bit weird on the personal level. Here is an example:

I come from Iran, which is a sunny country. Many people coming from warm countries to Denmark feel uncomfortable with the weather. But for me, the long cold Danish winter was one of the great things about Denmark. (Weird, isn’t it?) But I found out that Danes are not proud of their winter. In contrary, they love the sun. They try to absorb every single ray of sunshine as soon as the sun is out, and/or go on a trip to Spain or Morocco to embrace the sun. So, gradually I appeared to be weird as I didn’t join for the sun-embracing activities. And finally I ended up isolated in a marginalised minority.

In this post I am writing about three things that I found almost impossible in Denmark. But I am not writing this to disappoint you, but to encourage you to continue. Perhaps in a century or so you can succeed. Here are these three [almost] impossible things in Denmark:

1. Keeping Danes indoors, when the sun is out.

Don’t even try. Imagine that it’s a warm sunny July Sunday and you have an appointment with some Danish people to tell them a very important secret which means a lot to you and to them. You are supposed to meet them inside a building, any building. You go there and what you see is: nothing. Don’t be shocked. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t interested in your secret. It just means that they were interested in the sun a bit more. So what I suggest you do is, go out and find them either sitting half-naked on the balconies, or barbequing barefoot on the grass, or lying with a couple of beers on a wooden quay. Perhaps then, you can tell them about your secret. But never try to push them back into that building. Otherwise you’ll end up being weird and untrustworthy.

2. Danish sense of humour

Try, but don’t expect to understand.

While I lived in Iran, and during the few years I lived in the UK, I was told that I had some sense of humour. So I was confident that I can understand jokes, and tell jokes. Naturally, as I was planning to come to Denmark I started to watch “humoristic” Danish shows, like “The Clown”. No matter how hard I tried, I really failed to get it. So I convinced myself to postpone the Danish humour-learning process to when I join the Danish community. So, the university was a great place to start over.

Gradually, I (thought that I had) figured out the formula: “the Danish sense of humour is dry and sarcastic, and Danes joke about things that usually you shouldn’t joke about”. So based on this, I tried to figure out when to laugh. Here is one example:

I was working with four Danish teammates at DTU. I and Thomas were working on the colour theme of the presentation. We were looking at a green font, and he said:

- This is red, so it goes with the theme.
I said:
- Umm, it’s green.
- Okay!
Then we moved on to another font box, which was actually red. He said:
- So, this is green, right?
And I said:
- Well… no… this is red!
He replied (in a way that I found dry, sarcastic and uncomfortable):
- You know, I am colour blind!

 All the coordinates were precisely those of a Danish joke. Thus I started laughing out loudly. But the others were just staring at me. He was colour blind. It was then that I realised even after three years of trying, I had failed. (However, I apologised later and  explained why I thought this could have been a Danish joke and they admitted. So we remained friends.)

3. Danish language

Try, and perhaps you’ll be there in a few years. However, you need to be really persistent. Many discouraging things might happen in your Danish-learning endeavour, but you need to overcome them. As an example, your Danish groupmates might challenge you by articulating some tongue twisters like “rødgrød med fløde”. It’s up to you to try to repeat, but I think this is a Danish joke.

As one day this happened twice to me, I thought that perhaps this is actually a Danish joke taught at schools:

“Okay kids, whenever you come across a foreigner who talks about language, just ask them to articulate rødgrød med fløde, and they are screwed. That’s how awesome and funny we are!”

Just kidding. But honestly, as a language-lover who can speak Persian, English, French and some German, and is familiar with Arabic and Turkish, I have found the Danish pronunciation impossible. After three years, still when I say something in Danish to a Dane, the other person shifts to English. So don’t be offended and keep on trying. It only takes a few decades.


Sahand Athari, MSc in Architectural Engineering, Iran