It is thoughtless, organic. Natural. Is one way of explaining the state of being Danish.
“To be Danish,” I have had many tell me “is to be present. To go with the flow. Go explore! When I go somewhere, I want an authentic, emotional, adventure, experience.”
People here are, stereotypically, humble to a fault. They embody the Scandinavian ethos of absolute candor—zero patience for idle chatter. They cut to the chase with a directness that has an aggressive feel.
“If asked what you have planned to do this week?” By a Dane
How do you respond?
“Well, to be honest—”
"That! That was not Danish. We do not say 'To be honest' in Denmark! What you just told me is 'Oh, now I will begin being honest.' To be Danish is to not be afraid of saying exactly what is happening at any moment, with elegance and wit."
I asked how to shake the feeling that I am a self-conscious visitor passing through a foreign land—how to, instead, feel I belong.
To be Danish is to be authentically you, there is absolutely no need to be anything other than you are.
What is it about traveling that inspires us to become other people? We take home these habits and traditions like souvenirs.
Maybe you have gone to Paris and picked up an ironic shrug, a taste for andouillette, and reflexively contrarian views. Or returned from Italy with a tendency for daily spritzes and exaggerated gesticulation.
For myself, I have not been to Denmark YET! In my experiences with Danish culture, the mind-expanding cuisine and old mystical wisdom has been a draw, but my love can be traced to the people, the day I met “Bestemor” this lady embodies a grace and kindness like no other, as well as a quiet strength I feel a Viking warrior would have. She is quick as a whip and has a brilliant mind and a gentle nature with the ability to teach effortlessly in a way that is entertaining and interesting. There is a story for each member, and visitor I have met over the last four years. Each equally important and influential.
To wade into the current of real life here, I will need to remember how to ride a bicycle. Fifty percent of Copenhagen residents get to work on two wheels. Living in rural Alberta this has not been high on my list of importance as it should be, I have not really ridden a bicycle in years, since my children were little. Motorcycles yes, but not ones with pedals. It is on my list to do this summer. Since working at the museum I am finding myself drawn to do things I would not have done before.
Danes have the most interesting way of creating, thinking, their ingenuity is a delight I never know what I am going to find or learn. There is a wine bar in Denmark that has no wine list. You are paired with a bottle of wine by a person trained in the art of wine matchmaking! The owner is quoted saying “I wanted to create a space where people could function as humans.” “I don’t hire drones – I hire people with a certain empathy.”
In the spirit of Danishness, never fake what you like! A Dane will tell you the truth, where in most other countries a person will only tell you either what they think you would like to hear or just polite response. A Dane will never do this! The number of conversations I have had where I have heard now not to offend you, but this can be changed, or this is just not right, or I do not like that, I have lost count! I have gone as far as purposely putting errors in a post, it guarantees a comment to increase views and always interaction. I can always rely on a Dane to tell me what they really think
Where French and Germans cheers to your health, Scandinavians literally yell “skull”—as in pass me the skull of the human we just scalped, the skull that, in Viking times, would have spilled mead between hands. The no-nonsense thing runs deep.
My dear friend Kari invites me to join them for drinks. “Come, you’re coming with me,” she says while handing me my jacket. I have learned there is not much use in arguing with a Dane. So, I go with the flow. She taught me a lot I miss her.
“To be Danish is to be willing to invest, not in shares, but in people.”
I have spent a lot of time traveling and am a fan of eating whatever, wherever, whenever I want.
There is a big difference though in, taking a heaping bite of delicate lumpfish roe—a short-lived springtime darling that is to Copenhagen what ramps are to the Eastern United States—and turn to another soul, spoon in hand, to affirm your ecstatic delight. Shared food tastes the same as solo food with the added benefit of drawing you closer to other people. Sharing an experience with people is something that the Danes do like no other.
My first year at the museum we had a soft open with a few members invited to taste test the new menu and vote on what they liked best. What happened that day was complete magic. A quiet hum started in the café, everyone visited and laughed enjoyed the food and atmosphere, it had started snowing it was a day in May. A visitor stopped from Newfoundland, she had never been before, everyone welcomed her, just like that she was part of the group. I learned so much about all of them this day including the new visitor who I am so delighted to say I enjoy seeing her every time she comes to visit and think of her and her daughters as friends
"Picture an American entering a room.”
"They would probably greet someone and proceed with skillful small talk."
Small talk, like smiling at strangers, is one of the Americanisms that we need to shed if were going to succeed in the quest to become Danish.
A teacher from the University of Copenhagen, says Danes do not have the same switches for casual conversation. “A Dane might feel as if they’re placing a burden on someone to enter into a relationship they didn’t ask for.”
It is a radical degree of consideration that relates to a national Ten Commandments of sorts. The Law of Jante, as it is known, boils down to this: Us before You. It is the opposite of individualism, and while it is a weak doctrine today in modern cities like Copenhagen, its presence still lingers everywhere.
Alternate mixing, kneading, laminating, and chilling the dough, the Danes by far have some of the most delicious pastries and breads I have ever had or made. That is saying a lot for me, as a Ukrainian girl I thought I knew breads and pastries. I have learned so much more these last 4 years and will continue to learn. There is an enjoyment in the process to bake the Danish pastries and it will not be at all the same if you try to rush it. The 3 days of kneading, laminating, and chilling the dough creates the most magnificent pastry. It is worth it every time and the rewards are the way our visitors look when they take that bite and are taken home to Denmark.
No, locals do not get off work early and casually dine out on extravagant meals. The most Danish thing one can do is eat at home.
“Danes, have a strong sense of who we are."
This is shown to me all the time. A culture that is over 1000 years old has a firm grasp on there identity. In researching and understanding the Danish culture and history I have grown into understanding myself as well. It is a strong sense of knowing who I am. Trust and responsibility the letting go of ego, understanding that everyone has value that non are of more importance and that everyone has something to offer. The day I got the flat tire and ended up living in Central Alberta I could never have known that it was this job that would help me grow, and learn so much that shaped me into the person I am today.
Some useful, easy-to-follow advice.
“Danes are storytellers,”
“While you’re visiting our beautiful restaurants, ask ‘What are they trying to say?’ You’ll understand something about us.”
To be Danish is to be curious and bold!
Wildly popular smørrebrød, towering open-face sandwiches of tooth butter, stinky cheese, raw onion, meat gelatin, it was an experience the first time I had a herring smorrebrod and liver paste. I have since come to enjoy the different flavours and creating our own story with danish cuisine. Ask for a bowl of øllebrød, a porridge made of dark rye breadcrumbs and beer, which does not speak back but does taste delicious, like richer, tangier oatmeal.
Entering a room in the Danish way means doing the opposite of making an entrance. Trying to acclimate to local custom, walk into the coffee shop gazing down, attempting invisibility, and approached the barista.
Bestemor may just be the most Danish Dane I have met so far. She is remarkably earnest, self-assured, and infectiously humble.
We talk about coffee (the Danish sweet spot is around 4 p.m.) and some type of sweet or perhaps aebleskiver. The number of groups that our beloved Bestemor would have out on tours to rush and get into the Café for 4pm coffee and aebleskiver, I have lost count. They all enjoy it
Danes love there flag they put it everywhere and on everything for all events. They will decorate for birthdays, Christmas, parties seriously any event there will be a flag. A previous Danish Canadian Ambassador said "Don't worry about us and our Flag were not taking over, its just simply what we do."
“We eat in with loved ones here. Our homes are our nests.”
We pour drinks and migrate to the dining room, which is lit with a constellation of candles. The table is set for tonight's feast: a roasted root vegetable salad of parsnips, beets, and carrots; frikadeller (pan-fried meatballs); my dear friend says hospitality is an art that guarantee people feel welcomed and appreciated. She pays attention to the smallest of details remembering what I like, my dislikes and allergies. I had never had a friend that made me feel so valued.
A lot has been written over the past year about hygge, the untranslatable feeling of comfort that Danes cultivate in their homes (which is perhaps better understood by its antonym, uhygge, abject horror). But as the candles burn, and a singer coos, with the company of my friends who have become so dear to me, I approach an understanding.
“In Denmark, you light candles for meals—even in the summer.”
“Ah! This is probably why you aspire to be Danish,” Perhaps the most offensive act in Denmark is to behave inauthentically.”
“Don’t forget the candles!” someone yells from the kitchen.
“For any Danish meal!” I look around and discover a cabinet full of candles. I light one and then two and then, why not, three. My friend emerges from the kitchen with an expectant smile.
“Try this,” she says, feeding me a piece of toasted rye slathered in butter and piled with razor-thin sheets of chocolate called Kæmpe. “Every Dane eats these as a kid.”
And I get it: the slick of good, cultured butter, the ghostly sweet chocolate, the comfort of this hearty, sensible, altogether familiar bread. What is not to like? Eating it by candlelight at breakfast, I experience an easy equilibrium, an absentminded contentedness that is maybe, humbly, just a little bit Danish.
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