Denmark Customs and Protocol

When visiting Denmark for business it’s helpful to know the proper etiquette, protocol and manners expected of you during your stay. Being punctual is a definite plus when doing business with the Danes. Appointment times and dates are written with the day first, then month, then year. In Scandinavia, July and August are leisure and vacation months, since most people take 5 week vacations during this time. Steer clear of these months for conducting business. Otherwise, business hours are conducted basically on the same schedule as in America, with 5 day work weeks.

Anyone who comes to Denmark must register within 24 hours with the police. A small amount of paperwork will ask you your credentials as well as your business or pleasure purposes. Hotels and other lodges will often take care of this paperwork for you. Forms can be found at police stations or post offices.

The weather can be cold and rainy at times so pack for those types of conditions. Business attire is suit-and-tie for men and modest, dressy attire for women. When invited to a home more casual dress is appropriate unless it’s a black tie affair. Tuxes for men and formals for women are the proper attire. If you’re told that it’s to be a casual affair pressed jeans or dress pants are fine with open-collar shirts for men. Women can wear casual dresses or jeans and blouse. In some countries it’s taboo to wear red but red is an uplifting color in Denmark. Don’t be shocked if women’s attire on the beach is topless.

When first introduced to a Dane you’ll normally find them to be very friendly, if a bit blunt during business meetings. If you’re merely casual acquaintances avoid topics like his or her finances, family, home and religion. Casual compliments are not that well-received in this culture, either. Comfortable casual talk can be anything from the Dane culture to your own.

In Denmark names are written and spoken as they are in America. Use titles when known, otherwise refer to the person as “Mr.” (Hr), “Mrs.” (Fru), or “Miss” (Froken). After your associate has begun calling you by your first name it’s usually a sign that you are free to refer to them in the same manner.

If invited to a home candies or flowers are appropriate gifts but leave flowers in the wrapper. Roses are fine but never white ones which are usually for funerals. Unlike some countries, red is an acceptable wrapping paper color. Gifts, rarely offered in business settings, are opened in front of the giver. In business relationships it’s acceptable to occasionally give something with your company logo or other desk items.

Whether you’re invited to an associate’s home for dinner or you go to a restaurant don’t discuss business unless your counterpart has approached the subject. Generally speaking, dinner is not the place to discuss business. Breakfast is not a likely business time either, since most Danes spend this time with families, before work. Two-hour lunches are the norm, from twelve until two in the afternoon.

While dining the fork is kept in the left hand, the knife in the right. While eating the fork tines must point downwards from plate to mouth. Dinners last a very long time but it’s rude to leave the table before the host and hostess do. Casual or business dinners can go on for hours with business being discussed after dinner, with drinks.

While having drinks an associate may decide to toast you. If he stands, everyone should stand, during the toast. To offer a toast raise your glass and say “Skal!” Or, simply look at a particular person, raise your glass in their general direction, sip, raise your glass towards them once again, then place the glass on the table. After the toast everyone is free to drink as they usually would. After a home dinner it’s customary for the guest of honor to toast the hostess. Do so by first tapping your spoon gently on your water glass to get the attention of the others. Aquavit’ is a likely drink that will be served but the alcohol content makes it extremely intoxicating, so drink lightly.

In some countries leaving food on your plate shows the host and hostess that they fed you more than plenty. In Denmark it’s likely to offend if food is left uneaten. Spend some time talking and socializing after dinner – never leave for home directly after the meal.

Whether at a business dinner or in an office setting take a professional approach without much jesting and gesturing. Remember to keep conversation away from personal topics. Suggesting ways the associate might improve himself or his business will not likely be seen in a positive light. These are very proud people who know their accomplishments well and will not smile brightly upon being told how they can advance or improve.

Preferential treatment to anyone is frowned upon since they take the stand that all people should be treated as equals. In some countries men will not schedule meetings with women and vice-versa but in Denmark women business people are free to conduct themselves as any man would, calling for meetings and sitting at the head of a conference.

Business cards and other paperwork can be printed in English, a second language of most Danes. If your company has been around a good while make sure your business card states that; this is important and impressive to the Danes. Upon introductions shake hands and make eye contact with the associate. “Goddog”, a favorite expression in the culture, means the same as the American “Good day”.

Business meetings usually begin and end on time so have your presentation ready. Know ahead of time how long you will have to do the presentation and don’t run over that time limit. Offer to shake hands after the meeting rather than giving a group wave. If you’ve reached a business agreement it will likely be upheld since the Danes pride themselves on their business tactics.

In public, conspicuous behavior is not the way of the Danes. Don’t gesture wildly, if that’s your nature, but instead, try to blend in with the locals. Standing very close while speaking is unacceptable behavior. Stand at least three feet away from the person if you are only acquaintances. Attempting to strike up a conversation with a total stranger will likely get you no response whatsoever – introductions are the normal way to meet a Dane.

Public restrooms are plentiful but often have attendants which should be tipped upon your exit.
Avoid some of the gestures normally used in America, such as the “ok” sign with thumb and forefinger together. This can be an insult to Danes. “V” for “Victory” signs should always be done with palm facing outward. Inward-facing palms with the “V” gesture is obscene. It’s acceptable to summon a waitress or waiter by using the index finger, curling towards you.

When descending stairs women go first. When ascending stairs men are in the lead. Upon entering a theater travel down the row with your face towards the back of theater. Never enter the row with your backside towards the seated patrons.

While you’re in Denmark you’ll have much more fun and have better business success if you follow Dane customs and to do so, you must know them first. Take the time to learn more about proper etiquette and manners before visiting this beautiful part of the world, for business or just for pleasure.

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