One of the biggest criticisms you hear from expats is how hard it is to make friends with Danes. It is true that it is hard to establish friendships quickly with Danes as they are generally private people but over time I would say that by being friendly on a regular basis to my neighbours I have struck up friendships. I wouldn’t consider them to be bosom buddies but I know they are people I could certainly call on if I needed help.
The second Christmas we lived in Copenhagen, we invited everyone in our building to our apartment one afternoon for mulled wine and mince pies. It was a great way to break the ice and also to show our welcoming side – making friendships is a two-way street. We made sure we always pitched in on the apartment building clear up days and after the floods of 2011. We also make sure we get involved in building activities such as lighting of the communal Christmas tree.
However I wonder if this challenge in making friends is a unique thing to Denmark. If I moved to a new town or job in my own country I think I would find it equally hard to make friends in the new place. I have lived in apartment buildings in the UK and spoke less to my neighbours than I do here. In fact in the entire time I lived in Berlin, I had only passing acquaintance with a few locals. I employed all the previously successful tactics I had used in Copenhagen with very little success.I hear from other expats in countries such as Germany and France that the situation is the same.
Although most Danes do speak excellent English, it is still an effort to strike up a friendship in another language or with someone with a basic knowledge of Danish. Without something like sport, school or a hobby in common, as you get older friends are harder to make. Throw into that equation the fact 63% of Danes still live the area they grew up, you can understand that they already have strong friendship groups formed over decades from school, sports clubs, further education and their neighbourhood. Someone once said to me that, in general, Danes have already made all the friends they need, hence seeming hard to get to know. Danes also value their free time and spend it doing things that they really enjoy so it seems they rush off after work rather than socialising with colleagues.
Expats also, often by necessity, have a different approach to making friends. They are often used to a more transitional nature to friendship as people tend to come and go a little more frequently, and fast friendships and confidences are made in this environment, something that residents of a country don’t need or necessarily want.
I believe you can make friends with Danes but it does require time, effort and patience and it is not an overnight thing but once established it is worthwhile. I would say that I have never found Danes unfriendly, obstructive or unwelcoming to my friendly advances, so if you want Danish friends stick with it.