Cultural differences – saying thank you

Moving to a new country means adapting to new ways and embracing differences but at the same time it doesn’t mean that you have to lose your own ways and identity.IMG_5051In the eight years I have lived in Copenhagen I have adopted a number of Danish ways – embracing hygge, living in a white and less cluttered home, having two single duvets instead of one, airing said duvets out the window on a Sunday but at the same time I have kept hold of many of my own British ways.

Sometimes it is easy to explain away how you do something as ‘well I’m British (subtext a bit weird)’ but as time goes on and the more you integrate with Danes you will find you are told that its not done a certain way or that you need to conform. But when I believe that something is Ok or should be done a certain way I will do that as long as the motivation is coming from a good place. And it usually turns out alright.

Gift giving is area I have certainly fallen foul of. In the UK is very normal for parents to club together to give teachers an end of year or Christmas present. Not so here and I was on the receiving end of quite a lecture about the suggestion of giving the staff at my son’s international preschool a couple of cases of champagne for Christmas. I did it anyway and almost all the parents were happy to contribute and the staff delighted to receive.

Same as my physio, I gave him a box of delectable cookies for Christmas as a seasonal gift but also as a thank you for his role in my recovery but I was warned by a Danish friend that it would embarrass him and I shouldn’t do it. It didn’t cause any embarrassment, surprise perhaps, but not embarrassment and in fact he said they were the best cookies he had ever eaten (sadly not baked by me!) I heard that part of the reason for this surprise is that Danes generally aren’t good at saying thank you for things – in a country where everything generally works well there is no need to give extra thanks for a job well done.

But I come from a standpoint that if you take time to complain about things not being done well, you should take equal time to say when things are good and make sure people feel appreciated – whether that is a teacher, a medical practitioner or the bloke who cleans the stairs in your apartment building – wherever we are from you like to feel you have done something well and are appreciated. Yesterday I called my insurance company with a query about a claim. The result of the claim had made my day and I shared this with the lady I spoke to, she was taken aback but said she would pass the message onto the person who had worked on it.

As with the examples above, they all come from a good place – we want to thank people for a good job done and should continue to do this even if it isn’t the norm.



  1. I think the reason behind not saying thank you very much, is also because, we dont know how to behave when being thanked or praised. And since we are not good at receiving we are not giving as well. Sadly.

  2. What is the deal with the single duvets? We come to Denmark every 18 months to see family, and I am each time mystified anew by the bedding! Although I suppose it does allow each person to wrap themselves up without letting any cold air in?

  3. Try being an American with the whole “How are you?” thing ;-). Like you, I conform when it is a matter of offense not to, but I also have certain things that are ingrained within, (see: above) which are difficult to stop (like making small talk with cashiers). I think in this global age it is a lovely thing to both adapt and add a little bit in the process.

  4. It is possible that there is also a class element involved. Unjustified maybe, but nonetheless there. For example, you may be perceived to offer a gift to someone you consider being in a serving position to you, whereas it wouldn’t occur to you to gift someone you think of as being of a higher ‘rank’ to you. British society is still dominated by a stark class divide, whereas Danish society is less so.

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