Even though their country is quite tiny, Danes are famous for their numerous outstanding achievements in science, literature and architecture. They highly value tolerance, diversity, and … punctuality, of course. In business, they are very determined and specific and that is exactly what they expect in return from their partners. Why? Because in their view, balancing private and professional life is of utmost significance. A stable family life and sense of happiness, which account for the essential components of the hygge philosophy, have beyond doubt contributed to Denmark’s reputation of being the happiest country in the world.
Contrary to the introverted Finns, Danish people usually begin their business meetings with casual conversation before proceeding to serious deliberations. What are the recommendable topics? Subjects considered ‘safe’ include culture, cuisine and current affairs. It is better to avoid personal issues, matters of religion or individual earnings, though. However, Danes are known for getting to the point quite fast and decidedly. They treat work seriously and hate distractions, so they are very specific and clear in business negotiations. Just like in other Scandinavian countries, Danish companies are characterised by egalitarian relations and flat organisational structure. The final decision is always reached after it has been consulted with all team members.
Politeness, yet without profusion
Similarly to all Nordics, Danes are perceived as a nation that will rarely show emotions, They aren’t very keen on close physical contact or touching, either.
– A customary handshake is a gesture of choice not only at business meetings, it is also quite popular among children – explains Joanna Modrzyńska, a lecturer at Nicholas Copernicus University’s Faculty of Political Sciences and International Studies, and also the head of Art of Manners school. – For this reason, it is obligatory to shake hands with every person who is present at a given meeting, including children. And not only for greetings, also for good-byes – adds the expert.
During official meetings and banquets, it is expected not only from the host, but also from the honourable guest, to raise an official toast. Just like in all other Nordic countries, a toast is traditionally raised with ‘skoal’ or ‘skål’, the Danish equivalent of ‘cheers’.
– The first toast glass is raised by the host, then all the guests of honour follow, according to age or status, from eldest to youngest – explains Modrzyńska. If the meeting doesn’t feature a guest of honour, the duty of thanking the hostess for the party rests on the shoulders of the oldest man present.
Proper dress code
No accompanying guests are usually invited to business-oriented dinners. It is also advisable to mind the proper dress code, especially that evening banquets are usually black-tie affairs. Modrzyńska also stresses the fact that improper, sloppy or messy appearance will be read as a sign of disrespect to other participants. Let’s also remember that in case the party involves dancing, the typically Polish tradition of cutting in or ‘stealing’ the partner will be met with disapproval.
Even though we tend to associate lengthy, laid-back celebration with nations of South America or the Mediterranean, it is equally popular with the Danish people. The fact that the meal is over does not at all mean the meeting is concluded, so it is advisable to delay one’s departure by at least another hour. It is also considered proper to eat or taste everything that is served during the meeting.
Contrary to customs which prevail in other countries, services such as taxis or restaurants are usually not tipped in Denmark. Similarly, gift giving is a rare occurrence in the Danish business etiquette. If it does happen, it usually is a celebratory cherry on the cake, handed only after successful negotiations. A gift received has to be opened immediately.
– We should also consider buying gifts when we are invited to a Danish home. However, they should not be flauntingly expensive, a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of good wine will suffice. Sharp items are not advisable as gifts – stresses the expert.
While building relationships with Danes one needs to get accustomed to their peculiar and rather ironic sense of humour, and also to the fact that they like to use the word “thank you” very often and in nearly all circumstances. On the other hand, one will hear words of apology once in a blue moon. Additionally, in stark contrast to the Americans, the routine question about how somebody feels will work only in closer, more intimate relationships and only if we are genuinely interested in the other person’s answer.
– One point to take note of is the fact that frequent commenting someone’s apparel is considered a blunder. So is confusing Danes with their neighbours, Swedes or Norwegians – stresses Modrzyńska. – As for the man-woman conduct, it is the older men who usually insist on paying the restaurant bill. However, in younger generations, gender equality is much more common – she adds. It is still the norm for women to meet for business lunches with their partners, rather than formal dinners.
For Business & Prestige, Iwona Sobczak – a journalist specialising in professional image and business etiquette, fluent in many languages, an expert in understanding and explaining cross-cultural differences. Read other articles by this author
Editing: Dominika Job, manager at Business & Prestige