Differences between Danish and German culture

Denmark and Germany are neighboring countries, and as such, they share many similarities within their culture. However, there are just as many differences as there are similarities between them.

For example, the Danish “Jantelov” (Law of Jante) and the German work ethics are two opposites. The “Jantelov” states that you must never be overly ambitious or divert from the ordinary. To Germans this is nonsense, as workers should be proud to show off their work.

This article will explain some of the key differences between Danish and German culture. (see this other article for a language comparison between Danish and German)

Danish vs German cultural norms regarding communication

When at work, Germans like to get straight to the point. They will rather have a professional discussion than engage in small talk. Danish workers are the exact opposite. In Denmark, workers often begin their shifts with coffee and small talk.

During lunchtime, Danes will socialize and talk about their private life with their coworkers. Germans would generally not like too much small talk, as it slows their work down.

The tendency to value professional discussions has made Germans good at having critical professional arguments, and they often criticize bluntly. Danes are not good at this and would rather keep their critiques private than engage in potential conflicts at their workplace.

Generally, the tone in Germany is more formal than in Denmark. Danes do not use formal titles, and the written language is often casual. In Germany, formal titles are used frequently, and it is thought of as rude if you use the wrong title.

Danes are well-versed in English, while most Germans prefer to speak German. The German level of proficiency in English is generally lower than it is for Danes. This is because German schools wait longer before introducing children to English than in Danish schools.

While most Germans do not speak any Danish – except for Germans living close to the border – all Danes are taught German in primary school. Thus, Danes will often have a basic understanding of German syntax and pronunciation.

Foreigners often feel as if German – and to some degree Danish – is an aggressive language, which can be explained by the guttural sounds both languages use. However, the notion of German as an angry-sounding language is primarily based on cultural stereotypes dating back to WWII propaganda.

Danish vs German cultural norms in the workplace

It is difficult to speak of German and Danish work ethics without relying somewhat on generalizations. With that said, Germans are often polite and punctual about their work. They take their work seriously and will rather be five minutes early than five minutes late.

For example, the famous German quotes: “Des Teufels liebstes Möbelstück ist die lange Bank” (eng. The devil’s favorite piece of furniture is the long bench), and “Wer zwei Hasen auf einmal jagt bekommt keinen” (eng. He who chases two rabbits at once will catch none) emphasize German punctuality and love of efficiency.

In Denmark, the work culture is generally casual and not nearly as oriented towards the details as Germans. Danish workplaces commonly have a flat structure, where every employee is encouraged to suggest changes to practice.

A famous Danish saying is: “Indstillingen som går gennem hele Danmarkshistorien, er denne: Lad os nu vente og se, hvad det kan blive til” (eng. The attitude that pervades the entire history of Denmark is this: Let’s wait and see what may come). It emphasizes the Danish laid-back attitude towards work.

In Germany, the hierarchy is stricter than in Denmark. German employees are perceived as parts of a well-oiled machine, where every function is crucial for the whole machinery to function.

Germans tend to have dress codes in their workplaces, whereas this is mostly experienced in old companies in Denmark. If you show up to work wearing a heavy-metal t-shirt in Germany, your coworkers might think you are inappropriate. Your Danish coworkers probably would not even notice.

The German punctuality and hierarchy affect the way work is delivered. If a German has developed ideas to solve a task, he/she will not improve further on the project unless asked. It is not because Germans are bad at their jobs or lazy, but they know the value of hierarchy at the workplace. Thus, German workers will often wait for their managers to make the best decision before starting their work.

Danish workers have freedom and responsibility as a motto. They will often try to improve projects and solve problems without being asked.

Danish vs German norms regarding leisure

Danes and Germans have a lot in common when it comes to leisure activities. Both enjoy sitting at home with their families, eating sausages with “sovs” (eng. sauce) or “sauerkraut” (eng. pickled cabbage). Danes even have a saying for their apparent dislike of healthy food: “Det er sundt at leve sjovt, men det er ikke sjovt at leve sundt.” (Lit. It is healthy to live for fun, but it is tedious to live healthily).

Danes have become renowned as one of the happiest people in the world. While most Danes would disagree with the verdict, they do have the concept of “Hygge”. Hygge is defined as the calm and cozy pleasures that life offers.

When either Danes or Germans go out with their friends, they usually settle on a bar before going to a club. Germany is well-known for its techno-clubs and cheap beers, whereas Danish nightlife is best during fall – when ‘J-dag` arrives, which is the day when Tuborg’s christmas brew is released.

Denmark has a lot of shorelines, which means that many Danes enjoy water activities like sailing and hanging out at the beach. As most Germans do not have access to the sea, they vacation in Denmark during their vacations. Thus, it is normal for Danish cities like Blåvand and Hirtshals to have more Germans during the summer than actual Danish residents.

During winter, the roles shift and Danes flock to German Ski resorts, like Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberstdorf. Both Germans and Danes tend to travel by car rather than fly, as it provides a lot more flexibility and is generally cheaper than traveling by air. Young Danes, however, often travel by train on so-called “Interrail”-trips, which often include a visit to one or more German cities.

Germans and Danes alike love football – the European version. Germany has the Bundesliga, and Denmark has the Superliga. While Germany is objectively one of the best football nations in the world, the Danes pride themselves on beating Germany in the 1992 European Championship.

While Denmark has had less success in sports than Germany, they have had some decent professional cyclists through the years. The success of Bjarne Riis, Jakob Fuglsang, and Jonas Vingegaard has made cycling sort of a national sport in Denmark. During summer, you will need to look out for large groups of cyclists trying to become the next Tour de France contender.

Here are some examples of Danish phrases about traveling:

And some German examples:

Danish vs German cultural norms regarding love and dating

When it comes to dating culture, Danes and Germans use the subtle method. If you walk into the club wearing your best, but do not receive any approaches, it is simply because it would be rude to publicly flirt with a stranger.

The same applies when it comes to pick-up lines. The Dane or German might think it witty, and they might find you interesting because of it, but proclaiming your interest in a person in public will be seen as an embarrassment rather than as flirting.

Instead, if you want attention from a potential date, you should try and socialize with his/hers friends. This allows the person in question to learn to know you without being too intimate. Danish bars often have long wooden tables, which allows for this approach.

The punctuality of Germans also applies to their dating life. A German will always be on time. It is deemed rude and shows irresponsibility if a German cannot be on time for a date with a potential love interest. Again, this does not apply to Danes. When Danes agree on a time for a date, they are usually five to ten minutes late.

A thing Danes and Germans do have in common is their lack of rush to get married. It is common to see couples who have been dating for several years – maybe even their whole adulthood – never get married. Religion is not a big deal, and they do not need to have their love verified by marriage.

Germany has long been known for its LGBTQ+ scene. Unlike their conservative work ethics, their view on sexuality is much freer. Thus, you should not be surprised to see gay couples go clubbing together. Denmark is also free-spirited when it comes to non-binary sexual preferences. Thus, in every major city in Denmark, you will find LGBTQ+ bars and events.

Here are some Danish sentences to use when dating:

And here are some German sentences:

Danish vs German arts and culture

German culture has traditionally been of high quality. The country has fostered some of the best classical musicians such as Bach and Beethoven, while their film industry was formerly one of the best in the world.

After the Second World War, the quality of pop culture in Germany declined. Throughout most of the 1900s, films were imported from Hollywood and dubbed into German. However, the quality of German pop culture has begun to rise in recent years, and TV shows like Dark have had massive success.

With regards to modern music, Germany is most famous for its rock. German heavy metal is recognized across the world as being the best, and the music festivals Wacken and Rock am Ring each attract over 100.000s visitors each year.

Danish pop culture is not as recognized. Some musicians have reached an international level (Aqua, Mø, Lucas Graham, Volbeat), but most are only recognized nationally. While Germany is most famous for its rock and heavy metal, Denmark is best known internationally for its pop. This is reflected at the Danish festival Roskilde Festival where pop artists attract most of the 110.000 visitors.

Danish actors have been internationally recognized in recent years (Pilou Asbæk, Mads Mikkelsen), and it seems as if Danish actors are in demand in Hollywood at the moment. Denmark has had some success with indie-film production, and Thomas Vinterberg recently won an Oscar for “Druk” (eng. Another Round).

When it comes to literature, Germany has had its share of world-famous writers. The most renowned is Johan Goethe who wrote Faust (1808, 1832), Der Erlkönig (1782) and Clavigo (1775). Goethe was not only a renowned writer but also a scientist who is said to have inspired Charles Darwin in his work.

Danish literature is known for H. C. Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard. Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, and The Emperor's New Clothes. Kierkegaard wrote Fear and Trembling (1843) and Either/Or (1843). H.C. Andersen has had a major impact on modern literature, especially children's literature – several of his stories have seen adaptations by Disney and other major studios. Kierkegaard's impact has mainly been on the Christian religion.

Conclusion

Despite their many differences, Denmark and Germany still have a lot in common. Not only do they have a shared history, but their culture and language are also close to each other.

Danes and Germans have good relations. They love to make fun of each other, and when traveling, Danes and Germans often discuss their shared favorite beverage: beer.

References:
  1. [1] Source

Editor's note: You can use our free language tool to make your own vocabulary lists, and record your own phrases.