It’s no secret, that Denmark has a lot to offer, but being an expat in one of the seemingly happiest countries in the world is no walk in the park when it comes to making friends with the locals. I once heard someone say that to make local friends in Denmark is a slow growing plant.
Without going into the nitty, gritty details of a 2022 survey conducted by InterNations, it’s safe to say that Denmark coming in as number 47 of 52 countries on The Ease of Settling in Index isn't worth being proud of. Though a slight improvement from the 2019 survey (70%), as many as 63% of foreigners find it difficult to make friends with Danes.
My own expat experience of making local friends whilst living on the outskirts of London was quite like the experiences many of you have described to me: difficult, bordering the impossible. I cannot count the number of times, I thought I had made a local friend to later realise that suggesting having a coffee in the near future was just polite smalltalk on their behalf.
What ultimately helped me was accepting that I had made the move to a new country - and that I was the one in need of making new friends. Not the locals! Many locals were already securely settled with friends and family and as such, they may not have wished or have had room for new friends.
By shifting my perspective to realise that it may have been selfish of me to expect the well-established locals to open up their private lives to foreigners, I came to see things differently: perhaps I was better off making friends with the people who, like myself, had had the experience of extensive travels or living abroad. In other words, people who had experienced the loneliness of travel and the rewards of opening their world to foreign cultures and people.
My change of attitude meant I became friends with not only other foreigners, but also with British people born to mixed nationality parents, people who had travelled the world or themselves lived in another country, or were newcomers to the area. I was blessed with new friends who helped me through some very challenging times in England. Most I still keep in touch with; and some, I consider some of my closest friends.
Many expats tell me that they find Danes inapproachable, some even impolite. Some have told me that though they experience good rapport with people at work, nothing personal ever materialises. Perhaps knowing that whilst many expats have transitional friends, many Danes see friendships as a lifelong commitment where deeply personal matters are shared can help frustrated expats realise that it may not be about them personally, but that the person you’re trying to befriend might not have room for more people in their life for them to fulfill the obligations they feel come with friendship.
However, that doesn’t mean you should give up. It means that arming yourself with patience and not moving forward too fast can be a way of establishing trust and further down the line, friendship. This, of course, is difficult when you need instant gratification in making friends to ease the transition of settling down. You may not have several years to cultivate a friendship; but keep in mind that if you do make a Danish friend, it’s very likely to be a deep, profound, and lifelong friendship. I read somewhere that Danes are like coconuts, hard on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside; so crack the code, and you will be well on your way.
Some time ago, to help you develop strategies and have more ideas to making friends with the locals in Denmark, I asked you to give me your tips and ideas on the subject. Thank you very much to all who have taken the time to leave a comment or drop me a message with your suggestions that I give you here:
Befriend people who, like you, are looking to make new friends. This could be someone who just recently moved to your city.
Learn the language and start using it in social situations. Though easier, refrain from speaking English, but ask people to be patient with you as you practise your Danish skills.
Many Danes are enrolled in clubs and associations of various art: sports, arts, music, crafts, food etc. Live out your passion alongside Danes with the same passion.
Adapting to Danish lifestyle rules.
Accept that Danes are very organised people attached to their calendars. Not much is done in the spur of the moment so go along with their tendency to plan everything ahead of time: Even if a dinner date lies several months into the future, people will honour their plans and show up.
Invite colleagues or neighbours around for a traditional meal from your home country. But not too soon after having met them. Move forward slowly.
If you have a baby, ask your health visitor to join a postnatal group with Danish parents.
If you have older children, join the school or kindergarten parent council, be a class rep at school, take part in the activities organised at your child’s school or kindergarten (even the harder ones like gardening days etc.).
Invite your children’s school peers around and invite their parent for a coffee when they pick up their child.
If you are a student, join a Danish study group.
Take part in social activities at work.
Join a church community. The Danish Folkekirke might not be where people congregate, but smaller church communities are often more tightly knitted and arrange social gatherings for its member.
Make a mixture of friends from both the Danish and international community.
If you are invited to something, don’t cancel unless you’re ill. For Danes, reliability is key to becoming a life-long friend.
First published in August 2020; revised in January 2024