Hey Girl, Where’d You Learn To Be So Rude?

One thing that I didn’t count on when moving to a new country was the fact that I was going to be considered rude for certain “natural” behaviors I have growing up as an American.  Many people say the Danes are cold or impolite but I would like to put forth, that us expats are equally so in the eyes of the Dane.  Perhaps rudeness is in the eye of the beholder?

I would like to think that now I have got the hang of things a bit more and am generally high functioning in the Danish society.  However, I still notice sometimes that I might push myself into a conversation or intrude on someone’s alone time in a very American way rather than just hold back and wait for it to be my turn to speak or an appropriate time to approach someone.  I made some classic mistakes at the beginning, for example, not saying ‘hi’ to everyone when I arrived to the office in the morning.  This was a tough one for me as I am not a morning person but after a few weeks I was able to muster a quick “morgen” to people as I hurried by their desk in the morning.  Also at the very start, I was  told at my initial employee review that I did not cover my mouth appropriately when yawning so my colleagues felt I bored them.  I quickly started working on a full mouth cover so as to not be impolite and to show, that I was not in fact bored, just tired and in need of more coffee.

As an American, I initally found it odd that people did not ask “how are you” when answering the telephone or greeting each other but I overcame this shock early on and found it refreshing that I didn’t have to ask a superficial question on every greeting.  However, I came to realize that when Danes did ask “how are you”, or rather when I accidentally asked them out of habit, they were going to start actually going through their emotions of the day, latest challenges at work or whatever was on their mind.  I’m sure the puzzled look on my face as people actually described how they were was enough to earn me another rude point.

But for all of my lack of etiquette, which I am still working on, I found a few behaviors odd about the Danish society.  Things I thought were actually just natural polite behaviors in all cultures, though clearly they are not.  It could just be those that I hang out with but on more than one occasion, a friend I was out with has left a nightclub without saying goodbye to me.  This is completely understandable if you just run into someone but if you only came with one or two other people, I thought it was natural to try to make the effort to give a farewell hug or at least a verbal declaration that you were in fact leaving for the evening.  After realizing that this was not a one time fluke, I started texting my friends if I did not see them for a while and sure enough, many times they had already started walking home.  Additionally, I think I have read it somewhere before, but I wanted to mention the not-holding-doors phenomenon.  I thought that was also a very natural behavior so as to not let a door slam in the face of someone behind you.  I have learned now though not to expect it and to hold my hand out when going through a doorway, even if I am behind someone.

Politeness can be tricky as an expat and since I have not received the official rulebook, I continue to find out the hard way, by being “that rude foreigner”.  Navigating a new culture will always have its ups and downs, but building a new version of myself, Becky 2.0, has been an adventure and I look forward to continue my evolution as I let the Danish culture mold me even more.

18 responses to “Hey Girl, Where’d You Learn To Be So Rude?

  1. Just saw your entry and had to comment, time is short so will keep it short. Firstly if this is accepted by the so-called moderators it will be a first. One thing all foreigners must remember about DK is that the natives are not renowned for their manners or consideration for others, which might explain why every year a book is published about Maner og takt og tone. One thing that made me laugh was your comment on yawning, sure we normally place our hand in front of the mouth when we yawn but there are times when not in immediate proximity to others that one omits the hand. If your workmates have been studying you while you work then it is they that have a problem. They must have a lot of time to waste. Next time you yawn and they comment just tell them that the human body automatically counteracts for a lack of oxygen by making the human yawn thereby replenishing for the reduction in supply. That will give them something to think about.
    Whatever, dont let the natives get to you, they are not worth it.

  2. I’m actually not bothered by the Danes manners, actually, my post was trying to be more about how I need to work on my manners (from a Danish perspective). Even though I was surprised by the yawning thing, it is reasonable enough, I suppose as I think it was more in reference to if someone was presenting or if I was in a meeting. I just had to get the full mouth coverage technique perfected. ;-)

  3. Great blog post! The yawning and morning office greeting examples in particular were hilarious and something I have never given much thought to how a foreigner would consider that odd! That being said; the not saying goodbye and just going home example you mentioned is, irrespective of language or culture, just plain rude! You need to tell your friends off for that one (or find new, more polite, ones!):)

  4. I believe that two of these you mention is somehow wrong – or, you have come across some rude people, and I don’t think it is the common danish way.

    The friends leaving the club, for instance – I would not, nor would my friends, leave without letting each other know about it. I have not come across this before. Unless a person was truly sick or something like that and couldn’t overcome it – but then texts are used..

    And the thing about not-holding-the-door. I find it extreeeeemly rude myself! And it os only on very few occasions I have experienced that – merely because they did not see me or was walking around in their own world and doesn’t really notice anything.

    However, I have heard a lot about us Danes being extremely private and often look angry when walking around in the streets, go by public transportation etc. – that we do not like to be spoken or adressed to by strangers..

    And.. Some people are just more rude, than others I guess. :) But it’s nice to hear from a foreigner what they think! It’s always an eye-opener.. :) And I’m glad you don’t give up on us ;)

  5. Speaking of being “cold in the streets”, someone smiled at me yesterday as I was walking in town and I quickly averted my gaze and stared at the ground… I’m becoming more Danish by the minute! ;-) And I will never give up on the Danes, so much so that I really want to become one, I think the culture is quite charming and very cozy. I don’t want to be mistaken, I don’t think that it is necessarily Danes that are rude or Americans that are rude, I think that is just the initial clash of culture that you have to re-learn your expectation of politeness.

  6. I like your article and observations. One issue puzzles me though.
    “a friend I was out with has left a nightclub without saying goodbye to me.” As a native Dane I can only question the quality of your “friends”. That kind of behavior is neither normal nor acceptable here in Denmark.

  7. This seems to be the general consensus, looks like it is time for an intervention. ;-)

  8. I think my tone in my comment was a little bit too serious. ;-) Good luck with the interventions.

  9. As a Dane living in America I really appreciate your post – I, too , am bothered by the superficial ‘how are you’ and initially I actually told people how I was.. Just to see their eyes zoom away… Silly me, thinking they actually meant it! Living in another culture is challenging, and I experience that the Americans (live in CA) find me rude and direct.. As for your friend leaving the nightclub that is actually rude in Danish eyes, too!

  10. ugh. the door thing. especially if it is when i’m with toddler in tow and i’m on my own. it must happen on nearly a daily basis here. never understood it… but i’ll be definitely me more mindful of my morning routine and make sure i’m not yawning!

  11. Great post, Becky.
    I think all expats have to take into account that they somehow become a token representative for their country – at least for a while. That may be why you are under more scrutiny from your colleagues: you are not just the “new kid on the block” – you are also a different kid. The negative response is feeling picked on, a more positive approach is to look at the yawning comments as a guide to how to “become one of us.”
    If you feel up to it, you can give open feedback to your group that you heard somebody had mentioned a foreign habit of yours being distracting and ask if they in the future could please help guide you directly – you won’t be offended – because you know that things may be done differently in your new country.
    Most people have no idea how to approach a colleague to tell him/her that it is really distracting when they eat molten cheese for lunch and bring back cheese breath/ argue with their mother on the phone/ tap their feet impatiently/ yawn. An invitation to comment may enhance open dialogue.
    Holding doors seems to be more about if people are aware that there are other people around them than about nationality. Being rude is a personal trait that no nation can monopolize, but we may not always have learned what it takes to be polite locally. Ask for help and it will be given.

  12. Good point Charlotte, opening a dialogue is always a great way to bring issues into the open and solve them quickly. As I have become more confident here, I have started asking about proper behaviors directly and I look forward to the continual path of learning.

  13. I always say, “being Danish means never having to say you’re sorry.” The key example of this is when they bump into you on the street, when they aren’t looking or something, and just keep walking.

  14. Born in Aarhus, lived in Risskov, moved to US at age of 8. I have made all those cultural mistakes in reverse, as well as acted like an American while in Danmark.
    My mother used to tell me to answer “how are you” with real answers sometimes, as she (most likely) disapproved of the general question. I have a difficult time not automatically saying it.
    Oh, and I still leave without saying goodbye, no idea that was normal in Danmark!

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