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.