Denmark Business Etiquette

Posted by Michela Ferullo

Valkommen til Danmark! (“Welcome to Denmark!" in Danish)

Denmark, the country that looks like a page straight out of a fairy tale, boasts beautiful castles, landscapes, and architecture. The Scandinavian kingdom of Denmark is often considered the envy of other nations, as it exemplifies a model global civilization with its progressive political, social, and economic policies.  The egalitarian lifestyle and welcoming personality of the Danish allow for some of the best innovators to move the society forward through efficient city planning and modern sustainability measures. While Denmark may be charming to all, including prospective business partners, it’s important to brush up on certain business practices and etiquette to avoid any cultural mishaps.

The Lowdown

  • Danish is the official language of Denmark and is spoken by 98% of the population.
  • Among the highest Danish values are tolerance, diversity, education, and the individual.
  • In terms of body language, keep your hands to yourself–Danes do not like to be touched.
  • Like the Irish, Danes are strong supporters of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement; initiatives include requiring large companies to account for their social responsibility practices in their annual reports. Not only does this reduce corruption (Denmark is the 4th LEAST corrupt country), it promotes competitiveness between corporations.
  • As mentioned, egalitarianism is another important value in Danish business; women are highly respected and have flexible hours so that they can maintain both a career and a family.
  • Danes put a big emphasis on humor and “hygge”– a term that is difficult to translate but alludes to the simple pleasure derived from intimate surroundings and friendships.

Dressing Sharp

  • While Danish businesspeople may sport more informal styles, it’s recommended that foreigners look polished and professional at all times. For formal meetings, suits are advisable for both men and women.
  • For casual wear (when, say, you are invited to a Danish home), neat jeans with a clean shirt are acceptable.
  • Black-tie events are not uncommon in the business community (they are often hosted by high-ranking Danish executives), so be prepared for such an invitation with a tuxedo or evening gown.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Always schedule a meeting in advance (at least two weeks beforehand), and confirm the appointment in writing. Agendas should also be sent to your Danish business partner in advance of the meeting.
  • Do not try to schedule meetings from mid-June through mid-August as many Danes are on vacation during that time.
  • Punctuality is taken very seriously in Danish business; be sure to begin and finish the meeting promptly at the agreed time. If you will be more than 5 minutes late, call immediately.
  • Shake hands with everyone before and after the meeting–keep your handshake firm and brief and maintain eye contact.
  • The egalitarian lifestyle translates into a respect for modesty in Denmark’s business culture.
  • After 10-15 minutes of small talk at the start of the meeting, Danes will then proceed to be rather matter-of-fact and get straight down to business for the rest of the meeting.

Dining Decorum

  • Lunch is the most popular window for business meals. Breakfast is generally spent with family; if you are invited to dinner, it is more likely to be informal and business talk is not expected.
  • A lunchtime favorite in Denmark is the Danish open sandwich, or Smørrebrød.
  • Toasting is an important gesture in the Danish culture. When toasting, raise your glass above eye level, make eye contact with peers, and always respond to the toast “Skål” by saying it back.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Bringing flowers, chocolates, or a few bottles of quality wine to your dinner host’s home is an acceptable offering.
  • A bouquet of flowers is also an appreciated gift, but the flowers should always be wrapped.

Down to Business

  • When it comes to negotiating meetings be overly prepared. Danes appreciate a wealth of information and will meticulously go over all pertinent materials.
  • Present your findings in a straight to the point method, supporting it with logical evidence. Your Danish business associates won’t like pointless speaking.
  • After an introductory period of about 10 minutes of small talk, they get to the point quickly to focus on the subject at hand.
  • Don’t take any critiques from your Danish counterparts personally, they don’t mean it in an offensive way, just merely to be constructive.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Denmark, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb!

Hej hej! (“Goodbye” in Danish)