Danish Language Blog

Naked Danes Posted by on Nov 30, 2012 in Culture

The little mermaid den lille Havfrue

If you want to know what makes a foreign culture different from your own, there’s nothing like a culture clash. This month, Danish and (corporate) American values clashed when Danish author Peter Øvig was banned from Apple’s online bookstore. Why? Because his recent books, Hippie 1 and Hippie 2, contain some photos of naked people. Sure, any forlag (publisher) has the right to say yes or no to a book. A lot of Danes, however, were very upset, and some prominent politicians made complaints about ”American” censur [sen-SOOR] (censorship) and snæversyn (narrow outlook).

We Danes generally take pride in our frisind [FREEsen] (liberalism, literally ”free mind”). This hasn’t always been so – if you were to time-travel to the 1950’ies, you’d find a much more formal Danish society (with people wearing hats and calling each other mr and mrs). But in the 1960’ies, with Beatlemania and everything, people started to drop the formalities (such as the polite pronoun De, you) – and, in a few cases, their tøj [toy] (clothes). One such case was the annual feminist summer camp on Femø (an ø, island), where women gathered to discuss their rights and be naked in the sun.

Today, only a few real ”hippies” survive in Denmark, but the spirit lingers on. Danes have a very relaxed attitude to nøgenhed (nakedness). Photos of topless hippie women, as those in Øvig’s book, hardly offend anyone. They’re seen as a part of Danish cultural history.

Just being naked, of course, has nothing to do with sex. That said, there isn’t much hush-hush about ”it” either! In fact, Denmark was among the first nations to legalize pornographic pictures (in 1969).

Many Danes take a lighthearted and secular (non-religious) stance on life. That sometimes creates conflicts with foreigners who view things like sexuality and the body as something sacred or very private. I know some visitors to Denmark have a hard time getting used to Danish men AND women using sexual words in public, or seeing newspaper cartoons of politicians having sex, etc. But that’s not something that makes a modern Dane blush. (Most Danes find it far too prudish when American TV stations beep away swearwords.)

Sure, the nudists have their own places in Denmark too, and people here have just as many hæmninger (inhibitions) as elsewhere. But I think it’s fair to say that the general atmosphere is (still!) another than in most US states, for example. That’s just something you should be aware of – in case seeing a naked man swimming along a public beach or watching a woman breast-feed her baby at a café unsettles you.


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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Ana:

    Very interesting topic

    I am a Brazilian living in Denmark for some months now. Since the start I’ve seen that the attitude here towards nakedness is quite different from my country. Here is quite normal to see naked people on the newspapers and tv programs. And yes, my Dane husband always complains about the swearwords beep when we are watching American tv shows 🙂

  2. Claus True:

    I am a Danish born and raised man, who just happen to meet a sweet American woman. On our first family trip to Denmark Her, the 14yo son and I), we were waiting for the ferry to dock at Odden, and and we were watching the ferry as it was making it’s way to the port. We were looking from the pier, which also had a small sandy area below it, and a couple in their 50’s were cooling off in the water. I was talking with my wife and my stepson, while the couple decide to get out of the water. Less than 30 feet from us, they proceeded to strip down and towel off, and were in the process of putting on their clothes, when I (still talking to the family) noticed, that I was all alone. Wife with 14yo in tow, were heading back to the terminal, while I was left without a word from either of them.
    When I finally caught up with them again, I asked why she left. She said, that when the couple started to take off the swim suits, she decided, that this was not something her son needed to see.
    This was new to me, because it never occurred to me, that anyone would be offended by this. She, and the 14yo (now 37), are a lot less offended by “nakedness” now, but it is still something odd to them.
    I guess we really are different…

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Claus True Thanks for sharing your story, Claus!
      Yes, situations like that really make you wonder… Are we THAT different on the opposite sides of the pond?