Danish Language Blog

Are Danes afraid of foreigners? Posted by on Aug 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

danskiverdenThis week I’m going to tackle a less charming side of Denmark. After all, as a Danish saying goes, livet er ikke lutter lagkage [LEEWeth air eck LOOTor LOWka-yeh] – life isn’t only a layered cake. After den 11. september, a lot of Danish people, especially in the countryside, became increasingly afraid of foreigners, especially muslimer (Moslems). This created a lot of tension between ”old” Danes and nydanskere (New Danes = recent immigrants to Denmark). The politician Pia Kjærsgård and her Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) gained a lot of votes playing on this fear. She claimed that foreign customs were a threat to Danish culture, not an enrichment. The debate got really ugly at times. For me, the worst thing about it was that many of those things that are nice about Denmark, like the pretty flag and the soft, humorous Danish language, became mixed up with ideas I’d call a bit racist (no offence to good-intentioned DF readers of this blog!) In 2006, when the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published some cartoons that made fun of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, it got really bad. Demonstrators in Asia and Africa were burning Danish flags, and even our neighbours in Sweden started to say things like ”What happened? The Danes used to be this friendly, warm, tolerant, open, unconventional, egalitarian, peace-loving down-to-earth people, and now they’re all a bunch of mad nationalists.” I mean, things have really calmed down now, but that’s what it was like when the so-called Muhammedkrisen peaked! It wasn’t easy to be Danish.

But are Danes really more closed than other people? Or just more wary? I found a really interesting book, ”How to be Danish”, by Patrick Kingsley. He writes:

”In 1864, Denmark had just lost the last bits of its Baltic empire, and the population that remained felt humiliated. Once a multinational commonwealth, Denmark was now a tiny monoculture. Danes suddenly found that they were a people without an identity – and used Grundtvig’s ideas to create one. And so these ideas – enlightening as they may have been – became a means of defining and justyfying Denmark’s newfound homogeneity. In this way, Danes became exclusive through their inclusivity, intolerant through their tolerance – which helps to explain some of the contradictions in today’s society.”

What are your experiences? Have you felt welcome in Denmark? Or is harder to break the ice here than in other small countries?

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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. JM Goulet:

    Danmark is a small country, but not to sound condescending, and if the translations of the oft vilified Pia Kjærsgård that I have seen and read are correct, I as a brown man do not find it frightening or misguided to want to protect borders, language, and a small but distinct culture that for the most part has its own brand that must be buttressed against larger European and influential neighbors in addition to those who have left (fled) countries that they seem eager to replicate in and amongst their generous hosts, the Danes. Is there insensitive bigotry in the population at large? What country doesn’t have it? Kudos to the Danes like yourself for wrestling with it. Self conscious and self critical to a fault in my opinion, and that is a credit to them. Easily the most at ease I’ve been amongst white people with whom I did not share a language, even, if not especially, the folk in the countryside. That includes Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. If Pia is a bigot, she seems like the most reasonable sort to have a soap box when compared to “nativists” in the USA or UK. Perhaps it is because she is a Dane as well.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @JM Goulet @JM Goulet

      Thank you for your comment (and the kudos!)
      It’s interesting to hear a brown man’s point of view. A Latin American acquaintance of mine had a similar experience.
      She said she felt more at ease in Denmark than in Germany, Holland and Norway.
      Yet many people are, still, quick to play the ”racist card” whenever Denmark is mentioned. Yes, immigration laws have become very strict here (too strict, in my opinion!) But still, I agree with you that a lot of people (including many Danes) might be just a bit too eager to vilify, as you put it. After all, nobody risks anything by stereotyping a small country like Denmark. 🙂

  2. Oliver:

    I travelled to Denmark this summer. As a Portuguese, I was told back home that northerners could be somewhat rude towards people from south europe. I have to say that this was really not the case, to the extent of having random people buying me beer at this bar and asking stuff about my country. This was in Copenhagen though, and I heard it can be quite different in more rural areas.

  3. spanish in Dk:

    I don’t speak very much danish. So I don’t understand what Pia and her group say about inmigrants. My experience is that the inmigrants muslims don’t need anybody for being hated, they do it by them selves.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @spanish in Dk @Moraima – Yes, unfortunately there are some tensions between groups. 🙁 In some of the cities, for example, I know there are a handful of young Muslim men who do behave in a way that is threatening to other people. How do we integrate them (in the country) and make everybody feel safe and happy?