Danish Language Blog

Oops! The Danish Irony Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

(”Oh the irony back home in #denmark”, courtesy of Sakena at Flickr, CC License.)

(”Oh the irony back home in #denmark”, courtesy of Sakena at Flickr, CC License.)

”Det var bare mega fedt!” (It was just mega nice!) The guy telling this to his friend had lost his bilnøgler (car keys), topping a rather awful day where everything just went wrong. Fortunately, his friend was a Dane accustomed to ironi [eeronEEh] (irony). She understood that losing the keys hadn’t been a nice experience at all – her friend was just taking a jab at the situation. By faking positivity, he distanced himself from the bad day and made it into something they could both relate to in a sjov (fun) way.

What’s ironi? Well, basically you say something you don’t actually mean. For a Dane, it’s something totally different from lying, since you always expect the others to understand ironien and maybe share a little laugh. It’s really an ingrained part of Danish culture and humor (humour). In a serious situation, like an ildebrand [ILLehbrahn] (big fire), Danes do use serious phrases where they say exactly what they mean. In relaxed day-to-day situations, however, the air always has a faint smell of ironi.

Is ironi taught at Danish courses? Ironically enough, hardly ever. Foreigners with perfect Danish skills start interacting with Danes – and boom! irony hits, leaving everybody confused. It’s really an in-society thing that maybe takes some time to ”get”. 🙂

Here are a couple of real-life examples where irony has created misunderstandings between Danes and non-Danes:

At a meeting about cleaning a students’ dorm:
Danish guy [with ironic intonation]: Well, it’ll be like that, ’cause I’m the corridor President!
Romanian girl [in earnest]: Are you?

Me in England, the ”mad cow disease” is in the media, and a beef has just fallen from a grill into the grass:
Me [ironically, while picking up the beef with a fork]: Well, I guess it doesn’t make a huge difference anyway…
English teacher [in earnest, offended]: Thank you…!

In the Copenhagen airport, a Danish airport hostess is helping an Asian woman get her boarding card:
Asian woman [earnestly]: Thank you, that was so quick!
Danish woman [ironically and proudly]: Yeah, I’ve got magic fingers!
Asian woman [completely bewildered]: …

Have you been the victim of irony? Please tell in the comments section! 🙂

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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.