Style differences

May 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

First, gratuitous pictures out my window (this time, out my kitchen window):


During my time here, I have noticed some major social style differences between the Danes and Americans. I think the root of the difference is the laid back attitude that is so familiar to Denmark and so unfamiliar to us in the States. Some anecdotes:

1) Today I went to turn in my essay for my Food and Culture class. The essay had to be handed in to a secretary. I got to the department at around 12:25, and everyone (all the staff and faculty) were sitting at a big table eating lunch. I inquired as to where I could hand in my essay, and they said I would have to wait until 1:00 because the secretary for my department was eating lunch. Naturally, I assumed that the secretary was actually out at lunch and couldn’t receive my essay. I asked if there was a mailbox or someone I could leave it with, and I got a curt no. So, fast forward to 1:00pm, and I have my eye on the door waiting for the secretary to walk back in. Low and behold, he instead gets up from the lunch table, walks into his office, and then calls me in, and I hand him my essay and leave. He was at the lunch table the whole time, while I waited 35 minutes. I could have just handed him the essay or put it on his desk! I have no idea why it was necessary to make me wait that 30 min.
Which brings me to my next point: Danes take their breaks very seriously. Before I came to Denmark, I had some questions about course registration. I kept trying to contact someone, but it was December and literally no one was around to answer any questions. Phone? Forget about it. Email? No way. There isn’t the always-connected-to-work atmosphere here as there is in the United States.
This is also exemplified in the contact I have with my professors. In the US, if I email a professor on the weekend, I normally get a response later that day. If I email in the evening, I generally get a response that same evening. Here, business days and business hours only.

2) Another style difference: expressions of enthusiasm. I don’t know if part of it is lost in translation or it is just the Danish way, but Danes are NOT good at expressing enthusiasm. For instance, if someone asked me to hang out and I really wanted to go, I might say or text something like, “That sounds perfect! What time were you thinking?” and then I would follow up with, “Great, see you then!” or something equally enthusiastic. When I have suggested plans to Danish people, the range of responses are “Sure,” “Ok,” “Fine.” No enthusiasm or qualifiers. To an American ear, these responses sound like, “Sure, because I have nothing else to do,” “Ok, if I must,” “Fine, just because I can’t say no.”
I have also heard, conversely, that Americans can sound over-enthusiastic to Danes. I get where that is coming from, but I am honest with my enthusiasm. So if I said, “Sounds great,” I mean it really sounds great.

Anyway, I am greatly looking forward to a picnic in the park tomorrow with some friends at the community kitchen I cooked at. We are reuniting at our usual time since there is no cooking tomorrow.



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