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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Aarhus, Denmark

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Was married to a Dane and a few Danish classes in Chicago, but not more.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Danish is crazy, but there's so much English television (subtitled Danish) that you could get a break.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Yes because many of our "mixed" culture friends that moved to Denmark, ended up back in the US after a year...

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?


Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Definitely, but at that time, was emigrating to Denmark so feelings were much stronger than as a business expat. Anger was very strong (why did we leave our great US/Chicago life to struggle in small, boring, expensive Denmark??)

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Admittedly, I was not pleasant to be around because I complained..a lot. The Danes I knew were my husband's family/friends who had never lived abroad or been the US and could not relate. Also, the immigration laws (in '02) were terrible Danish citizens married to non-EU spouses. It took 8 months before I was approved and that was not a certainty. We had already sent for the papers to return to the US.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Now, after some time, I can appreciate the orderly aspect of Danish culture. However, my in-laws and husband's friends understand me better and I speak Danish pretty well which is a huge help.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The language. The politeness of Danes which can sometimes be mistaken for them wanting to be friends with you. Don't assume that. A girl friend told me she had a lovely dinner with a group of people when she arrived, hit it off with one girl there and when the night ended, asked this Danish girl if she'd like to get together for coffee sometime. The Dane actually responded something to the effect of "you're being a bit needy and I have enough friends". It took everything for my girl friend not to burst into tears. Danish men are great. Danish women put up HUGE walls. Don't expect ANYONE to speak in English at a dinner party. They have never been taught that it is amazingly rude to speak in Danish and cut off a guest for hours and hours. I have spent many a night out in silence because unless you keep talking, they'll flip right back to Danish. I know many others who've experience this. I finally told my husband (who did try to get English going) that unless he did something, I wasn't going to these dinners (sometimes 8 hours at a table!) anymore.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Yes. I kept telling my mother-in-law for probably 4 years that I was going to the "støvsuger" (vacuum cleaner) to watch television instead of "stuen" (living room)! Of course they knew what I meant (they don't speak English) but were too polite to ever correct me!!!!

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Just roll with it. It does get better.... Oh, and find expat friends and int'l groups to join to take the edge off!

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Comments about this Report

Jun 18, 2012 13:10

Ha, I like the "politeness of Danes" part. I see it a little differently. I'm English and I find the Danes to be incredibly rude, because English people say "thanks" and/or "sorry" in virtually every sentence, and even when we don't mean either at all. I know it's just their way, and by Danish standards everything is fine and there's no need to thank someone for holding a door open for example. The Danes leave a lot unsaid, but this makes for a quite concise communication where a lot is intuited. Conversely, In my time in the US, I found that Americans generally took a lot of what I said at face value or genuinely couldn't tell when I was joking. Which basically meant everyone thought I was insane half the time. Now, that's the standard American candour/British understatement language barrier and well-trodden ground, but expanding on that to American/Danish communication sounds like there would be a much bigger gap in attitudes and what is said/unsaid and what is meant to be taken seriously and what is just said for social convenience. Add to that the fact the Scandinavians have a general aversion to outsiders, accepting other Scandinavians and maybe northern Europeans (Germans, Dutch, maybe British) but considering most other people to be pretty barbaric, I can't imagine it's easy turning up from the US. Still, all worth it once you're in and get used to it.

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