Expat Dinners

Expat in Denmark, the governmental organisation set up to keep highly-valued immigrants in the country, have been running expat-dinners for a couple of years now. The idea is that you can meet Danes socially, make friends and then with a newly gained social life; feel less isolated in Denmark and go on to stay until your contract is up and not a moment before!

I wrote about it when it was new and this is what I said:-

{wiggly flashback lines}

The information pack I received had a crash course (in English) of dinner table manners, what to talk about at the table, gift etiquette and so forth. It is as if the people writing it thought they were writing for aliens.

[...]

There was also an admonishment in the advert email for the scheme:

“There’s still time to sign up to Expat Dinners, or suggest that a friend does so. There is no point, no point at all, in wondering why it’s hard to meet Danes and then not taking the chance when they make an effort to do so. All the details are below, so no excuses!”

[..]

And I got matched! MATCHED! With a *gentlemen* in a town one hour by public transport. Fine. So, I emailed him “How do you want to organise this?” (Hoping he would say “Let’s meet in a public place actually, we’re both single and this set up isn’t that safe”)

Can you guess the punchline? He did not reply. What this organisation did not appreciate when it wrote its passive aggressive “don’t blame us when it is YOUR laziness which is at fault” message is that this is what happens EVERY time.

The next one is this Thursday. It’s no longer in private houses but in libraries as a sort of potluck affair. The idea is the same, to get Danes and “expats” together so they make friends. How lovely!

Now, my Danish is much better and I have looked at what they say to the Danes and what they say to the “expats” and there are differences! Let’s have a look!

Conversation Tips and Topics

Danes love to chat, and as many of you will have noticed in daily life, they can also be quite direct in their conversational approach. Be aware of irony and sarcasm, and keep
conversation positive, humorous, and light. Also remember to compliment and praise
before complaining, and only complain/criticise if invited to do so.
Usually it is a good idea to avoid business, religion and politics unless you know each other well, and are comfortable discussing sensitive topics, or topics of dispute.

Topic suggestions:

  • The weather (!)
  • Infrastructure (public transport, biking, navigation tips, etc.)
  • Vacation – where have you been, where would you like to go?
  • Cultural similarities
  • Cooking / Gastronomy
  • Humour (what’s funny?)
  • How do Danes meet Expats, and vice versa?
  • Kids and schooling (if applicable)

Most importantly – get to know each other, and have fun!

c.f.

Basically it’s a good idea to avoid topics like religion, politics unless you know each other really well. Be careful with irony, it is a very Danish phenomenon and is often misunderstood. Furthermore, it is a good idea to stay away from taboos and historical conflicts.

Hot topics:
• Weather (!)
• Infrastructure (Public transport, cycling, etc.)
• Vacation – Where have you been, where would you like to go?
• Pets
• Cultural similarities
• Cooking
• Humor (Danish humor and what’s funny?)
• How Danes meet Expats and vice versa?
• Children and School

Most importantly, get to know each other and have fun!

Spot the difference?

Did you notice how the foreigner needed warning that the Danes are direct, ironic and sarcastic (or “rude” for the cultural-absolutists out there), without any explanation of what “irony” is, while the Danes are warned that foreigners do not understand irony because it is a very Danish and oft misunderstood phenomenon.

Did you enjoy how the Danes were not warned that foreigners often complain/criticise and make conversations negative and heavy while the foreigners were advised to cut that shit out, for heaven’s sakes?

Now, you know me, I don’t like to generalise but if you grabbed Zog from the southern hemisphere of Aldebaran Gamma and told him “Just make small talk,” he wouldn’t suddenly start a conversation about the shameful occupation of the beautiful snow moon of Deneb 3 by the cruel and terrible Washiballasta ice people or begin a debate about the ethics of castrating fifth gender individuals from the planet Kallagosh. He would almost certainly talk about his pet space aardvark or the beauty of triple sunsets.

The list seems redundant to me. Have Danes never met strangers from other countries  without giving offence? It seems to me Expat in Denmark holds a dim view of both Danes and “expats”: The first group keep fucking things up by being offensive while the second keeps fucking things up by being negative. Well, that’s just lovely, isn’t it?

In my opinion, the first group actually keep fucking things up by not showing any interest in meeting foreigners. The ones who are interested, are usually fine. (Even if their use of irony is awkward and clumsy in their second language). The second group are usually terribly positive and determined to make things work when they show up to networking events like this. The negativity sets in after a long while, it’s not the default state of the foreign worker. If I had to pick something, I think they probably keep fucking things up by not being terribly interested in talking about frikkadeller and summer homes.

If I had written it,  I would give the Danes this advice:-

“Be interested in the other person and what they have to say. Listen to their life stories and ask open questions about them instead of ‘yes/no’ questions. Don’t assume you know anything about them because you have heard of their country. ASK!”

For the foreigner

“If you meet a Dane you click with, get your diary out and schedule a follow up meeting with them ON THE SPOT. Any vague offer of “coming over for dinner sometime” must be formalised or it will never happen.”

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24 Responses to Expat Dinners

  1. BABSALICIOUS says:

    Brilliant, I love your final advice.

    I think Danes interested in potluck din dins with foreigners will be very nice Danes indeed. Or into networking. Or both, and that is GOOD.

    I think it would be nice if they threw in a few strippers too though. Just to get the party really going. xxx

  2. singingbones says:

    Oh my god I laughed through this entire post! I esp. loved your description of if Zog came and what the dinner conversation might be like! I agree, why does the government seem to think they have to talk to us udlændinger as if we come from a foreign planet… do other european countries act so strangely about us english speakers_? anyway, thanks for the laugh! SB

  3. HOX says:

    What, no quickie course first on how to hold a knife and fork before being ‘allowed’ to meet the locals ?!

  4. Oooh, it’s a potluck now, is it? You should go just for the amusement value of seeing the wide berth the Danguests give to anything udansk!

    And yeah, hilarious account of Zog’s visit.

  5. Obviously the random Danes I meet in unofficially arranged encounters have never read such advice, because they begin with “what the hell is wrong with your president?!” (pre-Obama) or “So Obama’s going to win, right?” (during the election) “Why the hell don’t you have socialized medicine yet??” (now) “So Obama’s going to win, right?” (already been asked this twice, expect to get it a lot over the next few months). I field questions on gay marriage and abortion all the freaking time! Now, I have no problem answering these questions and engaging in a lively debate, but someday I’d like to talk with a Dane about something else.

    • etellerandet says:

      I’m lucky, they only know two things about my country
      1) All people from there like tea
      2) Our schools are strict.
      Neither of which are true.

      • me says:

        Sounds like China or Asia in general…
        I’m surprised they don’t tell you that Denmark’s royal family is the best.
        Why weren’t Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary invited to Will and Kate’s wedding?

      • etellerandet says:

        Well, I noticed that Danish Queen was sat right at the front, almost on top of British Queen’s lap, so, that’s probably fine.

  6. am says:

    We should come up with some useful questions for expats NOT to ask a Dane. I’ll start:
    # 1: “So what’s with all the funny little flags?”

    • # 2: “So why were there so many Danish Nazi officers?”

    • #3: “So what’s up with all the chlamydia, anyway?”

      • BABSALICIOUS says:

        Mwahaha, HEIDI. YES. What IS up with all the chlamydia??? I am so glad I am not the only one to notice the high incidence of it not least in DK itself, but in Dannish conversations.. First of all they are test mad for the chlamydia and seem to take the cure like a dose of tonic, secondly..what the fuck IS up with all the chlamydia?…jaysus, the word chlamydia crops up almost as often as frikkafockingdella. I think perhaps it is just like the breast cancer in DK, it seems like it happens more here but maybe people just find it more often because there is a culture of testing for it and it’s like uh…you are not a real woman unless you on red alert for the cancer, like it is your responsibility to women in general to check for cancer in yourself and then go on a fun run to support other women in the edge of their seats in their own private cancer anticipation or fight, so it comes up more often..I mean, cancer and STDs are higher here because people bother to get the small hand mirrors out??? Personally, I would prefer not to know, if I fall over and die one day perhaps it will be because of breast cancer I didn’t detect ‘in time’ to have my body bombarding with Magic Radio Waves and bits cut out to save me for another decade, or maybe it will be because I got chlamydia and it went to my brain and that was that. Last time I got a small hand mirror out it all looked normal, but who knows? There could be some chlamydia there. Oh, but wait. How would I get it?

        Either way, life is short. Too short to constantly be putting oneself in a position where one has to regularly get tested for chlamydia. Maybe it is because they don’t wash their toys before sharing them with Mikkel and Pernille? I simply don’t know.

        Wonderful post darling, I wish there were more out there like you. xxx

  7. Oh, and I think somebody should post this link on their Facebook page, just to get a lively ball rolling, lol!

  8. davidaron says:

    Thanks do much for this. Great blog, too. I’m considering holding my own potluck dinners with some Danes one day, and the tips in this article will surely come in handy!

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