“You had to be Danish….”

Personally, nothing gives me greater pleasure than when someone who has just been banged to rights replies “it was Danish humour.”

I will tell you what Danish humour is not. Danish humour is not license to say whatever you want. Danish humour is not a Get Out of Jail Free Card.

Culturally, what is considered “Danish humour” is the use of teasing amongst friends. There is also a bit of sarcasm and exaggerated regional stereotypes that count toward the genre. Danish humour can be quite dark, finding humour in adversity or misfortune. Many countries have similar veins of humour.

But who knows that? Danish people?

People in other countries cause offence all the time. Sometimes (usually?) they do not see what all the fuss is about and make the famous non-apology “I AM SORRY BITCHES CANNOT TAKE A JOKE!”

If a Danish person shits the bed, for example causing a major international diplomatic incident or damaging the reputation of a company or simply insulting someone socially; they can claim language barrier and/or humour barrier.

Hardly anyone speaks Danish outside of Denmark, so why not? Why not say that the translation was dodgy? How would anyone know? Very few are familiar with what tickles Danes, so why not? How can anyone prove it was not just a joke without any negative intent?

These two excuses make me happy. Because I do understand Danish and I do understand what counts as Danish humour.

“The translation is wrong,” translates to “I didn’t expect what I said would be translated,” and “It was Danish humour,” translates to “I have no way of defending what I said, so I must resort to lying.”

Which means the discussion is over and they lost.

12 thoughts on ““You had to be Danish….”

  1. Another great insight into the Danish humour system! I wonder if British people claim that you have to be British to understand their jokes? Maybe if it’s referring to East Enders or, more likely, using a pun. But we at least try and explain. On the whole, English humour seems to lack the ‘punitive’ aspect of regular good ol’ Dansker fun.

    But I have had second thoughts about that ‘rull grull me full’ joke which Danes always try out on non- Danes. While admittedly it’s not at all funny, I don’t think the humour of the joke is about making non-Danes look stupid, or at least it’s not just that: isn’t it also to do with the way these words even make a native speaker sound ‘stupid’ because of the funny facial cortortions needed to say it correctly? I guess the idea is, that you have to be an ‘idiot’ to pass for normal here…


    1. I think we do when someone says “But I don’t *get* Monty Python!” But yeah, British humour relies more on wordplay and surrealism than Danish humour.

      What’s funny about that tongue twister is: it’s funny if they can’t say it (haha! you can’t make sounds not in your language yet!) and it’s funny if they can (haha! it’s like when dogs walk on their hindlegs!)

      There’s a lot of bullying that goes on and we get told it’s “Danish humour” when we complain, so we get the wrong idea about it from a-holes when we’re fresh off the boat.


  2. Sigh! Marie Krarup is clearly an idiot, just like her father and the other members of her party. She was rude, and trying to explain it away just makes her look whiny and stupid. Making excuses about “danish humour” just makes the rest of us look bad.
    I am very fond of dark, sarcastic humour, but it’s at my own expense, not other peoples. Laughing at my own misfortune instead of crying about it. That’s danish humour.
    Laughing at other people and their customs? That’s just rude.

    Regarding the “rødgrød med fløde” joke, I think that what people are laughing about isn’t the foreigners attempt to say it, but the example of how impossible danish is. And in that respect, it is “danish humour”, because people are laughing at themselves for having an impossible language, that no one understands. I would never ask someone to pronounce it, though. It’s rude to put people on the spot like that. I know I would hate it, if someone did it to me. It does puzzle me slightly, when someone describes the danish soft d as an l sound. It sounds nothing like an l to me. It sounds a lot more like the “th” in english words like the or there….


    1. … But it was fun, when the radio hosts insisted on calling her Maori Krarup this morning *snickers*


    2. Yeah, she’s a dick and she’s a bit of an outlier. But I find Danish culture sort of enables that sort of exceptional dickishness? Maybe it’s the freedom loving aspect of the culture or perhaps the conflict avoidance thing but she wrote that blog entry ages ago and it wasn’t until they saw it in NZ that anyone said anything. Though, I think a lot of people tune the DF out, so maybe it’s that.

      I always say “Why do you only want to hear what I can’t say?” which stops most people short. I have noticed people who demand to hear tongue twisters very rarely mean any harm, they just don’t have any theory of mind, so they can’t see how it might make me feel uncomfortable.

      As for soft-d, I guess it sounds like a cross between one of the th sounds in English and l? I can sort of hear the difference now but it took nearly five years.
      What’s hard about ‘rød grøde med fløde’ is the Danish r sound, for me.


      1. I think it’t the conflict avoidance. Or rather: DF gets roughly 16% of the votes. That means that 84 % of the voters disagree with them and/or find them irrellevant. I tend to ignore them, because I don’t think they have anything positive to contribute. Why would I read a blog, written by someone like MK? She has nothing positive to say about the things that interest me, like culture, schools or feminism, and I couldn’t care less what her opinion is on… any of the things DF likes to talk about, really. She is just a politician from a small oposition party, she has no real power unless people listen to her or reads what she writes. Maybe that’s conflict avoidance. Or maybe it’s the only way to stay sane and keep your faith in mankind. Tuning them out is a fairly accurate description, I think.


      2. They came third in terms of votes last election. All parties in DK are minority parties, bless them. I’m glad they’re out of the coalition but honestly, with all that’s going on with the union-breaking, they are back in power next election.
        I try to tune them out too, they’re media-whores and say anything for a headline.


    3. Astrid, regarding the “th” sound. I’m no linguist but I speak from experience of learning Danish myself. I’ve seen my Danish colleagues trying to speak English and the way they pronounce “the” or English words with “th” is something that I have never heard in other English speakers. They speak it with very heavy THe, as in ZHE, almost like the French way saying “the”.

      No offense here, but i think Danish perception about English’s “th” sounds isn’t the same as the rest of us, therefore you think the soft d sounds like th, and we don’t think so-


  3. I would rather hear a joke from a run-of-the-mill racist that from a run-of-the-mill Dane. Because if I didn’t laugh at the racist’s joke, he (or she, let’s be fair) would realize that I didn’t think it was funny and go away. But when I don’t laugh at the Dane’s joke, I have to listen for five minutes while the Dane tries to explain it. “But see, the mom said ‘no arms, no cookies’ and the kid *doesn’t have any arms!* LOL!” And if I insist, no, really, I still don’t think it’s funny, the Dane announces that it’s because I just don’t get Danish humor – instead of accepting that maybe I just don’t think it’s funny.


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