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Danish Culture

Danish culture
Photo by Dark Botxy

When it comes to culture, there is always old and new, traditional and modern, world widely popular and locally common. The culture of nation is its style and image. It is the main means of understanding and perceiving the nation for foreigners, to picture thousands of individuals as a whole.

Although the Danish culture is unique and singular, it can reveal different peculiarities depending on the regions, time period and occasion. However, if you have a collective knowledge about the Danish culture in general, you are guaranteed to have success in integrating into the Danish society.

Show off with your awareness of their cultural heritage, and making friends with the locals will become a hundred times easier. After all, every nation likes to hear appraisal about their own uniqueness, especially the speaker is a foreigner.

Here is the most crucial information you must know before heading to Denmark. Despite the hospitality of the Danish nation and the almost-perfect democratic system, Danes like to meet a foreigner interested in their culture.

Music

Danish accordeon
Photo by Niels Linneberg

Earlier in 18th century the Danish music was in the hands of individual musicians. These musicians took the music industry of their town and some rural areas into their hands. Sometimes music at the parties was provided by amateurs, who only had music as their hobby and played an instrument or sang a song.

Traditional Danish music has many similarities with the Scandinavian music. The most popular Danish instruments are the fiddle and accordion, the sounds of which prevail in the majority of Danish folklore.

The most well-known Danish musician is Carl Nielsen, a composer, conductor, and violinist. Nielsen has reserved a respectful position not only in Danish music legacy, but also worldwide. He is most famous for his six symphonies and the Wind Quintet.

Contemporary Danish music industry expands beyond traditional and includes rock, pop, jazz, classical and world music. The Danish music production is popular outside of the country as well, particularly in Europe. The Danish biggest hit ever was the “Barbiegirl” by Aqua. The song was a huge strike to the music charts all over the world, and it still remains one of the most favorite songs of the Europeans.

Other well-known musicians and bands are Safri Duo, Infernal, Kashmir, Outlander, and so on.

Dances

Danish dance
Photo by dustpuppy

In 19th century Danes apparently like to party with groups as the vast majority of their traditional dances are chain dances. In fact, everything happens very simultaneously.  Couples do the same dance as they move around the dance-floor in circles. They may also switch their partners in the middle of the dance and restart the whole procedure over again.

There are usually equal numbers of makes and females in the dance, however, if there was a shortage of males, for example, each male would dance with two women. Although this dance is not widely spread in modern Denmark, it stays distinct in some areas, where the older generation still has fun with chain dances.

The new generation has moved too far from traditional Danish dances and too close to disco style.

Literature

The Little Mermaid
Photo by hoangnt

The Danish literal heritage is strongly connected to the development of the Scandinavian literature. The Danish literature doesn’t simply include fiction and storytelling only, but also has a vast number of prominent philosophers, historians, and thinkers.

One of the most significant characters of the Danish literature is, of course, Hans Christian Andersen. He has established fame for fantastic storytelling throughout the world. His works, which are entertaining, mind, blowing, and life-changing, has conquered an army of fans, regardless the age or nationality of the reader.

The book industry developing more than ever, with incredible numbers of novels being published yearly. However, some traditions have undergone a change.  A great number of books are written and published in English now. Adding this to the popularity of the English language among the Danish people and their integration into the American culture, it can be a  dangerous competitor to the true Danish culture and language.

Leif Davidsen, Bjarne Reuter, Jens Christian Grondahl and many other contemporary Danish writers are the modern representatives of the Danish literature and always succeed in fully capturing the attention of readers and introducing new and fresh innovations.

Architecture

Sydney Opera House
Photo by stevoarnold

Danish architecture has undergone the influences of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance styles, like any other European country. The earliest buildings, which were mainly churches, have been erected by Vikings and carried the traditions of the Gothic style.

Bearing the shades of the history, Danish architectural peculiarities are reflected throughout Copenhagen and not only. One of the most evident characteristics of Denmark’s architectural landscape is the amount of color Danish architects put into their creations. Walking in the streets of cities in Denmark you will be amazed at the harmony of colors, buildings standing in a row and each one of them bearing a separate color.

VM Houses
Photo by Wojtek Gurak

At the end of 20th century another style that has started to evolve. You can easily spot at as you enter Copenhagen, as most urban cities around the world are its examples.  Neo-Modernism, a combination of steel and glass with minimal effort and maximum visual impression,  has already started to replace the typical Danish architectural style.

Although not in Denmark, the Sydney Opera House is an outcome of the creativity Danish architects possess. The eye-popping building, famous for a marvelous and unusual appearance, has been designed by a Danish architect Jørn Utzon

Other building in Neo-Modernism style are the “8 House,” Nordlyset residential block, the Greenland Culture Center and many others. The upcoming refreshments in the architecture is expected to be Pragmatism, which has already managed to have its examples, one of them is the VM houses in Orestaden

Art

The development of Danish art  can be divided into two periods. The first one starts as early as the Bronze Age. However, the art development came to a halt in Middle  Ages, when Denmark’s culture was heavily influenced by Germany and the Scandinavian countries. The 17th century is the Golden Age of the Danish art, which was reborn with a new Danish identity. This period continues today and leads the contemporary Danish artists. Richard Winther, Jeppe Hein, Per Kirkeby and many others are the carriers of the contemporary Danish art, which has already served as an artistic influence for many artists.

Cuisine

Smørrebrød

Danish cuisine
Photo by cyclonebill

One of the peculiarities of the Danish cuisine is the smorrebrod, open-faced sandwiches. They are not only popular in Denmark, but also a must for any tourist that visits the country. Frankly, you can’t avoid or miss these sandwiches even if you want. They are everywhere, from luxurious restaurants to small cafes and bistros.

There is a long history behind the Danish traditional dish , Smørrebrød (literal translation “butter bread). It all started during the Industrial Age, when bread served as a plate. Considering that after the meal, the bread soaked the juices of food it hold, the plate was probably the most delicious part of the medieval meal.

More interestingly, the ingredients for this dish were the leftovers from the previous meal. Very economical, if you ask me. First, you don’t need to buy food, you use the leftovers. Second, you don’t have to wash any plates.

Later on, people started to take smorrebrods to work, where they served as a modest lunch.

Now making a smorrebrod is almost an art. There is nothing left from dinner leftovers or soaked bread. While some would think cheese and some vegetables are more than enough on the single sliced bread, Danes will say it’s poor and boring. A true smorrebrod must be colorful and delicious-looking..

Smørrebrød
Photo by ilmungo

A typical smorrebrod looks like it accommodates everything that has been found around the house … not only the house, but the food market next door as well. Danes add so many ingredients on the bread, that it seems the dish is ready to explode any moment now.

As messy as it may seem, Danish smorrebrods require a complicated procedure. Lawful Danes have introduced a number of rules here as well. First, there are certain combinations you should use for the smorrebrod. Next, and the hardest part, you should know how to eat them.

Danes start the smorrebrod with cheese or a spread. Then they add meat, fish, vegetables, and the final decorations, which are usually greens and lemon.

The second part of the smorrebrod  ritual, the eating, can be tricky. If the gathering is not formal, help yourself the way you can. But if you fell you are surrounded by smorrebrod-professionals. It’s better to look up to them and follow the rules. Some of the rules are about the plates, when and why you should change them (for example, when switching from meat to fish), how you should drink snaps with your smorrebrod, and so on.

Pastry

Danish pastry
Photo by Kirti Poddar

If you want to have a real Danish meal, be ready to consume a lot of bread. It is a must on the Danish tables. Danes usually prefer rye bread, sliced and with seeds.

Next, you will find a big variety of pastry in Denmark . Pancakes, tarts, pies, and whatever else you can think of. The Danish traditional pastry is called Wienerbrød, which translates to Viennese bread. The name is associated with bakers who came to Denmark from Vienna during the Industrialization. Pastries are a must for all tourists, who want to have a bite of the Danish culture.

Danish Meals

Breakfast

Danish pastries
Photo by longislandwins

If you are used to small breakfasts in the mornings, forget about that habit while you’re in Denmark. Danes don’t have a coffee for breakfast. Your morning meal should not only be rich but also filling. Danish breakfasts usually include cheese, ham, boiled eggs, jam, honey, cereals, and, of course, bread.

Lunch

Smorrebrods are the most common dish for lunch. They are tasty, easy to make, and easy to eat (if you put the rules aside). The prices vary a lot, so be careful on what you order. Otherwise you will have a few eye-popping zeros on your bill. Keep in mind that the most expensive smorrebrods include seafood, mainly Danish shrimp and caviar. The cheapest ones have eggs and vegetables on them.

The Cold Table

Danes often prepare two tables for a meal (usually for lunch), the dining table and the so-called Cold Table. The latter holds either a buffet or dishes that will be later served to the main dining table.

Outside the home-style meals, cafes and restaurants offer Cold Tables as well. The visitor pays a fixed price, and can help himself as much and as many times as he wishes. The Cold table usually includes both cold and warm dishes like meat balls, bacon, fish, shrimps, and so on.

Snacks

Coffe breaks
Photo by galimathies

Danes take their snacks at cafes, where they can combine good friends with a good time. There will always be a reason for Danes to get out of home or work for half an hour and the daily dose of fun and laughter.

Coffee Breaks

Danes prefer their coffee rich and dark with their world-famous pastries to their coffee breaks. Wienerbrod can be found at almost any cafe, restaurant, or bakery.  Most of the times they have their coffee break in the morning after breakfast and between lunch and dinner. Some like to taste coffee even in the evenings.

Dinner

Danish shrimp
Photo by Kirti Poddar

Although McDonald’s has been conquering the whole world recently, Danes have managed to preserve their traditional cuisine with, most importantly fresh cuisine.

Generally, Danes like to eat according to food seasons. The perfect meal for a Dane is the combination of super-fresh vegetables and fruits cooked in kitchen.

Fast food is also popular, but not appreciated much. When a Dane invites you to a dinner, you can be sure that you won’t leave their house hungry, and that the meal will be homemade.

This was the brief overview of the Danish culture, which bears the elements of its neighbors, but preserves its own uniqueness too. In a country with rich and long history, the culture becomes an indivisible part of the nation’s reality and lifestyle.

Even if you plan to visit Denmark for a short period as a tourist, you should first of get to know the nation’s identity through its culture. This will not only help you in communication with the Danes, but also in proper understanding its places of interest, cuisine, and other attractions.

Quick Facts

  • Danish culture – Scandinavian
  • Traditional music instruments – accordion and fiddle
  • Contemporary music – Carl Nielsen, Aqua, Safri Duo, Infernal, Kashmir, Outlander, etc.
  • Traditional dance – chain dances
  • Literature – Hans Christian Andersen, Leif Davidsen, Bjarne Reuter, Jens Christian Grøndahl, etc.
  • Architecture – Gothic, Neo-modernism, Pragmatism
  • Art – Richard Winther, Jeppe Hein, Per Kirkeb, etc
  • Cuisine – smørrebrød, pastry
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