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Top 10 Things Foreigners Get Wrong about Denmark

Did the Vikings have horns on their helmets? Does the Queen have a say in Danish politics? And why are there so many bicycles in Copenhagen?

Even Danes do not necessarily know the answers to all of these questions.

1. The Dutch capital of Copenhagen is full of Denmarkians

The people of Denmark are called Danes. Things that are from Denmark are called Danish. Dutch has nothing to do with Denmark. And please do not use Danish as a noun. It is an adjective. There is no such thing as 'a Danish'. Even if they taste great. 

Cool viking warrior

2. Where did the Vikings come from?

This is a question we get a lot on our tours. But the Vikings did not come from anywhere and they did not disappear to anywhere else. They were just the people living here in Scandinavia. They started attacking the rest of Europe in the late 700s AD. Later on they adopted Christianity, became more peaceful and settled down. The majority of people in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland are descendants of these Vikings. 

And did they have horns on their helmets? No. That is a myth.

3. Why is Denmark not part of the European Union?

Map of European Union
Map of the European Union

We are. We just do not use the euro.

Just like Sweden and the UK are members of the EU (for now!) without being part of the euro.

Danish governments have wanted to join the euro for decades. But the Danish constitution does not allow such a decision without a referendum and the people have voted no twice. Luckily, the Danish Krone is one of the World's most stable and reliable currencies and interest rates are very low. 

Bicycles in Copenhagen
Bicyclists in Copenhagen

4. Why so many bicycles?

It always amazes foreigners how many bicycles there are in Copenhagen. Why is a good question.

Local politicians often try to take credit saying that people use bicycles because they have built bike lanes everywhere. But even before the bike lanes, the city was full of bicycles. (Just look at this video from the 1930's). All we can say with certainty is that Copenhagen is relatively flat, temperatures are good for exercising and it has become a social norm to ride your bike. 

5. The King has nothing to say, right?

Well... Yes and no. The monarch actually has a lot of power according to our constitution. He decides who is member of the government. He decides when to hold elections and laws are only valid if he has signed them. In practice, he always does what the Parliament wants. But if one day, he would refuse to sign a law, we would not really know what to do as there would be no constitutional way to force him to do so. It would cause a major headache for the Danish political system.

Map of Scandinavia and Finland
Map of Scandinavia and Finland

6. What is the difference between Scandinavian and Nordic?

This one is fairly easy.

Scandinavia is Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The Nordic countries are Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland.

7. Is tipping expected in Denmark?

Tip box
Tip jar

No, but it is not uncommon. Tips are for service that has been better than expected. Bartenders and taxidrivers do not expect a tip. But if you are happy with the service at a restaurant, it is normal to leave a 10% tip. But only if you are happy with the service. 

8. Is it legal to buy cannabis?

No. It is illegal to both buy, sell and possess drugs. As we spoke about in number 1, we are not Dutch.

German Reichstag
German Reichstag

9. Is it true that Danish is a branch of German? 

Oh boy. Be careful. It will not go down well if you assume that we are some kind of Germans. 

Danish IS  a branch on the Germanic language tree. But so is English, Dutch and German and the other Scandinavian languages. Danish is most closely related to Norwegian and Swedish although, to foreigners, it sounds more like German and Dutch. 

10. Are there any famous Danes?

Of course. Just to name a few:

  • The writers Hans Christian Andersen and Soeren Kierkegaard
  • Former  Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen
  • The actors Viggo Mortensen and Connie Nielsen
  • The World's most elegant footballer ever (in our subjective opinion), Michael Laudrup  and the goalkeepers Peter and Kasper Schmeichel
  • American Footballer Morten Andersen (second highest number of points in the NFL ever)
  • Tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki
  • The World's best handball player, Mikkel Hansen. 

What do you think is the most confusing thing about Denmark? Let us and others know what you think:

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