Danes tend to separate business from personal and family matters. There is life after work. It is therefore rather rare for a foreign business partner to be invited to Denmark in the evenings or on weekends.
However, it is quite common to eat together with your business partner. Such lunches are always an occasion to talk about more than just business. Conversations can be more general: the general strategy of the partner’s company – or on a more personal level – what to do on holiday.
In any case, a pleasant lunch together creates a feeling of community, the feeling of “Fælleskab”. You can also reach the important state of “hygge”.
“Fælleskab” (community) is a central concept of Danish life, including the world of business. Fælleskab occurs when several people have something in common: a shared position, a shared vision or an issue of mutual interest. It’s important to get that feeling. Fælleskab also stands for important values such as solidarity, willingness to cooperate and mutual consideration.
Hygge is a word frequently used in the Danish language. It is used as a noun – hygge, adjective – hyggelig and verb – at hygge sig. Hygge is generally translated albeit imperfectly as coziness. Hygge is more than that and can be described as being together without any conflict and conversing with people you like.
Winter and candlelight are conducive to hygge, but not a prerequisite. Even a business meeting can be hyggelig, especially if it is an evening event. After the meeting, Danes will write each other an e-mail or card, thank each other and assure each other that it was hyggelig.
Having lunch together
Lunches often take place at the Danish company, either in the canteen or in the other person’s meeting room or office. Traditionally Danes eat cold lunches and warm dinners. Although warm lunches are becoming more common, you should be prepared for cold food during a business lunch at a company.
You might also get together for a business appointment at a restaurant. It is not a given that you will be invited by your Danish business partner. However, this can be easily addressed and clarified directly.
If you have been invited by your business partner in Denmark, a return invitation is of course appropriate. It can or should take place within a similar framework. Compliance policies are observed in Denmark, so anything too extravagant is quickly rejected.
If you are invited home by a Danish business partner, make sure you arrive on time. Danes are punctual to business appointments and even more so when it comes to private or semi-private invitations. So if you are invited to coffee and cake on Sundays at 4 pm, you can be at the door as from 3.50 pm. Bring a small gift and at the very least offer to take off your shoes.
Attention: while Danes are usually dressed quite informally at work, they often dress more formally on private or semi-private occasions.
And remember to write a thank you note after the invitation and say that it was hyggelig!
“Julefrokost” are the social highlight of the year in Danish companies. It can’t get any more hygellic than at a good Danish Christmas party. People celebrate together either in the afternoon or in the evening during the pre-Christmas period. Usually a group of employees is involved in developing a small program that takes place before and during a joint dinner. They play, sing, talk, dance and drink and eat a lot as well. Employers must be generous at the Christmas party.
Friday breakfast and Friday bar
The day before the weekend is a special day for many Danish organizations. In the morning breakfast is enjoyed together, either with the entire staff or within the department.
In the afternoon, after work, there is a “fredagsbar”. This is an informal meeting at the company – either in the canteen or the office – with snacks, beer and conversation. They might also play “Kicker”. This is how the end of the week is celebrated together with hygge and fælleskab.
Excerpt from Business Culture Denmark, Reiner Perau. Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag