The Art of Conversation

I come from a country where people like to talk and discuss anything and everything under the sun. If there is disagreement, that’s not necessarily seen as a negative. Conversations don’t necessarily proceed in the way I expect in Denmark however! Having gone through many conversations with Danes in the past 2 years, I thought I’d write a bit about my experience here.

Hygge is king (or queen)

The Danish concept of hygge permeates all that Danes do. You might think that this concept of being cozy and warm and fuzzy (or however you want to describe it) is all good. Unfortunately, speaking a different language to the one they are most comfortable in or speaking slower/having to repeat, will disturb their own hygge. So unless the person is comfortable speaking English, do not be too surprised if you are not including for as much of the conversation as they can. Some will, of course, make the effort, but inclusion in a group does not seem as high a priority as I was brought up with it being.

Conversation Progress

As I said above, starting a conversation may sometimes be quite hard. However, once started, it doesn’t necessarily go smoothly from there. A typical conversation here goes like this:

Me: Question

Dane: answer

silence

Me: Question (breaking the silence)

Dane: answer

silence

repeat as necessary

Now, I was always taught that if someone asks you a question, it is only polite that you either ask it back or ask something else. However, when asking around, Danes seems to think that you asked the question, they answered, so it is now your turn to say something. So I hope you enjoy doing the hard work of carrying the whole conversation sometimes!

What to Expect in Conversation

OK. You have managed to catch their eye and show the Danes that speaking to you won’t break the hygge that much. And you managed to get them away from the Me question – Dane answer scenario. What can you expect to hear? Well, this will differ based on the situation. However, 2 things stick in my mind as something that happens more often than just by chance:

a) The language question

Dane: So, how long have you been in Denmark?

Me: Two years

Dane: How’s your Danish?

Me: OK

Dane: It’s a hard language right?

Danes love to believe that their language is one of the hardest in the world

b) The Work Question

So, they now know your name, maybe where you come from, and that your Danish is OK. Then comes the next question:

Dane: Arbejder du? (Do you work?)

Me: Selvføgelig (of course)

Dane: Oh, OK

Now, this might be because I am a woman with a Danish partner. However, I rarely get asked ‘what do you do’. The question is (nearly always) ‘Do you work?’. This, to me, comes with the implication that I am expected to be sponging off the system. And no, that question rarely, if ever, is followed up with ‘So what do you do?’. Maybe the Danes are aware that I love my job, and I could talk a donkey’s hind leg off talking about it? Maybe they’re just very wise :).

 

I have tried discussing this with my (Danish) colleagues. They are not quite in agreement with me on some of the points. So I am wondering… what has your experience been, if you’re not Danish. And if you’re Danish, can you recognise any of it?


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