Illustration by Olivia Holden.
1. Hyggeligt at møde dig.
Meaning: “Nice (lit. comfortable) to meet you.”
Mark this down as your typical Danish greeting. For example, if you meet friends of friends, colleagues from a different department or your friend’s new partner, it’s appropriate to greet them with the informal Hej! and add that you’re pleased to meet them. Hyggeligt would be translated literally as “comfortable,” but of course only means comfort in the figurative sense. Here it’s used to mean that it’s a pleasant encounter.
2. Jeg vil gerne have…
Meaning: “I would like to have…”
… en ristet hotdog (a roasted hotdog), … en is med lakrids (an ice cream with licorice), … en kop kaffe (a cup of coffee). With this phrase, you can basically order anything anywhere in Denmark. Pretty convenient, right?
3. Hvor lang tid tager det på cykel?
Meaning: “How long does it take by bike?”
Copenhagen is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. This means that the hierarchy of traffic is a bit different than in other places: There are actually more bicycles in the Copenhagen city center than residents! In fact, half of all Copenhageners cycle to work every day. This isn’t only a benefit in terms of health and the environment — it also saves you quite a lot of money. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the common Copenhagener tends to ask how far something is by bike, rather than by car or train.
Meaning: “Oh” / “So”
This little word has more meanings than letters. Depending on the intonation, it can be either positive or negative, a confirmation or a rejection. It’s one of the most Danish expressions of all and is used in every situation: Nå! Hvad så? (So, what’s up?). For German speakers and learners, this Nå corresponds well to the popular Na).
Just to give you a few popular examples: Nå ja, det havde jeg glemt! (Oh yeah, I forgot!), Nåå! (Oh, I see!), Nå! Det er jeg ked af at høre. (Oh, I’m sorry to hear that!). These are just some of its many uses. On your next trip to Denmark, you’ll probably notice how often this little word is used.
5.Vil du have bonen med?
Meaning: “Would you like the receipt?”
You’re probably familiar with the following situation: You’re in a different country at the cash register of a supermarket, and you successfully master your first contact. You manage a “Hello,” then spot the amount you have to pay and proudly hand over the largest bill you have (because you’re still not familiar with the local currency). You get your change and then you’re hit with the unexpected question: “Vil du have bonnen med?” You suddenly feel nervous and your cover is blown: You’re back to being a tourist. So the next time you’re in Denmark, you’ll be prepared and can simply answer ja (pronounced like the [ye] in “yes”) or nej (like the [ni] in “nice”).
In Denmark, people like to celebrate: Birthdays, weddings, the beginning of summer, New Year’s Eve, all the kinds of celebrations we have in the English-speaking world. The julefrokost, the Danish Christmas dinner, is when many toasts happen. This is done either with a drink — whatever you have in your hands — or often with some schnapps. It also helps digestion, especially after you’ve had some of the famous Danish roast pork (flæskesteg), herring in curry sauce (karrysild), red cabbage (rødkål) or the traditional dessert, risalamande (almond milk rice).
7. Hvor ligger Den lille Havfrue?
Meaning: “Where is the Little Mermaid?”
During my first visit to Copenhagen, I decided that the Little Mermaid statue wasn’t worth getting excited about and I put her in the “overrated landmark” category. For this article, I’ll make an exception. The bronze sculpture in Copenhagen harbor was created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen. The head was inspired by the ballet dancer, Ellen Price, and the (life-sized) body was based on Eriksen’s wife. Unsurprisingly, she represents the fairytale character of the same name written by Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen. But if you’re expecting something big and exciting, you’ll be disappointed.
This is the Danish phrase that you’ll need to locate her. (Or from a boat, you can spot her first and foremost by the crowd on the shore.)
8. Tak for i dag.
Meaning: “Thank you for today.”
There are no Danish phrases for “please” as in “Could you please help me?” In compensation, the Danes are grateful for everything: Tak for i dag (Thank you for today), Tak for sidst (Thank you for the other day), Tak for maden (Thank you for the meal). If you’re invited to dinner, it’s polite to thank the host after the meal. In the same way, after a successful trip or even after a long day of work, you can say Tak for i dag. It’s also common to say Tak for sidst when you want to thank them for the last time you met if you see each other a few days later.
Likewise, I’d like to say: Tak for din opmærksomhed! (Thank you for your attention!)