Doing Business in Denmark

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So you’ve decided to do business in Denmark! That’s a wise decision. This article focuses on how to best do business in Denmark, how to avoid small missteps and avoid errors made by others in this country.

According to a new World Bank “Doing Business 2015” report Denmark is the easiest country in Europe to do business in – for the 4th consecutive year!

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History
During the Middle Ages, several of the Vikings raiders and conquerors were Danes. For a time the Danish realm included most of Scandinavia and England. The Danish kingdom was a major power in northern Europe until the seventeenth century, when it lost a large portion of land to what is now southern Sweden.

As punishment for supporting Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna took Norway from Denmark in 1814.

Denmark has existed since around the year 750. The monarchy became constitutional in 1849.

Danish possessions include the Faeroe Islands and Greenland (the world’s largest island). Icealnd was a former Danish possession, but it declared its independence when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II.

There are approximately 225 American companies with branches in Copenhagen today. Although there is no U. S. Chamber of Commerce in Denmark, there is an American Club.

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Government
The Kingdom of Denmark is today a constitutional monarchy. The symbolic chief of state is the queen. The only real power in that position lies in the ability to appoint the prime minister (who is the head of the government) and the cabinet ministers. These officials represent the true power in government.

There is one legislative body, the 179-seat Folketing.

Language
Danish is the official language. English is taught after the fifth grade; it is the predominant second language, and a majority of Danes speak it with a high level of competency. Most are eager to use their English with visitors from the English-speaking countries.

Religion
The official religion of Denmark is Evangelical Lutheran. The vast majority (around 97 percent) of Danes belong to this church.

Demographic
The population of Denmark is per end of 2013, 5,591,000. The two largest cities are Copenhagen (the capital) and Arhus. Almost 90 percent of the Danes live in cities. Denmark continues to have an extremely homogeneous society, but the numbers of Eskimos and Faeroese are growing. Denmark’s per capita GDM was last recorded at 46255.05 US dollars in 2013, one of the highest in the world, and personal income is evenly distributed.

Culture
How Danes Organize and Process Information
The Danes are a proud people who tend to be satisfied with their own accomplishments and thus do not need (and are not open to) information or help from others. Their education is moving away from rote learning and toward the application of abstractive, conceptual thinking. They tend to follow universalistic rules of behavior rather than react to particular situations.

Negotiation Strategies: What Danes Accept as Evidence
Truth is centered in a faith in the ideology of social welfare, with objective facts used to prove a point. Subjective feelings do not play a part in negotiating processes.

Value Systems: The Basis for Behavior
Denmark is a social welfare state in which the quality of life and environmental issues are given top priority. The following three sections identify the Value Systems in the predominant culture – their methods of dividing right from wrong, good from evil, and so forth.

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Focus of Decision Making

Danes have a strong belief in individual decisions within the social welfare system. There is a strong self-orientation, but with an obligation to help those who are not able to help themselves. There is an emphasis on individual initiative and achievement, with one’s ability being more important than his or her station in life. The dignity and worth of  the individual is emphasized, along with the right to a private life and opinions.

Sources of Anxiety Reduction
Life’s uncertainties are accepted, and anxiety is reduced by a strong social welfare system – the government is there to serve the people. Though individualistic, Danes are resigned to a social welfare state in which there is little distinction available through individual accomplishment. Young people are encouraged to mature early and to take risks to develop a strong self-image.

Issues of Equality/Inequality
Denmark basically has a middle-class society, with family needs as the central issue of social policy and governmental intervention. Danes strive to minimize social differences, so there is very little evidence of poverty or wealth, although they exist. Nationalism transcends social differences, and a largely homogeneous population minimizes ethnic differences. In this society, upper-class husbands and wives share responsibilities of child care.

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Business Practices
Punctuality is very important. Be exactly on time for all business appointments. Danes expect punctuality for social engagements as well.

Remember that many Europeans and South Americans wrote the day first, then the month, then the year (e. g., January 3, 2015, is written 3.01.15). This is the case in Denmark.

As in the rest of Scandinavia, summer is a time of leisure. It is both difficult and inconsiderate to try to conduct serious business during July and August. Some firms even close for extended periods during these two months to allow their employees to take summer vacations. Danes have five weeks of paid vacation per year.

Business hours vary throughout Denmark. Opening times range from 8:00 to 9:00 A.M. and closing times from 4:30 to 5:30 P.M. Offices operate on a five-day schedule.

030115-business-in-denamarkNegotiating
The Danes tend to get down to business right away, with a minimum of small talk.

Danes are relatively informal. You can introduce yourself to the executive with whom you will meet, rather than expecting a secretary to introduce you.

Be prepared to give detailed briefings, since Danes are rather meticulous.

Danes are often quite frank in their manner of speaking. Statements are often direct but are not meant to be insulting in any way.

Avoid making any comments that could be regarded as personal. Even complimenting someone on his or her clothes can be taken too invasive!

The Danish sense of humor, in general terms, is more reversed or dry than e. g. the United States citizen.

Danes find the U. S. custom of striking up conversation with people we don’t know very odd. Don’t be surprised or insulted if a Dane with whom you attempt to make small talk is not responsive.

Danes are very tolerant; it is not advisable to criticize other people or systems.

Business entertaining
The main meal of the day is dinner.

The smorgasbord, a cold buffet, is very popular.

Toasts in Denmark can be quire formal. Never toast your host or anyone senior to you in rank or age until he or she has toasted you first. Never taste your drink until the host has said the traditional toasting word, Skaal.

A traditional Danish drink, aquavit (literally ‘water of life’), is quote potent. Be forewarned, as Danes often like to share this alcoholic beverage with their guests.

Cultural Customs
If you are invited to a Danish home for dinner, be prompt. There is usually no pre-dinner cocktail, so you may be led straight to the dinner table.

In a Danish home, assume very proper manners. For example, your host will suggest where you should sit. (At the table, the host and hostess usually sit at opposite ends, with the guest of honor next to the host.)

Expect to be at the table for a long time. Danish dinners can stretch out over four or five hours. You should not rise from the table before the hostess does.

It is impolite to leave a host’s home too soon after dinner. Cocktails are taken after dinner, not before. These may be at the table or in the main room. It is not unusual for a dinner party to last until 1 am.

Danes hold their fork in the left hand, while their knife remains in the right.

To indicate that you have finished eating, place the knife and fork side by side on the plate, pointed away from you. Be sure the fork’s tines are up: tines down means you want more food.

Protocol
It is common to rise when being introduced to someone, and to shake hands with both men and woman. Handshakes are firm but brief. When greeting a couple, it is customary to shake hands with the woman first.

Your colleague will usually shake your hand when leaving as well.

Danes say the traditional greeting heij, which sounds exactly like the American “Hi,” when both greeting and departing.

The common U.S. greeting “Hi, how are you?” will lead a Dane to think you really want to know how she or he is doing. A preferably greeting would be “Hi, I’m pleased to meet you.”

Titles and forms of address
The order of Danish names is the same as in the United States; first name followed by surname.

When doing business in Denmark it is appropriate to use a person’s title until the use of first names is suggested.

If you belong to an old firm, have the date your company was established printed on your business card. Danes respect tradition.

Gestures
The gesture North Americans use to indicate that someone is crazy (index finger circling while pointing at one’s temple) is used to insult other drivers when on the road.

The North American “O.K.” gesture (thumb and forefinger forming a circle) can be taken as an insult in Denmark.

Summon waiters by raising your index finger.

When ascending a flight of stairs, men precede woman. When descending, women precede men.

At the theatre, enter a row with your back to the stage (so that you face people seated in the row). It is considered insulting to squeeze past seated people with your backside facing them.

Gifts
Gifts are not required in a business relationship.

It is quite acceptable to bring a bouquet of flowers or chocolate to a host’s home. If you wish to give flowers to your hostess, it is best to have them sent ahead of time, so as not to burden her with taking care of them when you arrive.

An illustrated book from your region of the country you come from makes an appropriate gift.

Dress
High-ranking Danish executives frequently host black-tie dinners. Male executives should consider bringing a tuxedo along; women will need an evening gown.

Danish business practices are similar to American and British traditions. Conservative dress will always be appropriate.

Danish casual attire is still conservative, although jeans that are clean and pressed will be seen.

Red is a positive color in Denmark.

Ease of Doing Business Rank in Europe 2015 according to World Bank Group shows that all three Scandinavian countries have a the Top Five position:

1. Denmark
2. Norway
3. United Kingdom
4. Finland
5. Sweden

Compiled by Tor Kjolberg