Gift culture in Denmark: all you need to know about giving & receiving presents

There is a very specific gift culture, too, as with all things Denmark. All you need to know about giving and receiving presents is this.

Directness & ease.

You know the Danes are very direct people, right? They like to express themselves and say out loud what they think, given it’s not about inappropriate matters, like age, sexual orientation, very personal issues, perhaps also politics and religion.

Other than these, any other matter is OK to talk about and the Danes won’t waste an opportunity to speak up.

The same goes for presents, during holidays like Christmas or other occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries.

Who doesn’t love gifts? Danes love them, too, although they won’t be easily deceived or bribed if they get a nice present like for example at work.

So watch out! Gifts are a kind and generous gesture for the Danes. Nothing more than that!

If you have anything else in mind, like favouring you for something if you get them a gift, that is a “Nej, tak!”.

There is a very specific gift culture in Denmark and this article will focus on all things gifts, like when and how you should give a present and what that can be.

When presents are “allowed”

As mentioned above, the Danes like gifts. But beware! Not everyone is “allowed” to take part in gift exchanges.

Gifts are for family members or people from the broader family, as well as friends (yes, those few but super close friends they have and most probably have had since… forever) and in any case people you know well.

Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have or even CAN give presents. Of course, the Danes will most probably accept them but if you are not inside their close circle they may feel kind of embarrassed or awkward.

In any case trust in asking them beforehand. Be it family members, friends or colleagues at work, it’s not a bad idea to ask them if they are up to a gift exchange. This often happens between family members or close friends.

“Are we going to have a gift exchange this Christmas?”. That’s the question and you can replace Christmas with any gift-able occasion.

However, things become more complicated at work. It’s not common for employees to make gifts to their manager or boss, because this might be regarded as an attempt to “bribe” or become favourable.

Colleagues can exchange gifts in Christmas for example if this is a company tradition. But again, keep it small and cheap. Speaking of prices, let’s find out how much gifts may cost.

Let’s be honest and ask!

Right! This is the best way to get yourself (and others) out of the difficult position of trying to guess how expensive the gift must be.

It’s perfectly OK to ask instead of gueastimating (guessing + estimating).

“How about gifts of around 300 kroner? Would that be OK?”.

It’s normal to ask and consensus on the price of gifts makes it easy and FAIR for everyone. Asking for the price is common even among family members and friends. No shame!

Why buy an expensive pair of shoes for your friend when they bought you a cute winter scarf? It’s a pity. And super uncomfortable.

So, next time you have to exchange presents, make the question. It can save the day (and your pocket).

What are the best gifts?

The Danes and Nordic people, in general, appreciate simple and not too fancy or expensive things. At least when it comes to social occasions.

It’s about the Law of Jante (Janteloven) or their minimalistic more hyggelig approach to life.

If you are invited to a dinner or party, opt for convenient presents. By convenient we mean things that can be useful and are easy to handle. Hmm… what’s the latter?

Easy to handle means you should not bring anything that can become a burden during the dinner party. For example, a freshly baked dessert might be OK but what if the host have already planned for the dinner’s dessert? What are they going to do with that extra cake?

If you know the host/ess well, ask them if it’s OK to bring dessert. This will make it easy for them to plan the dinner. Perhaps they will count on your dessert and not prepare one themselves.

Also, flowers are super lovely, for example for an anniversary or a celebration, but isn’t it better to send them beforehand? The host/ess might find it hard to handle them after you arrive (unwrap them, find the appropriate vase, put water and place them somewhere). See?

Other than that, there are 3 main categories of gifts that the Danes super appreciate! Take a pen and jot them down:

  • Food. It’s all about food at celebrations and parties. Bring food and they will love you. Again, ask the host/ess beforehand what they might need or let them know what you are bringing. Just in case. The Danes don’t like surprises, more so last-minute ones. Also, chocolate and sweets are perfect gifts as well. Preferably with liquorice!
  • Alcohol. You know the Danes love to drink. They are not alcoholics, of course, no way. However, they appreciate a cold beer after work or a glass of wine with dinner. They also like to drink quite a lot at parties. In any case, bringing alcoholic beverages will be greatly appreciated.
  • Hyggelig things. Hygge is about a warm, cosy setting, with low lights, friends and a focus on the present moment together. Candles are very common gifts and the Danes love to burn them on any occasion, so your friends will appreciate them a lot.

Liked the present? Erm….

Last but not least, let’s talk about what happens when the gift is not the “best” one.

The Danes are very comfortable with changing the gift they got, if they don’t like it or prefer to have something else instead.

And they are super comfortable reporting it back.

  • Did you like the book I brought you?
  • Actually, I changed it and got a new yearly calendar I needed, instead.

In many cultures that would be regarded as bad behaviour or even intimidating. In Denmark, that’s cool. Why keep something you know you won’t use in the first place?

Speaking of gift returns, make sure you ask for a “gift sticker” when you buy a present so that the receiver can change it if they wish so. You should also look out for the same “gift sticker” on your own presents to make sure you can return them.

If you will do so, do it quickly because, yes, unwanted presents are to be returned quickly. It’s a matter of effective management, right?

Here is your gift, minister!

Although gifts are not a thing in commercial transactions and formal situations, there are some exceptions. Only to remind us how lovely the Danish culture is.

For example, there was an extensive gift exchange observed during a recent shift in ministerial posts.

The outgoing Transport minister (namely Benny Engelbrecht) gave a miniature electric car (e-bil in danish) to the new minister (namely Trine Bramse). In turn, she responded with a gift herself: a safety wing for the bicycle. How cute!

You can see for yourself here and in any case, make sure you don’t forget your folks’ birthdays and celebrations.

Every occasion is an opportunity to have fun, spend time with loved ones and share the love with a small but kind and generous gesture like a gift.

Just remember to keep it hyggelig!