Text and images by Sarita Rajiv
At my Danish language class last week, I had to speak for a couple of minutes about a topic of interest. Guess what I chose to speak about…gifting in Denmark – the good and the weird! After I spoke, there were questions flying in from all directions with my classmates wanting to know about the dos and don’ts. And I thought how about a Danish Gifting Guide?
After living in Denmark for over two years, I finally feel qualified to write a guide on gifting in Denmark. I can hear some of you go, “Does it really take that long to figure out the gifting traditions and etiquette in a country”? My answer to that is “if the country is Denmark, yes”. The peculiar thing about the gifting etiquette in Denmark is that so much of it is unsaid that it’s hard to know for sure unless you experience it first hand. There’s an implicit set of do’s and don’ts and it takes a while to get them bang on.
I’ll start off with the simple rules of gifting in Denmark and then move on to the fun and unusual stuff.
Host gifts & kids’ gifts: If you are invited to a Danish home for lunch or dinner, do take a gift along. It could be a bottle of wine, flowers or chocolates. Always wrap up your gifts…even flowers. As a general rule, florists in Denmark will wrap your bouquet for you.
If your child is invited to the birthday party of a Danish kid, it might help to ask some of the other parents what kind of gifts they generally give. It will give you sense of the budget you need to keep in mind. Most Danish parents actively discourage giving expensive gifts at kids’ birthday parties and there is generally a maximum figure limit.
Be generous, not extravagant: An important rule of the gifting etiquette in Denmark is avoiding extravagant gifts. That doesn’t mean you have to be stingy. Be generous by giving gifts that convey good quality and design. While products from Georg Jensen, Royal Copenhagen and Bodum are safe and traditional options, there are several stores that sell one-of-a-kind products designed in Denmark.
There are however, exceptions to the ‘be generous, not extravagant’ rule. For big occasions like weddings, extravagant gifts are acceptable if you happen to be very close to the couple getting married or if their wedding registry lists extravagant gifts. One interesting titbit I gathered from my Danish teacher Karin is that, some of the more affluent Danes have started using gift registries for their milestone birthdays (think 40th, 50th, 60th) listing rather expensive gifts like designer cycles and Bang & Olufsen products to the dismay of their friends and relatives. That’s certainly a new trend!
No cash please: Avoid giving cash gifts unless you’ve been invited to the ‘Confirmation party’ of a child. Cash gifts are acceptable and welcome for kids who’ve just had their confirmation ritual at the church but, not on other occasions.
Byttemærke: The first time I was asked, “Vil du har byttemærke på?” at a store, I did a double take. Loosely translated it means, “Would you like an exchange stamp/sticker on the gift”? I had spent a fair deal of thought and time to choose what I thought was a fantastic gift for a friend, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be exchanged! As I learned, Denmark doesn’t have a culture of recycling gifts, but returning/ exchanging gifts in favour of another is a fairly common and accepted in Denmark; yet another aspect of Danish practical mindedness. December 27 is called ‘støre byte dag’ or ‘big exchange day’ when Christmas gifts get returned/exchanged to the stores in favour of something else the recipient wants. Certainly practical I guess but also a bit impersonal, don’t you think?
Christmas wish lists: If your partner is a Dane, you're likely to be asked for your 'Christmas wishlist' by his/her family. And be prepared to be given wishlists from your partner's family members too. No more worrying abut what to get, you'll be told exactly what others want and asked what you want!
Opening gifts: Brace yourself to have your gift on display. Irrespective of the occasion, gifts are opened by the host in your presence. At big events like weddings and confirmations, gifts are opened and displayed with name cards for guests to see. So if you’ve bought a gift in a hurry and it’s not something you’re proud of, you could be in for a bit of embarrassment! This is fairly different from the gifting etiquette I was exposed to in India where we open gifts only after the guests leave.
Danish superstitions: If you’re planning to take along a set of gorgeous knives or scissors as a housewarming gift for a Dane, you might want add in some money as well. According to Danish superstition, giving knives or scissors effectively translates to ‘cutting or breaking the relationship’ and is considered bad luck. Don’t fret though, the ingenious Danes have thought of a fun way to circumvent this. All you need to do is include some coins tied to a string when you wrap the gift. Your host can then use this money to ‘pay’ for the knives or scissors. Clever right?
Have you had any unusual gifting experiences in Denmark? Or do you have any gifting dos and don’ts in your country that are different from the norm? I’d love to hear from you.
P.S: If you're visiting Denmark and want to take home some delightful Danish souvenirs, try these.
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