Danish gifting guide

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Posted On August 29, 2014 / Posted In Gift Guides / Tagged Denmark, gifting etiquette, Danish gifting

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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Sarita Rajiv is a writer, gifting specialist and founder of The Orange Gift Bag. She’s on a mission to uncover the ‘best gifts after love’. When she isn’t dreaming up unique gift ideas, she writes for The Copenhagen Post and The National Geographic Traveller India among others.

You can follow Sarita Rajiv on Twitter, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Colleen Berge

25/11/2015 at 10:55

Thus was a super good post and it is much the same as in Norway actually. The gift issue has been a source of contention for me, as a Canadian living in Norway, not because I am not generous (I am!) :), but because to me for the longest time here I just saw the extreme focus on gifts (for adults especially) as being selfish. I was bewildered here when price ranges for gifts was mentioned and still after eleven years refuse to participate in writing a gift list. :) I also always say no to the byttelap so I suppose I have not adjusted well in this area!!:) I am also a minimalist so ideally for me, there would be no gift giving between adults, rather a dinner out or an experience or a donation to charity but these suggestions are not too popular usually.:) I do however love to give gifts, but the very essence of a gift to me is that it is chosen with thought and love. There is also a graciousness in learning to accept gifts as well, even ones you might not exactly want. This is important where I come from but not here I think. Anyway I really enjoyed this and you did a lovely job, you are dead on!!:)


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The orange gift bag

26/11/2015 at 12:14

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Colleen. Guess the Norwegians are just as practical about gift giving as the Danes:-) I know exactly how you feel about the exchange sticker. I've started including a bytte mærke on gifts I give adults. But I have to admit, I am bit hurt if they choose to exchange it. I guess the emotion we associate with gifting just doesn't gel with hard practicality of exchange stickers and price ranges for gifts. P.S: Just checked your blog and loved your post 'All that we lack'.


Eliza

20/11/2014 at 19:48

I love this gift guide! I'm new to Denmark and I didn't know about the gifting etiquette here. Since it's going to be Christmas soon, do you have any ideas for small Christmas gifts I can buy here...something that's maybe between 50-100 kr?


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The orange gift bag

20/11/2014 at 21:39

Thanks Eliza...glad you found it useful! Gifts under 100 kr...hmmm. Now that's a fun challenge to take up... watch this space for more:-)


Bipin Doshi

02/10/2014 at 02:20

I would have an extremely tough time in Denmark. Might have to hire a gift expert to buy gifts too. Stick around for a while there Sari...will need your help if I make it there. Love your website.


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The orange gift bag

02/10/2014 at 08:20

Thanks Bipin! You know I might just know a lovely gifting expert who'd be happy to guide you:-) All you need to do is pack your bags and get here...I'll be around for a while!


Kinne Bassett

13/09/2014 at 07:55

When visiting a Danish house-hold for the first time, it is polite to bring flowers - cut or planted.


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The orange gift bag

13/09/2014 at 08:10

Thanks for the tip Kinne!


Laura

09/09/2014 at 16:20

Very insightful and definitely needed! I find the gifting "rules" here can be a bit difficult to navigate. I didn't know the knife/ scissors thing - my parents just gave my boyfriend a fancy chef's knife for his birthday, but without the money... bad move?! :D


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The orange gift bag

10/09/2014 at 10:25

Ha ha...you know not everything is an outright purchase. Just ask you boyfriend to buy it out in monthly installments:-)


Isabella

09/09/2014 at 11:53

What a well written text! Delightful reading :)


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The orange gift bag

09/09/2014 at 11:58

Thanks Isabella. Glad you liked it!


Anne @ Unique Gifter

29/08/2014 at 17:24

How fascinating! Thank you for sharing. Like you said, a lot of things go unsaid. There is also the problem of absolutely everything being unspoken. As I read these, I thought of things that would be the same in Canada, but completely dependent upon circumstances. I love this! Do you have a similar post for India?


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The orange gift bag

01/09/2014 at 09:08

Thanks Anne. I guess when we grow up in a certain country/culture, we don't really think of these things because even if it's unsaid, we know it all:-) I'm sure a foreigner in India would probably find many of our gifting customs unusual. And yes, an Indian gift guide is in the works!


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