Do Scandinavians understand one another?

When I was a kid in Denmark my grandfather told me this joke (he told it to me around 100 times since this was his favorite joke):

A Swede asked a taxi driver to find him a place that was ‘rolig’. The taxi driver took him to the nearest cemetery.

Now, this joke may not sound very funny to you but the whole point of the joke is that ‘rolig’ means ‘fun’ in Swedish but it means ‘quiet’ in Danish (and Norwegian).

Scandinavia united - but do we understand one another?

Scandinavia united – but do we understand one another?

When I first met my Norwegian husband I liked him immediately but we were having a hard time finding our way from being just friends to moving our relationship into something more. Imagine my surprise when he helped me unbuttoning my coat while saying, “kneppe, kneppe, kneppe”, which means, “fuck, fuck, fuck” in Danish. In Norwegian it means, “unbutton, unbutton, unbutton” (and to this day he`s still not entirely sure why he was chanting the infamous fuck/unbutton word but I guess he was a bit nervous).

Later, when my husband and I had actually managed to kiss and move in together, he was to celebrate Christmas with my family in Denmark. That had my mother-in-law write my parents a letter saying, “It’ll be ‘rart’ to celebrate Christmas without my son.” My mother thought that was a peculiar message to get. Why is that? Well, in Norwegian ‘rart’ means ‘strange’ or ‘odd’ whereas in Danish it means ‘nice’. So my mother figured my husband must be a terrible person for his own mother to find it nice to finally have a Christmas without him 😀

These three stories describe one of the problems we Scandinavians face when we leave the comfort of our own country to visit our dearly beloved neighbors. Our languages are very similar but there are a handful of words that have the complete opposite meaning. And we have many more obstacles to face when we want to have a chat with those lovely Danes, Swedes or Norwegians.

Finland and Iceland are NOT Scandinavia

Before anyone starts a huge argument: Finland and Iceland are not a part of Scandinavia and will therefor not be a part of this blog post. I love both countries very much and am proud to call them my Nordic brothers and sisters but they are not Scandinavian. Language wise Finland is the country that differs the most from the rest of us here in the North. Their language is part of the Uralic (at least that’s what the translator called it in English) language group together with Hungarian and Estonian. Icelandic is also a bit different from what we speak in Denmark, Sweden and Norway but if you want to know how the old Vikings spoke, Icelandic is probably the modern language that comes closest. Faroese is fairly similar to Icelandic.

For the purpose of this blog post I will not deal with other languages than Swedish, Norwegian and Danish even if other languages are spoken in Scandinavia (Sami and Kven, for instance).

We Scandinavians have a lot of opinions on the languages spoken by our Scandinavian neighbors. I’ll explore the claims and prejudices we nurture in this part of the world and it’s all brought to you because Gyllene asked me if I could write a blog post about the Scandinavian languages.

 “Scandinavians understand each other without any problems”

Unfortunately this is not true. We face quite a few obstacles in our attempts at understanding each other, the main one being that we just don’t hear each other’s languages that much. Like so many small countries most of our foreign entertainment is in English which means that Scandinavian kids will usually know more about anything from music to politics in the US than in the other Scandinavian countries – and we hear way more English than we do the other two Scandinavian languages. Kids in Norway will go trick-or-treat on Halloween but will know absolutely nothing about the Danish traditions  when it comes to Fastelavn or the Swedish celebration of Valborg.

Most Scandinavians will understand most Scandinavians if they really try but not everyone is willing to try and that’s a shame.

“Scandinavians should understand each other without any problems”

Absolutely! The three Scandinavian languages are similar to one another and apart from some minor differences that are easily learned, one could say that we really just speak dialects of the same language.

“The various dialects are impossible to understand” 

In all three Scandinavian countries there are dialects that might be hard even for the citizens of that country to understand. In Sweden and Denmark they’ve (sort of) agreed upon a ‘correct’ way of speaking Swedish and Danish whereas in Norway anarchy rules and people will stick to their dialects no matter what (what else would they do since there’s no agreed-upon way of speaking correct Norwegian?).

I think it’s beautiful and it expresses the Norwegian soul to some extend that they tell people to “come as you are and speak your dialect as you please” but it does make it hard sometimes, especially for Swedes and Danes. Even for Norwegians sometimes. I had a hairdresser once who told a colleague that something the colleague was looking for was on the ‘teilen’. My hairdresser spoke a dialect from Telemark. To this day I have no idea what ‘teilen’ is. Was it the table, the floor, the cupboard? The problem was that her colleague had no idea either so she just kept looking in the general direction my hairdresser had pointed to.

Scandinavian dialects

Scandinavian dialects

“Swedes are lazy/superior/snobbish since they don’t understand Danish and Norwegian”

As a Dane living in Norway I hear this all the time and I’ve come to feel very sorry for all the Swedes who have this accusation  said behind their backs.

It’s a fact from countless tests that Swedes are having a harder time understanding Danish (especially Danish) and Norwegian than the other way around. I’ve seen many explanations  but the main one that is usually mentioned is the fact that – at least back in the days – Danes and Norwegians watched Swedish television but most Swedes, and the ones living on the east coast in particular, could’t receive Danish or Norwegian television. I’m not sure how important the television explanation is to the generations growing up now but it’s still a fact that Norwegians will go buy cinema tickets whenever a Swedish movie is in the theatre whereas Swedes won’t watch Norwegian movies even if you paid them to do so.

The lazy/superior/snob argument is one often made by Norwegians and Danes. I say it’s not true (I really don’t want to get the evil eye from my Swedish friends 😉 ) but I do wish more Swedes in general would do more to overcome their “I don’t understand Danish/Norwegian” complex.

“Danes talk like they have a hot potato in their mouth”

* spits out potato* Noooooooo, we don’t 😀

Swedes and Norwegians claim that Danish is just a string of guttural sounds that no one understands. Some Norwegian comedians even made a  television show about how Denmark was falling apart because not even Danes understood each other anymore.

Well, Danes usually have the perfect revenge. We make foreigners say the absolutely hardest sentence in Danish: “Rødgrød med fløde”. And then we laugh. And laugh. And laugh. (And cry a little bit because no one understands what we’re saying and maybe our language is really ugly after all).

This is 'rødgrød med fløde'

This is ‘rødgrød med fløde’

“Norwegian isn’t a real language – it’s just Danish pronounced in Swedish”

This is what Danes say to Norwegians to tease them and it does have a grain of truth since Danish and Norwegian look very alike when written, though Danish has kept more of the international ways of spelling words whereas Norwegian has changed the spelling. A word like ‘station’ is spelled ‘station’ in Danish and ‘stasjon’ in Norwegian. The same word but different spelling.

Norwegian and Swedish sound fairly alike to the untrained ear. Norwegians and Swedes can’t hear it themselves but Danes (and probably people from other countries) have a hard time telling them apart. Yes, they have quite a few words that are different in the two languages but the pronunciation sounds similar.

My husband, who is Norwegian, always has to listen to a semi-Swedish from my Danish friends. They think they are doing their best version of Norwegian to make it easier for him to understand what they’re saying but, really, they’re making it harder. They just don’t know that all their “Norwegian” words are really Swedish.

But, of course, Norwegian is a real language. And not just one. There are actually two Norwegian languages – Bokmål and Nynorsk. They are as similar to one another as both are to Swedish and Danish and all Norwegian kids have to learn both languages in school (much to the annoyance of kids in Oslo who rarely speak Nynorsk at home – but this is quite a different debate).

“Norwegians understand everything”

Tests show that Norwegians are the Scandinavians who understand their neighbors best. There are several reasons for this and no, none of those reasons are that Norwegians are smarter or more linguistically talented. I would say that the large number of dialects most Norwegians hear every day makes them more open-minded to different ways of pronouncing the same word.

There may also be a little brother complex going here – Norwegians being the smallest country in Scandinavia if we measure by number of citizens. In my experience Norwegians are more interested in whatever is happening in Sweden and Denmark than the other way around. They watch movies, listen to music and read newspapers and magazines from their neighbors. That also adds to the understanding of the other two languages.

Norwegian and Swedish moose head to head

Norwegian and Swedish moose head to head

On a more personal note I want to add that I’ve met plenty of Norwegians who don’t understand Danish. I can still remember the first time I met my husband’s friends at a party. I had a nice long chat with one of his best friends – let’s call him Terje (mainly because his name is Terje) – and after about 15 minutes I leaned forward to grab my beer off the table. He leaned behind my back and whispered to my husband who was sitting next to me: “Do you understand anything of what she’s saying?”. To this day my husband regrets that he didn’t reply: “No, but she’s great in the sack.” Just to stir things up a bit.  😀

“Danish is semi-English”

There’s no question that English has a major influence on the way we speak in Scandinavia. Not only have we included a lot of English words into our everyday language but even our sentence structure seems to be changing. English expressions are translated but the English sentence structure is kept in many cases.

In Norway strong forces, like the The Norwegian Language Council, try to fight this by making up Norwegian translations for the most popular English words. Some of these translations, like the word ‘minnepinne’ (which means literally ‘memory stick’ but check out the beauty of the word) really catch on. In Denmark they call it a ‘memory stick’ with a strong Danish accent. This goes for so many other words and to a degree that has especially Norwegians laughing and making fun of their semi-English Danish.

“Swedish is semi-French”

Now, this is an exaggeration – a gross exaggeration. But Danes and Norwegians do laugh when they hear words like ‘kalsonger’ (which means underpants and that word apparently doesn’t even have a French origin but an Italian) or ‘trottoar’ (comes from the French word ‘trottoir’ and means sidewalk). They completely forget all the French words in Danish and Norwegian, words like bureau, mayonnaise and deja vu. Keep in mind that Norwegians spell it differently 😉

The reason why Danes and Norwegians make this connection between Swedish and French is probably because the Swedish royal house has it’s roots in France with Jean Baptiste Bernadotte who became a Swedish king under the name Karl Johan back in 1818. But just because Sweden had a French king doesn’t mean that Swedes speak semi-French.

So which Scandinavian language should foreigners learn?

I have had this question so many times I can’t count. Which Scandinavian language will make you understand most Scandinavians? Which Scandinavian language is the easiest to learn?

I’m always surprised when I have that question because I rarely see the need for English speaking foreigners to learn our languages. At least not if you’re only here for a short visit, since most of us speak a passable English – if you’re here to work it’s a necessity. Even in Norway where we lack people in so many professions employers usually demand that you speak/understand one of the Scandinavian languages. So if you’re going to move here you probably should learn one of the Scandinavian languages – and probably the language of the country you’re moving to.

It’s not easy as this blog post written by an American in Norway will show you: Norwegian for Dummies.

Here are the upsides to learning each of the Scandinavian languages:

  • Swedish is spoken by more people than the other two Scandinavian languages and is understood by even more
  • Norwegian has a lot of dialects which can be difficult to learn but it does make Norwegians have a greater acceptance towards dialects
  • Danish is easy. Just make sure you always carry a hot potato in your mouth and you’re good to go 😉
Learning the Scandinavian languages

Learning the Scandinavian languages – check out the amazing cartoon Scandinavia and the World!

Æ, Ø, Å or Å, Ä, Ö

So how can you tell the three Scandinavian languages apart? If you see the languages written the easiest way to tell Swedish apart from Danish and Norwegian is by looking at those weird letters we have. Swedes, being the stubborn people they are, insist on doing it differently from the rest of us so they write Å, Ä and Ö where Danes and Norwegians write Æ, Ø and Å.

And if you want to separate Danish from Norwegian and Swedish – just check for that hot potato 😀

Check out my blog post about the weird Scandinavian letters.

You’re welcome to add your opinion, your fun stories about the Scandinavian languages or your help to non-Scandinavian-speakers in the comments below.

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42 responses to “Do Scandinavians understand one another?

  • Gordon Barlow

    ” I had a hairdresser once who told a colleague that something the colleague was looking for was on the ‘teilen’. My hairdresser spoke a dialect from Telemark. To this day I have no idea what ‘teilen’ is. Was it the table, the floor, the cupboard?”

    Thyra. I don’t speak Norwegian at all, but I do know that “g” and “y” and “i” are common equivalents in Norsk and Swedish, and many other languages, actually. Google Translate told me that “teglen” means “the brick” – which could well be a slang word for “shelf”. What do you think?

    • thyra10

      That was a great suggestion but I think they had wooden shelfs. But that word might come from the word for brick and come to represent more. It’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard (and I’ve told that story to quite a few people 😀 )

  • Gordon Barlow

    A beautiful and funny report, Thyra! Our son lives in Norway, but for a couple of months last year he lived and did some casual work in Sweden. He told me the Swedes understood most of what he said in Norwegian, but maybe they were just being polite! At home in Oslo, people can’t identify his accent, so they presume he is either Swedish or from somewhere up north.

    • thyra10

      Thank you!
      It could be that your son’s Norwegian was easier to understand because he’s used to talking slower and used to noticing if people understand what he’s saying. I’m told that my Norwegian is easier for Swedes to understand but I don’t think it’s necessarily my Norwegian but more years of fiddling with my Norwegian to be understood in Norway.
      Norwegians can’t identify my accent either but they presume that I’m German or Dutch – or from the south of Norway 😉

  • frllarsson

    Love this!! Spot on =) As a Swede I can see myself in almost everything, I´ve got a hard time trying to understand Danish, much easier with Norwegian. Allthough we around were I live say that Danish people got porridge, not potato, in the mouth LOL
    //Linda

  • gyllene

    Now I know that you guys probably can’t understand each other that well and when I come to visit I can speak English. I really enjoyed this and many parts were funny. You did a great job!

  • jrwatkins0711

    This was so interesting! I do remember, that ‘teil’ in German means part, as opposed to the whole, ganze/n…

    What’s fascinating to me, is that as an American, I do not expect the French, Germans, and Polish (for example) to automatically fluently speak each other’s languages, simply because of their proximities to each other. Or any other countries grouped together. So I feel bad that there should be an issue with Scandinavians!

  • erin g

    I love this blog. I’m an American who married a Dane and moved to Denmark about 6 months ago. This post was spot on. Loved it so much. I get the Rødgrød med fløde all the time.

  • Know-All

    haha…this was hilarious…I wonder what you will say about Indians…we have hundreds of languages in one single country…and the mix-ups can be quite hilarious here too! 🙂

  • rebelina11

    Learn a new word every day!!! Kalsonger in Swedish, calzón or calzoncillo in Spanish (the former for the boxer shorts and the latter for tighty-whities). This is a CULTURED blog.

  • fffbone

    LOL, I enjoyed reading this Thyra. I was wondering how and when you learned to read and write in English. Do they teach it in school? Also I had to go check out the different languages on line.

    • thyra10

      Thank you! 😀
      When I went to school we started learning English in fifth grade, German in seventh grade and Russian (we could choose between French and Russian and I thought Russian sounded exotic) and Latin in high school.
      We learned the other Scandinavian languages while learning our own.
      Today they start learning English much earlier – first or second grade, I think. It’s not intensive learning but they learn a few words and sentences – you know, getting used to the language. English has become even more important than when I went to school because of the internet.

  • Daniel Dormann

    There is very little tolerance in the Danish language for deviations — which pretty much means that each letter has to be said in a certain way, or the word all of a sudden doesn’t mean anything. It takes time to figure out that the mispronounced A in some word is intended as an A. Danish kills its self by NOT (Generally speaking) at all being pronounced the way we spell things, which makes it even harder to learn. If I spell “Chocolate” in Danish “Chokolade” a Norwegian or a Swede would pronounce the letters, which is also correct in Danish (However no one does that anymore and the Danish language really is becoming a series of sounds that makes little sense) A Dane will pronounce it “Chokola(the)” the (the) being how you pronounce “the” as in “the who” it can in some small part be compared to English speaking countries not pronouncing “then and than” different, which is a shame as you loose a lot of nuance in the way you speak, and get the full beauty of any language.
    If you wish to compare the languages, just use what I just wrote. I have had 2 Norwegian girlfriends, and have traveled quite a bit around Norway, also to the point where I could say just about where a dialect was from. What I learned was. To understand Norwegian as a Dane, just say every Danish word and pronounce the letters and you have it haha, yes it’s that simple, next you just need to know the sound of each letter in Norwegian, just like when you learn any other language, their alphabet should be the very first thing you get down by heart. I did that with Greek, French and German. English was by far the most easy language to learn, because we get it from TV and so on, so learning it was just watching TV, reading the subtitles and asking if I was in doubt. I do not speak German, French or Greek, but I did have crack at it. German was easy as it is close to Danish, and we all share the same language root (Germanic) and if you as a Dane just go with what you think German sounds like to you, then the rhythm and pronunciation will come rather fast. Greek was a little project when I was there for 3 weeks when I was 17, I wanted to show some respect to my host so picked up as much as I could, enough so that when I let out Greek words, the local would smile and see I made an effort 🙂 French… Oh how interesting you sound you little rascal of a language and how are NOTHING like my own language (Though French is a MAJOR influence on the Danish language but I could write 3 pages on that alone with the little knowledge I do have, and yet it is not.
    My point really just is. Learn Icelandic which is a BEAUTIFUL language, and you’ll have a great basis for the Scandinavian languages, German and English.

    Thank you for this post, I LOVE how well it is written and with such humor !

    • thyra10

      Oh, I could agree more! Danes have almost zero tolerance towards little differences in pronunciation. I’m Danish (but I haven’t lived in Denmark since I was 18) but people will still comment on my Danish. I actually get more comments on my Danish in Denmark than my Norwegian in Norway – and I know for a fact that my accent in Norwegian is stronger than the small flaws I have in my Danish. It’s annoying!

      I’m kind of glad my kids are learning Norwegian instead of Danish – the spelling is SO much easier since Norwegian is written almost as it’s spoken (with variations due to dialects).

      I used to be able to understand Faroese (my granddad was Faroese) and I could even read the Faroese newspaper my father subscribed to. It’s a beautiful language too and very close to Icelandic. I just wish I’d kept it alive.

      Thank you! 😀

  • Gordon Barlow

    Here’s one brief example of how difficult I find Norwegian. Last Xmas i wished my son and his daughters, “God Jule”, and said (in English) “pretty good, eh?” My youngest granddaughter – aged ten, whose mother if from Kristiansand – said I hadn’t got “Jule” quite right, and that it was really… and she pronounced the word with (I swear!) FOUR syllables. Two before the ell and two after. Sheesh! And Kristiansand is just about as close as you can get to Denmark. I give up!

    • thyra10

      Aaaw, that was a cute story 😀
      And now you had me saying “jul” in Kristiansand dialect about 50 times just to make it into four syllables. I managed in the end 😉

  • Minamus

    If it’s any comfort, us norwegians don’t always understand some of the dialects from other parts of our country! 😛 And great post! I love your blog! 😀

  • Håkon Mo Flataker

    Hei 🙂 Bare ein liten påminnelse, Islandsk/Norrønt var snakka i Vest-Norge. Just a little reminder, Icelandic/Norse was/is spoken in Western-Norway. It used to be our language before u danes and sweds came and ruined it 😉 The norwegian language changed during the unions with Sweden and denmark. Today western-norway speak a more norse norwegian (Nynorsk)

  • Magnus Petersson

    I’m a Swede and I have absolutely no problems with understanding Norwegian as spoken in eastern Norway, you know, the dialects in Oslo, Sandefjord, Fredrikstad, Halden etc. It gets a little bit harder the more north you get though, but for the most certainly not impossible. I also understand Danish for the most, which is common to understand here in southern Sweden. Here in Western Blekinge we even have the Danish meaning for certain words, like “grina” for example, means “crying” for the rest of Sweden and even Norway, but here it means “laughing” just like the Danish word “grine”.

    I believe that most Swedes understands Norwegian to a large extent, even if some may claim they don’t. Its for example very rare to have English conversation between Swedes and Norwegians, no matter what part of Sweden or Norway they are from. I personally have a principe to never speak English with other Scandinavians, not even to Danes, no need to speak a foreign language with someone speaking a language where over 90% of the words are essentially the same.

    There is not any probems for me with to watch a Norwegian movie without subtitles or with Norwegian subtitles. To be honest, there is Swedish dialects that I find much harder to understand than most forms of Norwegian. Take the dialects spoken in for example rural Jämtland, Kalix or even worse Överkalix or the rural parts of the island of Gotland, there you don’t understand anything if you are from southern Sweden like me. Luckily however, most Swedes knows how to speak “correct Swedish” along with their native dialect.

    As for Finland, they have a pretty large Swedish-speakin minority (around 300,000, most of them living in Österbotten, Åland and southern Finland) and there they have some really, really hard to understand Swedish dialects, in particular Närpesmål where they speak an extremely archaic and old form of Swedish. As a Swede from Blekinge near Skåne, I don’t understand a word of what the people in Närpes are saying. Example here, if you understand this you are better in Swedish than I am:

  • Forestwoodfolkart

    This is a very interesting and informative blog post, and indeed, also many of the replies. It is funny how the Danish accent is hard to pick when they speak English and are in another country. At times, I can hear an Irish, or in others, an American accent in their voice, and I wonder if their pronunciation comes from their english language teacher from school, and then from television. Does the english accent Scandinavians learn english with, affect the way they pronounce the english language?

    Another point: I went to see the first of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy at the Danish club years ago and they could not get the subtitles to work. It was interesting to hear that the Danes found it near impossible to understand saying it must be “high swedish” ( and one of the Danes grew up in Skane!! Loved the videos too.

    • thyra10

      Thank you! 🙂

      A lot of people mistake Danes for Germans when we speak foreign languages simply because both Danish and German are sort of one-tone languages, as opposed to for instance Swedish and Norwegian where you use higher tones at the end of a sentence to mark that it’s a question etc.

      When I went to school we were only permitted to speak a sort of Queen’s English. When I was 18 and moved to California I really struggled to keep the accent I’d learned in school because American sounded “wrong”. Today kids can choose any variation of English as long as they don’t slalom between American and British English. Most kids will speak with a heavy local accent, though.

      Generally I find that schools put too little effort into ridding us with our local accents. It’s as if it’s fine as long as our English is gramatically correct – but it isn’t. I sometimes feel incredibly sorry for people who meet us when we mumble along with our heavily accented English 😉

      • Rune

        I do not think our local accent is a problem. Due to many years of teaching English in school and all the subtitled movies and television series, we usually have a quite good vocabulary (and the passive one rather big as well). I do not find it problematic to talk to my Indian colleagues even though they have a quite heavy Indian accent. I might be wrong, though I guess we are more prone to be embarrased by our countrymen, than this beeing a real problem 😉

      • Ippi

        A couple of comments from a (Finnish-speaking) Finn. Many languages mark interrogative sentences with a rising pitch, but what really sets Swedish (and Norwegian) apart (as spoken in Sweden/Norway, this doesn’t really apply to the Finlandssvenskar) is what is called “the singing quality of Sweden” here. The pitch goes up and down. The Swedish Chef sketches in the Muppet Show exaggerated and (poorly) imitated this. This difference in tonality makes it somewhat easier for us Finnish-speaking Finns to understand Finland-Swedish than Rikssvenska.

        As for getting rid of our local accents, that’s a popular topic of conversation in Finland. Speaking English with a heavy Finnish accent is often called mockingly “Tankero-Englanti” or Finglish. As Rune said, I think it’s more a question of being embarrassed than a real language barrier. And for the record, you’re ruining a perfectly good stereotype here. As Scandinavians, you guys are supposed to be loutish and cocksure to the extreme. That “but what will they think of us when we ramble in our pidgin English” attitude is supposed to be our Finnish specialty. although it’s getting better now. We middle-aged Finns usually worry how our accents make us look like backwater hicks and idiots (and expose that we Finns really are hicks). Many younger persons reject that attitude. They worry about how worrying about such nonsense makes us look like backwater hicks and idiots (and exposes that we Finns really are hicks) instead. It’s like one of those Russian dolls.;-)

        Still, I agree that teaching the correct pronunciation is important and somewhat overlooked in schools. At least here- I don’t really know much about Danish, Swedish or Norwegian foreign language education.

        There’s an old joke about a Swedish couple vacationing abroad. Bengt and Camilla go to the hotel bar and Bengt places the order: “I’d like a lager, please, and do you have any use for my wife?” If it happened IRL, the bartender might be amused, but I don’t think he would try and hump Camilla instead of giving her a glass of orange juice.

  • Alison Griffiths

    I love your posts, all of them, but ‘kneppe, kneppe, kneppe’ will always stick in my mind 🙂

  • Chocolate Crackle

    I’ve just been watching The Killing and noticed how Sarah’s son had to go to Swedish classes for their move. It was also interesting to see all the Swedish jokes they were making – it was very much like what you see of Australian/Kiwi jokes in the respective countries.

    I was also struck by all the people smoking in public buildings. There’s been no smoking in buildings like that here since the 80s/early 90s and it was almost shocking for me to see.

    • thyra10

      That would be the Danes for you. Whereas Norwegians and Swedes stopped smoking in public buildings (and even at home) early on, Danes kept on huffing and puffing. Every now and then someone would ask if it wasn’t time for Denmark to join the rest of the Western world and make it illegal to blow smoke in other peoples’ faces inside public buildings but these questions were always squashed with livid claims like: “do you want us to be like Sweden??!” Apparently, the worst thing you can be in Denmark is Sweden.

      These last couple of years even Denmark has had to make it illegal to smoke several places – even in pubs and restaurants, if I remember it correctly. I’m still surprised when I see people smoking (in “smoking corners”) at the Danish airports. But it’s still better than having your professor smoking while giving his lecture – as I had when I studied in Denmark back in ’92.

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