Networking Is Different in Denmark
Coming from the U.S., I was surprised by how Danes behave at networking events.
Denmark has its own unique approach to the startup scene and thus networking events have a dash of the Danish sensibility and personality.
The Nordic countries are an amazing place to uproot and move to if you've got the drive. I would know: I moved to Denmark almost three years ago from Washington, D.C. If you're used to spending a lot of time at networking events, you'll notice there are some major differences in the networking here in Denmark.
It's a mad dash for the door after events.
With any after-work event, there is a broad range of people in attendance who show up to events for various reasons. Many want to gain insights and hit the road; others are there looking for a job or to make like-minded connections.
No matter the case, events in Denmark often empty out like a movie theater during the credits. As soon as the last speaker flashes a "thank you" slide, only a handful of attendees are still around for connecting.
This is one of the biggest missteps one can make when attending any event. There must be something behind this, right? Let's explore.
Event-goers are younger
Students are at an advantage when it comes to getting into networking events in Copenhagen. Thanks to education being free in Denmark for all EU citizens, many students are working less and have the free time to attend more events with ease. Not having to juggle a full-time job and school can allow you to pursue more worthwhile endeavors if you choose to.
Even the conferences cater to students, often giving steep discounts on tickets for those still in university. The result is that students often make up more than half of the audience at many tech events. They are there to learn but are not providing as much immediate value so early in their careers.
A smaller scene means fewer events.
Copenhagen is a bustling international city packed with bike lanes, students and residents from around the globe, and it's growing exponentially every year. But, most people are surprised to learn it has a population of just under 550,000. That's a significantly smaller pool of event-goers eagerly packing into all kinds of events.
Larger cities like Berlin (3.5 million in population), Amsterdam (813,000), London (8.1 million) or Stockholm (952,000) draw a larger crowd to events because there's a larger population to draw from. This adds an element of coziness as you can quickly start to recognize who the real movers and shakers are after a few weeks of hitting events.
Work-life balance equals less work.
Work-life balance is extremely important to the Danes. The average workweek in Denmark is just 37 hours. This means that Danes often leave work early on a daily basis. I can remember being scolded by an old boss back in the States for leaving five minutes before the end of the day on a Friday. It's measurably different here.
Most Danes aren't ditching work early to attend events or classes. They're running errands, meeting with friends or, more commonly, spending time with family. The result is that many Danes covet their free time and see networking as an extension of work. This is counter to the mindset of "work stops at 5 p.m. with few exceptions."
Events are in English, networking might not be.
Denmark is ranked third among the best non-native English speakers in the world. Most Danes will switch to English right away even if you engage in Danish. In most cases, they're very comfortable in doing so. This does wonders for those who are slower to pick up the Danish language, but it goes beyond that.
The Danes have a rich history and cultural expressions that don't always translate. Many Danes haven't lived outside Denmark and are generally used to engaging with mostly Danish people. Many have never experienced the challenges associated with starting over and not knowing anyone in a new city. There is also a desire to do business with those that share a similar background, lifestyle, belief system, cultural norms, etc.
For these reasons, Danes tend to lean toward working and associating with those they feel familiar with, rather than internationals. This is why many non-Danes can feel like outsiders even if they're proficient in the language and have lived in the country for years.
Starting new conversations is not "the Danish Way."
Denmark consistently ranks among the highest in the world for the worst place to make new friends. That's right -- it's actually hard to make new friends in the happiest country in the world. Danes are private and consider it an imposition or uncomfortable to start new conversations with a perfect stranger. This has far-reaching effects when it comes to establishing a dialogue with someone that is awkwardly scanning the room at a networking event.
Danes tend to hold little value in small talk and prefer deeper and more meaningful conversations and therefore view a lot of the pleasantries associated with networking absolutely useless.
Change may be coming.
It's not all doom and gloom for networking in Denmark. As a younger generation continues to infuse itself into the workplace, it has become more open with a larger network. Inclusion is something millennials and generation Z consider to be an important principle and you can expect to see a "trickle up effect" given enough time.
Copenhagen is increasingly becoming an international hub and with that has come a dilution of the older sensibilities and more welcoming approach to internationals in the tech sector and networking scene.
Consider it a challenge if you're an international and trying to broaden your network: Your Danish counterparts just haven't had a chance to get to know you yet.