Are Danes nicer in Greenland?

My friends began the conversation by asking if I could ever see myself living in Australia again. It quickly moved onto speculation that I would end up settling down in Denmark after my time here and become a ‘good little Dane’.

I never try to lock things out: I mean, we could end up staying in Greenland forever, we could move to Australia, and we could also venture onto a fifth continent. But yes it’s true that Denmark is also a possibility in the future.


My foreign friends in question have lived in Copenhagen previously. And from the way that they explained their experience after, it sounded almost like survival. They found it hard to make friends with the ‘cold’ Danes when living there, and they said that many of their foreign friends shared the same struggles. Actually, the reason that they left after a few years was because it was so hard to cultivate local friendships in Denmark.

This was the warning:

“If you guys are moving to Denmark, make sure that you have the mindset that it is a trial. Be careful that you don’t just get stuck there – prepare an exit strategy.”

I have only spent one year living in the smaller city of Aarhus and that was more than six years ago. During this time I spent a lot of time hanging out with my fellow international exchange students…..and perhaps unconventionally, J’s parents. In fact, I would say that his parents were the Danes that I became closest to. While it made sense for his parents to try and get to know their son’s relatively new girlfriend, their generosity and care went well beyond the usual expectations of this type of relationship. I am forever grateful for their kindness. I didn’t actually make any other new close friends while I was there.


When comparing Greenland and Denmark, my friends said that it was actually much easier for them to integrate into life in Nuuk. However, I think that we came to the conclusion that it can be pretty hard to get in touch with the locals anywhere you go. Because as you might have read in my blog before, the ones who stay longer in Greenland have the infamous two year friendship policy. I need to add in the caveat that I actually do have some good friends who are local, but I don’t really make a distinction as to what race they are. If you want to say Inuit friends, I still have a handful.

Locals are grounded, they most likely already have their jobs, their networks and friendship groups. Many do not have a need to make new friends. This can be said for locals everywhere, including Denmark.

One thing I can say in defence of Denmark and the Danes is that at least they have an awareness about the problem. In Denmark there are free language lessons available and also support networks for foreigners in the country. Whether the motive is integration, assimilation or cohabitation, at least the Danes and some active foreigners have taken the initiative to provide this sort of service. I think many foreigners can agree that in Greenland, we just exist. To make a huge generalisation, Greenlandic society is apathetic about foreigners. Foreigners are either considered problems, or not considered at all.

I can’t speak for places other than Nuuk, but recently there have been some baby steps to address the ‘newcomer’ issue in Nuuk. The town recently launched a tri-monthly introductory bus tour for the new in town, so that they could get to know the main services provided by the government. It sounds like a great initiative. So if you do come to town and are new, look out for that.


This conversation did eventually lead to the question in this heading: Are Danes nicer in Greenland? The context is that most of the foreigners who come to Greenland are in fact Danes. They play this inbetween role of being the colonisers, foreigners and yet also having a deeper connection with the country due to the language and the system.

So like everyone else moving to Greenland, the Danes who come are automatically moved out of their comfort zone. They are therefore new, more vulnerable and also more open to making new friends. They are so open here in fact that a ‘new girl’ I spoke to recently joked that the ‘Danes were nicer in Greenland’.

I would like to hope that I could survive anywhere, but I’m a little less certain than I was in my younger and braver years. So yes, I’m a little bit scared of moving to Denmark if that day ever comes. And we will definitely need to plan an exit strategy.

12 thoughts on “Are Danes nicer in Greenland?

  1. This is an interesting article…My family hails from Iceland so we have our own biased views on Danes! But I think it is important to remember that people in Europe, and Scandinavia especially, are a bit more reserved. In Iceland, no one will smile back to you on the street. Sorry, but that is weird! Why are you smiling at me??? 🙂

    So I think maybe on the outside Danes can be a bit intimidating, but if you try speaking in their language or genuinely approaching someone (and not just because you are lost) I think you will get a better reception. Even in America, people don’t like assisting tourists.

    I have loved my time in Denmark! Don’t let us scary Scandinavians hold you back! 🙂

  2. Hi Tanny, Polarphile here 🙂

    I’ll share a story about meeting the person who became one of my closest friends in Greenland – and guess what, they’re a Greenlander!

    We bonded first two Novembers ago as two strangers on the Air Iceland flight, terribly anxious to just get home after being stuck at a low-grade hotel in Reykjavík for 3 nights. Believe it or not, this was the first and only time we saw each other face to face until the following summer!

    On a sunny day in June, National Day in fact, we climbed Ukkusissat together 🙂 A few hours walking up and down the mountain, talking about everything possible – felt we knew each other for years by the end!

    Afterward, they invited me home to their family’s BBQ, where I met 12 members of the family which I consider to be one of the nicest, most open, most welcoming, and most loving in all of Nuuk.

    To be willing to base a friendship on ONE meeting says all.

    • Thanks for your sweet little story Polarphile =) There are many who have also talked about the kindness of strangers in Greenland, how they just go out of your way to help you and then they become your fast friends. So of course there are many sides to the story, just presenting this one =)

  3. I think it’s true that it’s hard to mix with locals in general. Some people might be naturally reserved because they like their privacy, maybe that’s the case with Danes in certain places. Or maybe they reckon foreigners are socially threatening to them in certain aspects (e.g. on the job front). Here in Australia, Australians are very friendly to visitors of diverse backgrounds in general, as you should know 🙂

    • Hi Mabel,

      Yes it’s true Australians are very friendly to visitors, I agree =) And yet, Australians are notoriously difficult to become good friends with, if you talk to an international exchange student who is around for only half a year. Too busy, too many friends already, that sort of thing.

      If you’re moving to the country for good maybe it’s a different story, most of my deeper experience and feedback with foreigners have been at university since I studied and worked in that little bubble.

      Maybe you have some friends who say otherwise? =)

      • It is an interesting train of thought there. A lot of my international student friends have moved away, and most of them have moved back to their home countries. Perhaps it depends on the circle of friends you hang out with, and their personalities.

  4. I guess this is what they say about all Nordic people. I had it much easier to make friends in Finland as I am half Finnish myself and had some idea about the language plus being in a swimming team opened up a lot for me. Most Chinese I know in Finland didn’t make anynfreiends there with the natives…

    • Maybe it’s also how hard you want to integrate into a culture. Learn the language, eat the food, I don’t know. The ironic thing in China is that compared to many other countries where foreigners want to be friends with locals, many Chinese want to be friends with foreigners – but some foreigners looked down upon them! At least, that’s what I observed when I was studying there….

      • During my university time it seemed that all Asian groups were sticking together, the Chinese were only meeting up with other Chinese, Koreans withkoreans, Thai with Thai and and and. One might think that is normal with foreign students however other students from Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico and so forth were always together with the Finnish peeps. No idea why but oh well I tried my best as a student tutor to get all people involved in activities 🙂

  5. The same stereotype exists about Finnnish people when it comes to coldness, hehe. Maybe all Nordic nations in fact.. I had a hard time making Finnish friends when I was studying in Finland for almost 2.5 years. Most of my friends were international students like myself. It was easier to strike a conversation with a Finn at the pub, but those drunken friendships didn’t continue for long 🙂

    I think the fact that you had a Danish boyfriend helped you a lot in friendships with local Danes. I have the same case, because I have a Polish boyfriend (and I live in Poland), most of my friends are locals.

    • Hey Pooja,
      When I was in Denmark for the year, I really didn’t make many Danish friends. Maybe if I ever live there again I will be ’embraced’ by my family and their friends… but I wonder how many friends I could make by myself out there on my own =)

      In Greenland, the Danes are still visitors unless they have lived in GL for some time, making them more open to friendships I guess…

      Are you living in Poland now? Do you find that you are the only foreigner in your friendship group with locals or is it a good mix?

      • Yes, I am living in Poland since about 2 years now. My daily life (work, gym, pubs) revolves around locals and hence I am almost only friends with locals.. Maybe because I haven’t had much opportunity to meet with many international people here. I am also almost always the only foreigner in the group, but I do think it’s a good mix. There are some days when I feel sort of out of the place, but most of the times, I feel completely comfortable hanging out with the Poles. It could be because I find them a friendly bunch and that I speak the language. And there are few foreigners here, so this gets the locals naturally interested in foreigners such as myself. 🙂

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