Opening Doors

My Danish language teacher just so happens to be one of the sweetest women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my relatively short time here. Like most Danes I encounter, she is very liberal, honest, believes in equality, and is extremely polite. The things that she adores in life (candles, fireworks, cake) don’t surprise me in the slightest, as they seem to be the same things as everybody else here. And it’s this reason – the fact that she seems very aware of the typical Danish culture and habits – that I find myself absorbing her stories regarding Danish attitudes.

One day last week, she commented on how polite it was of me to hold the door open for her. For me, this is something I have always done automatically for other people, and it does get me a bit cross when it isn’t acknowledged. It’s very rare in the UK for someone to ignore your presence by a door, either when you’re approaching from opposite ends in a H&M, or if you’re following somebody in to a McDonalds. Holding a door for someone is simply polite.

Members of the class soon acknowledged that this didn’t seem to be the case here in Denmark and our teacher instantly agreed, and so began an interesting discussion regarding ‘høflighed’ – or politeness. She was totally aware that Danes aren’t very used to these acts of kindness, despite being a nation of happy (the happiest in the world, apparently), sociable people. ‘Our reactions,’ she continued, ‘tend to be a mixture of embarrassment and confusion. We don’t know where to look or what to say.’ So I’ve decided to help those of you out who find themselves in this difficult predicament the next time someone holds the door open for you.

1) Make eye contact

2) Smile

3) “Tak”

That very same evening, as I cycled home with my girlfriend, we approached the large, heavy door that leads to the private yard at the back of our apartment. As I wrestled with the door, I struggled to keep it open using my left food and arm whilst I tried to pull the bike through with my right. I was aware of a silhouetted man approaching from behind and held my position long enough for him to approach. No doubt he’ll hold the door for us so we can pass through easily with our bikes, thought I. Not so, I’m afraid. Instead he turned sideways, sucked his stomach in and flattened his bulging jacket, as he squeezed in between my handlebars and the door itself. It was my girlfriend, not I, who quickly remarked ‘Most people would’ve actually stopped to help out there,’ whilst the man was still in earshot.

Recently, a new social experiment was launched by Thomas Skou. Entitled ‘Høflighed på 100 dage’, the idea was relatively simple and straight forward: Is it possible to ‘infect’ and change people with politeness and good manners within 100 days? The experiment was backed up with a TV series on DR and lots of media interest, including a Facebook page that currently has over 22,000 Likes. You can visit it here

So, why don’t we all do our bit to help the people of Denmark continue to be the happiest people on earth. Start today by holding a door open for someone.


Join me next week when we discuss that most taxing of affairs: queuing

3 thoughts on “Opening Doors

  1. Hi

    First of all – I’ve experiensed many danes holding doors for others. Mayby there is the lack of thank you – but not often.

    Second of all (the man passing you while holding the door) – You do not know what was going on inside that man’s head/heart. Mayby he was deep in thoughts – or sad….pining to get home for whatever reason.

    Thirdly…I’ve noticed that people on Sealand – Copenhagen in particular – is definetely less polite than from my part of the country. From where I come from (Westjutland) we have a saying: If you meet a polite “Københavner” it’s probably a newcomer from Jutland 😀

    • Interesting observation Anne. I have also spent some time in other areas of Denmark and the situation seems to be quite different. I suppose it’s a similar situation in London, where no one gives up their seat on the tube, unless they are from the northern part of England – like me!

      However, I must still argue that it would have been much quicker and easier for the stranger to actually hold the door for me. It took him a while to squeeze past me, and in that time he could’ve probably held the door for me, let me in, nip through the door himself, and caught the next bus home. We all have bad days and reasons for wanting to disappear quickly, but good manners are infectious (as are bad moods and angry people), and it’s amazing how much better we can make people feel just by saying hello, holding a door, or simply flashing a smile now and again.

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