Denmark versus Netherlands, part II

Apr 11, 2009

Welcome to the second installment of my “Denmark vs. Netherlands” post. In this, I’m exploring some cultural and statistical differences between the two countries. Completely random stuff, I promise. Look here for part I.


I keep telling people back home that the level of English spoken here is even better than in Holland where to my (unbiased!) opinion it’s already fairly good. I thought to look up some numbers (see here, PDF).

Roughly 88% of the people in Denmark speak at least one other language than their mother-tongue. That same figure in Holland is 91%. Which languages do they speak? See the following graph. The top 3 languages in both countries is English, German and French:

Remember that I stated I thought people in Denmark speak better English than in the Netherlands? Seems I was wrong… Or was I?

See? It’s just my -ahem- unbiased cultural filter showing through ;-).

Alcohol consumption

The other thing I keep telling my colleagues in Denmark is that they drink much more wine than the average person in Holland. Obviously that was completely unsubstantiated and on top that a handful of people I work with closest are complete wine-aficionados so I might be quite biased. So I thought I’d look it up (PDF). Wine consumption is roughly the same across both countries (percentage-wise of total consumption). However, where as the average cheese-head (Dutchie) consumes 9.74L of pure alcohol per year a Dane washes down 11.93L. That’s quite a few schnapps more. To be exact, 22.4% more schnapps!

General stats

Interested in more statistics? I got you covered (here and here). While a Dane consumes 3.443 calories on average, a Dutchie chews down only 3.282. There are on average 412 persons per doctor in Holland versus ~350 in Denmark. Life expectancy in Denmark is 76 or 77 years where as Dutchies life till 78 (I’m chalking this one up to less alcohol consumption of course). While electricity usage is roughly the same across both countries, water usage per capita is 4.5 times higher in the Netherlands. Weird. Water in Denmark is much, much harder than in the Netherlands. Up till a point where distilled water is sold in shops to fill your iron for example. (Sorry, could not find an online reference for this.)


One thing that tricked me up in eateries and supermarkets in Denmark is the usage of Frikadeller. Here is a picture of a few by “Thomas Rock star”.

But, in the Netherlands a Frikandel is something completely different (and, I’m sorry to say, much more tasty!):

(Picture by sjeemz)

Danes, whenever you get to the Netherlands, have a taste of one of those. They’re called Frikandel Speciaal and include mayonnaise, curry and unions. These things make me wonder about the etymology of the word “Frikandel”… How can two societies only 700km apart use the same word for a completely different form of food? In any case, according to this article, the Dutchies are alone with their usage of the word as in the rest of the world (Denmark included) it means “minced meat balls”. (To be fair, the Frikandel was only introduced in the Netherlands 50 years ago.)

Easter (Påske)

As we’re just going through Easter right now I start to notice a couple of differences. Easter in Denmark is a “bigger thing” than in the Netherlands. For example the Danes are getting two additional public holidays versus the Netherlands: both the (Maudy) Thursday and (Good) Friday before Easter the complete country comes to a grinding halt (as well as the actual Easter days of course). As with Christmas, the Danes brew a special beer during Easter called “Påskebryg”. I’m surprised Heineken hasn’t done this in the Netherlands yet!

Another tradition is to write a poem on an intricately cut piece of paper and send it to someone else without giving your identity away (the so called “gækkebrev”). The recipient get’s three tries to guess the sender. If he or she fails to do so, it’ll cost him/her a chocolate Easter egg. The tradition seems to have grown from Valentine’s and it is not entirely clear to me if it is only done during Easter or with Valentine’s as well.

Cultural Assessment

While I was reading the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell I stumbled across a chapter that went into Geert Hofstede’s framework for assessing cultural differences. I advice you to at least read the Wikipedia article on Geert’s definitions but to go short there are only 2 big differences between Denmark and the Netherlands:

Specifically, the Power Distance Index is much lower in Denmark indicating that Danes attach less import to status, will more readily speak up to their boss, etc. Or alternatively, the Dutch would attach more value to their status. The other metric that is substantially different is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index: “reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. Cultures that scored high in uncertainty avoidance prefer rules (e.g. about religion and food) and structured circumstances, and employees tend to remain longer with their present employer”.

I must say that in my personal experience in Denmark I can attest to the Power Distance index. The Uncertainty Avoidance Index I can not relate to, to be honest.

That is it for now. I hope this series of articles helps creating insight into the cultural differences one could expect between Denmark and the Netherlands. The next article will be about learning the Danish language, which I have slowly begun. For now I am starting three different approaches: