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Five Danish food mistakes you only make once

Moving to Denmark can be a culture shock, no matter where you come from, whether it's the cold winters, the dislike of small talk or bureaucracy. However, you might not have expected a culture shock in your local supermarket.

Five Danish food mistakes you only make once
Be sure to put flour in your bread and icing sugar in your cake. File photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

This article will lead you through the Danish food mistakes you (probably) only make once.

Adding A38 to your coffee 

Danish yoghurt tends to be sold in 1kg cartons – about the same size as the 1 litre cartons in which you are most likely to get milk. Exactly the same size, in fact.

As a result, the appearance of milk and yoghurt packaging is a lot more similar than it is in other countries, where you might be more likely to find milk in plastic bottles and yoghurt in multipacks of small tubs.

This could mean a couple of double-takes are needed when taking your milk or yoghurt off the refrigerator shelf in the supermarket, to make sure you have taken the product you need.

Further complicating matters is the popularity in Denmark of a product called A38 (named, I believe, after the year the product was launched). This is a type of yoghurt but nothing like the sweet-tasting fruit flavours or natural yoghurts you might be familiar with. It is made using a certain type of bacteria which gives it a probiotic effect – and a distinctly sour taste.

It’s easy from here to see how a simple carton-mix up could result in you creaming your coffee with a dollop of sour-tasting yoghurt. Not recommended.

Finding unexpected liquorice in your pick and mix

For some reason, liquorice is extremely popular in Scandinavia. Visitors from other countries looking to treat themselves to a bag of sweets may be surprised when that unassuming sweet they thought was blackcurrant flavour turns out to be liquorice.

Your chocolate bar isn’t safe either. Many chocolate brands have salted liquorice flavours and you’ll also find liquorice variants of other popular sugary treats including flødeboller (chocolate-covered soft marshmallows) and ice cream.

So if you don’t want a salty, liquorice surprise when you think you’re about to enjoy some delicious candy, watch out. The bitter-tasting plant is a master of disguise.

Photo: Kjersti Hjelmen/Nf-Nf/Ritzau Scanpix

Buying the wrong type of bread rolls

Rye bread (rugbrød) is king of the Danish lunch break, meaning bread rolls (buns, baps, cobs, whatever you prefer to call them) take a back seat at this time of day.

However, bread rolls are a popular breakfast time staple, including at cafes or bakeries, where you can usually order a bolle med smør (roll with butter) during the morning.

If you prefer rolls to rye at lunch, you’ll need to choose the right type when shopping at the supermarket. Hveder and krydderboller are two types of bread roll that have plenty of sugar and a good dash of cardamom in the dough. (As far as I can tell, they are identical apart from their shape).

They are displayed alongside all the other bread products at supermarkets but taste of, well, sweet cardamom bread. Not ideal if you’re making a bacon roll or cheese sandwich.

Incidentally, eating hveder is a tradition commonly associated with the Great Prayer Day holiday, so maybe this mistake will become harder to make if the government goes through with its plan to scrap the holiday.

Flour or sugar?

Maybe you’ll decide to avoid all this confusion and just bake your own bread. If you do, though, there are other pitfalls to avoid.

The Danish word for flour is mel and sugar is sukker. So what’s flormelis, a word that appears to include approximations of both “flour” and mel?

Flormelis is icing sugar. Because of course it is. It comes in small boxes of about the size you’d need to make icing or frosting for a batch of cakes, and definitely not big enough for baking loaves of bread. Flour, mel, comes in much bigger paper bags.

If you get to the stage where you mix icing sugar with your yeast and water, it’s probably time to admit you should have been paying more attention.

Photo: Mogens Ladegaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Don’t cut the cheese with a knife

Cheese products popular in Denmark include havarti and the Cheasy range from dairy Arla. Cheasy utilises the pun in its name very well because, like havarti, it is soft and therefore easy to slice.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

At least, that’s the theory. Cheeses like this should be cut with an ostehøvl (cheese slicer), the quintessential Danish kitchen utensil.

There are two types of ostehøvl: a wire-based type and a version that looks a bit like a trowel, with a raised edge and a gap in the middle for the sliced cheese to pass through.

Inexperienced wielders of either type of ostehøvl could find themselves inadvertently causing a Danish kitchen no-no: the “ski slope” cheese block that comes from injudicious use of the slicer, creating uneven slices and leaving one side of the block thicker than the other.

There’s only one cheese crime that is looked upon even more dimly: cutting the soft cheese with a knife.

Have I missed any good ones? Let me know.

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Why are many Danes so comfortable with nudity?

From naked communal showers at the swimming pool, to nude running races and topless sunbathing; Denmark is a country where nudity is commonplace. We take a look at why.

Why are many Danes so comfortable with nudity?

One of the most noticeable cultural features of Denmark is at the swimming pool. If you try and enter the pool while looking dry, you will get called up by a pool attendant and told you must shower. And by the way, that’s without your costume on.

To those not accustomed to communal naked showering, it can feel very odd. But to Danish people, it is merely functional.

“I definitely think we are aware there is a cultural difference in Denmark,” Danish psychotherapist Nina Reventlow told The Local.

“We get it from what the Germans call “freikörperkultur“, which means the free body culture. It comes from a health culture long ago that we adapted from the Germans around the 1940s. Then in the 1970s, it became more free-spirited. We are aware that the Danes and Germans have a special culture around this,” Reventlow said.

Denmark has no laws prohibiting nudity. As well as the naked communal showers before swimming, you will find winter bathers taking a dip in the nude, because a freezing wet costume is uncomfortable. Sunbathers often take their tops off, there are the famous naked runs at Roskilde Festival and Aarhus University and at school, pupils often shower naked after sport, in same-sex changing rooms.

“Nudity is allowed everywhere, as long as you don’t violate anyone,” Reventlow commented. 

“When you winter bathe, no one feels naked because they are not being looked at. You meet up, jump in, get a towel, dry off and go home.

“If you feel someone is looking at you, then you feel naked. So it’s not showing your body, it’s feeling comfortable about being naked,” she said.

READ ALSO: Why the shocking cold of winter bathing is a Nordic favourite

Reventlow is keen to point out that nudity in Denmark is nothing about exhibitionism or sexuality.

“They are nothing to do with each other and that’s what I think a lot of foreigners misinterpret. Nudism simply derives from a health culture. It’s about being comfortable with your body. You shouldn’t be ashamed of your body,” she said.

A survey conducted by the University of Zürich in 2016 showed that Denmark had the lowest number of people who suffered from gelotophobia – a fear of ridicule – in any country surveyed. Just 1.62 percent of Danes suffer from this, according to the study, as opposed to 13 percent of British people.

However there has been a shift recently, with the younger generation in Denmark becoming more self conscious about their bodies.

“You could say the nation is split in two, because most women are not comfortable in their bodies and that’s a huge problem for young girls,” Reventlow told The Local.

Whereas the culture of nudity in the 1970s was all about expressing freedom, today Reventlow says it is about reinforcing normal looking bodies to a generation exposed to a world of filters. 

“Most Danish girls are not comfortable with taking a naked shower with their classmates at school and a lot refuse to. In fact a lot of young people now think nudity should not be allowed.

“I think it’s a major problem that Instagram and other social media platforms that have nothing to do with reality, show these unattainable bodies. Young people also see a lot of porn and normal bodies don’t look like that.

“So I think the Danish culture of nudism is serving a new purpose now, to show natural bodies. It should never be compromising but to see that we are shaped differently and everything is fine,” Reventlow explained.

It’s something Danish broadcaster DR spread awareness of with its programme “Ultra Strips Down”, launched in 2019.

In the series, five adults stood naked in front of an audience of 11-13 year olds, to show them what bodies look like and gave the children an opportunity to ask questions. The series won an award but was also criticised by some, with right-wing Danish politician Peter Skaarup accusing the programme-makers of choosing a “vulgar way” to educate children.

The same controversy surrounded DR’s programme John Dillermand. Aimed at four to eight year olds, the animation is about a man with the world’s longest penis (dillermand literally means “penis-man”) that can do extraordinary things like rescue operations or hoisting a flag.

“We think it’s important to be able to tell stories about bodies,” public broadcaster DR posted on Facebook after the programme’s launch in January 2021.

“In the series, we recognise (young children’s) growing curiosity about their bodies and genitals, as well as embarrassment and pleasure in the body.”

Denmark is certainly a country that has a history of accepting nudity without shame or connotation. But it is also a country that is becoming conflicted in the nature of nakedness.