Seeing life the Danish way: Hygge for beginners

What do incoming au pairs most need to know about Danish culture and behaviour? Christina, a former au pair from Denmark, explains some key cultural concepts to give au pairs a head start in feeling at home in this special country.

Coffee cup with hygge text on it

December 09, 2019

, in Travel tips

What is "hygge" really? 

The Danish word hygge is no longer just a Danish term. It has become an expression that people all around the world recognize and associate with Denmark. The meaning of the word hygge is deeply rooted in the Danish society and culture, but it can be hard to explain exactly what it means or stands for. The word is often directly translated to “cosy” in English, however there is a lot more depth and meaning behind the word.

Coming to Denmark as an au pair you will experience hygge every day. You therefore need to understand what hygge is about.

Hygge is a concept that covers a range of experiences and moments that cannot be adequately defined by average words, and therefore the concept “hygge” was created! Hygge can be everything from enjoying summer nights with your friends and family to walking in the snow with a loved one. It applies for all those moments when a special feeling of contentment and well-being arises - often from quite ordinary and everyday types of experiences. It's that kind of easy happiness that you find when you're not looking so hard for it. 

Watch Ann's au pair experience in Copenhagen to find out more about cultural differences.

The philosophy behind “pyt”

Another word “pyt” – which is pronounced “pid” – was recently voted the most popular word by the Danes. The word “pyt” doesn’t have an exact English translation, but the closest translation would probably be (life goes on) “Don’t worry about it” or “Oh well”.

Pyt is usually expressed as a reaction to an unforeseeable annoying event, for example spilling juice on your t-shirt or missing the bus. But actually there is more to it than that. It is more a cultural concept about accepting what you can’t change and moving on.

It is used as a reminder to step back, count to 10 and refocus rather than letting your feelings get the better of you. 

As an au pair in Denmark (or anywhere else), working with lively kids and having to deal with all the unpredictable things that can happen with them, remembering the concept of “pyt” will help you through your day. 

What are all the Danes laughing about? 

As a foreigner in Denmark you might struggle to understand Danish humor. Don’t worry, you are not the only one. It is usually a bit tricky for foreigners to understand Danish humor and figure out what’s a joke and what’s not. The Danes frequently use sarcasm and irony, especially self-irony, so don’t take yourself too seriously!

As in any culture, humour is the way to heart of the people. If you master the art of Danish humor and sarcasm, you’re sure to light up any social setting with your new-found skill! 

Don’t be put off if you get a funny remark from a friend, they are actually just trying to be friendly and this is their way of doing it! 

We bike – Everywhere!

It’s not a secret that biking is popular in Denmark. In fact, a new study has shown that Denmark is the second most biking nation in Europe. If you haven’t ridden a bike since your training wheels came off, don’t sweat it.  Denmark is known for being extremely flat and easy to navigate. (The highest point in Denmark is a 184-meter-high hill!) Biking is also often the easiest and fastest method of transportation and it keeps your in good shape too! What’s not to like?

Therefore, getting a bike upon arrival is essential. Head down to your local bike store, or ask around, people are always selling cheap second-hand bikes.

We hope this little guide has given you some useful insights into what you can expect coming to Denmark as an au pair and that you will enjoy yourself in one of the happiest countries in the world. 

About the author: Christina is working for the digital educational media platform, which has the mission to help everyone find the education that's right for them.