Nordic Business Culture Vol 2: The Danes are the real businessmen – how to feel comfortable doing business with them

Estonia and Denmark are of the same size. Population wise, Denmark has 4 times the number of inhabitants than Estonia. We are all located in Northern Europe. But what do we actually have in common and what are the details that will keep us apart even when we try to understand each other when negotiating a business deal?

In the Nordic business culture, the Danes are the odd one out. Why? Because they are real businessmen. The others are simply not. Historically Denmark’s position has given them the opportunity to become tradesmen. They controlled the Baltic Sea during the centuries when today’s Southern Sweden was Northern Denmark. Denmark was also a colonial empire that further emphasised trade as the basis of Denmark’s economy with colonies in Africa, West Indies, Asia and of course the closer ones, the Faroe Islands and Greenland that became independent as late as in the 1950’ies. I tell you this, so you understand why Danes are good at trading. They have been doing it for a millennium and they are still good at it.

Danes, however, are keen on having long-term relationships with its co-operation partners. But they are also interested in risk. For Danes, a good agreement is one where the prices are always open for discussion, fixed prices are for cowards. Just like Estonians, Danes are direct, so they will speak their mind. Denmark has gotten far with its digitalisation and just like in Estonia a limited liability company can be registered online within a couple of hours.

Many Estonians find that Danes have split personalities. When you meet a Dane at a pub in the evening, he is entertaining and chatty. You get along perfectly fine. The next day when you meet him in the office, he is stiff and aggressive. Why is that? Danes separate their working persona from their free time persona and see no problem with being two in one. For co-operations or agreements sake, he needs to be professional to get the best deal.

Danes often see Estonians as stone-faces. As they are looking for long-term partnerships they rather continue dealing with people that seem happy or at least content with their work than with those who show the Fenno-Ugric facial expression of nothingness. So, remember to put on a slightly happier face when meeting your Danish counterparts for the first time.

The Danish business life is run by persons much older than we are used to here in Estonia. Please be prepared to demonstrate your abilities for them to take you seriously. As they are looking for a good deal, they will recognise it when they see it.

Business lunch is still an important thing, especially if you have a meeting in Denmark. Be prepared to be taken to a cosy pub for some delicious smørrebrød, Danish sandwiches. Please note that smørrebrød are served with aquavit and beer. Remember not to drink all that is served, it’s not considered unpolite to say no to alcohol. It is considered unpolite to get drunk.

When given the opportunity, either at lunch of after business hours, I suggest you use our common history to show the Danes that we have much more in common than they think. First of all, tell them about their city, the Danish city Tallinn. Do not forget to mention that Dannebrog, the Danish flag, was given them by God in Estonia (!) when the Danish crusaders were trying to Christianise the Estonian pagans and that the place where the flag fell down is still clearly marked in the Old Town of Tallinn. That the same flag is still used for the county of Harjumaa. That the Danish Dutchy of Estonia (Hertugdømmet Estland) covered half of today’s Estonia for many centuries.

But why would you talk about ancient history when you want to close a deal today? Because a vast majority of Danes have no clue about our common history and giving them more information about it will make them feel more comfortable doing business with Estonians. Most Danes would not even know the difference between the three Baltic States and by giving them the historical background of Estonia, they will start to feel that Estonia is part of Danish history. In addition, you should emphasize the Nordic culture in Estonia as this will also add to the feeling that we all are part of the same value base and thus can work well together. Another good topic to discuss after hours could be beer. After all, all Nordic cultures share the word for this excellent drink!

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