Cultural Differences

Despite the close proximity of Denmark and Sweden, there are distinct cultural differences between the two countries. The way you greet other people in the street as well as varying degrees of politeness and formality. Furthermore, there are those who believe that Swedes are more open than Danes; while others claim that it’s the exact opposite. Apparently, Swedes communicate best in conversations where events relate to the subject matter and their imagination is set in motion, while Danes seem to prefer relating to a given subject when confronted with a problem that demands the capacity for both thought and combination of ideas. In other words we think differently. In Sweden ‘fika’ (having a coffee together) and lunch breaks at work mean stopping working all together, while Danes only drink coffee when they feel like it and there is a ‘packed lunch culture’ in which lunch is often consumed in a hurry at your desk. Swedes consider their breaks precious and they often eat a hot meal for lunch.

Read more about the cultural differences between Swedes and Danes here (in Danish).

When working together on a theatre production, there are both regional as well as professional matters you should be aware of – not least rituals and superstitions that have to be observe so as not to jeopardize the production.

I think, I assume that we do not understand each other. Work methods and expressions are so conditioned by our different cultures. However, I don’t believe that we anticipate misunderstandings either.
Rather than thinking that the others are a bunch of idiots, we should consider that they merely have a different perspective from us, and we have to respect that, in the same way that they must respect our perspective. Which means that you’ll have to back off rather than press on, which will only lead to failure. It’s not only about cultural differences, but it’s actually about all the contexts in which people take part’.
It’s much easier working with someone from Sweden, with whom you share an understanding, however, I have to say that I think the advantage is that you have to be very clear in your communication. You have to say everything that you thought you would have to say (…) You always have to talk and work things through.

Superstitions in the Theatre

Superstition and theatre have always been interconnected. Certain things should be avoided, while others must be observed. It is quite difficult to explain most superstitions, but some do have a rather practical explanation. For example, the reason you’re not allowed to whistle on stage, is because in the old days set changes were indicated by the stage mechanic’s whistle and as the mechanics would often be sailors, an instinctive reaction set off by a wrong signal could be catastrophic, if say a piece of the set design fell on somebody’s head. You find this superstition in Denmark as well as Sweden.

Using real flowers on stage is not allowed, apparently because withered flowers are slippery. On a pragmatic level, falling flat on you face on the first night is considered a good thing in England, because then it can’t really get any worse.

During rehearsals you must not drink nor wear clogs. You should never wear a hat and coat nor use an umbrella on stage unless the script specifically demands it.

You cannot have three lit candles on stage, while two seems to be acceptable – which can hardly be on account of fire safety regulations. The theatre’s resident cat (if there is such a one) must not be kicked off stage if it happens to wonder across it. And apparently, when in 1931 a house cat wandered across the stage mid-performance, much to the audience’s delight, it was quite optimistically considered a good omen!

You should never wish someone good luck right before the actor enters the stage. In English you say ‘break a leg’ which in Danish is ‘knæk og bræk’. You can also say ‘pøj-pøj’ in Denmark, as long as you do not reply with a thank you (tak). In Sweden they say ‘tol-tol’ and they rub a knee against each other’s buttocks, something Danes and other foreigners may find a little over the limit. Before an opening night in Sweden, they also say ‘spark’ (kick) after which they kick each other in the bottom three times.

A successful dress rehearsal may denote a bad opening night, and vice versa.

In both Denmark and Sweden, actors do not come out for curtain call at a dress rehearsal, as that is considered bad luck. However, sometimes they ‘cheat’ by claiming that you have to rehearse the curtain call as well.

More on Denmark, Sweden and Differences

The cultural differences between the Scandinavian countries are closely described in many of Geert Hofstede’s books. His classic is called ‘Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind’.

The futurologist Uffe Paludan studies cultures and possibilities in the region of Oresund (Øresund) and he has published a dissertation about Denmark and Sweden and the two countries’ cultural differences.

Read more about our cultural differences, similarities and other stories in Uffe Paludan’s dissertation here (in Danish). 

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