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Comment: Stop recommending the sports club to me!

Sure. You will meet new Danish friends by playing volleyball or doing, whatever, the dance club. But there should be another way, writes our columnist Kelly Draper

One piece of advice that comes up a lot to newcomers is ‘join a sports club’. This is shit advice.

Not because it’s not true. It is true, if you join a sports club, you will make a lot of friends through the sports club. But it is still shit advice. Stop giving it.

People who like joining sports clubs, need no urging to join. They like sport. They like clubs. It would only be natural for them to join a sports club. People who say ’hey, how can I meet more Danes socially, like?’ have heard of sports clubs. If they have not joined a sports club, you can safely assume they have both heard of sports clubs and discounted them already.

Just an excuse

What is most wrong with the advice ’join a sports club’, is that it is a deflection. Anyone moving to a new country is not going to believe it is going to be exactly easy to make friends. People migrating to Denmark understand they are going to have to work hard to make friends. They also understand that they are on the back foot, if they are not already fluent in the local language. This tends to concentrate the mind and make people work double time on their social lives.

People that have worked double time on their social lives and had been very successful in making new friends in their home country (and other countries), might want to know why they have still not got a network in Denmark.

What ‘join a sports club’ means is: ‘It is a lack of sporting fellowship in your life which is to blame for your current dissatisfaction.’ In effect, you are blaming the person for their lack of social success in a notoriously difficult region.

We need a third space

Telling someone that the reason they are having trouble making human connections in Denmark (and indeed, northern Europe), is that they are somehow not trying hard enough is not very nice. If you managed to square the circle, good for you. Be grateful for your good fortune and spare a thought for people who have worked just as hard as you, been just as friendly as you and yet still have problems. There but for the grace of god and all that.

You see, even Danes often have trouble making friends with Danes. If you take a Dane out of their hometown and transplant them even an hour down the road, their social life is over. If they like sport or are going to school, they will be probably fine. If they are not sporty or are working, they will find it difficult to break into social groups in their new area. We would not presume to tell the Dane that it is because it is their fault.

Perhaps this is different in Copenhagen but I feel what Denmark is missing is a ‘third space’ culture. That is to say, somewhere that is not work and not home, where you can socialise and meet new friends in an informal manner. (see fact box right)

No place for ‘accidents’

We might look at the lack of the third space or point to cultural shyness and reserve.

There are pubs and cafes but they are used as somewhere to go with a particular friend or friendship group and cross pollination between groups is not usual. The spontaneous use of bars as a social hang out is not so common. Appointments to socialise are made ahead of time.

Danes often find it hard to start a new network if they move across the country. The Danes in their new town already have enough friends and there is not the accidental meeting of new friends that occurs in many other countries.

Internet may work

Foreigners may find it even harder because the pool of potential friends is narrowed to people who are not blinded by stereotypes of different nationalities. And then narrowed even further to those who are comfortable speaking either broken Danish or a foreign language.

So, what is good advice for someone who isn’t sporty?

I actually met most of my Danish friends over the Internet, through blogging. The internet appears to be functioning as a third space.

Volunteering yes, parties only maybe

Volunteering is also an excellent way to meet people and there are plenty of possibilities even if your Danish is elementary.

Night school (e.g. FOF) is also useful if you can break through the shy reserve of your classmates or are lucky enough to be in a group with outgoing people.

Parties are not always a sure bet because they tend to be dinner parties, so you are usually seated throughout. If your table-neighbours are not your cup of tea, this is more of a problem than where parties are more free and easy, so you can escape to the kitchen and meet people who are more your type. (If you do meet someone at a party that you take a shine to, make sure you arrange a new “playdate” as soon as possible after the party or lose them forever)

Not your fault

Then it is just a matter of patience. If you are here on a short term contract or for study, you might find that if you cannot chip the ice in the first few months, you ought to see if you can make friends with people from other foreign countries. Why make it hard on yourself?

If you are here for the long haul, you often find after the two to three year mark, you have a handful of Danish friends and they are usually the sort you want to keep. It just seems to take that long to thaw them out.

Just everyone, bear in mind. If you were reasonably successful at making and keeping friends before you came to Denmark, it is unlikely it is your fault if you are having problems for the first time in your life now.

Come over for supper!

People that line up to tell you that it is your fault, that it is your bad attitude, that it is your lack of sporting interest which is to blame: these people have problems of their own driving their agenda.

And to those who earnestly offered ‘have you thought of joining a badminton club?’ in the spirit of helpfulness, that was nice of you. What is better:

‘Well, would you like to come over for supper next weekend? I could invite a few mates of mine who I am sure you will really hit it off with.’

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