Cat-Royalty, Baby Names, and Sluts: Denmark Explained

March 2, 2012  //  By:   //  DISCUSS, OFF CAMPUS  //  1 comment

If you’ve ever considered going to Denmark or have been there a little while, you come to realize some things pretty fast such as a “Danish” pastry is called a wienerbrød here, the little mermaid is in fact very, very little and there is no such thing as ‘customer service’. But other things you have to stay a little bit longer to experience. This article is dedicated to helping you get a head start on playing cultural catch up.


Much akin to the American Halloween tradition, Danish children dress up and gather to play games too. However, little kids don’t go “trick or treating” in Denmark. They go to their local school or playground and play “hit the cat of the barrel”. It’s a bit like the south American tradition of piñatas, but you hit a barrel instead of a cardboard animal. You should really see it. They are so adorable, all dressed up and standing in line…

… pretending to mutilate black cats.

In a twisted, fucked up way, parents dress their kids up and watch in adoration as they beat the barrel, holding the symbolic cat. Like a pagan animal ritual, they even paint pictures of the black cat on the very barrel and in decorations around the room (maybe to send a message to the other cats around?).

The tradition comes from the old times where black cats were a symbol of evil and the devil. The cat was thought to cause the plague so the kids were sent out to chase and kill them. Once a year, someone would catch one alive and decide to stretch out the torture by playing with it first ie. putting it in a barrel. The barrel would eventually be smashed and a horde of kids would run after it, kill it and probably eat it too, considering it was the 1830s.

The kid that delivers the final blow to the barrel is named cat king. Or, if it is a girl dealing the barrel crushing blow, a cat queen. You wouldn’t want to gender discriminate when it comes to animal torture, now would you?

And if this childhood horror hasn’t completely turned your kid into a psychopath, you could consider bringing it to the next event on the list…

Sankt Hans

It’s the most beautiful night in Denmark. Neighbors and friends gather on the beach on the longest day of the year. They eat, drink, light fires all along the beach, and sing beautiful psalms about peace in the world….

Then they burn an effigy of a woman in the fire.

Another ancient tradition in Denmark is burning a witch each year to help with the widespread witch epidemic that so often occurs in these northern lands. While other countries did the same once upon a time, they have realized the error of those mistakes and have taken a harsh stance on witch burning in general.

But Denmark has adopted a more mellow notion towards witch-hunts and each year hundreds of families create a make-shift witch, complete with clothes in rags, brooms, and fireworks. There is even a type of firework named after the practice. It’s called “Heksehyl” or witch’s howl. Practical for when you have a dummy of a woman being burned at the stakes under false charges and just needed the added touch of some sound effects.

Maybe these childhood terrors are the reason no one smiles at each other in the street?

And maybe this should make us want more…


This one pertains more to people from America. See, America is a weed nation. The strange and strict drinking laws in the states make the citizens pure marijuana maniacs. Everyone smokes up, from young kids hot-boxing in their cars to the middle-aged schoolteacher taking a toke in the garage. When I lived there, I smoked with grandmas as well as skater kids.

But weed in its leafy form is almost non-existent in Denmark. We drink our asses off and 16 year olds puke just about on every street corner but you seldom see someone smoking weed. My theory is that where Americans need to mellow out from their day of “how are you-ing” each other and being super enthusiastic about each others outfits, Danes have no need of induced chilling out. We already sit in awkward silence thinking about the state of the world several times a week. When we want to unwind we want to be so drunk that we pee in the lamp, or even go as far as talk to one another.

And before you mention in the comments that we have hash and Christiania and you totally smoked a joint in seventh grade, just know that hash is weed’s vile and mean cousin who should never ever be mentioned in the same sentence as the bong usable organic weed.

And its kind of legal, which brings us to…

 The Law

So, Christiania can sell hash pretty openly without getting in trouble. Does this means that Denmark is some kind of hippie haven? After all, Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography, the age of consent is 15, and the drinking age is 16. Denmark was the first country to have legalized gay marriage, the first country in the world to perform a sex-change operation and we even legally imported hundreds of hookers from around Europe for our latest climate change summit. It seems as though we are a free minded people, open to anything your heart desires and there are no limits…

Except your baby’s name.

We may be drug-peddling-underage-sexual-deviants, but if you think for one second that we will just let you choose whatever you want for your kids name, think again. The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs have a pre-approved list of about 7.000 names you can legally call your child. 3.000 for boys and 4.000 for girls.

If you want to name your little girl Molli with an i, you need to go through a rigorous reviewing process by the government.

Apparently, in the 1960s a couple wanted to name their kid Tessa and the government spotted an opportunity to reign in on that rampant free speech thing going on at the time because Tessa kind of sounds like “tisse” (“peeing”) in Danish and no child should have to go though that. The best part is if you refuse to name your child based on the list made by government bureaucrats, then they will just name it for you. Margrethe for a girl or Christian for a boy. For our royalty, who aren’t allowed to vote, so screw them if they don’t like it.

If that sounds a bit Orwellian when it comes to names and words, just know that we aren’t that strict. In fact we are fond of crazy words like…


Wow, that’s a bit harsh. A lot of stores have “slut-udsalg”, sports have “slutspurt” and a lot of movies and books just end with a rude insulting of the viewer or reader. After a while you realize that it is just a word meaning “the end” and not a general comment on the ladies of Denmark.

But it will take you a while to get used to some of the other, more colorful aspects of the Danish language. We have licorice called “spunk”, marshmallows called “skum bananer” and a “godselevator” which isn’t for the big guy in the sky. “Killing” means kitten and the asking for a garden snake  will actually get you a hose (“haveslange”). If you are being up-tight about some little detail you are a fly-fucker (“flueknepper”) and the sound a balloon makes when it pops is called “knald”. And lets not get started on the word for speed. We live in “Middelfart” and we have “fart control” on highways.

So there you have it.

It’s a pretty strange country, but we do love our festivals and biking home together and dancing around the Christmas tree. And our pretty girls. We do love those the most.

So, as soon as you can spend 800 kr. on booze for one night, open a beer bottle with almost anything, question people’s motives if they compliment you, fall drunkenly off your bike and never, ever smile to a stranger, then you can start to consider yourself Danish.

About the Author :

Sine Morris is a fugitive from Århus who is constantly baffled by the strange actions of these "copenhageners." She never leaves Frederiksberg, where she lives at a kollegium with her adopted hamster, Sved. Sine studies IB so that she can one day become an American and manipulate the world with her marketing magic. Sine is starting to warm to this strange part of Denmark, but is still not convinced that they will ever accept her need to say "ikk'å" and "midtbyen".

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