Shopping in Denmark is not that different from shopping in the US. If I show you these two pictures:
You can recognize them as a mall (Bruuns Galleri) and a grocery store (Føtex, we think of it as the Danish Dierbergs, for all my STL readers) respectively. I haven’t done much clothing shopping yet (it’s so expensive!), so I’ll stick mostly to grocery shopping in this post.
After you know a few key vocabulary words – kartoffel = potato, svinekød = pork, kylling = chicken – you can pretty much shop by visual cues. Danish food is not that different from what we have in the US – we are all Western countries after all – so everything looks like you would expect it to look, even if the brands are different. Coffee, cereal, peanut butter, all are recognizable. And for produce, I didn’t really notice this until we moved but manufacturers put these helpful pictures on everything. If it’s pork, there’s usually some cartoon of a little pig. Or if it’s made med ekstra hvidløg (with extra garlic), there’s usually a picture of a garlic bulb.
There are, however, a few important things that are different about shopping in Denmark that do take some getting used to:
- You must bag, weigh, and tag your own veggies and fruits. All the grocery stores have these little scales by the produce to use for veggies that are sold per weight. You enter their identification number, which is helpfully displayed on the sign along with the price, and the machine prints out a barcode for you to stick on your bag.
- You must purchase a bag if you did not bring one. In Denmark you have to buy grocery bags if you did not bring one, usually for around 3-6 DKK each. I think this is to encourage reusing and recycling, and it’s definitely successful. We make sure to bring our bags with us whenever we go to the store. And then when the bag gets too ratty, you can use it as a trash bag! Reuse until you can’t reuse any more.
- You must bag your own items. Even if you’re not going through a self-service machine, you bag your own items. It’s actually very efficient. They have the check out counters set up where the cashier can divide the end of the counter in half. When you’re done paying and go over to bag, they slide all your stuff to the side and can start checking out the next person right away.
- Cashiers sit behind their registers. Denmark is all about the worker, and this is apparent in the fact that grocery store cashiers can sit down while they work. Why didn’t we think of this?! Why do grocery store cashiers in the US have to stand all day long, hurting their backs and their feet? Totally sensible idea.
- You are not guaranteed a return. Returning items at many stores is more like a courtesy, which the store may grant you if they feel like being nice. The larger stores like Ikea and Salling (a department store) have excellent return policies. But smaller stores and even Target-like stores don’t have to take the item back if they don’t want to.
- Stores close suuuper early. Beware of this because it will catch you out. Denmark is all about the worker, so stores close much earlier than in the US so that the employees can go home to their families. Many boutiques close at 5pm. Even large Target-like stores close at 6pm on weekends.
- You pay a can deposit. When buying anything in cans – soda, alcohol, etc. – you pay a 1 DKK deposit for every can you purchase. When you’re done with that can, you return it to a machine that’s in every grocery store and get your money back in the form of a credit for that store. Again, it’s to encourage recycling. It also encourages certain kinds of people to walk around collecting cans from the street and trash.
- The tax is included in the displayed price. I love this difference. It’s so helpful! The price you see is the price you will pay (except for if you’re purchasing cans because see above). It really helped us the first week we were here and only using cash. We could get our money out ahead of time instead of fumbling for the right change at the register.
Most of these we figured out by observing others. Some Brian had heard about from his colleagues. They’re just small things, but they can add up to a very different shopping experience your first time out.