Shopping in Denmark

Shopping in Denmark is not that different from shopping in the US. If I show you these two pictures:

Bruuns Galleri


Føtex Foods

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


10 thoughts on “Shopping in Denmark

  1. That’s really interesting to read. I have found many of the same differences in Germany in comparison to the States. The whole shopping experience and how the working conditions of the workers are better considered are things that I have also noticed here. The only two things from your list that are different are numbers one and five. (But then again, I only shop at one grocery store so maybe other grocery stores make you do that with your produce and I haven’t yet returned anything that I have purchased, so number five might exist here as well, who knows…)

    Just for fun, I plugged in the words you wrote in Danish into Google translate because it has that button you can push to hear how it is pronounced – my goodness if that language doesn’t sound difficult!! Wow! It sounds like your tongue has to do some sort of contortionist-like movements to be able to make some of the sounds 🙂


    • lol it’s true. I haven’t started my Danish language classes yet (still waiting for my application to be processed), but all anyone says about the Danish language is how difficult it is to pronounce. They looove vowels and have about 20 different vowel sounds, and they drop a lot of their consonants. So what you end up with is a language that does not at all sound the way it looks. So wish me luck with that! 🙂


      • It definitely sounds like a tongue-twister every time haha. At least German is pronounced just like it looks, no tricks or anything, despite having some relatively lengthy words. Now, does your husband have to speak Danish for his job? Best of luck with the class and tackling that language!


      • He doesn’t have to. Most everyone speaks excellent English, and as the company is international there are quite a few employees who don’t know Danish. Thanks!


  2. I love reading your posts! I am learning so much about being a Dane and really enjoy your writing style! I look forward to seeing what you guys are up to!!


  3. I’ve really been enjoying hearing about your adventures so far. The pictures are amazing and I think that bike ride sounded like a lot of fun! Glad that you finally have an apartment and that it is in an area that you wanted. Love to you both. Aunt Judy


  4. Now I’ve been looking though a lot of your posts, and as a Dane, this is so much fun!
    I live abroad myself, so I know how tough it is to settle, to learn and to KNOW stuff! I don’t think, that I’ll ever get used to that.. So I would for one understand if you wouldn’t either.

    By the way – your number 5 is partly true.. BUT! If you have the reciept, didn’t pull off the pricetag and didn’t open the stuff (if its canned foods, for example), then they actually DO have to take it back, and either give you your money back or a gift card (in H&M, that is – I know some other places do not give actual money back, because they want you to spend the money in-store as first intended).
    The different stores have different policies about excanging – from 8 to 30 days, but most places it’s 14 days.

    So good luck! 😀 (I will stay tuned, as we’ll return to Denmark soon and might just settle down in the Aarhus area).


    • Thanks for the info! I love that I have a couple of Danish readers so that you guys can call me out when I’ve said something wrong or give me some little tips 🙂 That return policy thing was a combination of what we’d heard from one of my husband’s coworkers and one experience at Kvickly where they seemed pretty put out that they had to return something for us. But it’s good to know that they do have to take it back under the right conditions. And the 14 day policy is good to know because that’s shorter than in the US, where it’s usually 30 days.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂


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