Where it's not rude to turn down a gift

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 1997, 12:00am

If you receive a gift from a Danish friend, you are expected to open it immediately in his or her presence. This is because the Danes want to see whether you like their gift or not.

Opening gifts in front of the giver is normal practice, and a very important activity in Denmark at Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, after dinner, the Danes hold hands and sing songs around the Christmas tree.

The children head for their gifts, which are piled up under the tree.

Sorting out and unwrapping gifts is a good half-hour's work, depending on the size of the family.

If a Dane likes a gift, he gives you a warm smile and a big hug. If not, he will ask for the shop receipt so he can exchange the gift. This is normal and no one is embarrassed.

The day after Christmas is the busiest day of the year for the shops, with thousands of customers lined up to exchange gifts or get a refund.

To overcome this problem, some Danes make a list of the things they want and send it to their parents and relatives before Christmas. This ensures they only get things they want.

For most of the Danes I met, Christmas is also party time. One student told me he had to go to eight Christmas parties, and that he started to celebrate in early November.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are reserved for the family and relatives to get together. It was my first Christmas in a foreign country and I was amazed at the amount of food eaten during the festival.

The Danes feast on three-course meals combining cold and hot dishes.

Rye bread, slices of pork and beef, shrimp and salad are served as the first course.

While turkey is regarded as the most important part of many people's Christmas meal, deep-fried fish, meat balls, sausages, boiled potatoes and vegetables are the main hot dishes in a Danish Christmas meal.

Towards the end of the meal, a traditional Danish dessert of rice, milk, cream and cherry sauce is served.

Usually, each Christmas meal takes three to four hours to finish, as it is a precious opportunity for family members to meet and talk.