The Kvajebajer, or “failure beer”

And what it says about Danish working culture

It’s hard to understand the Danish style of working without understand the kvajebajer. This is a word that translates roughly to “failure beer.”

It dates all the way back to the Vikings, those seafaring people who lived in Scandinavia from the 9th to 11th centuries.

A failure beer is something you provide to all your colleagues when they’ve just seen you make a foolish or avoidable mistake.

Some internationals struggle with the idea of “failure beer”

The Danish way, if you’ve made a mistake, is to admit it, analyze what went wrong, plan to do it differently and, if time allows, buy everyone on your team a kvajebajer – a failure beer.

But this approach can be hard for internationals working in Denmark to handle.

If you come from a very litigious society, like the USA, admitting that you made a mistake can make you feel like you’ll be the target of a lawsuit. Better to find someone else to blame.

Or if you come from an honor-based society, like China or Pakistan, you may feel that to admit you’ve made a mistake is a loss of face, a humiliation, a loss of honor.

But honor is not a big part of Danish culture.

Surveys show that Denmark has the world’s lowest rate of gelotophobia, that is, fear of being laughed at.

Kvajebajer can also be a kvajekage

If it’s in the middle of the work day or you have non-drinkers in your circle, you might opt for a kvajekage – a failure cake – instead.

For example, I had a client, a small tech firm, that was three days late with an important delivery. When they brought the delivery, they brought a failure cake along too.

Failure cake or failure beer is about an acceptance of human frailty.

And it’s rooted in the Danish passion for equality. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, so let’s have a beer.

Kvajebager or "Failure Beer"

How do you pronounce kvajbajer?

“kvaj” – rhymes with “tie”

“baj” – rhymes with “hi”

“er” – rhymes with “air”


Beyond kvajebajer: Learn more about working in Denmark

If you’d like to learn more about Danish working culture, order Kay Xander Mellish’s classic book “How to Work in Denmark: Tips on Finding a job, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss.”

Working in Denmark comes with a lot of benefits – but a lot of unwritten rules, too. Why is it so important in Danish working culture to take a break and eat cake with your colleagues?

How can you promote your skills in a job interview without breaking “The Jante Law”?

Is learning to speak Danish necessary? Can you succeed in your career without it?

What’s the secret to understanding Danish humor?

Get the book from our webshop or from online vendors like Amazon, AppleBooks, GoogleBooks, or Barnes & Noble Nook.

How to Work in Denmark book
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