Sabai-Sabai Hygge: Lessons from the Danish Ambassador

Danish ambassador Uffe Wolffhechel.
Danish ambassador Uffe Wolffhechel.

BANGKOK — Danish ambassador Uffe Wolffhechel is in the third year of his Thailand post. He’s glad not to have to look over his shoulder at every step after previous postings in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Each year about 5,000 to 10,000 Thais vacation in Denmark, while 170,000 Danes come to suntan in Thailand. Some decide to stay as part of the 5,000 to 10,000 strong Danish expat community in Thailand, Wolffhechel says.

“You can find Danes in mixed marriages in very rural areas of Thailand,” Wolffhechel said. “And similarly, I’ve found Thai people even in the most random, remote areas on the west coast of Denmark.”

Denmark plays a surprisingly hefty commercial role in Thailand: more than 100 Danish companies have branches in Thailand. Some brands, like jewelry manufacturer Pandora, house their entire production base in Thailand. There’s even Danish IT startups like M2 Animation.


Thailand mostly exports seafood to Denmark, while importing machinery such as food processing equipment. Wolffhechel said he’d like to see more purchases of Danish renewable energy equipment, such as wind turbines.

A post by Pandora Thailand’s official page showing influencers wearing the Danish brand’s jewelry.

When asked to confirm or deny the common stereotype about Danes, Wolffhechel said that the people really are that eco-conscious.

“Sustainability and the environment are deeply rooted in our politics, the way we behave, and our way of living,” Wolffhechel said, explaining that environmental issues weighed heavily in the Danish 2019 general elections.

The Sweden-originated “flygskam,” or flight shame movement, which discourages people from flying on planes due to the environmental impact, is “beginning to make a difference” for Danes bound for Bangkok.

People riding bikes Oct. 5, 2018 in Copenhagen. Photo: Kristoffer Trolle / Flickr
People riding bikes Oct. 5, 2018 in Copenhagen. Photo: Kristoffer Trolle / Flickr

“Some people think: 9,000 kilometers by plane, is that sustainable? Is that how we want to live?” Wolffhechel said.

Wolffhechel said that Danish geniuses will have to come up with greener ways of flying.

“We’re a long way from electric airplanes, but they’re in the embryonic stages. Using biofuels is another option,” Wolffhechel said.

Although the Danes’ eco-consciousness hasn’t caught on with most Thais yet, the two cultures do share at least one similar value: books about hygge are flying off the shelves here.

Hygge, popularized by books such as “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” by Meik Wiking, is defined by the Collins English dictionary as a way of “creating cosy and convivial atmospheres that promote wellbeing.” Picture snuggling up in your favorite blanket with a cup of tea.

Hygge as a concept shouldn’t be alien to Thailand, the land of sabai sabai (“chill chill”).

“It’s about being with friends, somebody important to you and who you are important to. Having a good, relaxing time together. Getting out of busy work and spending that time together. Who wouldn’t want to do that in beautiful surroundings, whether it’s at home or at the beach?” Wolffhechel said.

Danish ambassador Uffe Wolffhechel.
Danish ambassador Uffe Wolffhechel.

Where to go for more Dansk

Need a taste of Denmark in Bangkok? The Nordic Film Festival is showing two Danish films at EmQuartier this month. Nordic noir drama “Darling” (2017), screening at 8pm on Sept. 27, follows a ballerina’s career-ending injury and her ensuing denial, jealousy, and mental unravel .“I Am William” (2017), a Danish comedy where young William has to save his eccentric Uncle Nils from the local gangster, may appeal to kids and will be screened 3pm Sept. 28.

Need a literal taste of Denmark? Danish chef Henrik Yde Andersen co-runs Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, a one-star Michelin restaurant serving modern Thai food at Siam Kempinski. Back in Copenhagen, he’s credited with bringing inventive Thai food to the city.

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