We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Norway
Norwegians are generally open-minded and tolerant and there are few, if any, dos and don’ts that foreign visitors need to keep in mind. Many Norwegian people can, however, be mistaken as somewhat rude and unwelcoming, due to the fact that they can be very direct and that small talk generally doesn’t come easy. This is just a matter of culture. Making contact with strangers, such as talking with fellow passengers on the bus, is uncommon. Furthermore, Norwegian as a language is very straightforward. If asked for a favor, you are likely not to hear a “please.”
On the other hand, Norwegians say “takk” (“thank you”) for almost anything, including, for example, receiving change back from cashier or bus driver. It is customary to thank the cook for the food (“takk for maten”) in a private home. The reply will be “velbekomme” or “værsågod”. The once-common use of the polite pronoun is nowadays extremely rare, and so is polite phrases and words in everyday situations, so don’t be offended if a Norwegian speaking a foreign language uses a very familiar language. The Norwegian culture is, in some aspects, very informal, and Norwegians usually address each others by first name only, except perhaps in official meetings.
The informal culture is, however, not equivalent of that in southern parts of Europe; showing up late for meetings is considered rude, and so is talking loud, being too personal with strangers, and losing your temper. Although you may get away with arriving “fashionably late” at dinners in someone else’s home, this is certainly not expected and should be limited to no more than fifteen minutes. It is customary to take off your shoes when entering a Norwegian home – particularly in the winter. Norwegians can also be perceived as somewhat nationalistic.
It is common to use the flag in private celebrations (such as anniversaries and weddings), and many will also fly the flag on public holidays, and violating the flag rules is frowned upon. Most Norwegians will speak warmly of their country, in particular about subjects such as nature, sports, and the country’s economic success. 17 May, the constitution day, can perhaps be a bit overwhelming for foreigners, as the country is covered in flags, citizens dress up in their finest clothes and celebrate all day long. Norwegian patriotism is, however, generally just an expression of appreciation of living in a successful community, not chauvinistic or aggressive in any way.
Even so, you should refrain from making jokes about the Norwegian patriotism unless you are sure they will be well-received. On constitution day, dress up and try to say gratulerer med dagen (literally “congratulations with the day”) to anyone you meet, and you will probably get the same in response and see a lot of smiles, even if you’re not Norwegian at all. Norwegians take pride in the fact that the parades on constitution day are made up of schoolchildren and families instead of military troops.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Norway, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Norway food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Norway? Please comment below.