A Social Guide to Norway

For all you foreigners out there struggling to understand that we are just trying to be polite! 

Maybe you just moved to Norway, maybe you’ve been here for a while. You might be an exchange student, a tourist. Maybe you are here to work, or simply another guy or girl who fell in love with a Norwegian? We welcome you all! We might not show it very well, but I promise you that in our own Norwegian way we love you very much!

The Norwegian psyche has developed over thousands of years of working hard for the little food we could squeeze out of our rocky landscape. We lived on little farms averaging on 8-10-12 kids per family, and most of us were dirt poor. We didn’t exactly have the living conditions that make people want to invite strangers over for dinner. No one had much to share, and the polite thing was not to ask. We got up at sunset, put our noses to the ground, worked, got fed and then worked some more.  

 Fast forward to the 21st century none of us can remember why we don’t talk to each other. All we know is that when we have to get off the bus we lean slightly forward and pray to a God the person next to us will understand that he needs to let us out. We go to great lengths not to look at each other and we would do pretty much anything in the world not to touch each other. If you’re on the bus and someone sits down on the very furthest away edge of the seat next to you, this person is not trying to tell you that you smell bad or trying to be rude in any way. In fact, he or she is trying to be very polite.

In most other countries I have been in, saying good morning to someone is a polite thing to do. In Norway we have different social codes for what is polite. Our primary concern is to not bother any one; this is seen as rule number one and is followed slavishly. Being in someone’s private space is in every way seen as bothering that person, and therefore, sitting on the edge of your bus seat in order to not touch the person next to you is the most polite thing to do. 

Borrow a jacket, talk a lot and go hiking! Foto: Sharon Christina Rørvik/Unsplash

In Norway you will be left alone. Take it or leave it. Some people say it’s the best thing ever and love being here for the sheer bliss of not being yapped their heads off at all times (am I right all you beautiful, introvert Americans?). Some people on the other hand feel like Norway is so cold they might die of frostbite before they get to go home to a place where talking to their neighbor is not a strange thing to do. I feel you! 

 It’s not the easiest thing in the world to make friends with Norwegian people, and even 20% of Norwegian students feel lonely. When we are struggling to make friends with each other I can understand that it can be tough for all you foreigners out there. But if you have your heart set on finding yourself a northern friend (or five), I have some tips for you to get you started 

Unless already friends, lovers or family, Norwegians need a good reason to talk to each other and a good reason to see each other. We are not generally the “let me tell you about my day” or “let’s just go get a coffee for the hell of it”-type of crowd. It’s not okay to randomly start talking to someone unless there is a context. If you start talking to someone you don’t know for no apparent reason that person will either think that you’re crazy or that you’re flirting. Either way it’s creepy. 

The way to a cold Norwegian heart is a common mission. It doesn’t matter what this common mission is. Someone dropped something on the ground? Great! Now you can tell them about it. What you want to avoid is for your new friend to think, “Why is this person talking to me?” 

Say yes if you are invited to things. Foto: Steinar Engeland/Unsplash

The easiest way to do that is to do something and do it regularly. Find an activity that you go back to time and time again to meet the same people. Get a job, volunteer, join an activity, a sports team or take a class. If you’re a student, great! There’s a bazillion different things you can do to regularly meet the same people over and over. That way it doesn’t matter if you’re a little shy too, we can all just take our time to get to know each other.  

A practical little tip is to ask to borrow clothing. I know, this sounds weird, but hear me out! We might think it’s a little strange that you have chosen to come to Norway of all possible places on Earth, but we do truly understand that you want to see our nature. We have a saying that goes something like “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, and most of us have taken this to heart and acquired a wardrobe to fit every possible weather situation. If you’re planning to go on a hike, ask someone you know a little if you can borrow a jacket or boots. You might think you’re fine in the clothes that you have, and I’m sure you are, but the point here is that people love to help, and helping creates connection. You now have to meet your new clothing friend for pickup and drop off, you can ask about hiking tips, your new friend will ask you how the hike was. There is like a whole hour worth of conversation just in borrowing a jacket. Maybe he or she wants to join as well?  

 I have a Dutch friend who lived in Norway for 10 months, and when I asked him what he would say about making friends here, he had this to say:

“Norway is nature. And nature is determining culture. Distance and reservation are influencing the social world. Like a warm cosy cabin in a big forest, it takes a while before you get to the warm center of a Norwegian.”

And it’s true. Take your time, be patient, show up, talk about your common mission, and say yes if you are invited to things. It is no secret that we socialize best when we are drunk, and if you are invited to anything it is very likely that it involves alcohol. When we are drunk we stop being so Norwegian and everything becomes a whole lot easier. Don’t worry if your new best friend from yesterday’s party doesn’t seem to love you as much as he or she proclaimed to last night. It takes more than a few nights out to make true friends with a Norwegian. But with a little bit of patience and persistence, you’ll get there in the end. 

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