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NORWAY EXPLAINED

18 sure-fire ways to offend a Norwegian

From not worshipping at the temples of frozen pizza and cross-country skiing to littering on hikes and talking smack about Norwegian food, these actions – even when unintentional – are likely to annoy a lot of Norwegians.

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Looking to avoid a cultural faux pas in Norway? Then try to avoid any of the 20 things on our list. Image by Hasse Lundqvist from Pixabay

Leave trash behind on hikes

Cleaning up after oneself – regardless of whether it’s after a barbeque at a city park or after a break during a hike – falls under the label of “basic decency” in Norway.

Norwegians are very proud of the fantastic nature that surrounds them, and most feel a deep connection with the vast northern outdoors.

The proper way of showing respect for the country’s ancient forests, pristine fjords, and numerous valleys is to keep them clean.

As Norway’s “Mountain Code,” a set of rules that help hikers stay safe and have an enjoyable experience, states: Respect the natural environment. Plan ahead and don’t leave any litter.

Bring up high prices on every possible occasion

Yes, Norway is expensive, and yes, even Norwegians are well aware of the fact. Don’t be surprised if your Norwegian friends or acquaintances get annoyed by your constant lamentations about the costs of living in the country (especially during the current financial crisis).

Enter someone’s house with your shoes on

Visiting a Norwegian friend for a housewarming party or social event? Take off your shoes.

It’s considered rude to stay in your shoes when entering a private residence. The weather in Norway tends to be quite volatile, and you wouldn’t want to bring snow, water, dirt, and small rocks into someone’s living room, would you?

Also, remember to wear clean socks on such occasions.

Beers

Photo by: tookapic / Pixabay

Drink publicly on a weekday

Generally speaking, you’ll rarely find Norwegians drinking on weekdays. There’s also a pretty strong stigma associated with weekday drinking – which draws its roots to more traditional and frugal times.

Don’t be surprised if your work colleagues give you the stink eye for suggesting a glass of wine or champagne on a Wednesday.

The weekends, on the other hand, are a completely different story.

Skip out on communal volunteer work (dugnad)

Ah, dugnad. That special occasion during which Norwegians show off-the-chart levels of openness and chattiness.

This old Norwegian cultural practice usually entails a group of people, such as neighbours or team members, gathering to do volunteer work for the benefit of their surroundings and community.

While the occasion has numerous upsides – it is often lauded as an opportunity to meet your neighbours and make friends in a relaxed “we can do it” environment, if you skip dugnad, you’ll raise more than a few eyebrows.

Not showing up might even be seen as a deliberate act of hostility and can also affect how your neighbours treat you moving forward.

Be critical of the frozen pizza cult

Norway is a nation of frozen pizza lovers, and Pizza Grandiosa is a household name throughout the country – so much so that around 600 million Grandiosa frozen pizzas have been sold since the product launched in 1980.

While foreigners tend to be confused as to why anyone would consider frozen pizza a beloved staple, you’ll be better off keeping such thoughts to yourself.

Decades of aggressive marketing have planted the idea of frozen pizzas as something delicious into the Norwegian collective consciousness – risk offending the frozen pizza gods at your own peril.

Don’t put butter on the table for virtually any meal

If it were up to Norwegians, butter would be proclaimed a national dish in itself!

We’re joking (sort of), but according to widespread belief, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time can – and should be – upgraded by serving butter on the table.

If there’s bread involved, expect Norwegians to reach for the (preferably salted) butter.

If you fail to provide butter at a meal that you prepared (let’s say, Bergen fish soup with a side of toasted bread), be ready to meet the confused stares of your Norwegian friends, as well as disappointed sighs.

Sit close to a Norwegian on public transport

In Norway, people tend to be protective of their personal space. Therefore, if you choose to sit close to someone on public transport despite having other available options (crowded situations don’t count), you’ll raise an eyebrow.

This falls under the broader Norwegian social norm of not inconveniencing others – Norwegians try not to put others in weird situations and expect others to act in kind.

Doubt whether the national obsession with eating tacos on Fridays makes sense

Most people who move to Norway from another country are surprised by the fact that – similarly to the frozen pizza craze – there is also an obsession with tacos. There’s even a day in the week dedicated to eating tacos with friends and family, tacofredag (English: Taco Friday).

A decade after frozen pizzas became a thing, in the 1990s, tacos were introduced as another exotic food. As Norway did have much to show in terms of dishes that are shared at the table, tacos were considered a refreshing new option for dinner parties and family gatherings.

Talk smack about the tax levels

Norway is well known for its high tax levels. However, most Norwegians – at least if we are to trust polls – appreciate what the state does with their money and believe that the country’s welfare framework is a notion worthwhile supporting with their hard-earned kroner.

Therefore, don’t be surprised if Norwegians brag about paying taxes – they’re actually proud of the distribution of common benefits through the system.

Try to suppress any non-Norwegian cynicism (or real-life experience of how politicians in your country of origin used taxpayer funds), and avoid talking down about taxes in Norway.

Beef potatoes

Photo by: Robert Owen-Wahl / Pixabay

Make negative remarks about Norwegian food

Most Norwegians know that their country’s dishes have a reputation for being bland. As a number of surveys show – including the recent Taste Atlas one, which ranked Norwegian food as the worst in the world – international visitors are clearly not impressed.

However, food remains a sensitive topic, and Norwegians quickly get annoyed if you bring up the fact that some of their traditional dishes seem a bit dull.

Strike up conversations with strangers

This one falls under the umbrella of “not inconveniencing others”, which we have already addressed in the article.

Generally speaking, Norwegians are protective of their personal space and don’t like to be disturbed – and if you respect these tendencies, chances are that they’ll return the favour.

No need to make things uncomfortable for both yourself and a stranger at a bus stop – save the small talk for a social occasion with friends.

Turn up to their home uninvited

There is a custom in some parts of Europe (especially in the southeast) for neighbours or good friends to pop up at each other’s door unannounced.

Do not engage in such social acrobatics in Norway – unless there is an emergency.

Norwegians tend to value their privacy and free time quite highly. Showing up at their place could also interfere with the plans they already made, so you’re almost certain to inconvenience them, which is a big no-no.

 Make misinformed or generalised comments on Norway’s history

Though you might not notice it if you miss out on Norway’s national day celebration on May 17th, Norwegians are quite the patriotic bunch.

As such, they don’t take kindly to generalisations about their country’s history. Here’s an example. I was part of a group history tour in Bergen, and while the group mainly consisted of foreigners, there was also a Norwegian among us.

At one point, the tour guide started making broad and vastly generalised remarks about Norway’s role in the Second World War. This prompted our Norwegian group member to speak out:

“I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this, and I know that I might be making the others uncomfortable by speaking out, but this needs to be said. What you just said is historically incorrect.”

He then proceeded to provide the group with a more detailed and informed version of events.

Imagine the inner strength the Norwegian had to gather to speak out like that… It seems that even the “don’t inconvenience others” maxim has a limit. The limit? Love of country.

Skiing

Photo by: Michael Gaida / Pixabay

Criticise cross-country skiing – or skiing in general

Norwegians are among the biggest skiing aficionados in the world, and cross-country skiing, in particular, has a special place in their hearts.

Skiing has been around in Norway for centuries, and there is a number of saying that codify the strong bond between the nation and its skis, with the most famous being that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.

Indeed, Norway’s love affair with skiing is so ingrained in the culture that it shapes the national identity, and if you truly want to annoy a Norwegian, feel free to criticise skiing as pointless, expensive, or not worth it.

The frustration in the surrounding air will become so thick that you’ll be able to cut it with a (butter) knife.

Make any comparisons with Sweden

Norway and Sweden have what would be best described as a type of rivalry among siblings (or neighbours).

Historically, Norway was the little brother (being smaller and having a smaller economy). However, things have started to change since Norway discovered oil.

The rivalry boils down to Norwegians and Swedes making jokes about each other and teasing the neighbour at any chance they get.

Therefore, if you want to annoy a Norwegian (or just rile them up a bit), say that Sweden has a better (insert virtually anything) and watch them unravel. Fun times.

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Mow your lawn on a Sunday

In Norway, mowing your lawn on Sunday is illegal, as the associated noise disturbs the peace.

So, technically speaking, an attempt at keeping your garden in check with a lawnmower would not as much annoy a Norwegian as it would be a breach of the country’s laws.

This is also something that surprises a lot of international citizens who move to Norway. Usually, it goes like this: You move to Norway. You find a job, time passes, and you get a place with a lawn. As you have a busy workweek, you decide you’ll tend to your lawn on the weekend. You start your lawnmower on a Sunday, proud of the fact that your neighbours will be able to see the fruits of your diligence after you’re done.

Then, an annoyed Norwegian neighbour shows up in front of you and explains that what you’re doing is… illegal. And that the right thing to do is to mow the lawn on Friday afternoon or Saturday.

If you’ve made this mistake, you’re not alone: The police are often contacted during the summer months by people irritated over neighbours disturbing the peace on Sunday.

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Ask whether they think the patriotism or May 17th celebrations are weird

We’ve saved the most delicate issue for last.

May 17th, Norway’s national day, commemorates the signing of the country’s constitution in 1814, which declared the country independent.

It is a day like no other all across Norway; cannons are fired at dawn, children’s parades and marching bands fill most cities’ streets, and special programs are in place nationwide.

Many Norwegians use the opportunity to dress in traditional costumes or elegant suits and dresses. The Norwegian flag is a big part of the celebrations, and you’ll see flags everywhere on the said day – on windows, on poles, painted on people’s faces…

Now, if you’re experiencing the May 17th delirium as a foreigner for the first time, it all may seem to be a bit… much.

Any such thought is best kept to yourself, as the pride in country and overall patriotism Norwegians feel on their Constitution Day is one of the core tenets of what it means to be Norwegian for a lot of people.

So, tread carefully, and if you decide to stir the proverbial hornet’s – red, blue, and white – nest, do so with caution and respectfully.

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For members

LIVING IN NORWAY

The biggest culture shocks for foreigners living in Norway 

What's considered good house manners to Norwegian school kids decked out in jumpsuits and partying in the runup to their exams are among the culture shocks in Norway that foreigners told us about in a survey.

The biggest culture shocks for foreigners living in Norway 

A new country means a new set of social norms and way of doing things to get used to. Recently, we asked our readers about the biggest culture shocks they’ve experienced (thanks to those who answered the survey) in Norway. 

They shared everything from social interactions to seeing Norwegian school kids’ party hard in the runup to the most important exams of their school careers. We’ve listed some of the most common and had a stab at explaining them. 

Eating lunch at 11am 

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the most significant differences. For example, an energy policy analyst living in Oslo shared that one of the biggest shocks for her was how early Norwegians take lunch. 

Lunch in Norway is usually finished by midday (when many are just thinking about having their second meal of the day). Additionally, lunch is more likely to be a packed lunch. One of the possible explanations for the earlier lunch is that it is far more common for workers in Norway to clock out at 3pm or 4pm, making 11am the midpoint of their working day. 

Another reason is that some Norwegians eat four meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, an early dinner and then an evening meal. At around 8pm or 9pm, many will have kveldsmat (evening food). This is a small evening meal. It’ll be quite similar to breakfast or lunch in that it will be some kind of spread (pålegg) on top of a cracker or slice of bread. 

Russ 

Russefeiring (Russ celebration) is a traditional celebration for Norwegian high school students in their final spring semester. It is also a chance for them to blow off steam before their final exams in May. 

The annual celebrations were mentioned by a few readers from different parts of the world, and it is no surprise that the tradition has left so many scratching their heads. 

Firstly, the students are easily identified by their bright red or blue jumpsuits. The jumpsuits (which are very expensive) are accompanied by a hat. The jumpsuit and hat will be customised, generally with the student’s name on one leg and then comments and nicknames from friends and fellow students across the rest of the jumpsuit. 

Students participating in Russ also participate in challenges that earn them pins. The majority of these badges involve drunken antics of some sort. 

If a load of drunk teenagers in red jumpsuits getting drunk on a roundabout to earn a pin isn’t conspicuous enough, they drive around in customisable buses blasting horrifically bad hard bass all night. 

Generally, people fall into two camps when it comes to Russ. Those who reminisce about their youth and days as a carefree Russ and everyone else who thinks they are a drunk, disorderly and obnoxiously loud nuisance. 

Freedom to express opinions 

Devander, who lives in Oslo but has previously lived in Japan, explained that being able to express an opinion and provide recommendations was a bit of a culture shock after having lived in Japan. 

“When it comes to how society operates, Japan and Norway are, in my opinion, at complete odds with one another. For instance, in Norway, communication is quite direct, yet in Japan, it is impossible to say ‘no’ openly or speak about how you feel,” he said. 

When it comes to work, Norway and Japan are very different. Japan is famous for its rigid hierarchical structure, where talking to someone above your direct superior would mark you out as a troublemaker. 

Norway, on the other hand, is more known for its flat corporate structure. In Norway, it isn’t uncommon for those lower down the corporate ladder to speak to managers and executives as equals and offer feedback, ideas or alternative strategies as part of a more collaborative approach. 

The diet 

Kansas from South London said that she was most surprised by the diet in Norway. Many associate the Norwegian diet with some of the best and freshest seafood found anywhere in the world. 

Instead, she was shocked to find the fish and seasonal veg sidelined by the prevalence of hot dogs in the Norwegian diet. 

The hot dogs aren’t the only surprising aspect of the “typical” Norwegian diet. Norwegians actually eat more frozen pizza (per capita) than anyone else in Europe. Secondly, they are a serious nation of coffee drinkers. Norwegians’ coffee-guzzling habits are only topped by Finland when measured by per capita

The reality of frozen pizza, hot dogs and coffee stand in quite strong contrast to the expectations of glacier water, salmon and vegetables. 

Taking shoes off indoors 

There are quite a few things you should do as a houseguest to be considered polite, such as bringing your own alcohol to a party or offering to split the cost of an expensive meal. But the most essential piece of courtesy occurs as you walk through the door. 

For many, it is incredibly important that you take off your shoes indoors. This is especially important in the winter. You don’t want to walk melting snow and ice all over somebody’s carpet or floors. 

The second reason is the small pieces of stone and grit to prevent pavements from turning into ice rinks (the jury is out on whether they serve their intended purpose) can cause quite a lodge of damage to floors and carpets as they tend to get lodged in the soles of shoes. 

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