The Social Do's and Don'ts of Norwegian Society

Every child grows up raised on a set of social rules. In the U.S.A. you always say your “please and thank yous”. In Nepal, you always accept a meal when offered and a steaming mug of Chai tea. In Japan, you always respect the elderly and obey your parents. In Norway, we have our own sets of social rules every Norwegian has been raised on. Here, we take you through the most prominent social guidelines of Norway, and the history behind them.

 

Best for Everyone.

As you may know, Norway is a socialist nation. With a population of 5 million people, and a country rich in resources, Norwegians have set up their country to support it’s citizens, take care of its people, and create equal life quality for everyone. Ingrained in this foundation is an overall cultural norm of equality, commonality and respect. Even in the work place, the boss is the boss, but Norwegian work culture has much more of a flat hierarchical structure than other countries. As a person functioning in Norwegian society, one individual does not deserve more than another, and Norwegians view the entire systems functionality with more importance than that of one person.

You are not unique.

Historically, Norwegians have functioned off a set of social rules: The Law of Jente. This Nordic code of conduct discredits those who want to break out of social norms, and add a little spice to the Norwegian day to day lives. Although today they may seem mildly outrageous, there is still a prominent undertone of Jenteloven in Norwegian society, preserving uniformity and a utilitarian mentality. Below are the 10 rules in which the cultural law states:

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we
  4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we
  5. You're not to think you know more than we
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us

For the last 20-30 years, these rules are taught less in modern society, and many young people push back against the expectations, demanding to own their individuality. However, there has been some speculation attributing Norway’s high levels of happiness compared to the global average that gives testament to the Janteloven, arguing that social conformity can increase happiness. Conclusion? We leave that up to you.  

Do I know you?

As a visitor to Norway, you will likely encounter friendly and helpful locals as you travel the country. A genuine interest in outsiders, and a deep pride for their country follows Norwegians nationally, and they want to share it with you. English is commonly spoken, although in some smaller towns you may have to search a little bit to find someone fluent.  However, in the daily life, Norwegians do not often socialize with those they don’t know. Being self-sufficient, not bothering others, and being quiet are common Norwegian social norms in the daily life. Not disturbing others as society functions daily is highly emphasized, including casual conversation with strangers, eye contact, holding the door open, being too loud, or sitting next to a stranger when you could sit away from them. However, things change when you’re in the mountains. The second Norwegians put on their hiking boots and take to the mountains, you can greet and chat with anyone you like.

Competition? I’m in.

Competitive games or sports are highly valued in Norway. Whether it's your intellect, athleticism, or a simple game of cards, Norwegians thrive on competition. Turning anything into a game where one can win will often make you a crowd-pleaser in any Norwegian setting. However, if you do win, the right to brag or be proud of your success does not come with the territory. Remember the Janteloven? That applies here too.

Nature in any weather.

Most Norwegians grow up with access to nature, and the society as a whole values time spent outside with your family. This connection to nature can be observed in their large cities-often with public transport access to limitless forest trails-, their fashion-tennis shoes with your business skirt is 100% acceptable and rain jackets are very in, Sundays-most stores are closed and the day is to be spent with your family picking berries, walking the trails, or enjoying a swim- Even our candy bars- have you heard of Kvikk Lunsj? This best-selling hiking candy bar has a set of mountain rules written on its wrapper, thus reminding candy eaters everywhere how to stay safe in the mountains.

All in all, the Norwegian phrases: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” or “Nature, it’s in our blood” generalize the common tough Norwegian mentality towards being outside. Norway’s weather systems can be adverse, and Norwegians take that challenge head on and embrace it. Want to go outside? Then bundle up, no complaints, and off we go!

Follow the Rules.

With this highly functional society comes the expectation that you will follow the rules, even if they are not enforced. Looking for loopholes in the system or bending the rulebook is just not a concept in Norway. Every Norwegian respects the rule book, whether social norms, cultural expectations, tradition, or the laws and regulations from the government. If there is a rule, there is a reason, so trust the system and do as your told. That is the best outcome for the whole, and everybody matters.

The Norwegian Arm

Have you had the experience of your Grandmother shaming you for reaching across the dinner table to grab some salt? Some potatoes? Maybe some butter?That's rude, we learn. Well, you can let go of those years of training and polite "could you please pass me the salt"? In Norway, use of the "Norwegian Arm" is a given at any sit-down meal. Need something across the table? Go ahead and just grab it, even if your arm crosses someone else's personal space. It's okay! Really. Embrace the Norwegian Arm mentality and reach for whatever you need!

Excuse me, here is a cheese slicer.

Do you love cheese? Well, Norwegians do too, but they handle their cheese needs a bit differently than other countries. If you're used to taking out a kitchen or pocket knife to chop off a chunk of cheese-think again. You're in Norway now. The idea of hacking away at a lovely symmetrical block of cheese with a knife is mildly unthinkable. We invented cheese slicers. Use them! Slice nice and thin slices of cheese off, place them on your meal, and leave the block of cheese nice and clean for the next user. This is necessary with any kind of cheese, including Brown Cheese, a Norwegian sweet cheese you have to try if visiting Norway. Our suggestion? One slice of brown cheese with a little bit of jam on Knekkebrød (seed-cracker bread), and voila! Enjoy. 

Want a drink? Bring your own!

Alcohol is expensive in Norway. It is heavily taxed and can be somewhat challenging to come by if you’re not at the right place at the right time. Beer and drinks under 4.75% alcohol are sold in common grocery stores until 8pm on weekdays, or 6pm on Saturdays, and there is no alcohol for sale on Sunday’s (Mostly everything else is closed on Sunday’s as well). Anything with a higher alcohol level is sold at The Wine Monopoly. Yes, you heard me right, Monopoly. There is only one store in Norway that sells alcohol above 4.75%, and they close at 3pm on Saturdays. Purchasing a drink out on the town will cost you between 12$ USD and 25$ USD. Conclusion? Plan ahead for your weekends, and keep an eye on your watch. A spur of the moment beer run is not so easily done in Norway, and if you are going to a locals house for dinner, the ultimate gesture of hospitality would be to bring some drinks to share with you. However, in Norway, this is not expected, or even common…maybe even a little weird. Those meeting to enjoy a meal together don’t expect either the host or guest to supply alcoholic beverages-drinks with dinner are an individual affair, so if youre going to a gathering, bring your own drinks.

17th of May!

If you’re traveling to Norway on May 17th, make sure you join the celebrations. Norwegians National Day is an experience you are sure to remember. Men, women and children dress up in their National Costume- The Bunad- and take to the streets to party, play games, parade with Norwegian flags, and eat Kransekake (cake) with tiny Norwegian flags decorating the dessert. Not only will you consume mass amounts of Kransekake, but also look forward to the ice cream competitions all Norwegians partake in- how many ice creams did you eat on 17th of May this year? Follow this delicious tradition up with as many hot dogs as possible and you have the complete image of Norway’s national day.

Ski Event? We’ll all be there.

When the 1994 Olympics came to Norway, thousands of Norwegians camped out in the forest in -20 degree weather…just waiting for a glimpse of their national athletes to ski by their camp. Cross country ski racing, ski jumping and Biathlons are three of Norway’s national sports, and the dedicated fans will go above and beyond to support them. If you have the opportunity to join a local ski event when traveling in Norway, take it! Nothing explains Norwegians better than observing them in their element…cheering on their nations top athletes from the side lines.

A small gasp.

Having a conversation with a Norwegian can leave one wondering if they’re upset with you-they keep interrupting you and gasping. But have no fear, they’re not. If a Norwegian is listening to you speak, its common to hear a small intake of breath during conversation. This sounds somewhat like a small gasp. Again, it’s okay, don’t panic. They are just acknowledging you while you speak and breathing in sharply while they mutter a quiet “ja” (yes) to encourage you to continue.

Of course, we're generalizing.

Not all Norwegians follow these social norms, but the overall culture embodied in the text above can give you some insight into the Norwegian culture. Should you happen upon masses of Norwegians cheering in their traditional Bunad (The National Costume), you can wonder if there is a ski competition near by, or if traveling on May 17th, perhaps it is the Norwegian National Day? These cultural norms can give you the extra boost of exploring another country and culture as you move through Norway’s astounding natural landscape. Keep an eye out for these tell-tale Norwegian traditions, and enjoy your visit to this beautiful country!