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Are Norwegians Rude?

Are Norwegians rude or polite

Is Norwegian behaviour impolite, rude, or just simply misunderstood?

Norwegians don't smile at people in the street, or ask a stranger on the bus how they are doing.

Many new arrivals to Norway (especially from the USA or Mediterranean countries) view this behaviour as rude, but is it actually a Norwegian version of politeness? A Norwegian researcher suggests it is.

Famous Norwegian people

Whatever happened to politeness?

An article a national newspaper a few years ago criticised Norwegians for being unfriendly:

“Will I end up becoming like most Norwegians? Unfriendly and impolite? I don't want to insult Norwegians in any way, and I don’t believe that all Norwegians are unfriendly. As soon as I get to know someone, they usually turn out to be nice in fact! But whatever happened to normal politeness?”

The article struck a nerve with readers of the newspaper and an associate professor at NHH, Kristin Rygg.

In a recent article in Science Nordic, Rygg hit back at the reputation of her people, pointing to several research articles on the discipline of language research known as “politeness theory”.

“Norwegians are polite. We don’t bother other people unnecessarily. We don’t ask for help unless we feel we really need to. To us, that’s being polite.”

It's an interesting perspective. I've certainly experienced the “Norwegian arm” referred to in the article, whereby a local will reach across you at the dinner table to grab the salt, or whatever, without uttering a word.

There's also of course no direct translation for the word please, and the silence at dinner tables, bus stops and waiting rooms can be deafening.

The British sorry dance

It's not a million miles away from the situation in Britain, to be fair, although we do say “sorry” and “excuse me” a little too often.

The infamous “sorry dance” kicks off when one person accidentally bumps into another, and the other person says sorry first. So I do have some sympathy with Rygg, who goes on to say:

“Some people say that it’s very rude of us not to say “can you pass me the salt. please”. But that’s not how we are brought up. In the Norwegian version of politeness, it’s more important not to bother other people, including at the dining table. And engaging in meaningless chat with people we don’t know definitely comes under the definition of bothering them. Which is why we do it as little as possible.”

Politeness, Norwegian style

The article seems to suggest that the point isn't whether this behaviour is right or wrong, it's about everyone (including Norwegians) understanding how this version of politeness can affect others.

For foreigners living in Norway, it's just one more thing to which we must adjust!

What's your take on this? Are Norwegians rude, or is such behaviour just their way of being polite?

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

57 Comments

  1. Most of the time I find it ok. Though I must admit that someone climbing over me to get off the bus if I’m in the outside seat rather than signalling their intent to get past is highly irritating and often painful.

    1. Please consider that the fact that you don’t pick up on the signals they’re sending to get off the bus, does not necessarily mean that they might not be sending them. From my own experience, there aren’t many things I find quite as awkward as being stuck in the window seat of the bus because the person next to me doesn’t move when I clearly (at least ‘Norwegian-clearly’) need to get out. From a Norwegian point of view, you might very well be the rude one in that situation (apologies if that sounds blunt and/or rude, I don’t mean it to be – I often find writing a bit difficult from a politeness-perspective).

        1. This should be coined the “norwegian finger”. It involves the inability to accept any blame or responsibility, and rather than simply being defensive, actually attack others and point fingers, no matter your own antisocial behaviour or misdeeds.

          The body language you mention; I have seen it, tried to signal with body language that I too am getting off at this stop, and on trying to stand up have a socially awkward, backward, wealth spoiled, adult brat literally in my lap. The example given was good, it is common, and it deserves a better answer than “actually it is your fault”.

          It’s not a cultural behaviour, it’s not a national trait. It’s the erosion of manners and responsibility due to a decline in normal parental discipline due to the ever growing confrontation aversion and a purposeful mirroring of the law of Jante so that it points at others, rather than yourself AND others.

          The growing self importance is like a rot, that will eventually degrade your responsible social democracy. Life quality is so high, it’s sometimes easy to forget that other people exist, have feelings and deserve to be treated as if they are alive, and not just in your way, ‘not reading the obvious body language’. So afraid of confrontation, even a simple “excuse me” is more than a stranger deserves.

          1. I agree that Norwegians could be a bit more helpful if someone says; “Excuse me, the next stop is mine”. Furthermore, a kind word or smile goes a long way and last I heard, in no way is that rude. Period.

          2. I think you nailed it. This is seen here in the U.S. as well. Kids aren’t being raised right. When I was a child in the 80’s if we went to someone’s house (grandparents, friends of my parents etc.) we kids weren’t to touch anything or ask for anything (food,drinks, whatever.) Only if it was offered. We were expected to be polite,calm, and be on our best behavior. People aren’t teaching children these things, so these kids grow up to act like they are still children in adulthood! They are also spoiled and have no work ethic because they weren’t made to do chores growing up. They also weren’t taught to respect their elders.

          3. Thanks boob! I know… this is a very late reply, but your analysis is so accurate I just have to tell you. Frida there is so representative for that “norwegian finger” you mention (love that term!), I would bet my laptop on that she’s is Norwegian, not even immigrant Norwegian, but Norwegian-Norwegian! I would love a reality check on that one though, in case I’m wrong, I have met Germans with that level of reasoning a few times.
            My background is somewhat particular, I am from a mixed Mediterrean-Norwegian family and have struggled with Norwegan peculiarities and analysis thereof my whole life (I’m 43 now). My biggest challenge is not the peculiarities in themselves, those are just everyday minor irritations really. My biggest challenge is that is almost impossible to talk with Norwegians about their cultural flaws (“that Norwegian finger!”), that makes me crazy in the long run! Therefore, I sometimes have to google these issues and end up in commentary fields like this one, just to feel like I’m not the only sane person here 😀

          4. I actually find it rather rude and pretty ignorant to point out «cultural flaws» in a foreign country and not accept that there’s an explanation for it. As Frida points out: Be open for the possibility that it’s you who haven’t adjusted to Norwegian ways (which Norwegians seem to manage just fine with amongst themselves), and ask yourself if you’re really in a place to demand that the natives in the country you’re (voluntarilly!!) in should care about what you think and feel. Sorry to say it: but YOU’re the guest here. To follow your own logic regarding politeness: Don’t be such a spoiled brat and ask for stuff and touch things with your «foreign fingers». If you don’t like it, you know where the door is.

      1. I’ve dated a Norwegian guy for almost five years and he has never lost his Norwegian traits, he has been living in the UK for a good number of years now, but does still visit his home village. They can be very blunt and sharp sometimes. Homes are their castles….please remove shoes on entering, for some of us that’s just a normal thing to do, but we don’t all have wooden floors. Don’t they say Norwegians are friends for life – once you have managed to crack the ice!!!!!

    2. After 20 years in the US, I still have not learned the strange etiquette. If I am in the grocery store browsing the mustard choices, I ffc ssd someone else want to pass me we with their cards, I am supposed to interrupt my browsing to acknowledge the other shopper, to give them permission to pass. Even though I take care to leave a wide berth for them to pass. My failure to interact, as they very demonstrably slink past me is then rewarded with a rebuke in form if sorry or excuse me. I am polite in my own way, but is being attacked by hordes of passive aggressive excuse me’s which often can be translated with: “get out of my way”, “how dare you not acknowledge me”, “dont invade my personal space, until you first engage in the proper sorry-dance”. I sort of understand the rules, but 20 years of living it, I have still not fully adapted. Maybe I am stubborn, but mostly it is because I’ve always been awkward, even by norwegian standards.

  2. I am in love with Norway and the only thing stopping me from visiting is lack of funds. Was recently looking at some hiking holidays. Thinking of getting some saving together so i can go. Might go during Northern light season if i can save that much by then. I was meant to be going this may but unfortunately my boyfriend split up with me and left me to pay all the bills! But yes, i will carry on my love of all things Norwegian, i went to Iceland last year with two of my friends and had the best time and i know I’ll have an even better time in Norway. So for now I’ll just bide my time and carry on learning the language. Thank you for your insights into Norwegian life.

    1. Take a tent and HithHike to Norway or inside tje country! People are friendly and helpful! Believe me, u will need less money than you are planning, if you love bacpack trips!
      I have hithHiked 1400km without any problem and people even gave me money(people who stopped me)!
      One of the best country in the world!!!

      Wanna travel the whole Norway one day, from Kristiansand til Nordkapp!

    2. Most Norwegians speak excellent English, so no need to learn the language! In fact, if they hear you trying to speak Norwegian, they switch to English, as they’re more interested in speaking to you in your language than listen to you speaking theirs – it’s a fact!

    3. Kate, you don’t know what you are talking about….”in love with Norway”

      I was born and grow up in Oslo. And that was NOT okay. You see, most norwegians dont Accept that some people are different from mainstream norwegians, In Norway, specially Oslo you must be mainsteam to be accepted. I have JEWISH mother-family and not all but most Norwegians think they have right to bully you because you are jewish–!!!!

      Maybe more norwegians are more human outside Oslo, but the Capital Oslo is mostly a rasistic shitplace . Do you know that the Norwegian state for a long time suppressed and denied the native miniority called SAMER from North-Norway to learn their own culture and Language and forced them to behave and learn .orwegian language. I know many samer in Oslo who HATE Norway because of this nazi-attitude from etnic Norwegians If you are NOT stupid or a racist you will see that not all but most etnic Norwegians are dicriminating SHIT-PEOPLE Fuck off Norway, and specially Oslo!!!

      1. slapp av litt da Erik bare fordi du møtte søppelfolk i oslo betyr ikke mesteparten av etniske nordmenn er sånn.

  3. Also Latin American people see this behavior as rude, however once someone gets to understand how the culture of society is, then is understandable and we respect that. This is a very nice article, congratulations! 🙂

  4. Having only visited Norway the once (Bergen) I found Norweigens to be fine. Always polite (by UK standards) in Hotels and shops or when on trips. Maybe it’s because on most occasions they are relieving me of my money! Ha ha!
    On a serious note I found them to be fine. I found the Danes less polite when in Copenhagen at Christmas. ❤️❤️❤️Norway!

  5. Just reserved – Northeners much warmer. They come to Liverpool in droves where the opposite is true – Scousers treat people like they’ve known you all their life and the Norwegians love it!

  6. I don’t find them unfriendly in any way. Actually, all my grandparents were from Norway, so maybe I just understand them easier! Love Norway & all the inhabitants! Just a joy to go whenever I can!

    1. My husband is 2nd generation Norwegian from Wisconsin. A lot of folks down here in the south think that northerners are rude but I lived p there for several years and found the upper midwestern folks very friendly once you got to know them. And yes, they see their aloofness as being polite.

      1. My father also was a second generation Norwegian from Wisconsin. His grandparents settled there and became dairy farmers. Being half-Norwegian, I think, based on my own behavior and opinions, that there is a natural stoicism that is a Norwegian trait. My grandmother was not a demonstrative woman, nor were my parents. However, I knew they loved me and I was okay with that. I experience this behavior within myself. I am very reserved and find it hard to make friends. I attribute this to my Norwegian blood.

  7. Not rude, no. Impolite, yes I think so. It’s disingenuous for both Norwegians and non-Norwegians to use culture as an excuse for lacking courtesy. As quoted in the article it is in fact due to upbringing & I know many Norwegians that are by other European standards “polite”. But many, probably the majority, are not.

  8. After 15 yrs of living here, I have to conclude that Norwegians in general are rude and cold people .
    It’s an upbringing thing .
    My Norwegian language teacher once told me , ” don’t ever lose your Britishness “.
    I now know what she meant .

    1. As a Norwegian living in the UK I have to say you have a point. I think the British have it about right – a becoming reserve but civility as well. Of course an incomparable language helps with subtle expression but as I get older I realise how valuable simple good manners are.

  9. “Not wanting to bother other people” is a perfect way of describing Norwegian manners. I love it that people leave me alone to myself when I want my personal space, and I am sometimes astonished at how helpful they are when you need it.

    1. Dave, you must live in a unrealistic dream world
      Most Norwegians , speciallly in Oslo do not care and give a shit about you
      Why do think Oslo is the Capital in Europe with most drugusers, outdoors sleepers, garbitch in he streets and narco criminality?? Wake up….
      Jewish man from Oslo

  10. When I first moved to Norway, I fell in love with the country and its wild spaces and wonderful cultural traditions. And I found the Norwegians that I knew on a personal level to be friendly, warm, and incredibly kind. But little by little, public interactions that I translated as “rudeness” started to intrude on my rosy experience.

    I’m talking about things far beyond the lack of smiles or the absence of pleasantries such as “please,” “thank you,” and “how’re you doing?” Specifically, daily boorishness like folks line-cutting in front of me, or bulldozing me off the sidewalk without so much as an “excuse me,” or purposefully letting a door slam in my face. Stuff I hadn’t even experienced living in rough-n-tumble Chicago for the last thirty years. At the end of my first six months in Norway, culture shock hit me big time.

    It has been a process, but over the two years since that big shockeroo, I’ve learned more about how past poverty, a harsh environment, a small population, and Jante’s Law — an often joked about set of rules that reinforce cultural conformity over individuality — have subtly shaped the Scandinavian mindset. (For more details, check out my blog post: “Culture Shock” at anewbieinnorway.com/2015/08/30/culture-shock/)

    I’ve come to absorb the concept that every culture has its own perception of good manners, which work well and exist for historic reasons in that society. For example, my own particular framework has been dictated by my upbringing in the American South, where etiquette has evolved into an intricate and rather painful sport that can be as alienating as perceived impoliteness.

    And I no longer think Norwegians are rude to strangers. Rudeness implies a purposeful intent to offend or alienate someone. Most Norwegians who tread on my heels, or allow a door to close in my face, or jump in front of me to board the bus would feel awful if they knew that I interpreted their behavior as intentionally uncivil. It’s not personal, and understanding this helps take the sting out of the moment.

    1. I’ve had a similar journey to you. It sort of keeps up on you in a drip-drip sort of way. Personally, I think Janteloven is overplayed. What I see is the idea of individual autonomy (with all it’s consequences, positive and negative) is held up as a good. What I’ve realised is that Anglo-Saxon societies are actually less individualistic than I realised. But on the flip side the thing that keeps the individual in check is absent here (because no one can claim power or authority) so what I find (in schools) is that certain groups of children dominate and bullying is rife. So it’s a paradoxical sort of autonomy. You can do what you like, but you can be excluded and end up on Brugata. This makes Norwegians, I think, appear slightly callous or as if they can compartmentalise the world around them and ‘look the other way’. In the end, it’s that other person’s responsibility over their autonomy. The downside is that sometimes organisations can just feel like the sum of its parts (or individuals), where implied or collective responsibilities are shunned in place of choice. Friends often get frustrated how little some ‘choose’ to do! That often seems inefficient. I guess many of these behaviours are specifically urban adaptations where you have to live with millions of other people without needing to kill them. Norway has a population smaller than the metropolitan area of London on a long and complex landmass. There’s probably no need. What I would say is that people can be incredibly kind and generous, but the stress on autonomy looks increasingly like privilege these days. When you meet people who refuse to work because they don’t want to take orders from anyone, while many immigrants do tough jobs no one else wants, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

  11. What can be a little annoying is people in Norway not giving complete information.I had a second class train pass and asked if I could catch the next train.I was told that there were not seats.After a couple of minutes I went back to the counter and asked if there were any first class seats vacant.There were plenty.Saved me a four wait for the next train,and I was willing to pay the difference.
    Perhaps the complete additional information would have been helpful ,in the beginning.
    Walking down a bush track and greeting people going in the other direction can result in head down and the scurrying past.I always guessed that these people were inhibited by their lack of English,but perhaps it is a Norwegian reserve which can be mistakenly translated as rudeness

    1. I think Norwegians as far as our culture and way of living often can seem rude and impolite! Reserved are more correct and easy to misunderstand! In my observation we(Norwegians) are in general polite, though not “overpolite”meaning: honest with few words!Like to add – our language is”poor” compared to english. I agree with, yes we are stubburn, perhaps insecure … impation! We love our country’s nature,and like to share it with tourists! Whatever opinion ‘forengiers'(excuse my English?)! think- we mean well!

  12. I have been living in Norway for 6 months now (I moved here from Canada) and the most inexplicable Norwegian behaviour I experience here is being bulldozed off the sidewalk. I call it playing Norwegian chicken. One day, walking toward 4 Norwegian men on a sidewalk (who were walking side by side), I was forced into a thorn bush to avoid them. It was either that or straight into traffic. Sometimes I experiment to see what happens when I don’t move and sure enough, we clip shoulders, sometimes quite hard. Most days I scurry around everyone else, apologetically. I wonder what happens when two Norwegians encounter each other on the street. Do they just collide and come to a dead stop?

    1. That’s so funny — I and my colleagues on our project here call it Norwegian Chicken, too! Once I was bulldozed into a rack of clothes in a 20-foot-wide aisle at GSport, even though I and the Norwegian woman were the only ones in the aisle.

      To answer your question, yep, Norwegians collide and then jockey for position at a dead stop. I learned this while attempting to apply a bit of anthropological observation to the situation by watching commuters in the tunnel at Majorstuen station. People careened into each other, harrumphed about it but never apologized, and never looked the other combatants directly in the face during the shoving matches.

      The one preventative piece of info I did gain by studying these interactions is that, it’s best not to make eye contact with the other person as they approach, or let them know you’ve seen them. If they realize that you’ve noticed them, they assume that you’ll make way for them. “He who looks directly into the face of oncoming traffic takes responsibility for avoiding the collision.”

      This is especially true when approaching a group (after all, according to the Scandinavian Jante’s Law, majority rules, so you should let them pass.) The best way to avoid getting bulldozed into car traffic is to look down at the ground while walking; then the group will veer out of your way because they’ll think you haven’t seen them.

      In fact, many of the rigid rules for pedestrian traffic that were beaten into me by decades of living in crowded cities like Chicago and New York do not apply in Norway. Norwegians don’t follow the “keep-to-the-right” rule on sidewalks. They don’t reserve the door on the right for entering, and the one on the left for exiting. They rarely follow the “collapse-into-single-file” rule when sidewalks get crowded. Nor do they bear in mind the “don’t-stand-in-a-clump-in-front-of-a-train/bus-doorway, building-exit, or-in-a-narrow-passageway” rule.

      I’m posing the theory that these protocols haven’t developed in Norway due to population size. It takes daily exposure to absolute hordes of racing commuters for strict rules like those listed above to become firmly established, thereby facilitating efficient traffic flow. When population density reaches critical mass on a daily basis, these rules naturally emerge and evolve … or people spend way too much time in a tangled heap.

      I think also that the incredibly hectic, hurried pace of big cities like New York and Chicago, where everyone works at least 10 -hour days (often six days a week) puts an emphasis on speed and the efficiency of getting from point A to point B quickly. Here in Norway, people work to live, not live to work. The general pace of life is much more relaxed, and that affects pace and awareness level of commuters on the sidewalk.

      Anybody else got any ideas?

      1. It is so true what you describe. One small example: More often then not, I come home from grocery shopping and tell my husband (American, me German) that I am fed up with the way: Norwegians clog up the aisles in the supermarket by leaving their trolleys in the middle or standing in clusters together, so you have to jog around them – and when you give them the evil eye they look at you like they´re totally oblivious of the fact that other people besides themselves exist. They take forever to put their stuff in their bags after they have paid so one has to quickly collect one´s own stuff from the rolling band and so on and so forth. The young people I find much nicer though, not as standoffish and rude as my generation (50ish) or older. They speak English very well and like a little chat at the till. These kids mostly are very friendly.
        When I first came to Norway I used to walk my dog and say a friendly “Hello” or “Good day” to everybody I saw because where I had lived – in Germany and the UK – you just did. People looked at me like I was a half-wit and very, very few said a shy “Hei” back. I am so tired of the stupid explanation that their unpolite behaviour is just being shy and not-in-your-face!
        I live here because of professional reasons, and also admittedly nature is beautiful, but I cannot say that I have taken a special liking to Norwegians – I still find them cold and unsympathetic – especially to a German Jew since they are rather antisemitic but have hope for the young generation who travel more and thus become more open and more cosmopolitan which helps. And who knows – they even might accomplish a sense of humour and a sense of self-deprecation over time.

        1. Hi Ruth, I am Norwegian and I am appalled by just the things you are in shops. A lot of Norwegians act like that, unfortunately. Many have never been taught to be observant of other people in public places. When it comes to anti-Semitism, however, you must have been unusually unfortunate in your meetings with individual Norwegians: Pew Research Institute has labelled Norway as one of the least anti-Semite countries on the planet. We do, however, have a growing contingent of Muslim immigrants and their descendants, that in local polls show a level of anti-Semitism that is – to put it mildly – is more than worrying.

      2. What you’re describing is Oslo. Imagine how much of Norway is not Oslo.

        And I encourage you to look up how many per cent of people living in Oslo who are actually Norwegian.

        5 million people spread out over sooooo many square miles. Should be obvious to everyone that there’s even big cultural differences within the country. You simply cannot claim that Norwegians in e.g. Kautokeino or Førde are the same or behave the same as on Majorstuen or Tøyen in Oslo. Using «Norwegians» as a generalizing term after what… 6 months in Oslo is not just unfair to every Norwegian in other parts of the country but also directly uneducated and ignorant.

      3. I think you are absolutely right, and I recognise your examples all too well, even as a Norwegian. The “keep to the right rule” absolutely does exist in Norway – I learned it as a child – but it does not exist with all Norwegians. I cannot count the times I have collided with commuters on Oslo Central Station in the mornings on my way down to the train platform. The platform exits have a right and a left lane, divided by a rolling pavement. On my way down to catch my train on my right side, I would – every day, without exception – be blocked (and sometimes missed my train) while descending towards the platform by massive hordes of people walking up from the platform on the wrong side. Even as a native, this was unfathomable to me. Until I grew older and started to realise the urban vs. rural issue that I have described in an other post here.

        That being said, for keeping civility in public places up, a government nudge is always helpful. While queuing for city ferries in Australian cities (where everybody always kept commendably to their side without exception) I always noticed there were official signs directing them. So no one litterate could be in doubt as where to stand. Norwegian authorites do not put up such signs; who knows why? Maybe the non-sign-makers are from small, rural communities themselves, and are not aware of the problem? For the chaos of people moving about without structure, consideration for others or for the general benefit for all of order when large numbers of people move in the same, small space is only an issue in large population centres; when the organisers themselves (re: the migration from rural to central in Norway) are not aware of the issue, no signs will be put up.

    2. Being bulldozed off the pavement is very unpleasant, and unfortunately a fairly common hazard one can be exposed to by quite a few Norwegians. I think this is partly a general manifestation of Norwegian culture and history, partly a social environment/class thing (social classes exist in Norway, though to a lesser degree than in many other countries, and the existance of the class differences we do have go against Norwegian egalitarian ideals and are therefore taboo/unacknowledged), and partly geographical.

      I am Norwegian myself, and learned from early childhood not to not bother others (as someone else mentioned here earlier); however the “not bother others” also included “be aware of and considerate to people around you”, which means not taking up too much space in crowded public spaces, not being in the way of people moving, not pushing into the tram before others have descended, not using the “outdoor voice” inside or on public transport (your fellow passenger’s ear is half a metre from your mouth), never yelling to people from out of the windows (the neighbours live here too), never speaking loudly on residential streetss (people live behind these windows), not talking to people from behind their backs, but always from in front of them etc.

      I grew up in Oslo. All the rules I was taught were functional for a setting where a lot of people co-existed closely – and permanently – on a limited amount of space. As I became older and exposed to more of Norway, I realised the rules I had grown up with do not apply in smaller Norwegian communities. People speak loudly anywhere, bump into eachother, block your passage, remain standing at the end of escalators in shopping malls so that the people coming up or down have no choice but to collide with them, startle you by speaking to the back of your head without warning. The general definition of this is a lack of awareness and/or consideration of people in your immediate vicinity. It is annoying; it still annoys me. But I think it is understandable: with few people and much space there has historically been little inscentive for focusing on others – why would you abide by traffic rules when driving your tractor a mile away from anybody? Why would you keep your voice down when your next door neighbour is half an hour away? Why would you spend energy minding others on the pavement, when 8 people walk this pavement the whole day? And why would you keep your voice down, when most people in your community are only exposed to a handful of other people each day – yelling and loudness is only a problem when it is constant – as it is in cities, where every yelling person can bother hundreds of other people, unlike the countryside, where a yelling person might be heard by nobody or only a few others.

      Norway is a large territory with few people scattered all over in small communities. There has not been any urgent need to be aware of others in public spaces. With continuing urbanisation, many people with this mindset and experience move to the cities; this rural behavior that is unproblematic in small communities becomes a problem in the larger cities.

  13. I am of part-Norwegian decent, born in and living in the US (Hawai’i). This is how I am, for the most part. I don’t bother people unnecessarily. However, I will speak up if I feel I need to. I will stand up slightly to grab the table salt if it is within my reach, but will ask someone to pass it if not. I will say excuse me if I need to get off a full bus and I am sitting in a window seat. I show up as an introvert on personality tests. Perhaps it is in the genes. I think I would love living in Norway.

  14. “And engaging in meaningless chat with people we don’t know definitely comes under the definition of bothering them. Which is why we do it as little as possible.” This behavior goes completely out the window when Norwegians are drunk, that’s what I find most confusing. They will randomly talk to you, invite you to parties and be your best friend when drunk and personal space doesn’t exist! Why does their cool vener disintegrate when they have consumed alcohol? Any ideas? I personally like fun, drunk Norwegians more!

  15. I grew up in a Norwegian/Swedish community in Canada, and understand completely the quiet, reserved Scandinavian way. One of the oddest mannerisms may be in conflict resolution, where no words are needed, just a quiet time until the angst passes and life is restored to normal. It works well, provided all involved understand the unspoken rules of what might be called “thought fights”.

  16. I am afraid that I must offer another negative insight about Norwegians. Before that, I will give some background regarding my situation: I have lived in Stavanger for two and a half years. I moved here because I met a Norwegian girl when she was studying in the English town I lived in. She moved back home, I decided to come with her. My level of Norwegian language is around A2/B1 which means I can understand most basic conversations and survive here without needing to resort to English all the time. Everyone understand? Good.

    So, in the time I have lived in Stavanger, I have made precisely 1 Norwegian friend. 1. Singular. In two and a half years. And I rarely see them more than once a month. The Norwegians I have encountered in Stavanger are just not that friendly or welcoming. They seem…. closed off and yet not rude. Never actually, outwardly, obviously rude. But if I tried to talk to a Norwegian and they didn’t know me, I always got the impression that they were always politely waiting for me to stop talking to them and leave them alone. It seems that they wish to stick to their own little social groups and show little to no interest in interacting with people outside of said groups. I’ve experienced people I’ve spoken to before deliberately avoid even acknowledging in was in the same place as them. Frustrating is putting it very mildly. Very lonely and alienating is a much better way of putting it. I did not want to be another lazy English man and only speak English with other English people but I found it was the only way to develop any sort of meaningful friendships here.

    And it’s not just me: Every time I brought this up with another foreigner here, they would tell me that they experienced something similar. I know of very few none Norwegians who have managed to successfully integrate properly into Stavanger society. Further, I work in a bar here that allows me to observe Norwegians when they are relaxing. I have seen a bar with 6 people in it, all Norwegians, none of them know any of the others, and they literally sat there in silence. They were not reading or doing any other activity. They were just drinking alone, staring fixedly into the middle distance, studiously not talking to one another or even acknowledging there were other people there. I cannot get over how weird that was.

    To the people who have only visited as tourists: may I point out that of course you had positive experiences: you were literally only dealing with the customer service face of Norway which is the same as any other western country. They’re polite because it’s their job to be so.

    My relationship ended not too long ago and that, combined with the situation outlined above, means I have decided to move back to the UK (Before a bunch of Norwegians do their usual response to any criticism: “if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?”). If I’m only going to talk to English people, I might as well do it in England and at least have some friends I can rely on.

    1. Exactly my experiences as a (Jewish) German with an American husband living in Skien, South Norway! Sad that you´ve left. I could use a friend here 😉

  17. The people I met there were very nice to me. Reading this article, these things seem to fit my idea of being polite and considerate. I’m rather a quiet person and I can’t get away fast enough when strangers insist on talking to me and acting like my best friend when I’ve just met them. Many people I’ve been friends with during my life have also said of me that I often seem ‘rude’ at first, but nice once they actually get to know me better. I don’t think I’m rude though, I just don’t force myself on people and cling to them.. I only speak to strangers if I actually have a reason to do so, because awkward conversations with no purpose with someone you know nothing about is unpleasant for anyone, and I never understood how people think that is a polite thing. It ends up with both people awkwardly talking because they don’t want to be rude and tell the other person to go away, but they’re both secretly thinking that they’d rather just be sitting quietly.. Why is it ‘polite’ to start such a conversation that nobody really wants to participate in? If some stranger smiles at me or something in the street, I usually wonder if I look funny or what they’re trying to tell me.I just don’t get the very American culture of acting like best mates with strangers. :\

  18. I am a UK national whos’ work took me to Norway on several occassions.I have worked and lived in several countries.I met my wife here in Norway and moved to live in Norway.There are many many positive things about Norway but I shall confine my remarks to cultural adaptment.At work things go well..I have a proven track record as a profesional.In my ‘new’ family I am regarded as an amusing character who really has no idea about anything,,my years of woldwide life experience are dismissed as irrelevant because as I am constantly told..This or that is not’ how we do it in Norway’..Norwegians know best about everything or so they think. As regards coutesy and manners of course every nation is different.I have seen a programme on TV where Norwegians defended their taciturn interaction with strangers by being critical of the gushing false over familiarity that is popular in the service inustry in the USA…this is a viewpoint I respect but there could perhaps be a middle line between ignoring other people and making them feel sick. As far as other things go I shall never forget my sisters astonishment at the ‘queueing behaviour’ as she (with two very small children) tried to board the boat in Stavanger to Haugesund,,not a good tourist experience for them…

    1. That’s funny. I guess they could claim they are being more ‘genuine’ than the Americans. But they are also less confrontational so what I’ve found is that important information gets held back and my impression is then they are frequently dishonest and I don’t fully trust them. Yet it’s a society built on trust. It’s a curious mis-alignment of cultures and expectations right there. I guess it keeps life interesting.

  19. I have been to Norway 20 times and I love it. My daughter married a Norwegian and lives on the Northwest coast 3 hours south of Trondheim, before that in Oslo. I am from Texas where people are polite saying excuse me if you bump someone or reach across them on a bus or in public. I must admit, the first time we visited we had the perception that Norwegians are rude and unfriendly. Now that we understand the culture, we feel differently. Now I have adapted to that and do the same thing. I am a talker and I have learned to be quite. Also, everyone we have gotten to know are lovely and friendly. Also, Norwegians will drop into your home without calling or letting you know if they are coming by, that took some time to get used too, in Texas we are more courteous. It has been great to visit such a beautiful country.

  20. I have been in a relationship for many years with a Norwegian and can vouch that as a non-white British guy who has visited Norway countless times, the Norwegians aren’t as warm, trusting and friendly as I would have expected and would have liked them to be. They avoid eye contact and ‘hello’ if they possibly can get away with it, and that’s just my partner’s family. After many years of visiting this country I do still feel like an outsider and Norwegians don’t care about changing my mind about this sense about them, and many who have travelled would agree that they are not tactile and welcoming people. There are indeed many positive attributes about Norway and its inhabitants – the country is safe in terms of crime (at least outside of Oslo), beautifully kept and yes people do conform, and standards of living for all wage earning groups are rather high. I’ve visited simple people’s homes and have been taken aback at how well the average, including below average, Norwegians live with Ikea catalogue style-type homes. Fashion and dress wise they do all dress similarly and Norwegians tend to start families rather young and it is encouraged by their parents – at least this is how Norwegians are in the South West away from Oslo. But as a so called outsider there is a degree and sense of passive hostility towards outsiders, although not all Norwegians conform to this behaviour, the majority do, and they will shy away and ignore you even though they all watch and are into aspects of American and British culture. Small talk and conversation isn’t easy and they are more than happy to avoid talking with you, even if they speak perfect English… Yes, I know, I should have learnt the language, but given my perception and talking to foreigners who are living, or who have lived in Norway, I think I would be wasting my time as Norwegians would still not wish to communicate with me. You can have a very good standard of living in Norway but breaking the ice with people and getting them to warm up and befriend, or at least be on simple friendly terms, is difficult if not darn right impossible as a foreigner. Trying desperately to get to know someone is a one-sided affair as your questions of interest are not recipricated – Norwegians aren’t interested in finding out about you or the country and culture that you are from. I don’t think that Norwegians are particularly wreckless with alcohol when consuming too much – no more than many other countries – in fact they are relatively well behaved from my experience. Incidentally I have lived and worked in Greece and Jordan where people have been far warmer over little time most accommodating, with or without alocohol once you take the risk of approaching and talking to them. Norwegians tend though to stick to their own.. at least this has been my personal experience, and if anything, a few of the older generation, surprisingly have been far warmer compared to the younger generation who are mainly handed everything on a plate by the oil and gas rich nation.

  21. I am unsure if someone else has commented on this, but it is a word in the Norwegian dictionary which is a good replacement for the word “please”, it is called “vær så snill”.

  22. Been here for 20 years, its not their version of politeness. they dont have one.
    Its a fair society, but mostof its individuals are unsympathetic, unaware of other people, self-imposing, even childish. Utter wankers. Have had enough. Im ready to leave the country.

  23. I have been to Norway 30 times for approx. 3 months (working and travelling around). I’ve met, work with, travel, dined and partied with many, many Norwegians. All of them seemed to be polite, compassionate, intelligent people, even though a bit reserved at the beginning. I traveled a lot on public transport and never experienced any rudeness or impoliteness. I even got engaged in the ‘small talks’ in English from time to time. If you have something interesting to say (especially about their country and their culture) they will curry on conversation.
    I also lived many years in the UK, South-West, Bristol. Despite the superficial politeness (how are you?. have a good day, etc.) people here are egoistic, not very compassionate and, above all, ….stupid (or not well educated, or even when educated – not wise). (Sorry David Nikel – you are a glorious exception, that’s why I signed up for your blog and newsletter, your knowledge of Norwegian matters is exceptional!) British public schooling is one of the worst in Europe – knowing/speaking English is not enough. Long live Norway and Norwegian people! (I’m not Norwegian nor Englishman, so family/genetic predilections or prejudices do not apply.)

  24. I don’t think Norwegians are rude, they just lack human empathy. After six years of living here both in Oslo and in a small town, I don’t believe they do this on purpose.

    It’s some sort of inbred coldness which doesn’t let them be concerned for anyone but themselves. I don’t blame them because it doesn’t seem like they do it on purpose. But for the rest of the World this is horrendous behavior.

    I bring this topic up in Norway at my own risk, because Norwegian will fight to the death on justifying sociopathic behavior, but I guess that’s what a good sociopath would do in such a situation.

    Norwegians have been self-praising their children with the self-esteem movement for years and it’s really gotten to their heads. They’ve been told they are so special and their country so amazing and important that they lack any Worldview. They are really not particularly special in any way. I find them to be welfare babies who don’t really care for anyone else but themselves.

    I’m counting the days until I get to leave here and never return again. It’s a sociopathic place.

  25. It’s a pity so many have had such unpleasant experiences. I moved here from the UK 40-odd years ago, marrying a Dane (!). I can’t remember being “cold-shouldered”, but then I’ve never lived in Oslo, although I live in a relatively small “kommune” outside Oslo. I worked in Oslo for many years and was often sent on conferences in the UK, where I met others from all over Norway. I was never treated as a “foreigner” by the others and they always spoke Norwegian, not English, with me. Now, I’m a member of a group where I live and it amuses me if someone makes a comment about foreigners, such as reactions to slippery pavements, and when I say that I remember the feeling well, experiencing such pavements for the first time, the response is “oh, we don’t think of you as a foreigner! Still I agree that walking on the pavements, such as on Karl Johansgt. it’s annoying meeting a group of 3-4 walking abreast. I stare them in the face and aim for the middle of the group – and the group just splits and lets me through. Perhaps being tall and looking determined helps!

  26. As a black woman who was once married to a Norwegian guy, i’ve learned from the whole experience that Norwegians are just unsophisticated peasants who got suddenly rich when the country struck oil – and therefore acquired financial means to fancy up their lifestyle- but that’s just external, their mentality is still so locked in and backwards. OK the landscape is beautiful, that’s nice for a few days but…..My ex-in laws were so ignorant on so many basic things, it was a horrible experience because they were very ignorant but at the same time so patronizing, trying to educate me (the “nigger daughter in law”). They were abusive, intrusive, constantly judgmental and quite racist in a pathological left-leaning activist subconscious way….. i’ve been so disgusted by that culture and the whole hypocrisy, i can’t stand anything from there anymore. I would not want to set back foot there if i was paid millions to travel there. horrid shitty place. The men are encouraged to be spineless wimps. And they’re quite in love with money too…..

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