Are Norwegians Rude?

Home » Living in Norway » Are Norwegians Rude?

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.

Are Norwegians rude or polite

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.

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.

Famous Norwegian people

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?

About 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 professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

Norway Weekly Subscribe Banner

122 thoughts on “Are Norwegians Rude?”

  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.

    • 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).

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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 😀

          • 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.

          • Good observations as manners are mostly lacking in this place, which makes a rich society a bit arrogant, even if they don’t know they are conducting themselves in that way.
            Its makes me laugh that it takes some Uni boffen to justify it all, that it’s other people who have the problems and not them, just as Frida has also said in a comment trying to justify also their behavior.
            A couple of things I have noticed they like also to wait for you to move out of the way in supermarkets instead of just asking ‘excuse me’ to get past which people would normally do in other societies.
            Another thing which is blatantly rude which they obviously think nothing of (especially when you do it back to them), is when they don’t hear each other and blatantly use the sound
            Haaaaaah! (Huh) most of the time, instead of again, politely saying excuse me? or sorry?, pardon, what did you say in their language.
            The funny thing I have observed while traveling around in Sweden, is that you could tell who the Norwegians were even if couldn’t hear their language, but by the way they answered each other with this loud haaaah! all the time.
            If you went around over in other countries particularly English speaking ones going on like that for a while, people would think you were a bit simple, maybe low educated and lack basic mannerisms, or even think you have hearing problems, even if that was not the case, as even most of low educated ones of English society ain’t that blunt in answering somebody.

          • I apologise for the late reply, but I had to point it out. “Janteloven” basically states in the FIRST sentence that “you are of no self-importance”, it then goes out of its way to state that being a bother to anyone or talking yourself up is wrong and unpolite.
            Hope this helps to clarify the essence of the norm for you:)

          • Quote: “(…) it’s not a national trait. It’s the erosion of manners and responsibility due to a decline in normal parental discipline (…)”

            I totally agree. Today, in my visit to a middle sized Norwegian town, I saw an old lady in her 80-ies, with a walker, being cut-off from walking on the side of the road by two 16-17 years old boys. The boys were standing with their moped and bicycle, chatting, taking up approx. one thirds of the whole road’s witdh. The lady approached them when they blocked her way, stopped, and looked at them. They looked at her, and continued chatting to eachother. She then started moving again, slowly with her walker. She walked slowly out into the middle of the road, slowly passed them, and then turned slowly into the end of the road again. I saw this from afar, walking on my way towards the three. When I met her – about 10 metres from the boys – she saw in my face that I was about to explode. I told her I couldn’t believe they forced her into the middle of the road like that. She said she agreed, and that she had been about to tell them off, but changed her mind. “I will tell them off for you”, I said. “Please don’t” she said, and added they were young and had so much other tings to think about. The only reason I did not tell them off, and did not snatch the key to the moped and throw it into the river, is that she asked me not to. I did however, kill them with my gaze as I passed them. Had the old lady not asked me not to intervene, I would also have insisted to know their names so I could contact their parents about their behaviour.

          • Wow! I needed to hear someone say this! I had a difficult conversation with a man I met from Norway who I have been corresponding with who claimed he wanted to get to know me, but his actions were on the contrary. He would send me pictures of his daily life in Karasjok and would for the most part answer my questions about himself and his life there, but would never really engage me or ask me about my life. One time I shared with him that I had to trouble shoot how to fix my dishwasher and I fixed it on my own and didn’t have to hire a plumber, all he says in response is, “Okay?” Im like to myself, really?! So I said never mind, then I said I was hoping you would think I was capable and admire my self-sufficiency, so he explains its the law of Janteloven. I said Ok thank you for explaining this to me. Anyway this thinking seems to permeated everything to the point that when I try to ask more intimate questions like why he wont ask about me or my life, and how it made me feel confused about him and if he was actually interested in me and that I was feeling a bit hurt by it and that I cared about him and wanted to feel that from him as well…etc..he just shut down, stopped speaking to me and then a few days later he said, “Now there was a lot here. I have never experienced this kind of drama with any human being before.” His response just floored me. I felt humiliated. It made me really question myself and whether I am just too intense and too forward.

      • 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!!!!!

      • To be honest, I think most Norwegians are in fact rude. Signals and their version of politeness aside, they just are not considerate. Tipically, you would be run over by a Norwegian trying to make it out of the bus and he/she shall not be moved if you are the one trying to get out. It would never cross their minds to offer their sit to an old or pregnant person.
        Im Norway you hear a lot: Ikke mitt problem. Which means: Not my problem. Really sad.

        • Hi Kyle, I agree. But luckily, some of us react, if only to rarely. A few years ago, I was on an Oslo city tram in rush hour. The tram was full, all seats taken. A heavily pregnant lady comes aboard. Since there are no seats, she stands, swaying as the tram swings. She holds one hand on her huge belly, while trying to keep her balance with her other hand holding on a rail. I (also standing) was furious, but at that point in time still to Norwegian-timid to do anything. Most of the seated people were young professionals in suits – this was a West End tram. Then suddenly a man standing next to me had enough. He shouted very loudly out into the tram: “What is the matter with all you young, fit people? There is a pregant woman standing here, swaying from side to side, trying to hold onto her belly and trying not to fall. And you all sit there, with your youth and your strength, pretending not to see her struggling” He was furious, and VERY loud. 8 to 10 young, suited men jumped out of their seats as he spoke. The pregant lady got a seat. Since this episode, I have found a role model I have copied several times. Sometimes we Norwegians maybe just need a push to do right.

      • As usual, yes, blunt and, yes, rude. This is a problem with what’s exactly in the article: bc you limit yourselves from social interaction, Norwegians are socially stunted and don’t have the ability to have interactions with people outside your immediate social circle and so you end up saying things too bluntly and rudely. You’re basically expecting this lady to notice subtlety in getting off the bus. Just stand up for Petes sake and wait for them to move out of the seat, it’s not that difficult. Also, your lack of interaction with strangers and people different than you is SERIOUSLY causing accepted xenophobia, racism etc. It’s still really prominent here, I feel it as an American expat here….AND IM WHITE so I know non white immigrants feel it doubly so. Sort yourselves out, this bizarre form of “politeness” is only actually stunting and harming you as a society.

      • Why should I read signals? In the U.S., where I live, if we want to get off the bus and someone is in the way, we say, “excuse me”, and the other person lets you by. We’ve been taught that if you want or need something, you ask for it.

        Norwegians seem so cold from the author’s description. It feels like they treat strangers like dirt – “you’re a stranger- you don’t matter”. My dad was of Norwegian descent and he never behaved that way.

    • 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.

      • Bjorn: As an American reading this, I can empathize with you a bit here. There are many, many mixes of people from all over the world in the USA and they bring their backgrounds, family ideals and cultural upbringing with them. They shouldn’t be expected to change overnight nor should they be expected to understand the litany of traditions built upon centuries of mixed ethnicity.

        My take on this topic is be yourself, people probably won’t understand everything we do nor should they. When I traveled through Europe, I kept my mouth shut, my eyes and ears open and tried to at least respect the countries I visited though I felt out of place at times and didn’t understand much of what was going on around me. By the way, saying excuse me isn’t necessarily being passive-aggressive.

        • However some people use it as just that like it is a ticket to push people out of the way, as if by using those words “excuse me” give you passage to move around disregarding everyone else anyone else. I think people know exactly what their doing.

    • Haha, that’s actually rude by Norwegian standards. We do have a limit of how much personal space we should invade before inconveniencing people with talk. 😂

  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.

    • 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!

      • “Backpack” travelers that travel without enough money and have to hitchhike and even beg are parasites. Stay home if you can’t afford to travel. Don’t act like this parasite above, spreading waste and trash wherever they go.

        • What makes you think all hitchhikers spread more waste and trash than those who stay in guest houses or hotels? They are just as likely to use less “stuff” and waste less, likely to be more aware of their environment, and to make connections with people around them. Generalizations are often untrue, and don’t serve anyone.

    • 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!

        • Hi Robert, I’m afraid you got this one all wrong. It is not about pride. As most Norwegians speak pretty good English, those who feel they don’t tend to feel rater shameful about it. And so they are reluctant to embarrass themselves. I have never ever heard of any Norwegian who are to proud to reply to foreigners in English.

          You might, on the other hand, still find Norwegians who will get annoyed by having to speak English to foreign staff in shops and cafes in Norway. But again it is not about pride. It is more of a response to dominant role the English language is given in the Norwegian society. For some, a sense of cultural self-preservation kicks in. But this is not anything particular to Norway. Just imagine what this would be like in say Italy, Spain or France.

    • 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!!!

        • Don’t tell them to relax. Norwegians seem to simply NOT understand how to listen and understand their treatment of foreigners and people who are a bit different is NOT OK. You have serious xenophobic, racist, even trans and homophobic problems still in this society. I’ve met some lovely caring individuals here in my decade in Norway, but the majority of you are very rude, cold, people who enjoy bullying other people not seen as the perfect Norwegian. So don’t tell her to relax about her lived experience.

  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!

    • I don’t really understand the justification of ‘not wanting to bother other people’ when reaching for something by putting your arm in someone’s face is bothersome to me. I find most Norwegians walk around in their own little bubble with little regard to the comfort of others and if questioned, pull out the Jenteloven card. Ever try to get off a tram, train or bus in Norway? The people waiting to get on will be crowded at the entrance leaving you no space to exit. Many times I’ve seen people unload their groceries and leave their basket in the aisle instead of putting it away. Personally, I find not wanting to bother other people an excuse for doing whatever you want, people here seem to all think they are the most important people anywhere. I come from a country where you are a friend until you prove otherwise, here it is opposite. Yet, as a people they are very naive and sheltered, although extremely suspicious of strangers. The best Norwegians I’ve met are the ones who have lived outside the country and are not of the mindset that Norwegians are the best.

      • Which country are you from? Where “strangers” are friends unless proven otherwise. I want to know! 😀
        (myself dutch)

        • Completely agree. My mother was from Western Norway and I grew up surrounded by love. However, she reserved her affection for her closest friends and family. She thought Americans with their small talk and false promises of meeting soon for coffee were the biggest phonies in the world. She was also born over 81 years ago in Norway, when you spoke to you in the formal (sie-like German, du is informal) and you did not call someone by the first name just because you had met them a few times. To me, Norwegians are incredibly warm and loving (they their children like no others), funny, kind, trustworthy (no gossip), and love to entertain to show hospitality to their friends, neighbors, loved ones. If you want to talk about rude, talk about the French or how the Brits treat Americans living in the UK, not Norwegians.

  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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • Jill:

          Thank you for your sweet and forthright look at this topic. It’s people like yourself that make it a moot point where we are from. We are human and some of us have a harder time than others accepting differences between us. Thanks!

        • stoicism? you clearly dont understand stoicism if you link and generalize “ norwegian manners” with that philosophy.

        • I am of Norwegian descent as well (as well as other things) but what is challenging is that, growing up in Arizona my parents never let go of their roots (in North Dakota/Minnesota) and expected me to continue on with the traditions of being Lutheran and foods etc. Nevermind that my friends were from various protestant faiths primarily or that I have freedom of choice. So, I have been kindof ganged up on by my family to “get it together”. My wife wasn’t raised Lutheran but I am to continue the faith. My kids aren’t interested in appeasing me that’s for sure. I’m the blacksheep because I act very “west”. I must say, I get the vibe that I’m a failure for not conforming.

          • What’s challenging is that those Norwegian traits are sort of inate. We don’t like to face off on issues and we are not always great at small talk (though I have learned to be). I feel as though you can’t win some times. On the other hand, we love people and children of all types. We are accepting tho we are not willing to change our ways too easily (so I guess, they have to). We expect people to fall in line and not be too challenging. Don’t expect help if you’re being irresponsible. Conforming is best.

    • Agree 100%. My Norwegian mother was so kind and loving and colorblind. She did think the way women and minorities are treated like second class citizens in the US was disgusting and was very vocal about it.

  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.

    • I think it has a lot to do with what generation the Norwegian person was born into. My mother was born in the most heavily bombed town in Norway during WWII on the West Coast. I was brought addressing my elders as “Sie” not the informal “du” and never addressed a Norwegian whom I had met many times before by their first name unless told by the person to do so. I am sure the new oil rich, internet savvy Norwegians have dropped many old polite formalities from their culture and behavior, just like those generations all over the world. My mother’s Norway with its strict rules of etiquette (never show up a someone’s house empty-handed, do not take a drink unless you are being toasted or someone else is, always toast and compliment the host/hostess of a dinner party that you attend, always send thank you notes, always treat your elders with great respect, etc.) is now part of history. Sad, but that’s the thing about life- it goes on.

  8. “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.

    • 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

      • Wow, there you go again Eric, being negative, polarizing and simply rude. You are the living example of what this conversation is about. You are not someone who contributes to discussion. You are what many people would call ‘part of the problem, not part of the solution’ on this planet. Why don’t you try to grow up a little bit and then come back and join the conversation when you’ve had time to get over what ever is making you so unpleasant.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

    • I consider them to be incomsiderate and blissfully unaware of others, a complete lack of respect for others is prevelent and is born out of poor parental and school behavioral guidance at a young age.

  10. 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

    • 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!

    • I’m glad you went back and asked! 🙂

      I don’t think they get any training in sales, and until recently I belive they were government employees.

      As a Norwegian, I think the reasoning for not following up and telling you about the 2nd class tickets can be this: You spesifically asked for the cheapest tickets.

      Let me try to explain…

      People often choose this because they have a tight budget. Norway is an expensive country for many, also Norwegian. Income and personal economy is seen as private information, and private information is rude to ask about unless it comes up naturally in conversation. By that I mean that the owner of the private information needs to initiate the subject.

      If he asked you about the more expensive tickets, he could potentially put you in a situation where you had to say no (and show that you couldn’t afford it). So in his simple, Norwegian querky way, he remains passive, and respectfully gives you the opportunity to chose in which direction the conversation should develop. Without making any assumptions.

      As a customer in such situations, I think a possible workaround is to ask openly (are there any tickets), and it is totally okay for the customer to bring up what is more important (getting there fast/quality or price). If the customer brings it up in the conversation first, it signals to the salesperson that he can ask about these matters without risking to offend the customer.

      Or maybe he was just having a really bad day at work. I don’t know. But this is an attempt to reason it from a cultural perspective.

      This does not mean that everyone here would act like that, and in retail they usually are trained. Norwegians probably need more sales training than others as it is considered being rude to be pushy. 😄

  11. 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.

    • Manners are really more important than most modern day people aknowledge. You just know at a visceral level, when you you are being treated relatively considerately in a given situation, and when you are not. As a foreigner who has lived for two decades in norway, it is the general experience of everyday social situations that has left me confused and impoverished as a person brought up with differing expectations of what constitues kindness, friendship and goodwill.

  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?

    • 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?

      • 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.

        • 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.

        • No antisemitism. Jews have a problem with people and they call anti-semitism. Once I went to a doctor with my children, and she started to talk about Hitler. Seriously, I am just going to a doctor to examine my son and politics and antisemitism came in the way. You guys have to relax instead of taking cultural differences as anti-semitism. It is quite unpolite as well.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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 😉

    • Nice and precise comment. Living in Stavanger myself for almost 3 yrs. I have a couple of norwegian acquaintances. (Friend think is a powerful word to use yet) I am considering to move out to other city. As you said, I experienced myself exactly. Life style, security, tourism is amazing but, I think that for an international person that is living for a long period in this region( I cannot generalize to other norwegian places), he/she would have a very hard and painful time trying to socialize with norwegians even if you know the language. Of course you can find people with other nationalities( I have several
      friends from Brazil, France and other latin countries but I am referring to norwegians specifically) However, I realize that if you belong to sport clubs is the best way to socialize with norwegians( not university or job ) Norwegians like to be really active. If you speak the language and you do lot of sports you will have a great time in Norway if you are planning to live here. On the other, if you don’t like practicing sports regularly… oh boy, you can spend your whole life here alone and no one would care imo.

    • As a south african who has lived here for twenty years, i would say that you are right on the money. My biological mother was Norwegian, all my relatives live here, and yet social life in this country is undoubtably insulated and cliqued. Being isolated and alienated is the unfair price of moving here, small wonder that ghettos exist in parts of oslo. I have only myself to blame for staying in this country for half of my life. I am reasonably content at the moment but i am seriosly considering a life in GB, amongst speakers of my native tongue.

  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. :\

    • I can relate to you 100%. I also was considered rude by some people because I guess I don’t seem really approachable.

  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…

    • 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.

    • I agree with you 100% i have nothing to add to be honest. I ve noticed too, that old generation (bornt before discovered oil/gas) is much warmer than younger.

  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…..

    • Thank you for your reply. I am so sorry you had to experience ignorance and racism and from your own in-laws no less. If they are anything like the Danes in my neighborhood in the 70s and 80s I really feel for you. Rude, pushy and look down on you if your not 100% white.
      Which is kind of funny because they got overrun during WW2 from the same type of people and did nothing about it. There is no excuse for rudeness. I dont care where you are from. I really wanted to go to Norway someday to experience all the beauty and the forward thinking people.
      Now it’s just on my shit I wont ever do list.

    • What a terrible experience! Your ex-il-law are just like mine in-laws.
      I though I am just very unlucky -(
      It seems though it’s not a rare situation. Especially the mother is abusive. I was first thinking she is old and alcoholic, so I was excusing her, but the lady has so much problem with me (obviously me – being a foreigner).
      The country, I also dislike and can’t wait to move out of here. I have been living in Germany, Japan, Hongkong and Singapore and I need to honestly say – Norway is the worst experience ever!

    • Im a 41 year old at half Norwegian, white south african male who has lived here since 99. Imagine my bemusement, if you will, when my aunt asked me to fetch something from the freezer (in her house), before she caustically added that i could perhaps balance it on my head, like they do in africa.

      There was a sting to it, said in front of several guests. Her own children had later admonished her, whereupon she later interrogated me in private, asking to know how possibly her comment could be at all deemed offensive.

      Foolishly i attemted to explain, but was met with nothing more than a blank and defiant, even infantile expression.
      Truly, blood is not thicker than water, even though it is often said in these parts of scandinavia.

  27. I moved to Norway 12yrs ago having met my wife in Edinburgh. We live in Røros now and when we moved i loved it. Outdoors is beautiful. Very soon after i came to realise that not only are Norwegians rude but bloody self centred. Pushing onto trains, queue jumping and never any of the politeness i grew up with. And if you do comment on their lack of social graces they look at you with utter disbelief. Children are the worst. Spoilt and sneaky. The only advice i can give is enjoy the outdoors and the standard of living but dont ever expect to be accepted as anything but an outsider.

  28. Thank you so much for your articles about Norway. I have learnt more from these than from visiting our English-born son and family in Oslo for the past 22 years. This piece helps to explain some confusing and upsetting experiences we have had. There have been wonderful ones as well of course. I like to think ‘friluftsliv’ is in our genes now and 17th May celebrations were an eye-opener.

  29. I’ve been living here in Oslo and some Norwegians need to be kinder to ‘outsiders’. With language for example, if someone wants to speak Norwegian.. let them. All it takes is two seconds, by jumping in with English is just disrespectful. People are interested in your culture; be intrigued, be flattered.
    Shutting off people’s experience with integrating just makes people want to punch you in the face. Go practise your English in the UK.

  30. I live in Norway for 2 years now and I agree that Norwegians (not all of course) acting very strange to the foreigner people, especially males in their 40´s 50´s, they make impression like :who da fu.k U are.)) Their angry attitude is very deep rooted and i can`t figure out why. (
    The best what i have seen so far elderly Norwegian people are very friendly and very polite in my opnion, young people too. Oslo locals are very bossy but if you go for example to Kristiansand, it feels totally different, i should say people are very welcoming.
    In general my Iife is good here, even if i have to experience (sometimes) embarrassing moments as outlander in Norway, still can meet many nice people ordinary souls, landscaping nature and kesam is so so so delicious))))))

  31. I may have an opportunity to move to Norway so I’m reading up on what to expect. To me, this just sounds like upper midwest US. these scandinavian parts of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have the same “bothering people is so rude!” Mentality. (By “scandinavian” I mean families where Grandma never quite learned English. Not “scandinavian” the way Americans talk about being vaugly Irish) sounds like home to me!

  32. What always strikes me when I talk to other immigrants, or read people’s opinions, is how much I identify with almost all of the critique of the norwegian people. And how me feeling like I’m the one who’s crazy is only because norwegian ways of interacting with one another are odd.
    I have lived here most of my life, moving here with my parents when I was a child. But after several decades of living here I am still painfully unable to crack the code of distanced small talk that will ultimately be the closest you will ever come to a person.
    I was bullied all through school because of my ethnicity, which has left a serious mark, and nobody ever raised a finger. But what is worse, when I ask the different official support systems for help, because of the impenetrable emotional guard norwegians seem to have, and the defensiveness about admitting that something isn’t ‘the best’ in Norway, I can’t get anybody to really believe me. Let alone disavow that kind of systemic cruelty. It’s like they all know Norway is the best – so how can there possibly be any really bad things to happen here. I have been treated so badly in this country, but since norwegians are only ever really emotionally invested in a very small, very exclusive group of close people, people’s empathy towards ‘strangers’, that is everybody else, is really stunted, and I can never get past a “courteous”, “okay, but now you’re asking me to care, and that’s too much, so I will simply disengage”. And there’s nothing more you can do!
    It is especially unfair, since I’ve constantly been the one to extend sympathy, empathy and curiosity towards people around me that I care for, but never getting it back, or to a much more limited degree, has taken a serious toll. And I am about ready to leave this country. It is however almost all I’ve ever known… But barring some unforeseen luck, where I meet some norwegian aberration of a non closed-off person – cause I know there are some norwegians who aren’t like that – I will have to move to any! other country where trusting people and being curious about them isn’t regarded as a chore of an imposition.

  33. Oslo born, grew up in small town Canada, travelled a bit, worked on Norwegian freighters, went to school in Lillehammer in my mid-20’s, during their first vote against the EU, married a Norwegian ealy 30’s, grew old (75) in small town Canada, and have come to the conclusion that, believe it or not, “people are people” but times and places change people. In the early 90’s I did a 3 months road trip to the Yukon and back to Eastern Canada through the US SouthWest and fell in love with it. Could hardly wait to go back and finally did. Just before the Trump election. Hated it. The people seemed to have gone from friendly, professional and helpful to suspicious and mean or frightened. I have been reading books about how life and everyone changed in Sudetenland when Anthony “J’aime Berlin” Chamberlain, proclaimed “Peace in our time”. When we read complaints, we first must judge the complainer as well as their complaint. Anger or contempt may suggest they had it coming and so on. I find myself frustrated everywhere by group thinking and passive acceptance of the status quo. That said, as a Canadian, I admire Norwegian and Icelandic societies in matters of the environment, social justice, feminist and egalitarian health care and education and, above all, with regard to their democratic governments which, apart from a amazingly few other nations, is proportionally representative. The passive acceptance of systems that centralize and corrupt power everywhere else dumbfounds me. As for social interactions on crowded sidewalks and in rush hour queues… well, may your troubles never be greater. I see no complaints of pickpockets and purse snatchers. Discomfort getting out of a window seat when you don’t know how to say “Unskjuld, takk” No muggings. Police without guns. But gosh, no one asking if you prefer Norway to where you come from as so many who never travel and don’t really care will ask in North America? Gosh… Some people are never happy and some people love to complain about complainers. But one thing comes through and that is that visitors and locals alike love Norway’s environment and Norwegians only wish they had more time to be out in it, too. But no one takes better care of it, or of others in the world, (per capita that is), be it in foreign aid, refugee aid, environmental protection and financial equality, then the governments that they elect and which actually represent them. Don’t expect to be treat as a VIP though. When Norway broke away from Sweden in 1905,, they asked a Dane to be their King as they didn’t want any Norwegians to think they were better above the rest. And a final note: Whatever your race, gender or colour, if you found yourself as a stranger in trouble, I feel sure there’d be no better place to be in the world, than anywhere in Norway. Ask yourself which countries are best at doing the things you find most important, and I think Norway will come out on top and if you don’t care about that, I probably don’t much care about the things you find most important. But try me. Buggies in supermarkets? C’mon…

  34. A lot of mixed reviews about Norwegians, indeed. At the ebb of this discussion, let me just calmly add, with 55 years experience, I think Norwegians are definitively rude. Their manners and their systems clearly speak, a red flag for what lies behind. They do it knowingly and wantingly.
    -The infamous Child protection agency. -The Family law (with its clear biases) -Cowardice and hypocrisy generally as well as in matters of Environmental issues and Human Rights. -Public greed to amass a mountain of wealth (the Norway’s sovereign wealth fund recently topped 11 trillion NOK (about 1.2 trillion USD). At the same time the trio of state powers persecuting innocent people for social security fraud. See: Norway’s NAV social security scandal.
    Outside Oslo, a type of toxic small town mentality. Watchful ferry crews. Materialism, divide and conquer, and women behind the scenes. Judicial murders an absolute possibility. Men accused of incest or rape. An abject fear of people with mental health issues («spot a mental» and warn of whereabouts by phone). Taxes and duties on everything. If you want something done, well it all depends…
    Norway’s favourite TV comedy shows: sitcom around some single-minded idiot, meaning a stereotype/caricature of a man (seldomly a woman). Laugh of, and safely compare yourself against.
    The long-time Norwegian stand-up comedian Herodes Falsk (Herod the False) has pointed out the Norwegian way of «selvgodhet og dobbeltmoral» (selfishness and double standards). As Peter Chr. suggests, by all means come here and live, let me just add: don’t be naive.

  35. As a matter of FACT most people are polite, however there are some grosse exceptions. It is foten true that stupid and clingy people dont meet The same form of politeness as those who have a general conseptin of how to begavet aroud people with an actuall eq. Polietness can be hard. This is clerly proven by people who overestimate themselves Even though they lack eq and have bad selg esterm because of it. Shove some respect people.

  36. Thanks for the article David and to all who made comments. I read nearly all of them.

    So, I’m THAT American…the one who looks directly at people who they pass, smiles and nods/or expresses a greeting. I chat up people I’m standing next to in queues, the shopkeeper, the postal worker, even at times, the person at the table next to me. I try to be cognizant of social cues so that I’m not interrupting or annoying others, which I find to be relatively easy in my home country.

    BUT, I do my research before I travel so to know what to expect within a culture and adapt myself accordingly. What I found in regards to this topic in Norway didn’t actually compare to what I read. My AirBNB host near Harstad and cabin host near Sortland couldn’t have been more friendly, outgoing, and engaging (for upwards of an hour both times) – and I didn’t initiated it. I encountered friendly and helpful bus drivers (long distance and rural), polite local travelers, grocery clerks and shopkeepers. A Geiranger taxi driver initiated for my safety in waiting for the bus at some ungodly hour in the morning. So, eventually, I tossed out my research on social culture and simply went with the flow.

    I’m returning for another trek through Norway this spring…different destinations as there is so much beauty in your country. I look forward to enjoying Norwegian people.

    • That’s fair enough, but this article isn’t written from the perspective of tourists, it’s written from the perspective of living here. People working in tourism and hospitality are always going to be more polite and outgoing than average, so it’s no surprise that most people commenting here that have only visited Norway as a tourist disagree so strongly 🙂

  37. 3 years in Oslo for a big career opportunity. They’re not exactly rude – they are simply inconsiderate and dont have a single drop of charisma in their blood. Also stingy. Quite sheltered and selfish. Can range from low-key unfriendly towards some kinds of immigrants (white/qualified work, myself included) to openly racist towards others. Couldn’t wait to get out of there – the outdoors are great, people range from boring to unpleasant, to say the least. Good standard of living – not sure if it’s worth it, to be honest. Still love to bingewatch the scandi-noir series on Netflix – the overall atmosphere suddenly made a lot of sense.

    To sum it up, they have as much charisma as their matpakkes.

  38. After reading the comments, I must add that as a short petite woman (at 1,55m), their sideways bulldozing and public transport behaviour were HAZARDOUS.

  39. Polite is a relative term based on culture. American soldiers in Viet Nam were considered extremely rude when sitting in the open door of the helicopters, the bottom of their feet were exposed to the residents.
    Over much of Europe, Americans(U.S.) are considered Loud, and obnoxious. So once you are identified as American(U.S.) – well it is hard to see us as anything else. I grew up as a child of a 1st generation Norwegian immigrant relative, and most of my childhood memories of relative gatherings was of the mildly polite behaviors. 4 trips to Norway, I have noticed that many Norwegians try to accommodate U.S. citizens. After all we are mostly easy to identify ! ! Our culture, especially urbanites, are a bit invasive of others, but we live with it daily. To go to Norway and expect that the native citizens will act exactly as we do, is not very realistic. They do not act using our standards, and we do not act using their standards. You are the visitor. I believe the responsibility for being courteous is yours. IF you expect U.S. standards to be visible in Norway, stick to the urban cities, especially Oslo.

    • Muslims don’t even look you in the eye, foreigners talk their language on the streets and public places, mostly loud.. Why would I smile to a stranger or talk to a stranger, i have a life and have my own thing to do. Also what’s up with all the bashing from bitter expats and then only other expats sympathizing with them? Or judging a whole country based off 1 experience?

  40. I live in Spain and I am Belgian. I want to rent my house to norwegian people on holiday and therfore I bought me a cousre of norwegian languange. ..But after reading all these posts, I am asking myself if it is worth studying Norwegian to be a good guest. Now my question is: do you think that in general Norwegian appreciate me to speak some Norwegian or willl they prefer to communicate in English, in general of course///thank you

  41. As someone who married to a Norwegian for over two years, I am grateful I’m not the only one feeling the Norwegian coldness. I have found them to be selfish and self centred, I have not made a single ‘friend’ here and honestly I have stopped caring in making relationships. I have found having friendships easy to come before. Kids are taught to be obnoxious and only think about themselves. I have lived in a house with two 3 kids and not once have they showed any interest in where I come from or comment on anything directly. All they talk about is about what they need and want. They will perfectly complain and mention me as if I wasn’t in the room at all as if its normal to them. As someone who was taught to be polite to elders/ other humans and to respect others, I have found their lack of mannerisms difficult to grasp. The lack of please or thank yous took a little getting used to but I feel like I’m now a colder person and wish to be in a different place. No amount of a good lifestyle can compensate for friendships, real family and connections and respect. Now I find myself at a crossroads on what my next step is, do I try to integrate further into this society and or do I go back and start all over again?

  42. I visited Norway recently and was there for around 2 weeks, I actually don’t care if they dont ask me how am doing and dont care if they dont smile, from my experience what i felt, they dont like helping others, if we ask for any info they normally say i dont know, if very few tried starting help then if go for more clarification they also tell the same golden words ‘I don’t know’ 🙂

    What i felt they dont like people from other country visiting them and ofcourse dont like seeing strangers.

  43. My experience is that Norwegians need to step outside their cultural bubble so they can see the shackles it has placed on their thinking.


Leave a Comment