The challenges of moving to Norway as an American

The challenges of moving to Norway as an American
Photo: Damir Spanic on Unsplash
Moving to a new country can be tough. Uprooting and uncertainty tint the entire process. It is a big decision, and the hours of research and preparation will, at best, only dampen the culture shock, writes Agnes Erickson.

As an American, moving to Norway will no doubt expose you to obvious societal differences that can be challenging to get used to. Along with other expats, it is wise to observe with an open mind. Here are a few challenges to look out for.

The language

If you are planning on living in Norway long term, learning the language is the best thing you can do when it comes to working and integrating into Norwegian society. Norwegians are proud of their Nordic tongue and they should be.

Despite this, you can get by with just English. In fact, most Norwegians are happy to switch to English so they can practice. This can be challenging at times when you want to practice speaking Norwegian and the natives switch to English.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

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US politics

It can come as a surprise that American politics are so popular abroad and are perhaps even more of a discussion topic than the national government. Norwegian news outlets feature US political news almost daily.

As an American, you will be often asked to share your personal opinions as to what's happening in the United States. Socially, there is no assumption about political viewpoints being a private topic.

Paperwork and visas

The process of getting your visa to work and live in Norway is not an easy task. This is written from experience. Since the United States is not a part of the European Union, there is no open-door policy for living and working between the two countries. A simple missing paper in the visa application can be enough grounds for an application denial.

It is not uncommon to hear stories about Americans who waited up to a year for an answer only to receive a rejection before having to start the whole process over.

It can be difficult to understand why the process can take so long but the Norwegian society is a popular one, and their whole system is overwhelmed by the number of applications. If you want to live in Norway, you need to commit to diligent research and fact checking to find out what type of visa is the best fit for your circumstances.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Norwegian citizenship

Alcohol

The Vinmonopolet is a store in Norway that sells all alcoholic beverages over the alcohol volume percent of 4.7. In other words: no, you can’t pick up a few beers at the corner 7-Eleven. Wine cannot be found in local grocery stores.

The sale of alcohol, including the time of day it is sold, is strictly controlled by the government and this can take a while to get used to. Advertisement of alcoholic beverages is illegal in Norway. There are no happy hours or two-for-one offers in restaurants.

This strict control and lack of visual alcohol promotion makes the drinking culture in Norway a little more hush hush than an American might be used to.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

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A quiet society

There is a popular assumption that Americans are loud. They speak louder and are more boisterous in their celebration. Whether this is true or not in relating to your own personal self, you will notice that the Norwegian society in general is a quiet one.

It is not uncommon to experience complete silence on public transportation, even during rush hour. Norwegians tend to speak in a softer tone and are less animated in casual conversation.

Eating habits

There is so much bread! Be prepared to eat bread for breakfast, lunch, and for an after-dinner snack. The Norwegian diet relies heavily on bread for its different spreads. Luckily, the quality of bread is almost incomparable to what is typically found in the states. It is rich with grains and nutrients and sold fresh in most grocery stores.

Also, sweets are not consumed as openly as in the US. A Norwegian’s relationship to sugar starts when they are very young. Sugary foods are typically not allowed in preschools and lower grade elementary schools. ‘Lørdagsgodt’ or ‘Saturday goodies' is a popular expression describing sugar as a special treat that is typically only consumed on Saturdays. This is an old school rule, but still stands strong in the minds of many Norwegians.

The weather

Talking about the weather is extremely popular among Norwegians. It’s understandable, considering the intense season change they experience throughout the year.

There is also a popular belief in Norway that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Subzero temperatures are no excuse to stay inside. Norwegian society is active, and outdoor winter sports are among the most popular to follow and participate in.

Cabin life

Owning or visiting a cabin multiple times throughout the year is very common in Norway. The history of staying in a cabin goes deep into Norwegian culture of loving nature. Many families built cabins along the sea, or in the mountains, to visit with their families back in the day when international travel was only for the rich. Cabin life is now a preferred activity during weekends and public holidays. Driving for hours just to get away for a weekend, and the total immersion into nature can be tough for an American or any other expat not used to this cultural convention.

Janteloven

Putting in simply, Janteloven is a belief about society Norwegians (and most other Scandinavian countries) have. It is an understanding that you put society before the individual and not boast about personal gain. It is not often referred to as it is just a normal way of life.

For an American, it explains why the MVP award doesn’t exist here in children's sports. And why a multimillionaire could typically be found living in a one level home and owning just one car. This conformity can be a challenge to understand and get used to when moving from a more ostentatious country.

READ ALSO: Do I regret moving to Norway?


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  1. Another whiny American complaining about visa costs and paperwork when they have it way easier than most people from the developing world *eye rolls*

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