Expat stories: How I made my Norwegian friend

Expat stories: How I made my Norwegian friend
Ariba Khan, from Pakistan, and her Norwegian friend Annika
Many foreigners living in Norway struggle to make friends with born-and-bred Norwegians. We spoke to three who have successfully made the connection.

Ariba Khan and her Norwegian friend Annick Nielsen

Ariba Khan met Annick shortly after she arrived in Norway in 2010 with her husband, who had been brought to Norway from Pakistan by the telecoms company Telenor to run their international service centre. Annick first helped her husband settle in Norway and then when Ariba came a few months later, she helped her. 

“She hasn't worked with my husband for years now… but we still meet… talk our hearts out and just know we have each other,” Ariba says. The two are planning to meet up for a meal and a chat in Oslo after the autumn holidays are over. 

Annick has been extremely welcoming to the Pakistani couple, inviting them over for a Norwegian Christmas lunch a few months after they arrived, and also doing huge amounts to help Ariba settle. 

“We laugh out loud. My first Xmas in Norway was celebrated at Annick’s. It was very cosy. She arranged a very typical norsk jul for us.”
 
But the friendship has continued since then. “I have been invited to her house many times. I've met her Mom, her kids and some of her close Norwegian friends.” 

Ariba says that in her experience, Norwegians respond well to people who are friendly to them. 

“I think a lot depends on your own personality. I’m a warm and funny person,” she says. “I can totally break the ice and that’s what has always worked for me with Norwegians. I think they are closed people but with people they open up to, they are truly sincere and helpful.” 
 
She said that she thought foreigners who struggled to make Norwegian friends often simply didn't take the time or make sufficient effort. 
 
“The problem is that people back off when they see a cold, reserved Norwegian. They don’t take those extra steps to relax them. You need to try. They are a reserved nation.” 
 
She said that in her experience Norwegians also responded well to people who are straightforward. 
 
“Norwegians are not pretentious, and when they can see that the person they are talking to is also very a basic human and no pretence, they open up immediately.” 
 
Ben McPherson (left), with Peder Anker (centre) and Ben's wife Charlotte Lundgren. Photo: Private 
 
Ben McPherson and his Norwegian friend Peder Anker
 
Ben McPherson met Peder through a friend of his Norwegian wife, and the two immediately hit it off and were soon drinking and talking through the night.
 
“We find the same things funny and we laugh a lot,” Ben says, adding that Peder “lives this international life that I can only envy”, spending half his time teaching at New York University and half back in Oslo. 
 
Their friendship is mostly based around alcohol-fuelled late night chat, but not always. 
 
“Last time we saw each other we did a 30-kilometre hike with with another very close Norwegian friend of mine,” Ben remembers, “and I quite like that. I like being pushed outside what I would normally do myself, which is probably sit around on the sofa, watching television.” 
 
Ben says that, apart from their propensity to drag you out on this sort of outward bound adventure, he didn't feel that there was much different about befriending a Norwegian. 
 
“I've never found Norwegians difficult, although obviously, there are difficult Norwegians. But I've never found making friends harder in Norway than I find some other places,” he says.
 
“There is a sort of strange thing where Brits buy into the myth that people are a bit cold and reserved, and I think the worst really, I could say, of most of the people I meet is that maybe they're a bit shy sometimes,” he adds.
 
“One of the comments that I see a lot … is that people say 'don't expect them to invite you to their homes', but that's never been my experience.”
 
Peder argues that Ben's sense of humour trumps any national cultural differences. 
 
“When I first met Ben he gave me a good laugh, which to me is the very entry point of a friendship. Then he gained my respect as someone with good insights into my town, perhaps better than those I had myself,” he remembers. 
 
It was their hikes that sealed the friendship, he believes. 
 
“The true sign of friendship in Norway, though, is taking part in the national sport: hiking in the mountains. Only then can you be fully accepted into society and be accepted among friends. And Ben is (or became in Norway) a die-hard hiker, a necessary condition for a true friendship in Norway.” 
 
Ben McPherson and Peder Anker on a recent hike. “Ben is the good-looking one,” Peder writes. Photo: Private
 
Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah and their Norwegian friends Markus Gundersen & Marthe Bodahl Lunde
 
Kunal, from Mumbai in India, met Markus because they both work at the software company NTI in Oslo.
 
“It was easy to become friends with him given his outgoing personality and humour,” Kunal remembers.
 
“In general, we got curious about each other’s lives, careers and passions.” 
 
Kunal Shah and Markus Gundersen on the slopes. Photo: Private
 
 
The friendship moved outside the office in the winter of 2018. “He took it upon himself to teach me skiing! So a lot of ski time. Followed by a few dinners. Then Markus and his partner Marthe invited Kunal and Mithila out to their country cabin for their “first authentic hytte experience”. 
 
“In time, the two of us and our partners (Marthe & Mithila)  became very good friends. We celebrated our first 17th May (Norwegian national day, ed.) with them,” Kunal says.
 
“Markus and Marthe are default for us when it comes to sharing personal news outside of immediate family. We’re blessed to have them as friends as we experience life in Norway.” 
 
Marthe Bodahl Lunde (with Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah in background). Photo: Private
 
Mithila says that the four share “an especially funky sense of humour”. 
 
“I think the four of us met sometime in Oct 2018, and since then have bonded over beer, The Office, a shared love for dogs. Both of them are incredibly interesting and also very global in their thoughts and approaches. So it's a natural fit as friends.” 

 
 
 
 
 

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