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The Norwegian habits foreigners might find strange

Agnes Erickson
Agnes Erickson - [email protected]
The Norwegian habits foreigners might find strange
Ice cream: a great way to celebrate May 17th. Photo: Lukas from Pexels

A few things normal to Norwegians might raise eyebrows if you’re not used to them, writes Agnes Erickson.


Noticing different habits and routines in other countries is a part of the charm of being a foreigner. It opens your eyes to new ways of living, makes for an excellent conversation starter and can help with the integration process. 

Like other cultures, Norwegian habits are engrained so deep into society it might come as a surprise to citizens when a newcomer points out something they find odd. 

Here are a few habits that are specific to Norway that you may find peculiar at first. 

Bringing your own alcohol when attending a party

When you are invited to a meal or gathering in a Norwegian’s home, it is customary to arrive with your own alcoholic beverages. Because of the high prices of alcohol in Norway, it is not expected for hosts to provide alcoholic beverages for their guests.

This may come as a surprise watching others keep their drinks close by and pour it for themselves the first few times, but it will soon appear ordinary.

Table manners

You will not see much surprise in Norway when a person reaches across others to take an item from the other side of the table. The action is in fact so normal that it has been given its own name: ‘the Norwegian arm’.


Standard Norwegian cuisine is set up for diners to plate up their own meal whilst sitting at the table with others. This makes for reaching across the table a routine at mealtimes.

It also may come off as brash to not receive a please or thank you when asked to pass an item at the table. Norway’s culture tends to not rely heavily on pleasantries, so people are more direct in conversation.

Norwegian guilt

If you are from a country with milder temperatures and repeated sunny days, it may come as a surprise when you hear a Norwegian express their guilt for not being outside when it is nice weather out.

So common is this feeling that it too has its own name: ‘Norwegian guilt’. This is an expression used to describe the bad feeling Norwegians have if they are indoors when it is sunny out.

The weather is temperamental in this country and during the winter months, the days can feel like they drag on in the darkness. This is certainly where the Norwegian guilt stems from if one is not enjoying the sun when they actually have the opportunity to do so.

Wearing wool head to toe

On the flip side of the weather coin, Norway is an active country and the locals believe bad weather is not an excuse to stay inside.

There are plenty of nations that experience the same freezing, below zero winter temperatures as Norway and yet, they have not made using long wool underwear a part of their dressing routine.

Putting on long wool pants and a wool top as the “first layer” before pants and a top is custom in the winter months. It may feel thick and bulky at first, but it is extremely helpful in staying warm throughout the day, regardless of the outdoor activities you might engage in.


A post shared by Ingrid Vestby (@vestbyingrid) on

Norway’s love for ice cream and hot dogs on National Day

The food choices on May 17th, Norway’s National Day may come as a surprise to newcomers.

After all, parts of the day appear to be very formal. It is common for residents to dress up in a suit, dress, or the traditional bunad, only to feast on hot dogs and ice cream throughout the special day.


According to ScandinavianTraveller, as many as 30 million ice creams and 20 million sausages are sold and consumed on May 17th.

The typical Norwegian diet is health focused and rich in nutrients and some might find these staggering ice cream and hot dog consumption statistics hard to believe until they have witnessed it for themselves. 

READ ALSO: Celebrating May 17th in Norway: A guide for first-timers


Julebrus or Christmas soda is a soft drink that is made and sold in Norway for the days leading up to Christmas. Different regions of the country have their own recipe and it is common to have a sense of pride over the julebrus from the region you grew up in and claim it is the best of them all.


A post shared by Berentsens Brygghus (@berentsens_brygghus) on

The strange Norwegian phrases

The Norwegian language is full of phrases that when directly translated, make no sense in other languages.

For example, tag deg en bolle  (‘have a bun’) is a Norwegian phrase used to (rather bluntly) ask someone to stop talking.

Skjegg i postkassen is a Norwegian phrase used to describe someone who has cheated or was caught doing something embarrassing.  When directly translated in English it means, ‘beard in the mailbox’.

Meanwhile, helt Texas (‘completely Texas') is an expression Norwegians use about a situation that is disorganised, bewildering and chaotic.

Hearing or using these phrases can be confusing or strange at first, but will normalize with time. 



Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2020/09/29 20:40
While waiting for the ferry at Gryllefjord, we struck up a conversation with a local - an older gentleman, who as it turned out, spent time in Chicago, which is our home. He imparted this advice to us, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing," - advice that has served us well around the world!
Anonymous 2020/09/29 17:48
While waiting for the ferry at Gryllefjord, we struck up a conversation with a local - an older gentleman, who as it turned out, spent time in Chicago, which is our home. He imparted this advice to us, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing," - advice that has served us well around the world!

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