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Seven things foreigners in Norway struggle with when trying to settle in

Agnes Erickson
Agnes Erickson - [email protected]
Seven things foreigners in Norway struggle with when trying to settle in
The Norwegian love of lutefisk (not pictured) is a challenge for some newcomers. Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash "

What are the everyday obstacles foreigners in Norway feel they have had to overcome before settling in? With the help of some international residents we offer advice on how to overcome problems.


The food

You're not expected to dive into a plate of lutefisk shortly after arrival in Norway but you'll soon find out that traditional Norwegian food is still very much prevalent in the diets of locals. This can be tricky for new arrivals to get used to.

Originally from the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, Paty Lystad moved to Norway in 2005 and she admits she took some time to get used to the Norwegian cuisine.

“The food! I hated the food at the beginning,” she says. “I lost so much weight. It was tasteless. Spreads and bread? I thought it was terrible.”

To her great relief, she not only got used to the new menu, but ended up loving it.

“It took a while, but now I love torsk, fårnekål, and all the other traditional meals. At home, I make Norwegian food 80 percent of the time, and Brazilian food every now and then,” she says. 

Thankfully, it’s not all about smelly fish and brown cheese when it comes to Norwegian food traditions.

Norwegian style tacos (they are basically burritos) are a favourite Friday evening dinner choice. And Norwegians certainly do love pizza. The frozen pizza aisle is arguably where you will find the most variation in grocery stores. And even the smallest of towns offer a place to buy a pie.

Making friends

Making friends even in the best of situations can be a little awkward at times. Especially so if you are new to a country, struggle with a language barrier, and haven’t got used to a new culture. 

“In the beginning, the people on the street didn't look at me or say hi to me,” says Lystad. “In Brazil, you can sit on the bus and find a new best friend. Everyone is so talkative. The first two years I was so lonely, and I didn't know that’s how things were here.”

Elie Gardner moved to Norway in 2018. Originally from North Dakota, United States she says Norwegians' reputation as being standoffish isn't quite fair.


“If we hold Norwegians to the American standards we could perceive it that way, but there are different cultural values and different ways of showing concern here," she said.

Gardner adds that she likes how people in Norway seem to still be interested in getting to know her even if she is not the loudest one in the room. 

“I feel a freedom in Norway,” she states. “At a bus stop for example. You don’t have to make small talk, or feel like you need to always be funny or engaging. In Norway, you can be quiet, and still be accepted.”

And despite the obstacles that can stand in the way of making friends, sometimes you can just get lucky. Originally from Melbourne, Australian Kevin Bellinger moved to Norway in 2004. He admits to how easy it was for him to make friends saying, “Some of my best friends I made are from the first few weeks I was here.”

Finding work

Finding work can be difficult because Norway’s job finding culture is heavily based on networking.

“The first semester I studied for my Master's (degree) I worked as a professor's assistant, and I interviewed people on how they found jobs. It was so intimidating hearing about how important it was to have connections or know the right name” says Elle Gardner from the US.  

But don’t feel discouraged. It is possible, even easy for some. “

Yes, I was surprised at how easy it was to find a job,” Lystad adds.

It is highly recommended to check regularly for new job openings and be active in finding job opportunities in your town through social media, acquaintances, and word of mouth. 

READ ALSO: Nine tips for finding a job in Norway


Language issues

Norwegians are proud of their language. English has been edging its way into society ever since they discovered oil and international companies set up shop, but it can only get you so far. 

A good portion of the available jobs require at least a basic knowledge of Norwegian. Lystad recalls how hard learning the language was at first, especially with the pronunciation.

“It’s nothing like how we speak in Portuguese,” she explains. 

She knew how important it was for meeting people though. And it was through Norwegian courses that she started to make friends and ended up meeting her future husband. 

Learning any language has its obstacles. In this country, a lot of Norwegians will automatically change to speaking English if they hear an accent or if they think you are struggling. Don’t be offended. Many love getting a chance to practice their English and that’s why they are so quick to make the switch.

Bellinger believes one of the smartest things he did to integrate was making the effort to learn the language.

“I think it shows a mind set, and I think maybe that is the difference between meeting a standoffish versus a non-standoffish Norwegian,” he claims. 

The climate

There is no way around it.

Norway is freezing during the winter. While many foreigners feel they were prepared for how cold it can get in Norway, a lot of them are surprised to find out how long the winter feels.

The months of only being able to see sunlight for a few hours (or none at all if you are up North) can feel like they drag on in the darkness and sub-zero temperatures. 

The conditions may be far from ideal, but Norwegians have found a way to make winter time koselig, or comfortable.

Gardner says, “Norwegian winters have taught me the value of wool. And the expression that there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes is absolutely true.

"I love that the cold doesn't keep people indoors, but that they tend to embrace it and have created so many outdoor activities all year round.”


Buying alcohol  

When asked to recall what he found most shocking after first arriving, Bellinger says “the beer", without a moment's hesitation.

“Not being able to buy beer after a certain time sort of struck me as odd. That and everything is closed on Sundays. I’ve definitely gotten used to it. It’s not the end of the world now,” he says.


Shopping time restrictions and a lack of options can definitely grate on newcomers as well as residents who have lived here their whole lives.

Norway is notoriously strict on where alcohol is sold and at what times you can purchase it.

Any alcoholic beverage that contains over 4.7 percent of alcohol must be sold through the government controlled Vinnmonopolet.

Beer and other drinks that can be bought in a regular grocery store are also regulated. It is illegal for them to be sold before and after a certain period of time, and never on Sundays.

Buying food can also present challenges

“I think the other thing that really snuck up on me was the lack of diversity in the restaurants," says Bellinger. "And supermarkets as well had less selection.

Many foreigners lament the fact it's hard to find certain international foods and products that they are fond of.

It's true that finding a certain food can be both baffling and time consuming, especially when living in the smaller towns.

But it’s not all bad. Since 2004, Norway has tripled the amount of foreign goods they import, so the trend is looking positive. 

READ ALSO: Could coronavirus crisis make alcohol cheaper in Norway?






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