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

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 Norwegian love of lutefisk (not pictured) is a challenge for some newcomers.
The Norwegian love of lutefisk (not pictured) is a challenge for some newcomers. Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

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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For members


What you need to know about Norway’s May 17th celebrations this year 

For the first time in three years, Norway will mark its national day of celebration, Constitution Day, without pandemic restrictions. This is what you need to know about May 17th.

What you need to know about Norway's May 17th celebrations this year 

What is May 17th? 

“Syttende Mai”, as it’s known in Norwegian, is Norway’s national day and marks the signing of the constitution on the same day in 1814, which declared Norway an independent nation. 

How is it celebrated?

For many, it begins with a large breakfast with friends or family. The breakfast is a typically Norwegian one, consisting of bread, rolls, spreads (or pælegg), and baked goods. 

Breakfast begins typically quite early, and it won’t be uncommon for the meal to be accompanied by champagne. 

The day is celebrated in pretty the same way everywhere across the country. 

The main feature of the day is marching bands and children’s parades through the town, city or village centre. 

These haven’t been as prominent in recent years due to the pandemic. However, you can expect a return to form this year as a record number of kids have signed up to take place in the children’s parade in Oslo this year

The parade in Oslo is the most iconic. Children parade up to the palace and wave at the royal family. 

The kids’ parade is followed by a worker’s one and then a russetog, consisting of final year high-school students who have spent the last month or so partying. 

People will then either eat out, grill at home, or have family dinners. 

What’s with the costumes?  

If you have spent any time in Norway, it is almost without doubt that you will have seen or at least heard of a bunad

The origins of the bunad has its roots in the period of national romanticism in Norway in the 19th century. This period led to an interest in traditional folk costumes in Norway and countries such as Germany. 

Folk costumes were worn in Norway a long time before the period of national romanticism, however. For example, in Setesdal, southern Norway, a tradition of folk costumes stretches back to the 14th century. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Norway’s national costume

Do I have to wear a bunad

Not if you don’t want to. Which, to some, will be a relief as they are incredibly expensive. 

Although, you will be expected to dress smartly if you have been invited for breakfast, unless stated otherwise. 

A smart pair of trousers and shirt for men is recommended at a minimum if attending an event. Local men who don’t have a bunad may opt for a full suit and tie. 

Women are also expected to dress up for the occasion. 

What else do I need to know? 

If you are visiting Norway, you may find it hard to find a place to eat as many restaurants will either be closed or fully booked for a special May 17th menu.  

Also, getting about may be a bit of a hassle as roads will be closed for parades. In Oslo, people are being asked to avoid the National theatre T-bane stop. 

As it’s a public holiday, supermarkets, shops and state-owned wine monopolies will be shut. On the plus side, that also likely means that you’ll have a day off work too. 

Flag-waving is a big tradition, but there are a few general rules. If you hoist a Norwegian flag on May 17th, it will need to be taken down by 9pm. 

Additionally, if waving a small flag, you shouldn’t point the flag toward the ground because it is rude. 

And finally, while the celebrations may be strange for an outsider, Norwegians are very proud of the day and its traditions. To avoid making any potential social faux pas, you should avoid poking fun at some of the traditions.