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Ten aspects of Norwegian culture foreigners need to embrace

Ten aspects of Norwegian culture foreigners need to embrace
Photo: Simon Williams on Unsplash
Agnes Erickson sets out 10 Norwegian customs and cultural habits that you might want to adopt.

Love of nature

Simply put, the rumour you’ve heard about Norwegians being in love with nature is absolutely true. Of course that doesn’t mean everyone, but enough to confidently state that if you are living in Norway, it would be beneficial to find one or more outdoor activities you enjoy.  Norwegians have adopted an expression, friluftsliv, meaning outdoor life, and it comes up a lot. There are even preschools around the country that have ensure children spend 90percent of their time outdoors. Yes, even during the winter time with below zero temperatures. A Norwegian’s love for the outdoors starts young, and their appreciation for nature arguably keeps growing throughout adulthood.

Children as front and center 

Tough love isn’t a popular term here in Norway when it comes to raising children. In fact, you could say that children are put on a bit of a pedestal. The signs are everywhere. Work-family life balance became a strong part of Norwegian society when more mothers began to enter the workforce. The government gives parents monthly stipends per child in an effort to make sure their kids have the necessities. Full time childcare is affordable, averaging around 3,000 kroner a month, or 350 US dollars per child. Medical care is extremely inexpensive and you don’t have to start scrimping and saving for their college funds if they choose to attend a university in Norway. Even Prime Minister Erna Solberg went public in 2018 and asked Norwegians to have more children.

Quiet in public places 

You might have already noticed or will quickly notice after arriving in Norway that Norwegian society as a whole is on the quieter side. They speak in hushed tones on subways, buses, and on the street . With bars being the exception to the rule, it’s not very often you will hear a Norwegian being loud in a public space. 

“I was visiting my sister for a week in Oslo and she kept telling me to keep it down on the subway,” says Annie Andersson, 27. “It was confusing. At home in the States, it feels like no one cares if they are overheard on the streets or in a bus. It’s like everyone in Oslo knew to immediately lower their voice or stop talking when they stepped out into the streets.”

It’s no secret that Norwegians like their serenity. Perhaps it’s all that time they spend roaming the mountains. Whatever the case, if you’re looking to adopt a few pieces of their culture in an effort to blend in, this one would be a great start.

Traditional eating habits…it’s not all about the fish

Traditional meals in Norway are not all about the boiled cod, and lutefisk. In fact, they have adopted some more international flavours as a part of their weekly menu. If you ever hear someone mentioning taco fredag, or taco Friday, it is a well known expression used to tell others they are going to eat tacos on Friday evenings. Just how popular is this newer tradition? According to one survey, 12.6 percent of Norwegians choose this Mexican inspired dish to kick off their weekends. Though tacos on Fridays do have a bit of competition with pizza. In 2017, 13,5 percent of Norwegians reported eating pizza for dinner on Fridays making it (just barely) the most popular Friday evening meal.

A lot of grocery stores have taken notice and for their customers convenience made their own “taco sections” in a specific aisle containing most of the ingredients you would need to make a Norwegian-style taco. Pizzas are often homemade or ordered as take-away from a restaurant. 

Waiting all week to eat candy or desserts on Saturdays is surprisingly still a tradition in Norway: lørdagsgodt, or Saturday’s candy. Of course, there are exceptions like celebrating a birthday at the preschool where children will be allowed to eat cake or popsicles in the middle of the week (although some preschools request that parents bring fruit instead). Yes, this old school tradition of waiting until the weekend to indulge in desserts and sweets is mostly for kids, but a lot of adults still choose to follow this rule as well. 

Other popular eating habits include kjøttfri mandager, meat-free Mondays, and fisketirsdager, fish Tuesdays. 

The dugnad

Sure, people groan when they see an email inviting them to their neighbourhood dugnad. But the idea is to contribute and work together, and participation percentages are normally high.The dugnad is unpaid communal work that gathers people to do different tasks in an effort to accomplish the same goal. A dugnad can be done on both small and large scales. Neighbourhoods, apartment buildings, and schools around Norway will likely host a dugnad once a year, and ask residents to help out with manual labor in an effort to clean up common areas. Typical tasks at a dugnad would be painting, raking leaves, sweeping, planting flowers, or cleaning out gutters. 

On a larger scale, you might have heard the word recently in the news. At the beginning of the pandemic, Prime Minister Erna Solberg asked everyone living in Norway to contribute to a national dugnad by staying at home and social distancing. 

Janteloven

Putting it 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 would explain why multi-millionaires in this country often own just one sensible looking vehicle and park it outside of their humble looking houses. A lot of Norwegians aren’t flashy with their success in this country, and that is largely due to Janteloven

Work hierarchy 

A boss’s relationship to his or her employees in Norway might surprise you. Typically, work culture is considered a flat structure, making those higher in the chain of command harder to spot. Head teachers in schools are called by their first name and generally wear the same types of clothes the teachers wear. There is a lack of formality here that can often catch a foreigner off guard. Employees are encouraged to speak up and share their ideas or problems they are facing with their work with both their colleagues and superiors.

Work-life balance is heavily promoted, so if you need to leave early to pick up your child from school, or for a personal appointment, most places of work are incredibly flexible and will allow you to do this with no issue. 

Vorspiel/Nachspiel 

Vorspiel is a Norwegian (originally German) word for ‘pre-party’ and Nachspiel means ‘after-party’. Norwegians love a good gathering. And they have managed to normalise a way in their culture to both start them early, and keep them going after the original event. It is very common for a Norwegian to host a Vorspiel in their home for friends they were planning on meeting in the city later that same evening. It’s typically a laid back affair with drinks and good conversation. Then the gathering in the city takes place and suddenly they are planning an after-party with the same group and a few others. It’s not considered rude to turn down a pre-party invitation. Nor is it expected for you to join the after-party. 

A lot of the times there will be an event invite sent out and a person will respond that while they may not make it to the main event, they would love to come to the Vorspiel or Nachspiel if they happen to take place. Both are considered to be more spontaneous gatherings with very little or zero planning beforehand.  

The 17th of May

And speaking of parties, the 17th of May, or “National Day” is likely a day where you will find the biggest one you’ve come across since moving to Norway. Norwegians love their country. Most are in agreement that they hit the ultimate jackpot by discovering oil offshores in 1969 and are incredibly proud of the way the government has created a safe and flourishing economy with these extra funds. If you are in doubt then just ask a local. The 17th of May is a time when residents share their highest gratitude towards living in a country like Norway. Bunads, the traditional ceremonial costumes are worn by many. Both small towns and big cities host parades the children can walk in while playing in the corps or singing the national anthem. Ice cream and hot dogs are consumed by the kilo and residents traditionally start their days with champagne breakfasts. 

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 wealthy. ‘Escaping’ to a cabin is now a preferred activity during weekends and on public holidays. It’s quite common to get stuck in a large amount of traffic early on Friday afternoons as many residents are leaving work as soon as possible to get to their cabins in good time. 


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