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LIFE IN NORWAY

Ten aspects of Norwegian culture foreigners need to embrace

Agnes Erickson sets out 10 Norwegian customs and cultural habits that you might want to adopt.

Ten aspects of Norwegian culture foreigners need to embrace
Photo: Simon Williams on Unsplash

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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For members

MONEY

How and where to get the cheapest fuel in Norway

Norway is leading the pack when it comes to the sales of new electric vehicles. In fact, nearly 60 percent of all new car sales in this country are electric. But for petrol and diesel car owners who have yet to make the switch, knowing when and where to find the cheapest fuel can end up saving you thousands of kroner.

A petrol station in Norway in 2021. Refuelling your car is a pricey business in the Nordic country, but there are ways to limit costs.
A petrol station in Norway in 2021. Refuelling your car is a pricey business in the Nordic country, but there are ways to limit costs. Photo by Malik Skydsgaard on Unsplash

Why is it so expensive to fuel up?

Fuel – gasoline, petrol and diesel — is an expensive monthly bill for many. Norway typically has some of the highest fuel prices in Europe. The at-times sky high prices are mainly due to taxes on fuel imposed by the government, as well as the usual international market factors.

The Norwegian Competition Authority or Konkurransetilsynet recently stated that it is perhaps now more important than ever before to be aware of the ever changing fuel prices.

We have registered price differences of 2-3 kroner in the same local area. There is undoubtedly money to be saved by following along,” said Marita Skjæveland, deputy leader of the Norwegian Competition Authority’s energy section to broadcaster TV2.

The average price to fuel up between the months of July to October this year was 18.8 kroner per litre (2.26 dollars or 1.94 euros). 

READ ALSO: Five things that are becoming more expensive in Norway (and why)

Does it matter which day you fuel up?

As of writing, routinely fueling your vehicle on a specific day of the week will likely no longer save you money. 

“We see that the players in the market still raise prices two to three times a week, but that it happens on different days from week to week,” Skjæveland told TV2. The competition analyst added that by the end of the year, fixed price increases may also happen over the weekend. As such, it’s important to stay updated not only on the weekdays, but on the weekends as well.

Previously, Sunday evenings and early on Monday mornings used to be known as the cheapest time to fill your vehicle’s tank with petrol or diesel.  This is now a practice of the past. 

Where can I find cheap petrol prices online?

Hunting for the cheapest fuel prices in Norway is quite common. It’s also a normal discussion to have with your neighbours and colleagues. So don’t be worried about appearing ‘cheap’ if you want to talk about the high price of fuel. Or share which local petrol stations you have noticed to be less expensive. 

You can check Facebook for groups that are committed to informing the public on where to find the cheapest petrol stations. 

For Oslo and its surrounding areas, you can try here, and if you live in or are driving through the south of Norway, check here.

Drivestoff is an app designed to compare prices of petrol stations you will drive by on your journey so you can plan ahead to get the cheapest fuel. You can find more information and download the app here.

You can also save money by looking for a queue of cars at a petrol station. Yes, it may be just busy. But oftentimes, a queue is a signal for cheaper petrol prices. 

Memberships and credit cards can save you money on fuel

If you’re in the market for a credit card, look for one that might save you money on fuel. Credit cards such as 365 Direct and Flexi VISA will give you good discount options at all petrol stations. If you have a particular station you always fill up at, such as a YX, you can sign up for the company’s credit card to receive discounts on fuel. 

There are also benefits to be had if you sign up for a credit card or a drivstoffkort or “fuel card”.

A drivstoffkort is a special credit card which you use to pay when refuelling your vehicle. The cards generally only work at the stations run by the company to which the card belongs. Different deals and types of card are available, depending on the company.

Specific deals on credit card and drivstoffkort discounts can be found (in Norwegian) here

You can sometimes use membership cards with grocery stores or real estate organisations to give you discounts on fuel. For example, the Coop Medlemskort will save you 45 øre when filling up at Circle K petrol stations. Trumf kortet, which is associated with the chains Kiwi, Meny, Joker and Spar, gives you bonuses when you fill up at Shell stations. OBOS members receive a 27 øre discount on petrol and diesel at both Statoil and 1-2-3-Automat stations. 

Where can I get the lowest priced petrol?

Petrol stations in Norway are extremely competitive. There is no one company that is known to sell gasoline or diesel cheaper than the others

Like many other goods, fuel prices around Norway will rise and fall with demand. Typically, fuel stations located in mountainous towns or areas that heavily rely on tourism will have more expensive fuel. If you’re on holiday in such a town or area, and can wait to fuel up when you get to a more trafficked motorway, it will likely save you money. 

Petrol stations that don’t have employees on location tend to be slower at increasing their prices to match the competition. So if you know you’ll be passing by an ubemannet or “unstaffed” petrol station on your trip, it may be cost-effective to wait and fill up there. 

Consider how much time you want to invest

Joining the hunt for cheaper fuel may not be for everyone. It is time consuming, and admittedly hard to achieve due to the ever-changing prices. If you are not dependent on your vehicle for your daily commute and don’t often drive long distances, fueling up at your local gas station may be the best choice. 

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