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Five Norwegian social norms that may be strange to newcomers

If you've lived in Norway for a while, some of the social norms particular to the country will now be part and parcel of everyday life. However, if you are newer to the country, they'll come as more of a culture shock.

A tram in Oslo.
Don't expect to engage in much small talk with strangers on public transport in Norway. Pictured is a tram in Norway. Photo by Hyunwon Jang on Unsplash

Living in a new country means new social norms that you might not be familiar with if you’ve recently moved.

Norway is undoubtedly no different in that regard, and there are a few things that may catch some newbies off-guard. If you’ve already settled, then it may be worth taking a trip down memory lane and reminiscing about how many of these left you scratching your head at first.

Small talk with strangers

For many, a tiny bit of chit chat with a stranger on a train or in the queue at the supermarket is one of life’s small joys.

However, this isn’t the case in Norway, where casually greeting strangers is just not the done thing, especially in cities.

This can feel incredibly unfriendly if you’re not used to it, but that doesn’t mean Norwegians are rude and cold, as they can sometimes be unfairly portrayed as by those not as familiar with the country’s social norms. Instead, they prefer to focus their energy into more meaningful relationships and, once comfortable, have no problem opening up when around friends.

Although, Norwegians do tend to be more chatty with strangers when hiking or sharing a chairlift while skiing.

Wearing shoes indoors

In many places, Japan and parts of Asia being the most famous examples, wearing shoes indoors is considered incredibly impolite and discourteous.

This is especially true in Norway during the winter months when your host won’t be best pleased if you decide to walk melting snow and the grit used to stop the pavements from becoming ice rinks through their house.

This may be more of a grey area in the warmer months, but it’s always worth asking before you step over the threshold to stay in your host’s good graces and avoid making the wrong impression.

Drinking infrequently, but in large amounts

If you come from a country where it’s completely normal to go for a couple of beers during the week after work, either with colleagues or to catch up with friends, then you may be disappointed to find out that this isn’t common practice in Norway.

Rather than having a few drinks here and there throughout the week, Norwegians tend to prefer to save all their drinking for the weekend or one big session.

READ MORE: Why the Norwegian government controls the sale of most alcohol

Splitting the bill

Norway, rather famously, is expensive, more or less no matter what you’re doing. Therefore, it may not come as a massive surprise to find out splitting the bill is pretty standard whatever the occasion is.

This is regardless of whether you are eating in or out, on or date or just with friends. Either way, you should expect the bill to be split in most cases.

This can be especially strange if you are the one invited over for dinner by a friend.

I remember being in a slight state of shock after finding out the food shopping bill was being split after my first taco Fredag (Norwegians love Mexican food on a Friday night) with friends, even though we ate in and didn’t particularly push the boat out.

Given that groceries in Norway are the second most expensive in Europe, I suppose it shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock, and I wouldn’t hold a grudge if you are asked to do the same.

READ ALSO: Why is food in Norway so expensive?

The “Norwegian arm” 

Every country has its own views on what is and isn’t considered acceptable behaviour at the dinner table. 

One thing that might surprise people new to Norway is the “Norwegian arm”. For the uninitiated, the “Norwegian arm” is the practice of everyone reaching for their favourite dish when having a big meal with friends or family.

This can often mean people reaching over you or obstructing you while trying to enjoy your meal. You can probably use it as a barometer for how comfortable people are around you. The more they like you, the more limbs will be flung your way at dinner time.

Again this isn’t Norwegians being rude or lacking grace and decorum at the table. Instead, they prefer to be pragmatic and think that it is a lot more polite to instead grab what they want, rather than continually disturb and interrupt your meal by constantly asking for you to pass them things.

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Five Norwegian words which help sum up May 17th

Norway's national day, May 17th, which marks the signing of the country's constitution, is a unique celebration with plenty of traditions. Here are five words that help explain the occasion.

Five Norwegian words which help sum up May 17th


Breakfast the most important meal of the day. This is no different in Norway, and on May 17th, the meal that people enjoy the most or put the hardest work into if they are hosting (but not any literal blood, sweat or tears, hopefully) is breakfast. 

May 17th normally begins with a champagne breakfast to kick start a day of festivities. The breakfast is typically held relatively early so that people can head out to join in with the celebrations, although some will do it afterwards as a kind of brunch. 

This won’t be your typical Norwegian breakfast. Instead, the canned leverpostei is likely to be parked in favour of more upmarket and luxurious sandwich toppings. 


An event that typically follows the breakfast is the childrens’ parades all over the country.

The word literally translates to ‘children’s train’ but refers to parades. Kids up and down the country will typically participate in parades, usually with their school classes. This will be through the town or city centre. 

The most famous of the childrens’ parades is the one which sees kids in Oslo make their way up Karl Johan Gate Street to wave to the royal family who watch on from the palace. 

The parades usually end with a russetog. The russetog is a procession of russ students. Russ is where final year high-school students in Norway party in the lead up to May 17th. 

This parade maybe isn’t as wholesome as the kids’ one as the students tend to look a bit worse for wear after a month of partying. 


On Norway’s national day, you’ll see plenty of locals dressed in their national costumes. 

The day is so closely associated with the bunad that the national costume could be seen as a symbol of May 17th. 

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, there is a tradition of folk costumes that stretches back to the 14th century. 

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


This means the national anthem or song, Norway’s national anthem is Ja, vi elsker dette landet (yes, we love this country). It was only adopted relatively recently, in 2019. 

While Sønner av Norge, was considered the proper national anthem up until this point, Ja, vi elsker dette landet was considered more of a de-facto national anthem and certainly the anthem of May 17th. 

It was first performed publicly on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the constitution, giving the song an incredibly close link with the country’s national day. 

If you do fancy brushing up on the lyrics, just remember it’s typically just the first and last verses that are sung. 


This one may not be overly beneficial in expanding your vocabulary, but there is no May 17th without the flags. Most apartments in Norway have a flag holder on their balcony with Constitution Day in mind. 

Not only will the majority of houses and apartment blocks have Norwegian flags on display, but most people also heading out will be carrying flags. 

The flag mania doesn’t stop there, as most breakfast tables will be adorned with flags or decorations depicting the flag. 

One rule would be to ensure that you don’t