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What are the challenges to a successful relationship with a Norwegian?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
What are the challenges to a successful relationship with a Norwegian?
A couple outside a donut shop in Oslo. Photo: Darya Tryfanava on Unsplash

Cold and uncommunicative, binge drinking, nationalistic and stingy. The answers to our survey on relationships with Norwegians were far from flattering to the males of the species. But we also got some great suggestions on how to make cross-cultural relationships work.


Our survey was far from scientific, and nearly 80 percent of the respondents were women, almost all of whom were in a relationship with or married to a male Norwegian, meaning some of the issues they describe could come down to gender as well as nationality. 

They also came from across the world, with the most respondents coming from North America and Western Europe, followed by Asia and South America, and a handful from Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. 

The cultural clashes they describe obviously varied depending on where they, the non-Norwegian in the relationship, came from. 


Cold, unemotional, and bad at expressing feelings

"Norwegian men don’t know how to express their feelings," complained one woman from Italy, who is living with their Norwegian, a complaint echoed by Ana, from Mexico, who agreed that Norwegians "struggle to talk about deep feelings". 

Other respondents said that a reluctance to discuss emotions made it difficult to deal with issues that spring up in the relationship. 

"It is common for Norwegians to bury their head in the sand and wait til things in the relationship get better," said an American man, married to a Norwegian and living in the outskirts of Oslo. 

Another American man with a Norwegian girlfriend said that she flipped from being affectionate to distant "on a whim". 

"Y'all are not very expressive with feelings and are like living with cats," he complained. "Will they be back today or next week!? Who knows!? I'm an American, so we’re much more open and tend to discuss things and communicate."

Social differences

The communication problems reported by foreigners did not stop at discussions about their relationship, but also characterised other communication with their Norwegian partner, and also the way their Norwegian partner related to others.   

"Sometimes he's rude but I know he's not trying to be," said Helen from the UK, adding that she had learned that Norwegians tend to have a very "direct nature". 

Others complained of a lack of conversation in their home life, and an acceptance of silence that had taken some getting used to. 

"Norwegians are more comfortable with silence and don’t typically feel the need to fill every break in a conversation with small talk," said one Polish woman. 


The American man in Oslo complained that it was hard to get a proper conversation going. 

"Small talk and asking how her day was. Nothing in depth. It’s like pulling teeth," he said. "Eye contact and speaking to strangers or even close people has been a challenge, as we don’t need to be drunk or inebriated to speak." 

At the same time, several people said that the Norwegian in their life found them too loud, sociable, and liable to strike up conversations with strangers. 

Helen from the UK said that her husband accused her of "talking loud or shouting in public", adding "although I don't think I do this". 

One South African woman said that her boyfriend disliked her "greeting people randomly" and "inviting others along". 


Binge drinking 

A surprising (to us) number of respondents said they had a problem with the way their Norwegian partner went binge drinking on the weekends, often abandoning them as they caroused with a gang of male buddies. 

One American, who had divorced from a Norwegian partner, said she had struggled with "the Norwegian style of drinking and their relationship with alcohol". 

The Italian woman said her husband "always [had] to get drunk if meeting with friends", while another American said that she had a problem with her husband "heavy drinking on a night out with the guys, despite knowing the hangover will be extremely painful the next day". 

It wasn't just the weekend drinking which foreigners found difficult, but the way in which they felt excluded from this part of their partners' life. 

Fernanda, from Mexico, rued the "total independence" her husband showed when he gathered with his friends.

"It's as if the wife is a total stranger and can’t be part of his gatherings," she said. 

Nationalistic and uninterested in other cultures 

Several respondents complained about their Norwegian partner's absolute conviction that the Norwegian way of doing things is the only way of doing things. 

Agnes, from the US, complained that what annoyed her about her Norwegian husband was his "thinking Norway or products produced in Norway are better than everything else", complaining that he was "nationalistic". 

"He thinks his culture is superior. Everything best is Norwegian," added one of the Italian women. 

"My experience is they are very conservative in a cultural way and usually very concerned about Norwegian way," said a woman from Turkey, who had dated several Norwegian men. 

Part of this seemed to involve a doggedly following local cultural norm and rules, with a French woman who lives with a Norwegian saying one thing that annoyed her was "following rules even if they don’t really make sense". 



Several women had a problem with the Norwegian habit of splitting all bills equally or on the basis of what each person ate and drunk, and never picking up the tab. 

The South African woman said she had a problem"Splitting costs rather than alternating," adding that her Norwegian boyfriend was uncomfortable with her comparatively "relaxed approach" to dividing the bill, "which leads him to think I just expect him to pay - although I pay next time."

One of the women from the US described her husband as "frugal", complaining that her husband had a problem with her "indulging", or "spending money on nicer food or flowers". 

What tips did people have to make the relationship work better? 

Learn to ski! 

One French woman recommended that you should "love skiing and Norwegian nature", to make sure you have as much in common as possible, with a Dutch reader agreeing that it helped to "join them on a skiing trip (if that's what they're in to!)" 

Fully embracing the Norwegian love of the outdoors will definitely help. 


Moderate your emotions 

"Explain a calm and sensitive way," said Mary from Australia. "[You] can't get angry or upset, except for tears, as Norwegians say that is unacceptable." 

You have to have your own friends and your own expats tribe. I've been here nigh on 30 years and in the long run your partners circle is not always your circle.

Lower your social expectations 

"I’ve learned to lower my social expectations. It is what it is and one word responses like “good!” are about as much as you’re going to get," said one of the American women. 

"Learn that silence can be a sign of the other person feeling comfortable around you," the Polish woman said. 

One American lady said her relationship had improved once she, herself, became "more reserved, and unfortunately, for lack of better word, boring."


Gently push for change on their part 

Several foreigners said they had succeeded in getting their Norwegian partners to be more sociable, and also to discuss their emotions more freely. 

"Don’t let their cold attitude get to you: they enjoy the warmth once they get out of their bubble," joked a Canadian woman, saying she had had to "gently push" her partner "to open up and be more aware of others". 

Have your own friends. 

One Australian, who has been living in Norway for nearly 30 years, said that she had come to realise the dangers of spending too much time with her husband's family and friends. 

"You have to have your own friends and your own expat tribe. I've been here nigh on 30 years and in the long run your partner's circle is not always your circle."

Learn to separate what is a cultural difference from personality

Another woman from the US recommended people in relationships with Norwegians to "just be aware of differences and not attribute them to individuals but more to the population". 

Good advice for any cross-cultural relationship. 



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