Norway Explained For Members

Five unwritten rules that explain how Norway works

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Five unwritten rules that explain how Norway works
Here are some of the social rules which dictate how Norway works. Pictured is a hiker at the top of a mountain. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

There are several rules and social norms that not only form an essential part of everyday life but also explain a lot about how Norwegian society works.


The longer you live in a country, the more of its unwritten rules you will pick up. Norway is no different. Some unwritten rules stand on their own, while others can give us a deeper understanding of how a particular society functions.

There are several of these rules in Norway that should be followed and help explain how the country works.

No small talk – mutual respect for one another

The tired old stereotype of the locals being terrified, mystified or offended by attempts at small talk exist for a reason.

The small talk itself won't make you a social pariah, but it isn't a key part of day-to-day interactions as it is in other countries.

A lot of Norwegian society is geared toward the collective and wider greater good, which many see as commendable.


One of the oldest and most (widely known) unwritten rules is actually geared towards the individual. In Norway, respecting the individual privacy of people is considered important.

This may mean no small talk or overly personal questions with new people. Generally, if people feel comfortable, they will open up more.

This emphasis on privacy is all about mutual respect towards one another, even strangers on the street.

Spending time outside regardless of the weather – Norway's strong work-life balance

Poor weather only being an excuse to miss out on being outside if it could pose a risk to your health, is a logic many Norwegians have adopted.

This rule helps explain why Norway is so big on leisure time and work-life balance. Norwegians don't want free time for the sake of it. They want a good balance to ensure they have the time to do the things they love or be with the people that matter most to them.

When doing something you love with the people you care about, you are unlikely to let the weather get in the way.

Many cite the work-life balance in Norway as one of the biggest benefits of working there. It's easy to make a case for a work-life balance when it's clear people are using the life portion to really live.

However, other factors also help explain Norway's emphasis on a good work balance. Another is the importance of family and family life to Norwegians.

Pictured is Lofoten in northern Norway.

With some of the most beautiful views in the world, outdoor activity is a regular part of life in Norway. Pictured is Lofoten in northern Norway. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Obeying the rules – why the Norwegian system works (mostly) well

Norwegians tend to share a particular type of patriotism that entails following the rules (both formal and informal) based on the shared understanding that adhering to common rules contributes to the functioning of society.

While some can find Norwegians' willingness to stick to the rules and play by the book (even if it defies common sense) frustrating, many do this believing that the systems in place are there to protect and serve them.


Many of these systems are built on trust. Therefore the unwritten rule of obeying the rules, no matter how small and insignificant they seem, is crucial to maintain the systems available in Norway.

Evidence of this in work is Norway routinely landing itself at the top of lists when it comes to the happiness of its inhabitants, democratic values, and other indicators of a well-functioning society.

Friday Taco/ Saturday sweets – everything in moderation

Tex-mex may not seem entirely exciting on a Friday night, but when it first came to the fore in Norway, it was seen as an exotic treat.

The fact it is saved for Friday is partially due to a clever marketing trick but also has a lot to do with the local's approach to moderation.

Perhaps thanks to the influence of the country's Lutheran state church (or perhaps not), frugality and enjoying things in moderation are significant ideals for many Norwegians.


Kids are brought up to look forward to enjoying sweets on the weekends, a reward for their moderation during the week.

Meanwhile, a lot of adults save any drinking for the weekend. This may sound quite typical of most places, but many Norwegians prefer to avoid drinking during the week and reward themselves with a heavy drinking session over the weekend.

Janteloven – putting society above the individual

Janteloven is a collection of unwritten rules that dictate how the individual shouldn't come before the collective.

The word, when translated, may mean the law of Jante, but it refers to a broad set of unspoken social rules which help to explain Norwegian society.

The rules are in place to discourage individualistic behaviour in favour of a set of social norms that favour the collective. Other core tenants include not boasting about individual accomplishments and not being jealous of others.

Many argue that these norms are outdated and don't follow or take them seriously. However, their influence and impact have led to a cohesive society that pulls together for the collective.

Whether it's a polite and courteous general public, clean streets with nobody littering, those who enjoy the outdoors working to keep it enjoyable for others or a large welfare state, the sheer amount of people who volunteer, or the Norwegian concept of dugnad – all are evidence of the collective inspired approach to society.



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