Norwegian habits For Members

How to have a discussion without offending a Norwegian

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
How to have a discussion without offending a Norwegian
Neglect familiarising yourself with these social conventions at your own peril. Photo by Alicja Gancarz on Unsplash

Generally speaking, Norwegians are quite respectful and open-minded in communication. However, there are some things that tend to irritate – or dare we say, offend – them. Here's what to look out for.


There are a lot of stereotypes going around when it comes to Norwegian people – one of them being that they're cold, a bit distant, and hard to talk to.

That isn't what I have found. If anything, my four years of life on Norway's west coast have convinced me that Norwegians are some of the friendliest people you can hope to meet.

However, there are some expectations and social norms that you should know about if you want to prevent cultural faux pas in discussions with Norwegians – neglect familiarising yourself with them at your own peril.

Drop the stereotypes and steer clear of broad generalisations

First things first, if you openly disrespect Norway by making generalised claims about the country or the society, you're not likely to make any new friends.

Norwegians tend to be proud of their heritage and culture, so sweeping generalisations will not be well-received – especially if they take aim at Norway or Norwegians.

Examples of such remarks include bashing the country's prison system, the welfare state, and the tax levels in a manner that isn't well argued.

That doesn't mean that Norwegians aren't open to debating socially controversial issues – just make sure you can back up your claims with reliable sources or data before you start running your mouth on a potentially divisive issue.

There's a way to address even highly sensitive issues respectfully. Provided that you have your facts straight and that you address such a topic respectfully, you'll be fine.


Don't doze off during conversations, show a real interest

In my experience, Norwegians are very active listeners – to the point that it will seem a bit weird after you first move to the country. They will often show that they're listening to you by expressing small verbal cues throughout the conversation (such as ja… ja… meaning yes… yes… in English).

They also expect you to return the courtesy. One way of doing so is to ask follow-up and clarifying questions and show a real interest in what they have to say.

You don't want to come across as bored or uninterested while a Norwegian friend is telling you a story – the social convention is to participate and politely engage the other side in conversation.

Should you fail to do so on several occasions, you'll risk offending your acquaintance or friend, which could lead to you getting the cold shoulder for a week or two (depending on how long they hold a grudge).

Be polite and respectful

Norwegians place a lot of emphasis on politeness and respectfulness in conversation. They'll try their best to treat you in a calm and respectful manner – and they will expect the same behaviour from your end.

Avoid using aggressive language, rudely interrupting them, or abruptly raising your voice, and you should be fine.

Also, Norwegians tend to prefer a collaborative approach to communication, so confrontational language or behaviour will likely be frowned upon. If possible, try to find mutual interests and common ground during the conversation.

If you disagree with the other person, at least try to maintain a respectful tone throughout the discussion.

Also, try to show grace and patience, as Norwegians can sometimes be reserved in a discussion. Give them some time to think and respond to your comments and opinions.


Don't be close-minded

Norwegians have a reputation for being progressive and open-minded, which means they will often show genuine curiosity and an openness to unconventional ideas.

Try entering any discussion with an open mind, a calm demeanour, and a willingness to consider different viewpoints and ideas that might conflict with your personal views or beliefs.

Furthermore, avoid making assumptions based on preconceived notions about the topic. Instead, ask questions to gain a better understanding of their position.

By doing so, you'll increase the odds of having a discussion with a Norwegian that will be remembered as a positive and productive experience, as they will appreciate your willingness to learn and foster a discursive environment of mutual understanding.

If you succeed in avoiding the pitfalls listed in this article, you'll likely start to build trust and understanding with the people that surround you in Norway, which will help you expand and solidify your new social circle.

A closing note: It's important to remember that Norwegians, like any other people, are individuals with unique characteristics, experiences, and beliefs. The situations and social conventions described above don't necessarily apply in all parts of the country or to most people. These are just some personal insights that I have collected from living in Norway and hanging out with Norwegians of different ages over the years, shared with the intention of helping new ex-pats navigate the social landscape in the country.




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