Learning Norwegian For Members

Why never saying 'please' doesn't make Norwegians rude

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
Why never saying 'please' doesn't make Norwegians rude
If you're looking to enhance your understanding of Norwegian politeness, we've got you covered. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

At first glance, the absence of the word "please" in the Norwegian language can surprise newcomers to the country. But are Norwegians any ruder for it?


It is not uncommon for people who just moved to Norway to be taken aback by the, at first glance, absence of the word "please" in the Norwegian language and wonder what it signifies about the culture and politeness in the country.

When ordering a coffee in Norwegian, one may simply say En kop kaffe, (a cup of coffee, in English), which may feel abrupt to those who grew up using "please" as a common courtesy.

However, sometimes, adding a polite phrase to a Norwegian sentence could sound weird and potentially lead to misunderstandings.

This linguistic aspect doesn't necessarily reflect the directness of the Norwegian language when compared to English - but it does highlight the various approaches to politeness that exist across cultures.

What causes the confusion?

Josip Janeš, a teacher of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish who owns the Skandikum Language School, told The Local that the fact that Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes have the same word for "please" and "thanks" – takk – tends to confuse foreigners.

"I would say that it is common to say takk as a polite way of asking for something. The thing that often confuses foreigners is the fact that Norwegians (but also Danes and Swedes) have the same word for "please" and "thanks" - takk.

"For example, when ordering a cup of coffee, it would be polite to say: en kopp kaffe, takk. When the coffee arrives, it is likewise expected to say takk or some of the modified variants: tusen takk, takk skal du ha, etc.," Janeš said.


The key to understanding Norwegian politeness

On the other hand, what may come across as directness in conversation in the case of the absence of the word "please" shouldn't be overgeneralised when trying to understand the rules o politeness in Norwegian.

"What I believe is the key to understanding Norwegian politeness is not being too direct and imposing yourself on others.

"Foreigners may sometimes interpret such behaviour as rather reserved or distanced, but for most Norwegians, this would simply read as letting other people live their lives with the least possible disturbance," the professor said.


Different linguistic means of expressing politeness

Professor Janeš believes one should not judge the politeness level simply by looking at the presence – or absence – of phrases such as "please".

"Most people tend to evaluate the degree of politeness by looking at phrases such as 'please.' However, if you actually checked the verb forms and adverbs used when asking for something, you would notice how far Norwegians go in order to avoid sounding too direct and thus impolite.

"Compare the direct question: Kan jeg sette meg her? (Can I sit here?) with Kunne jeg sette meg her? (Could I sit here?) or even more so with the most distancing Kunne jeg muligens sette meg her? (Could I possibly sit here?). The latter variants are not at all uncommon in Norwegian.

"When it comes to phrases, I would always resort to takk in everyday communication when asking for something. If I were to ask a close friend or family member for something, I would also be ready to use the more emphatic form vær så snill (be so kind)," Janeš said.


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