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The biggest culture shocks for foreigners living in Norway 

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
The biggest culture shocks for foreigners living in Norway 
Readers have shred their biggest culture shocks while living in Norway with The Local. File photo: Frozen pizza's displayed in a supermarket. (Photo by Christophe Simon / AFP)

What's considered good house manners to Norwegian school kids decked out in jumpsuits and partying in the runup to their exams are among the culture shocks in Norway that foreigners told us about in a survey.


A new country means a new set of social norms and way of doing things to get used to. Recently, we asked our readers about the biggest culture shocks they've experienced (thanks to those who answered the survey) in Norway. 

They shared everything from social interactions to seeing Norwegian school kids' party hard in the runup to the most important exams of their school careers. We've listed some of the most common and had a stab at explaining them. 

Eating lunch at 11am 

Sometimes, it's the little things that make the most significant differences. For example, an energy policy analyst living in Oslo shared that one of the biggest shocks for her was how early Norwegians take lunch. 

Lunch in Norway is usually finished by midday (when many are just thinking about having their second meal of the day). Additionally, lunch is more likely to be a packed lunch. One of the possible explanations for the earlier lunch is that it is far more common for workers in Norway to clock out at 3pm or 4pm, making 11am the midpoint of their working day. 

Another reason is that some Norwegians eat four meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, an early dinner and then an evening meal. At around 8pm or 9pm, many will have kveldsmat (evening food). This is a small evening meal. It'll be quite similar to breakfast or lunch in that it will be some kind of spread (pålegg) on top of a cracker or slice of bread. 


Russefeiring (Russ celebration) is a traditional celebration for Norwegian high school students in their final spring semester. It is also a chance for them to blow off steam before their final exams in May. 

The annual celebrations were mentioned by a few readers from different parts of the world, and it is no surprise that the tradition has left so many scratching their heads. 

Firstly, the students are easily identified by their bright red or blue jumpsuits. The jumpsuits (which are very expensive) are accompanied by a hat. The jumpsuit and hat will be customised, generally with the student's name on one leg and then comments and nicknames from friends and fellow students across the rest of the jumpsuit. 


Students participating in Russ also participate in challenges that earn them pins. The majority of these badges involve drunken antics of some sort. 

If a load of drunk teenagers in red jumpsuits getting drunk on a roundabout to earn a pin isn't conspicuous enough, they drive around in customisable buses blasting horrifically bad hard bass all night. 

Generally, people fall into two camps when it comes to Russ. Those who reminisce about their youth and days as a carefree Russ and everyone else who thinks they are a drunk, disorderly and obnoxiously loud nuisance. 

Freedom to express opinions 

Devander, who lives in Oslo but has previously lived in Japan, explained that being able to express an opinion and provide recommendations was a bit of a culture shock after having lived in Japan. 


"When it comes to how society operates, Japan and Norway are, in my opinion, at complete odds with one another. For instance, in Norway, communication is quite direct, yet in Japan, it is impossible to say 'no' openly or speak about how you feel," he said. 

When it comes to work, Norway and Japan are very different. Japan is famous for its rigid hierarchical structure, where talking to someone above your direct superior would mark you out as a troublemaker. 

Norway, on the other hand, is more known for its flat corporate structure. In Norway, it isn't uncommon for those lower down the corporate ladder to speak to managers and executives as equals and offer feedback, ideas or alternative strategies as part of a more collaborative approach. 

The diet 

Kansas from South London said that she was most surprised by the diet in Norway. Many associate the Norwegian diet with some of the best and freshest seafood found anywhere in the world. 

Instead, she was shocked to find the fish and seasonal veg sidelined by the prevalence of hot dogs in the Norwegian diet. 


The hot dogs aren't the only surprising aspect of the "typical" Norwegian diet. Norwegians actually eat more frozen pizza (per capita) than anyone else in Europe. Secondly, they are a serious nation of coffee drinkers. Norwegians' coffee-guzzling habits are only topped by Finland when measured by per capita

The reality of frozen pizza, hot dogs and coffee stand in quite strong contrast to the expectations of glacier water, salmon and vegetables. 

Taking shoes off indoors 

There are quite a few things you should do as a houseguest to be considered polite, such as bringing your own alcohol to a party or offering to split the cost of an expensive meal. But the most essential piece of courtesy occurs as you walk through the door. 

For many, it is incredibly important that you take off your shoes indoors. This is especially important in the winter. You don't want to walk melting snow and ice all over somebody's carpet or floors. 

The second reason is the small pieces of stone and grit to prevent pavements from turning into ice rinks (the jury is out on whether they serve their intended purpose) can cause quite a lodge of damage to floors and carpets as they tend to get lodged in the soles of shoes. 


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