Norway Explained For Members

Are Norwegians really that cold and unapproachable?

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
Are Norwegians really that cold and unapproachable?
Are Norwegians as frosty as their reputation suggests, or is there more to this cultural perception than meets the eye? Photo by Stock Birken on Unsplash

The stereotype of Norwegians being cold or unapproachable is a common trope that tends to pop up online and in face-to-face discussions. However, once you get to know Norway's locals, you'll experience how warm they can be.


Norwegians, like every other group of nationals for that matter, are not immune to being on the receiving end of stereotypes.

You've probably heard it before – the notion that Norwegians are cold, reserved, or at least somewhat unapproachable.

READ MORE: Settling in Norway: Five places to meet new people and make friends

It's a stereotype perpetuated in countless conversations, travel blogs, and expat forums.

But does the fact that it pops up so often give it any validity?

The effect of social norms and cultural context

The way people act and interact with each other in Norway is closely tied to their history and surroundings.

According to some scholars, the harsh weather and rugged terrain in the region have shaped a way of life that values independence and strength.

So, when Norwegians come off as a bit introverted or reserved, it might have something to do with their environment.

READ MORE: The challenges of moving to Norway as an American

At the same time, Norwegian culture highly values modesty, humility, and equality.

It's hard to look into this subject without stumbling upon the Law of Jante (known as Janteloven in Norwegian), a set of principles – stemming from fiction – which emphasises collective well-being over individual success.

These cultural norms discourage standing out or drawing attention to oneself.

As a result, some Norwegians may be hesitant to engage in conversations with strangers or display outward signs of friendliness.


The famous Janteloven - and its impact on Norwegian society

The Law of Jante is a social concept that originated in Denmark but has been associated with other Scandinavian societies, including Norway and Sweden.

It represents a set of cultural norms and unwritten rules that emphasise collectivism and downplay individual achievements.

The Janteloven concept was popularised by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his novel "A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks" (En flyktning krysser sitt spor) in 1933.

It is often summarised through ten principles, as follows:

You're not to think you are anything special.

You're not to think you are as good as we are.

You're not to think you are smarter than we are.

You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.

You're not to think you know more than we do.

You're not to think you are more important than we are.

You're not to think you are good at anything.

You're not to laugh at us.

You're not to think anyone cares about you.

You're not to think you can teach us anything.

It encourages humility and conformity and discourages boasting about personal accomplishments or, in a more general sense, standing out.

While this concept (which, truth be told, is becoming somewhat outdated in modern Norwegian society) has been criticised for stifling individuality and ambition, it also continues to reflect – to an extent – the values of equality and a sense of community often associated with Scandinavian cultures.



If you ever get invited to a Norwegian's home or get in on their special occasions like Christmas Eve, you'll be treated with genuine hospitality and warmth. Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

How the culture translates into communication and get-togethers

Norwegians have a reputation for their straightforward communication style.

When you engage in conversation with them, you'll likely notice that they're not big fans of surface-level chit-chat (talks about the weather will rarely get you more than a short one-sentence reply).

Instead, they gravitate towards deep discussions.

For example, one of my first roommates in western Norway would give me a short "Mhm" comment when I tried to start up a conversation about the fact that it had been raining for 20 days straight but was more than willing to sit down and discuss the upsides to Norway's prison system or the country's "oil fund" for hours at a time.

READ MORE: The best tips to help you settle in Norway

Also, Norwegians place a high value on authenticity in interactions. They prefer quality over quantity when it comes to their social connections. This means that when they do open up and engage in a conversation, it's likely to be a more meaningful exchange.

So, while Norwegians might seem like they're a bit reserved or slow to open up, especially when dealing with strangers or new acquaintances, don't give up – it might be that you just haven't found a common topic of interest that captures their imagination.

Don't mistake the apparent reserve as a reflection of unfriendliness - as with most worthwhile things in life, putting in the time tends to pay off.


Once you break the ice…

While it might take a little time to break through the initial layers of reserve among some Norwegians, it's usually worth the effort.

Once you establish a connection, you'll find that Norwegians can be charming, warm, loyal, reliable, and talkative friends who genuinely value the depth of their relationships.

It's a communication style rooted in a preference for meaningful connections rather than a lack of friendliness.

READ MORE: Norwegians are polite – in their own special way: researcher

Note that this also translates into social settings and public spaces, where some Norwegians tend to keep a bit to themselves.

More often than not, it's not because they're unfriendly; it's more about them respecting personal boundaries and valuing privacy.

But here's the twist: when you get an invite to a Norwegian's home or join in on one of their traditional celebrations like Constitution Day (May 17th) or Christmas Eve (the biggest day in the Norwegian Christmas calendar), you'll experience a whole different side of them.

That's when their warm and welcoming hospitality really shines through.

So, while they might seem reserved out and about, behind closed doors, Norwegians are all about making you feel right at home.

Just remember that building relationships with Norwegians often requires a lot of patience and understanding.

At the end of the day, trust and friendship are valued highly in Norwegian society and, once established, tend to be deep and enduring.

Should you succeed in making real friends in Norway, you'll also likely get to share a bounty of wonderful experiences with them - from joint skiing and cabin trips to invitations to Easter and Christmas Eve dinners and get-togethers. These activities will help you further strengthen the bonds you share with your Norwegian friends. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also