racism For Members

'Subtle, tacit racism': How welcome do foreigners feel in Norway?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'Subtle, tacit racism': How welcome do foreigners feel in Norway?
A woman holds a banner at an anti-racism protest. Photo by Arthur Edelmans on Unsplash

Norway is not particularly racist, according to the readers who replied to our survey, with less than one in six telling us they felt "very unwelcome" in the country. However, several reported occasional experiences of subtle racism.


More than two-thirds of respondents to the survey, which was self-selecting, did not see racism as a major problem in Norway, describing themselves as feeling "slightly welcome", "neutral", or "slightly unwelcome".

Only one in six respondents said they felt "very welcome" in the country, suggesting room for improvement.

"I have lived in London, Vienna and am now living in Oslo," said Sina Sayan, an engineer originally from Turkey. "It is sure that you cannot be a local in the sense that you can in London but you don't feel unwelcome as much as you do in Vienna. People are friendly and polite, even helpful in normal social circumstances."

Sayan also said that while racism was more open in Vienna than in Norway, it was easier there when it came to dating and making friends with locals.

George Boateng, a Ghanaian who has been living in Oslo for a decade, said that he did not feel that there was institutional or state-sanctioned racism in the country, although this did not mean that more subtle types of discrimination did not take place.

"Norway doesn't appear to me to be racist, strictly speaking," he wrote. "The country doesn't have any direct law or state-sanctioned practices that qualify for the racist tag. If there are any such laws or practices, they have to be the direct opposite (anti-racist)."

He also said that the only direct racist abuse he had experienced had come from other foreigners.

Others agreed that overt racism was rare in their experience. "I have not encountered any kind of racism for 36 years in my stay in Norway," said Joseph, who is originally from Sri Lanka. 

READ ALSO: 'If we can't admit that racism is a problem in Norway, we'll never move past it'


Several respondents, however, said that they had experienced less overt forms of racism.

"I have had too many racist encounters, although all of them are minor, tacit racism," said one person from the UK who chose to remain anonymous. "For example, I walked by a kid who just had his bike stolen, and upon seeing me, the first thing he said to me was, 'did you steal my bike?'. It appears that, to that kid, a foreign face means a thief."

"I have had service people ignoring me or treating me more poorly than Norwegian customers," the person continued. "Their attitudes changed when I switched to English with a British accent."

Jacques Vosser, an engineer from South Africa, said he had suffered a succession of racist encounters, starting with the Bergen municipality's decision to place his children in an "integration school" he later came to believe was intended for the children of asylum seekers, something he believed would not have happened to someone coming to Norway on a work permit from another European country.

"I think the moment you say the word 'South Africa', all they hear is the word 'Africa'. They already have this perception of 'oh, this person walks between tigers and lions and lives in a mud hut'.

"They would look at us funny, and they were like, 'Aren't you supposed to be black?'" he added.


When his children moved to a Norwegian school, the situation worsened, with Vosser and his wife called to a police interview, only to find the head teacher had taken their children to a safe house and they were suspected of physically abusing them. Vosser said their teacher had mistaken the remnants of Halloween makeup on one of the children for bruises.

After a long evening in the police station, the children were eventually returned to the couple, and the case was dropped.

"I started speaking to some of the guys at my work about that because I was quite close to them, and they told me straight out, 'This would not have happened if you were Norwegian'."

He said that his children were also bullied, with the other children calling them names in Norwegian they did not understand.


Only one respondent reported receiving outright racist abuse.

"I faced some racism, mainly during weekend nights with drunk youngsters. They were calling me a 'dirty Arab'," said the person, who lives in Bergen. But he shrugged off the experience. "We find stupid people all over the world, I try to focus on the positive people that are helpful."

Finally, respondents reported that more subtle forms of discrimination, while perhaps not qualifying as racism, were definitely a reality.

"One may face discrimination in the job hiring process, denial of promotions at the workplace, bullying in school and/or at the workplace, or discrimination in the housing market," Boateng said. "The most painful thing to note is that many of these are subtle and, in most cases, are only fully appreciated by the victims or people with similar experiences."

Joseph said that Norwegians would sometimes exclude foreigners. "The subtle judgments, and sharing information among select group is also common," he said.

Sandeep Karthikeyan, a computer programmer from India, said that he had noticed a difference when he moved from a very international research team to one dominated by Norwegians.

"Since I moved to clinical work, I'm expected to speak Norwegian. I mean, it's not mandatory, but its challenging because everyone speaks Norwegian."

But he stressed that he still found Norwegians friendly and welcoming. "They are very careful," he said. "In my experience. They're even trying to be super nice to foreigners."


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].
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Steven D. Johnson 2024/03/29 04:13
Is this espoused anti-racism thinking also DEMANDED to be reciprocal towards white Norwegians in places like Tunesia, Qatar, Algiers or Yemen... And when it is not, what redress can the Norwegian seek in those places?

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