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Norwegian Culture
& Customs

Intro

Travelling around Norway on a bike will give you an education into a unique culture and heritage steeped in old traditions, modern values, and strong emphasis on equality and social welfare. Norwegians are considered reserved, honest, and pragmatic people. They dislike small talk and hierarchies, and, in rural areas, they may be wary of strangers. 

It can take time to build trust with a Norwegian. There is no false or fake behaviour when it comes to greeting people. Norwegians will be themselves, which to outsiders can be seen as reserved and cold. In this case, the first thing you must remember is that it’s nothing personal! There is an excellent book on Norwegian culture that explains this situation as ‘Norwegian Politeness’.

“In Norway, many people believe it’s polite to leave other people alone. This takes precedence over small talk and unnecessary comments and questions. We don’t bother others more than necessary.”

Professor Kristin Rygg,  Department of Professional and Intercultural Communication, NHH.

I always find that if a Norwegian wishes me a great day, they genuinely mean! And remember, once that initial barrier has been removed, there is a good chance you will make lifelong friendships based on trust and mutual respect.

In general, Norwegians are very proud of their country (and rightly so). They genuinely want people visiting to have a great experience and will certainly try and help and support guests where possible. I’ve heard many stories of Norwegians going above and beyond the call of duty to assist visitors in need. Take the initiative, and don’t be afraid to approach someone if you require help (even if they don’t seem like they want to be disturbed). You may find they will open up very quickly and genuinely want to help you.

Below, we’ll discuss what makes Norwegians…Norwegians! The world can learn much from this small, remote country in the far North. Once you have visited, you may come home and see the world from a different perspective. 

*It’s essential to note that customs and norms can vary among individuals, and not everyone may strictly adhere to these generalizations. Being open-minded, respectful, and adapting to local customs will contribute to a positive experience when interacting with Norwegians.

What you should know

Janteloven (The Law of Jante):

    • This is an unwritten social code emphasizing humility and egalitarianism. It discourages individual achievement and promotes the idea that no one is better than anyone else. Norwegians break this rule only when they play sports. They are extremely competitive in sports and hate to lose. If you find yourself climbing a mountain pass with a Norwegian cyclist, you may be competing without you realising it! 
  • Nature and Outdoor Activities:
    • Norwegians have a deep connection with nature, and outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, cycling and fishing are popular. The beautiful landscapes play a significant role in shaping the national identity and many Norwegian expressions are based on the great outdoors. The saying “Ut på tur, aldri sur” (out on a trip, never sour) is a common expression to say you can’t go wrong with being out in nature. If you tell people you are heading out into nature, they will always reply with ‘god tur’ (have a nice trip). If you’re cycling with heavy pannier bags, a passing Norwegian may shout ‘lang tur’ (are you on a long trip)! Norwegians deeply respect people who enjoy nature and are active. This is why many foreign cyclists are amazed at the respect many local drivers give them. 
  • Punctuality:
    • Norwegians are generally punctual and value efficiency. Being late is considered impolite, and it’s essential to respect other people’s time. If you get invited to a party, turn up on time (being fashionably late is never fashionable in Norway).
  • Respect for Personal Space:
    • Norwegians value personal space and tend to maintain a certain distance during conversations. Avoiding physical contact with strangers is also common.

 

  • Gender Equality:
    • Norway is known for its commitment to gender equality. Women have a strong presence in the workforce, and efforts have been made to reduce gender disparities in various aspects of life. 
    • Men: Never ask a girl you just met if you can buy her a drink in a bar. She will probably feel uncomfortable and politely refuse. 
    • If you go on a date with a Norwegian, splitting the bill is common practice, then no one feels they owe the other anything. 
    • Never buy a round of drinks in a bar – no one else will do the same! 
  • Social Welfare and Equality:
    • Norway has a comprehensive social welfare system, and there is a strong emphasis on equality. The gap between the rich and poor is relatively narrow compared with other Western countries. The society aims to provide a high standard of living for all.
    • You will find the healthcare and emergency services of a very high standard. Download the useful app for any emergency situations.
  • Crime & Social Problems
    • Norway is not a utopia (although it may seem it at times). Expect to find a small minority of homeless and drug addicts in larger cities. Some of these are illegal immigrants who have no right to work in the country and beg on the streets. At night, it is wise to take extra precautions in certain areas of major cities. 
    • Bike theft is present in large towns and cities, and you should be cautious where you leave your bike even when locked.
    • Rural areas have very little crime, and you should find it safe to leave your bike at campsites and outside supermarkets (within reason – common sense applies).
  • Norwegian Cuisine:
    • Traditional Norwegian cuisine often includes fish, lamb, and dairy products. Lutefisk (dried fish rehydrated in a lye solution) and rakfisk (fermented fish) are examples of traditional dishes that are only for the brave! Modern Norwegian cuisine using natural Nordic ingredients has become very popular in recent years. Norwegian chefs are constantly winning awards on the world stage. If you have the budget, check out some of Norway’s best restaurants 
  • Public Behavior:
    • Norwegians tend to be reserved in public spaces. Loud conversations, public displays of affection, or excessive displays of wealth might be seen as inappropriate.
    • If you are on public transport sit back and enjoy the silence. If you need to talk, keep it low and respectful. 
    • On weekends (Friday & Saturday) between 21:00-04:00, all normal public behaviour is put on hold. When Norwegians are drunk, it’s an entirely different culture where everyone becomes extremely extroverted for a few hours. You will make friends very easily and everyone will want to practice their English – but don’t expect that friendship to last longer than the night!

  • Linguistic Considerations:
    • While many Norwegians speak English fluently, learning a few basic Norwegian phrases is appreciated. It shows respect for the local culture and can enhance your experience.
  • National Holidays:
    • Norway has a whooping 12 national holidays (called red days), including the obvious ones, such as Christmas and Easter. However, for those visiting at the start of the cycling season in May, you must be aware that there are six red days in this month. It can feel that no one actually works in May, and you should expect most supermarkets and other shops to be closed during these days.
    • The most important day in Norway’s calendar is Constitution Day (May 17th), which is celebrated with parades, national dress (bunad), and festivities. It’s the ultimate cultural experience and is like no other national day I know!

May 2024 Public Holidays in Norway

1 MayWedLabour Day
9 MayThuAscension Day
17 MayFriConstitution Day
19 MaySunWhit Sunday
20 MayMonWhit Monday
 
 
Lastly – Cycling vs Vechiles 
I find in Norway and in many other countries that there is postive attitude to bike tourism. I once saw a local on Lofoten shouting at some tourists who had parked their large campervan on his land. That same local was nothing short of being very welcoming and friendly to me. When you’re on a bike, there is a vulnerability to you.  Automatically people have more respect for you and are more willing to help you. This will result in more good and authentic experiences with locals. 
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