How to Integrate in Norway?

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book


Trying to integrate in Norwegian society? Don’t bother dyeing your hair blond and buying a Marius sweatshirt to look like those guys on the picture. Rather follow these ground rules to make it in the land of the North:

1. Pay your tax,. Don’t complain about it or tell stories on how you screwed the tax over (those stories will make you a hero in France, not in Norway). Everyone pays tax in Norway and is happy about it (yes happy) because that is why we all have roads to drive on, hospitals to be sick in, schools to send our kids to and unemployment benefits when we lose our jobs. Americans will cry in pain when seeing that the tax rate starts at 36% (less as a foreigner for your 2 first years in Norway) and can go up.
However you can definitely complain about tax money being misused because of corruption. I’ve heard this story about roads in Vestlandet being bad because of corruption but not quite sure about the details and whether it is true.

If you are a foreigner currently working on the black market in Norway and being paid in cash I advise you to do everything you can to get another job which is legal and start paying tax: it is also a way of being part of Norwegian society and be protected by the State. For more info on this you can read The Norwegian Tax System Explained

2. Participate in dugnads. What is a dugnad? I think this is quite a Norwegian concept. It happens in kindergartens, in your building, your village or any other place where you are part of some sort of community. If you are invited to a dugnad it means you will be asked to give some of your time to contribute to the community. For example there will be one day to clean the common garden where all your neighbours will come and clean, paint and repair. At your kid’s school you might be asked to makes cakes and take a whole day to sell them so that there is money for the school’s band. This can be seen as a pain in the ass and it can be seen as such even for Norwegians (who sometimes buy their way out of it). But all in all it is badly seen not to attend a dugnad (this is not optional) and on the bright side you will get to know your neighbours who usually never talk to you!

3. Do not brag, do not make comments on how smart you were that time you did this, how strong you were when you built that or how idiotic that guy looked when you told him something so smart. In Norway everyone is supposed to be equal, and you are not to show or say that you are better than anyone else (from the Law of Jante). Norwegians brag of course but they do it in a very subtle way. When bragging stay humble (I can’t go in detail, it takes years to master this).

4. Be positive: French People (including myself) have this tendency of complaining a lot about small and big things. But Norwegians cannot stand the winging and complaining about just anything. You hate your boss? Change your job. You hate your partner? Divorce (take a lover would a French say, but this is Norway). You are depressed and think your life is shit? Do something about it: go fishing, hiking in the mountain, get drunk. Here everything has a solution, we are happy, we are optimistic, we move forward.

The only thing I heard Norwegians complain about over and over again are roads. I don’t know why the roads more than other things (the food? not traditional Norwegian food but Grandiosa and all that ready made stuff), the roads here seem great to me.

5. Learn Norwegian, or at least pretend to learn Norwegian. Yes it’s hard (See How to learn Norwegian), and you might be here for two years only, but the best way to connect with people wherever you are in the world is to learn their language. It’s not just specific to Norwegians, it’s just common courtesy and something very appreciated. Start by learning hello (Hei!) and thank you (takk) and go on with the rest. Also see “How to pretend to be fluent in Norwegian”. Actually, making mistakes will just make it cute for them.

6. Get drunk, but only on Friday and Saturday evenings. The rest of the week you need to be completely sober. It is bad for your liver and other health things, and I don’t personally drink that much, but if you want to make new friends you might want to go out in bars and parties and drink your soul to sleep. Here you can read What to expect from a drunk Norwegian, which includes much more intimacy and enhanced social skills. Note to all the foreign men out there: if a drunk woman is walking alone in the street at 4am it does NOT mean she wants to have sex with the first guy that comes along.

7. Do not hit your kids (under any circumstance). In many countries, including France, slapping a child is not illegal and not even socially condemned. It is illegal to beat a child but not to slap him (called fessee: slap on the bum). If a child is screaming and kicking in a supermarket, everyone around will look at the parent thinking “go on, show who is the boss here”.

A slap will satisfy most people around, happy to see authority has been shown. In Norway hiting a child is illegal and condemned socially. Many families including of immigrants have been investigated by Barnevernet (Child Protection Services) or been put in jail for this kind of “authority restauration”. Remember, in Rome do as the Romans. (And of course don’t do it because hiting a child is wrong).

8. Taste all the local food. You don’t have to like it but at least try it. People will be quite interested and usually amused at hearing your opinion on brunost, rakfisk, sheep’s head. You don’t need to eat Grandiosa pizza everyday to integrate in Norway (I don’t at least – okay you’re all thinking what do I have against Grandiosa…), just be yourself and make your friends discover your own national or regional delicacies.

9. Make local friends and try to experience Norway, its hyttelife, its fjords and its mountains. Making friends is hard, especially in a country where you don’t know the social codes or language. Your first choice will be to meet other foreigners or even People from your own country which is a start. That said it does help cultural and social integration to make a few local friends. Again, it is hard but possible!(See How to Make Norwegian Friends).

10. Respect women and men, and basically anyone you meet by the way. Gender equality is important in Norway, meaning that sexist jokes should be avoided except especially when you mean it. Female bosses are to be respected as much as male bosses and dads taking 7 months off to take care of their baby is normal. When flirting, be aware that a girl who likes you will show it to you clearly. The stupid saying “A “no” means a “yes”” does not apply here (never ever ever).

And finally the most important: Enjoy being here! This is a beautiful, yes very expensive, country with beautiful fjords and wonderful people if you manage to break the ice. You might not be staying here forever but following these few tips will hopefully make your life easier. Oh my, I forgot: make things koselig .
I wish you luck!

35 thoughts on “How to Integrate in Norway?

  1. As much as you raised some important points about how to integrate into Norway, your point 6 was so wrong! How can you say “Note to all the foreign men out there: if a drunk woman is walking alone in the street at 4am it does NOT mean she wants to have sex with the first guy that comes along.” It is as if all cases of rape have been perpetrated by foreign men. The fact that an inordinate number of rape cases involve foreigners does not mean that all foreign men needs to be brushed as rapists. There are very decent men, and they are ‘foreign’ due to circumstances they do not choose. Living in Norway does not make them lose their sense of decency, please!!!!!

    1. Dear Boy4real, this blogpost is primarily aimed at informing foreign people trying to integrate in Norway, which is why I adress foreign men and not Norwegian men. I am not saying at all that all rapes are committed by foreign men!

      1. It was the specific statement which I referred to, that I consider wrong and distasteful. I was not referring to the intention of the blog.

      2. Indeed you did not froginthefjord. Boy4real make an acrobatic conclusion. Nice article, I lived 6 months in Oslo and people are really nice and correct. I wish I had read your article then. Thanks

  2. Seems legit. I assume, a general rule “when in Rome behave like Romans do” works everywhere. Jante Law always fascinated me – such a powerful opposition to the Western culture, over-prizing personal success. Yet not bragging would be very tough to me :)). I’d need at least a minute per day to brag :).

  3. It’s interesting that Janteloven even extends to people in the Scandinavian communities here in the US. Which makes it difficult if you are a self-employed performer playing as many gigs for the Scandinavian community as you can! If you don’t advocate for yourself, who will? And if you don’t talk yourself up, how do you expect to get gigs?

  4. I emjoy this blog tremendously. I like that you show the good, bad, and the odd about this fascinating country. Some day, I’d love to visit there.

  5. not all of them is true. for example tax. they do complain about tax a lot and always mention it more for crap roads here

    jatne is mostly going in Sweden not Denmark or Norway. I didn’t find Norwegians that much humble

    and etc

    1. I disagree Shima…. FrogintheFjord is right! I’m a Brit’ living in Norway, by the way. Norwegians don’t complain about paying their tax (neither do I) but they DO complain that the amount of income handed-over to the taxman is not reflected in the quality of public services provided in return. The perception is that too much is sent abroad to (not very thoroughly researched) projects/ dodgy governments in the third world. Norwegians are HAPPY to help countries less fortunate than themselves – indeed it is perceived as a national duty (their contribution to the ‘global Dugnad’, perhaps?!), but the truth is that Norway SHOULD enjoy the best schools, roads, public transport, healthcare, elderly care and yet fall woefully short on all fronts. THAT is what you’ll hear a Norwegian complain about when it comes to tax – and quite right too.

      1. This is what i said. They complain cuz dont c quality i service. Tbane board in our area is broken more than one yr didnt change yet. Dont need talk about road.bloger mention they r happy cuz they c good road and etc which is wrong.

  6. Norwegians complain about their tax whenever they see an opportunity, they also condemn foreign aid and immigration. Sorry to burst your bubble but in general the Norwegian people is despicable. There is also a heavy amount of racism towards Somalis, muslims and Roma.

    1. Unfare comment. I lived there and what I most liked was the hardworking perspective/drive of everyone. It is not about a nation or race. Norwegians can NOT understand that people living in Norway do not work as hard as they do. And they are right. “A donde fueres haz lo que vieres” Ergo: in any country you are visiting, the rules are defined by the locals. Period.

      1. Norwegians don’t work that hard to being with, so meeting their standards isn’t that difficult.

    2. please define your use of the term “racism”. Pretty strong language… what exactly do you mean by it?

    3. I think you have researched badly. Perhaps in the commentary fields of online newspapers, where trolls and other frustrated people dominate? Proper statistics show that most Norwegians are in favour of legal immigration, and this number is raising. And about taxes; all Norwegians love their welfare and while they do complain about taxes, that is NOT because they really want to pay less (it would reduce their welfare) – it is because they have too little else to worry about, since the country is so safe and almost every has a job and there are no wars.

    4. I’d say that the truth is somewhere in the middle between froginthefjords and your overwhelmingly negative impression of norwegians. You are absolutely right that the exist norwegians that fit that description though.

  7. Mostly spot-on, but complaining is certainly a part of the culture. Mostly about the weather, the roads, the ferries etc. If you live where I do, the culture of equality is not that persistent, and it is OK to brag about the stuff you own (and show it off, too), but maybe not so much about your skills or cunning manipulation of the tax office 😉

  8. I enjoyed this blogpost. Of course it is a generalization. it`s 5 mill people put in to a box. Though I think you are quite right, in general 🙂 Then there are regional differences, town differences, group and people differences. I study a different town than mine in my dissertation and there are quite a few differences, I must say, between my hometown and this one 🙂

    To Morgan: I don`t know who you have met, but for you to call the entire Norwegian people despicable…That is just rude and wrong on so many levels. All countries have their issues and I don`t deny that we have issues here as well. However, that was uncalled for.

  9. Lets not feed the troll. Morgan is very obviously a troll of the worst sort.

    I have lived in Norway for 23 years and can tell you that I have experienced all of the above mentioned examples of Norwegian living. I think you did a very good job of explaining the general attitudes found here in Norway. Of course this is a very diverse population these days and while bragging is not as looked down upon as it once was, there is a certain modesty that persists even today.

    Thanks for posting this! I really enjoyed reading it.

  10. I love it! awesome post! As a mexican living in Norway I found your blog very very helpful! Thank you and go on with the good job!!

  11. This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post.

    Also, I have shared your site in my social networks!

  12. No goals at all Norwegians with the same brush, I am Norwegian and I do not like paying so many taxes, of course is good to have services, but without paying so much you can have it also.

    Not all Norwegians are blond, blonds are actually a minority in Norway a wrong topic of my country.

    Corruption also exists here and if not just ask some politicians, the Yara, Statoil, Alstom or Petrogate companies, the Norwegian merchant navy with sailors garbage contracts, etc..

    I do not understand why foreigners insist on wanting to looks like Norwegians, we are cold and there is an blatant racism in society masquerading as absurd tolerance. Criticize their country shamefully without being fair to the good and bad of their homeland, while some of my countrymen rejoice thinking what idiots they are talking like that about their countries.

    A dark and cold country with lack of light, with high rates of depression that people suffering from mental disorders or insomnia and supplemented with drugs or alcohol. Where they look at you with a cheeky arrogance, and then say “do not think better than anyone because all are equal”.

    A reality that they do not accept, and prefer to see a society with a rich economy where seemingly everyone is happy but hide their miseries behind closed doors.

    I am a free Norwegian, without that absurd patriotism to force you since childhood, a Norwegian who recognizes the good and bad of their country and that for nothing is better than any other country.

  13. Taxes really don’t start 36% in Norway, but at around 10% according to how much you earn. Even at a rather decent salary of more than 80k$ few people pay more than 36% all social benefits and health insurance included. Even better, if you do pay more taxes than you should have, you get your money back at a maximum interest rate no commercial bank can compete with. <3 paying taxes, best saving strategy 😉

  14. Have to say again it’s place for me, just the other day I pulled chair from the little lake that I go to often sadly people here don’t care and there’s lot of trash there. And like that women are normal and not so wicked how crazy it is to say no and mean yes and pretend to don’t care wtf..

  15. Actually norwegians have a hobby of complaining about everything, but they must be taken with a little salt. And we complain mostly only with close people.

    If you complain about the road to a close friend, they may begin complaining with you. Tho you have to be reaallyy close or else we will begin with our positive answers again😂 “oh the roads isnt really that bad you know now”

    Norwegian 1 “Oh it’s raining again.”
    Norwegian 2 “Ugh. I hate rain”
    Norwegian 1″Yeah me too”
    *a stranger comes*
    Stranger “ugh! It’s raining”
    Norwegian 2 “ah, it’s not that bad! There doesnt exist bad weather, only bad clothing! It’s just a little rain!”

    We simply complain just to complain sometimes, cause we dont really have that much to complain about😂 just see our news, they are mostly just about unimportant stuff😂

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