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!