Wonderful things (most) Norwegians do

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book


After my previous blogpost Annoying things (some) Norwegians do, I was expecting many reactions of people saying that what I wrote is unbelievably wrong and how dare you say bad things about a country hosting you etc.. Forseeing such reactions, I had prepared a counter blogpost to reassure the crowd on my intentions: despite sometimes poking where it hurt, I am conscious of all the good things Norwegians do, think and believe in. And that is one of the main reasons why I live here.

Surprisingly enough I did not get any defensive messages from Norwegians. That shows either how self conscious they are or just that they don’t bother commenting when they disagree. In any case, a few thoughts on positive things Norwegians do, some of them at least.

1. Acceptance. Although you almost beheaded their child while desperately trying to learn how to cross-country ski, Norwegians will always be kind to a foreigner trying hard to integrate. The mum of the kid will just advise you to take proper classes instead of going alone to Holmenkollen for your first day out with your new skis (and laugh at you for crashing in a tree). It applies if you try to learn their language too: they are quite tolerant with grammar mistakes and bad pronunciation. They will always, whatever your level, say “du er sååå flink” to encourage you. (Here some tips to learn Norwegian – or die trying– and pretend to be fluent in Norwegian)

2. Solidarity. Small talk is not really their thing, however if you are in deep shit, such as your boat falling apart on a wavy sea with a broken mast; lost in the forest in the middle of the winter; left without a bed at the door of a hytte with light inside. Well then, the survival “let’s stick together” will come out of every Norwegian. They will throw you all the rope they have and call all their neighbours to save you even if they have to try all night, give you their headlamp or lead the way for you to get in a safe place, make a space on the floor for you to sleep although the hytte is at its max, and offer you a cup of warm chocolate (or a glass of aquavit depending on who is offering) when you’ve made it through. Chitchatting the night away, as if you were best buddies: There is no better ice-breaker than a disaster.
However if you start chatting with your neighbour on the bus he’ll think you’re nuts and might turn their back on you. You’ll just have to get over that.

3. Nature. Ask a Norwegian where he/she feels most happy. They will never (in my experience) say “in front of my huge tv” or “with my new IPad”: happiness is always somehow linked to nature. Snow, a hytte, fresh fish from the fjord, not too many people around and a good meal with loved ones is all it takes. Despite their strong economy, their millions in the bank and their newest expensive gadgets, Norwegians seem to be part of the last ones to value nature so much. Some disturbing exceptions: mining Waste dumping in the fjords and plans of drilling oil in the beautiful Lofoten and Vesterålen islands.

4. Humor. Yes, Norwegians have a sense of humor which is quite their own. It takes some months, years, yes sometimes decades to understand and to make jokes yourself they will laugh at, but it’s worth it. Who has never dreamt of making an ordspill in another language than your own and have locals cracked up laughing?

5. Honesty and trust in humanity. When Breivik approached these kids in Utøya, no one would have ever imagined that he was a killer. Norwegians trust everyone, and expect only good things from people they don’t know. Now this is a gift, because it creates an atmosphere of trust in society. However it hit hard when we all realised bad things are possible here too: Breivik did encroach that spirit a little, but still Norway refused to become a hyper security state like those paranoid Americans.

6. Morals. Maybe because of their protestant heritage, Norwegians and even more Norwegian politicians are expected to follow quite high morals. The smallest case of corruption or conflict of interest and you’re out. Compared to France where Sarkozy is suspected in 7 cases of corruption and other nasty things and still coming on TV saying he is the man who is going to save our country, Norwegians have come a long way in having “clean” politics. Cleaner at least.

7. Which other country managed to pull it off when having so much income from oil and using it to actually make society better? Exactly, none. Most countries discovering large amounts of natural resources see corruption increase drastically, with a small elite (usually the family members of the president) getting all the benefits. Population usually crashes into poverty (or stays there). It is usually referred as the Dutch disease (only a few countries have avoided this pattern). In Norway the oil money benefited and still benefits society as a whole and is even invested for the future instead of all of it being spent right now. Now that doesn’t mean basing such a big part of your economy on the extraction fossil fuels is such a good thing, but that’s another story.

8. Equality. Men won’t hold the door for you when you come behind them (neither will women), but they will do the dishes, change nappies, and do, most of the time, half of the housework. You know what they say, you can’t have everything in life.

9. Resilience. Whatever happens, Norwegians have been taught to take whatever comes their way without a complain. Not like anyone would allow your winging (ever). So they might be rich now but my guess is that if they lost all the money tomorrow they would go on with their lives and make the most out of it.

10. The best for the end: swimming naked in lakes. Despite a little puritanism in some areas of Norway (so I’ve heard anyway), it is apparently totally accepted to swim naked in lakes especially when you think no one is around. If someone does come by they will ignore your presence and continue on their path (as Norwegians do consistently when meeting strangers, no surprise here).

See, Norwegians are not just annoying, they are a bunch of good things too!

40 thoughts on “Wonderful things (most) Norwegians do

  1. “Surprisingly enough I did not get any defensive messages from Norwegians. That shows either how self conscious they are or just that they don’t bother commenting when they disagree.”

    I do not know what the English word is, but i Nowegian I would simply call it selvironi /self irony. We know about our quirks and laugh of them ourself, or are annoyed about it ourself as well. When Lillyhammer made fun of Norwegian bureaucracy many people in the USA thought we did not get the humour on our own behalf and thought it very stupid. But we laughed because it was so silly and we recognised it and liked the caricature of the faults in our system. Maybe if you do like your own culture and are relaxed about it you do not need to protest when people point out the absurdities. We all have them, and they are all laughable. Thank God. It would be pretty boring without them.

    1. Tja, jeg vil vel ikke akkurat si at nordmenn er mestre på selvironi. Jeg har bodd tre år i Italia, og har hatt litt tid å se på oss nordmenn fra utsiden, og sånn som jeg ser det blir nordmenn mer defensive enn andre når de mindre positive tingene ved norsk kultur blir nevnt (sanne eller usanne ting). Sånn som jeg ser på det, er italienere mestere på selvironi, og er også veldig selvkritiske, noe som du kan se om du ser mer eller mindre hvilken som helst film.

      Lista til vår kjære fjordfrosk i forrige innlegg bestod av ganske ukontroversielle utsagn, og mange av de så jeg egentlig på som komplimenter (nordmenn kan spise alt uten å klage, er ikke nødvendigvis en dårlig egenskap). Så det at hun ikke fikk så mye negativ tilbakemelding overrasker meg egentlig ikke.

      1. Hei!
        Der er jeg enig med deg. Etter å ha bodd og jobbet utenlands i nærmere 10 år til sammen, så er det en ting jeg har lært om mine landsmenn:
        Mangel på selvironi!
        Dette iblandet en dose småborgelig selvrettferdighet får meg til å lengte tilbake til Belfast og Dublin.

  2. Takk for ditt innlegg! As a French who took the Norwegian nationality in 1987 and has never regretted it, far from it, you just remembered me how right I was, specially when you talk about morals! Keep up the good work and your sense of excellent observations! 🙂

  3. 😉 in the end we are all what we are, and can only hope to pass on better ideas to next generation. We would love to stay in our hytte and enjoy our outdoor life, if the world would let us…
    Peace and happyness to you! Hug!

  4. I live in Norway for 18 months. I have been shocked to find out all the “annoying things ” Norwegians do. I thought it is unbelievable and unacceptable. I also think I had the “luck” of meeting some very bad examples of Norwegians.
    But after a period I have realised that they (Norwegians) have their good side also. And what made the “annoying” to be unbelievable, were my expectations from them. At the end of the day : Norwegians are humans, some of them are good, some of them are not so good, some of them are maybe bad. It is a matter of expectations! But I think the most important general trait of Norwegians is that they are dependable. It is difficult to make the speak, to make them laugh, to make them your friends, but when you managed, usually you gain a friend for life !

  5. I liked them. I considered living there for a while. But, Norway is too dark, cold, and probably is boring too. (From my foreigner point of view)

  6. I´m so happy that you have found something positive in us norwegians and our way of life. You know we have come a long way from the viking period were we traveled the world went berserk with the natives (which still happens at “syden”) but also trading goods. I think we actually have become quite civilised.

  7. What about our National Day ? Which other country (ww) puts the children first ? It is their day, no big military parades only joy, happiness, friendliness and beautiful national costumes.
    Not to forget the reaction by the Norwegians to the actions of the aforementioned terrorist; ABB; a peaceful roseparade to honour our lost citizens; love not hate !

  8. Hehehehe, am norwegian and lived outside for a while( back again) and looked at Norway and Norwegians from a distance. We are a peaceloving people and live in a peaceful corner of the world. Our standar i life is high and thats it. So far i agree with you in most of your observation. Hehehehe. Good and bad in life

  9. I had to laugh out loud when she suggested it may be because Norwegians don’t bother commenting when they disagree. I would easily crown the Norwegian people to be kings of world when it comes to word worriers. This brings me to my main point.

    I found this blog by the article about making friends in Norway. That’s gonna be the challenge of your life. Norwegians are the most reserved people in the entire world. There is no competition what so ever. There is no people better at keeping distance. You may feel you have come close to Norwegians, but are you in for a new experience when it comes to variations of warm rejections, you cannot imagine. Norwegians girls have been killed by frustrated foreign men who don’t understand the game of making friends the Norwegians way. No, I am not joking. I wouldn’t say it’s a regular event but it has happen more than once. Men from warm countries used to make female friends easily would fast come to the conclusion Norwegian woman are no less than ice queens. Really they are quite the opposite when you learn to know them. They are the warmest women in the world, close to needy when first accepted (tolerated) you, but there is a trick and it works with about 99% of all Norwegians in my experience.

    Norwegians love to argue. Really hard, brutal and honest debate. Woman or men makes no difference, but you need an opening that hit them hard. To be able to do that you need to know the Norwegians. That’s rather easy. You pick up particular things about them in a hurry. The clue is generalization. Norwegian hates it so bad they can kill because of it. My favorite ice breaker is “Hei, hvordan går det med dere nordmenn, dere som ikke er selvstendige nok til å forvalte egne penger. Har dere fått noen lommepenger av staten i dag?” : “Hey, how are you dependent Norwegians today. Did you get any pocket money from the government today?” Before you get any answer you need to follow up with “Really, when will you Norwegians grow up?”. The latter one is important. All though Norwegians love to be provoked, you must make clear all from the start that this can be taken down to a friendly level at need. Norwegians take great proud they never have to grow up. Thus, you just make an escape route if they are not in mood for a debate (not likely). When the conversation goes on, combine your attack with some embarrassing properties of the society back home and you are already half the way of making friends for life. Forget everything you learned about hyggelig and koselig. Such can never make you anything but shallow friendship with the Norwegians. Norwegian friendship is taken out of Ibsen’s Wild duck. Honesty on the way to complete self destruction, but surviving. That’s the essence of Norwegian friendship.

    PS: Criticism of the Norwegian culture and politics must not under any circumstance be put forward as if you do not mean it. The tone of voice must be serious so that a counter strike is motivated. The Norwegians don’t like to be pathetic. Thus, you will get no reaction if you do not deserve it, and that’s a must for the conversation to become start of a friendship. Be patience. It may take five minutes for them to picture you and your background and regroup. Stare them in the eyes waiting.

    The reason why this method work so well with the Norwegians and not at all where you come from is because of two main reasons. The Norwegians are not patriots. They don’t love their country the way Americans love theirs. Patriotism is almost an insult in Norway. They prefer globetrotting before love for their own country even though few practise it. Yes, they love their nature, their 17-mai and all that. Relaxed lifestyle and if everything goes to hell they are convinced NAV (Public health and social insurance) got a branch down there so everything will be just fine. The Norwegians are well aware of their system to be corrupt. How could they not being the most expensive country in the whole world? Norway is expensive to Norwegians too. The one thing that is not, is vacation, outside Norway. The other main reason is that Norway is too small country for two wings of political opposites to establish. All though there is three big and four small parties in Norway there are no real diversity, at all. Thus, there is only one kind of people in Norway when it comes to debate. Thus, when you come along and represent yourself as the major opposite, you are interesting to the Norwegians. In America you would just be rejected with the reason of being one of the others to whom we do not mingle.

    This way of making friends in Norway may not work for everybody. If you don’t like to put yourself out for a blow it is not for you. If you are a socialist it may not either unless you’re a good actor playing your right wing role. One last tip. Don’t give in before your very target is hooked. Then you little by little admit you’re not all that crazy, or… Always hold the door open for doubts with the Norwegians. They are already too familiar with security and they find it boring. Threats to a Norwegian are spices if you know what I mean. A Norwegian girl would not think twice about blind dating a guy who is joking about being a mass murderer on the phone.

    1. Wow, this is an award winning response!

      Btw, you cracked me up with this line;

      “Hey, how are you dependent Norwegians today. Did you get any pocket money from the government today?” Before you get any answer you need to follow up with “Really, when will you Norwegians grow up?”

    2. 100% agreed, although I don’t think it is funny living in a country where everybody has the same view.

      The singularity of political view is about to kill me, and really makes me consider moving from Norway. The debate in all mainstream media is mind-numbingly shallow an uninspiring. “We all” agree that the social democracy, with the state working as a COMPLETE nanny over people’s economical life, is the way to go.

      Norwegians seem to think there’s a difference between the left end right side, but there really isn’t. No right wing party exists, as you correctly state.

      The intellectual laziness that has fallen down on us Norwegians, will hit us really hard, when the oil income can’t sponsor our mistakes anymore.

      -A native Norwegian

      1. Im pretty sure that in most countries there is not the big difference between the political parties. You have the same view, because you share history and culture 🙂

  10. Hello to every one!!!! I had the pleasure of visiting my cousins in Norway 2 years ago and I will Tell all of you with your very rude comments about the Norwegion ‘s that you will never meet nicer people in the world as we did in Norway!!!! Even all the ones that we were not related to were so nice.
    And you will never find a more beautiful and Clean Country:)))
    I feel sorry for all of you who have such negative things to say about them!!
    Maybe you are all Jealous!!! Have a nice day

  11. The morality most certainly doesn’t result from any Christian history, but _in spite_ of it.
    No morality derives from religion, but the opposite is often true.

    Norwegians have always been a fair and self-assured people, even when the Christians tried to shame us at the end of the Viking age.

  12. I thought I was a 100% Norwegian but after reading your article, I realise I must be adopted. 😉 Seriously, you make some good points, but generalisation is a dangerous sport.

  13. Amongst all of these slap on the back ‘aren’t the Norwegians a quirky little race of strange creatures’ lists, not unlike the mildly amusing cartoons that Australian woman published over a decade ago, we seem to forgetting something not so obvious and chuckleworthy, something I’ve noticed and dwelled upon during my 20 year stay in Norway – for all the nouveau riche attributes the Norwegians have taken on since winning the oil lottery, for all the money put aside thanks to said oil lottery, the nice machines in the hospitals and the culture money bucket always brimming over, despite this and all the other benefits and cool things living in ‘highest standard of living capital of the world (TM)’ gives people, there is an incredible sense of darkness and menace underneath the veneer, a lot of past and present negative feelings seemingly being brushed under the carpet. You don’t need to look too hard, but once noticed you can’t tealy shake it off. Funnily enough it’s one of the reasons I love the place, the dualism of the culture/ nature is definately one of a kind. And no, before anyone has a dig, I’m not some Italian Black Metal enthusiast who needs to get out more nor am I a profesional miserablist.

  14. I just wanted to make an addendum to your last point concerning talking to/saying hi to strangers. When we are in urban areas we are very careful not to talk to strangers, out of fear of being viewed as a crazy person, as you put it. But once we are in the mountains, far away from people, and we cross paths with another person or group, it is almost mandatory to say hello.

  15. Hi dear, congratulations for the blog!
    Number 5- the trust. Indeed the society is based on trust. I agree with you. But after some years here I realized that they on the same time mistrust people a lot… Specially foreigners. If you smile and approach them, they are already imagining what you want from them.

    1. Even though I`m one of the (very few) norwegians out there who actually smile when I meet strangers, I still find it incredibly weird, and sometimes even creepy or scary, when strangers smile/look at/approach me, no matter if they`re foreigners or natives 😛

      You see, no one really does it, so it usually gets awkward. (For both sides)

      Once, a old woman sat down beside me and my friend in the buss, even though there were lots of free seats elsewhere! The two of us almost had a heart attack! What did she want? Were she crazy? Maybe something was wrong with her…
      Turns out all she wanted was someone to talk to. But it was creepy as heck when it happened. And even now, long afterwards.

      I mean, why approach me, when I gave no indication that I wanted to be approached?

      I guess most of us just enjoy quality time with ourselves.
      We kinda need our “personal space”.

  16. As a dane i must say i see myself in this too – also about the annoying things. I dont thinks its a norwegian thing, more like a scandinavia thing. Im pretty sure swedes would recognize them self in what you write as well 🙂

  17. Basically, any Norwegian who learned to ski as a kid could survive as a ski coach on some form anywhere in the world as adults;-)

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