Weird things Norwegians do During Work Meetings

Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for All rights reserved
Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for All rights reserved

After the interest of readers for the blogpost Weird things Norwegians do, I thought it might be funny to find out what’s going on with Norwegians when they are having work meetings.

1. Skiing
In which other country do you see people coming to work, and therefore to meetings, with their skis on their shoulder? It doesn’t stop there: they will be cheered on their way in by all their colleagues who feel envious of those who hit the ski slopes just after work instead of waiting for the week end.

2. Knitting stuff
In Norway it is totally accepted to do other things during meetings than listen or takes notes, such as knitting. Some say it helps them concentrate to have their hands busy, but it also disturbs other people because of the noise of the pins clinging to each other. In protest to this, some have started a new movement: they carve or chop wood during meetings in revenge to the crazy knitters. Hey guys, is this work or is this a handicraft class?

3. Getting angry while smiling
At first in Norway I felt like everyone agreed about everything. “Everyone and everything is so peaceful here” I thought. People smiling, no one getting angry. How wonderful. Actually, many meetings that appear peaceful to a foreigner are full of people sending each other messages of disagreement and annoyment through passive aggressive smiles and subtle nods of the head. If you manage to see all those disagreements you have earned the medal that takes you to step 350 to integrating in Norway. But honestly, wasn’t it better when you believed they all loved each other?

4. Leaving their tie and their suit at home
No dress code is expected from anyone in a Norwegian meeting. Once I had a meeting with an Ambassador and a representative of a Norwegian Ministry. I was afraid to be under-dressed as I had forgotten about the meeting and had a red with a stripy t-shirt with Pipi Langstrøm on it. But when I saw the ambassador arrive in shorts and running shoes, and the guy from the Ministry with broken glasses he had “repaired” with a piece of white tape just in between his eyes I realised I was quite safe.

5. Forgetting to wear shoes
You are worried your colleague got his shoes stolen on the way to the office? Why else would he be coming to a work meeting in his socks? No this is totally normal: lets have a meeting where we all show off our woolen socks and our slippers. You can even order a new pair of woolen socks to the knitter in there. See, no problems, only solutions in Norwegian meetings.

6. Practice compromise and coffee drinking
Norwegian meetings can be very long. That is why you are provided with liters of coffee. The length of the meetings in Norway is due to something called compromise and also to another Norwegian disease which makes them unable to make a decision because no one wants to seem more important than other people. Expect everyone to speak their mind, which can lead to the meeting lasting a lot longer than planned, and to everyone forgetting the aim of the meeting. This can lead to concluding at the end that we need another meeting.

7. Forget who is the boss
Authority is much more horizontal here than in other European working environments, such as Germany for example. A Norwegian boss cannot say with authority “I decide this is what will happen”, especially in front of everyone in a meeting, even after everyone spoke their mind and that no conclusion was agreed upon based on compromise. Who do you think you are? The boss or something?

8. Make disturbing noises
A meeting is a great opportunity for all the Norwegians around the table to make all the humming and aspiration sounds they want in order to show how much they agree/are listening (although they are actually knitting and carving wood). Aspiration “ha” sounds and “Mmhhmm” hummings will the the rhythm coming from every side of the table for some hours ahead of you. It is disturbing at first but one gets used to it.

9. Have way too many meetings
In which other country is there a meeting in order to plan another meeting? Also sometimes in Norway there are meetings to complain that there are too many meetings. So the aim of the meeting is to change the meeting culture in the office and have less meetings. But Norwegians need a meeting for that.

10. Never be late
This has become strange because it is seldom respected in other countries: be on time at a Norwegian meeting. Because everyone else in the room will be on time or 5 minutes early. We don’t when the meeting will end, but we know to the minute when it will begin.

11. When is it time for a meeting?
Lastly, for those looking for rules on when to schedule a meeting in Norway, my advice, get a calendar with school holidays.
You should never schedule a meeting in Norway:
– after 3pm on a regular week day from Monday to Thursday, so that those who need to leave at 3.30pm to get their kids at the barnehage can still make it.
– on a Friday never after 2pm, Once a Swiss guy put a meeting on a Friday at 5pm, it made national news.
– in July: everyone on holidays in Syden.
– the week before Good Friday, a long Easter week end that Norwegians transformed into a 10 day holiday including week ends and avspassering.
– the weeks before and after Christmas.

Basically you need a calendar and a good update on this year’s dates for school holidays to schedule a meeting in Norway. And you’ll have to schedule them with week numbers. Otherwise it is not a Norwegian meeting.

This article was published in Norwegian in VG on the 11.04.2015 under the title Nordmenns møte-rariteter.

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

19 thoughts on “Weird things Norwegians do During Work Meetings

  1. Hei,
    eg er sjølv gift internasjonalt og ungane mine har ein annan statsborgarskap enn eg (tysk). Vi har det ofte artig med slike ting som i VG-artikkelen din i dag. Men kva vil du eigentleg med dette? Kvar er det konstruktive bidraget ditt? Ein ting er å kariktere det norske, det er enkelt, men kva så?
    Beste helsing
    Trøndersk europear

  2. Not. .agree.
    I am a foreigner in norway. .i ‘ living7 here for over 30 years. .been so many meeting. .never experience the knitting and carving. …and then ninistry meeting. .they were just trying to be polite on you

  3. Most of this input made us laugh because we had the same experiences in the 70ies and 80ies while we stayed in Norway. “Møtevirksomhet” is truly an endless affair. Coming from a different European country I was astonished that a whole nation could lock down and go on holidays for month during the summer! Most companies and “offentlige kontorer” were closed. Also the very casual way with authorities made me uneasy in the beginning. Like “Hi Stig, eller Synnøve”. Using only the persons first name and the casual “du” when meeting a person of high ranking was really something you had to get used to.
    But they do it in North America too. Looking back, we can have a good laugh about it. It was weird, but we got used to it, fond of it, and we had a good time in Norway. I am looking forward to your postings.

  4. This gave me a hearty laugh. Save for the skis and the wood-carving this could just as well be a description of many meetings in Denmark.
    Best wishes from a Norwegian expat currently in Greenland.

  5. Well written “Garden Lady”! I read this in VG this weekend..your observations “hit the nail on the head”! (another norwegian expression)
    best greetings from the Odd one…the one you were kidnapped with in the container!

  6. Wow. How many wks. before Christmas is it still acceptable to schedule a business meeting. primarily women at a business meeting? Even professional women –ie. in management, engineering, law??? You would never see this even among the lower ranking women who are clerks, etc. in Canada. Except at lunch.

    Well long meetings and too many meetings can be a problem even in North America.

    That’s cool about skiing to work!

    I guess things get weirder with Skyping or Facetime.

    I knew a German global engineering firm that managed a big construction project in Norway for several years. I can’t imagine what might have happened between German employees and some local Norwegians.

  7. Except for the carving part (one guy carved just long enough for the picture to be taken) and the noice from the knitting needles (mosst people use wooden, noiseless needles), I do agree about this article. I’m Norwegian, but can admit we are somewhat of a strange nation 🙂

  8. Very good and to the point (except with the wood carving – I havn’t experienced that yet)
    Jean: how many week before Christmas? It depends on the topic of the meeting. Most norwegians like to clear their table before the holidays 🙂 I once had negotiations with representatives from a french company on the day before christmas. It was… unsettling 🙂

  9. Haha, the first thing I would have pointed out is the “mmhmmm”. After 1 hour of “mmhmm”-meeting, all I can say is “mmmhmmm” :))

    I would add one thing to all these exactly-perfect points (except knitting, I never saw it): coming with their babies. I attended meeting with up to 3 babies: 2 of them playing under the table, 1 climbing on the chairman.

  10. Hello, i grew up in Canada (Montreal) with Norwegian parents, later moving to Norway as a teenager. And still with an extensive family in Canada. All the above stereotypes are just that: stereotypes. So to make a point you need to exaggerate. But of course who the heck brings ski equipment to a meeting? I have no idea. I think today’s opinion piece from Anne-Kari Bratten in Dagens Næringsliv newspaper in reply sums it nicely up. All these “funny” or amusing peculiarities in the above blog boils down to one fundamental fact: it obviously works. Norway as a country must be considered as a success story, so these stereotypes obviously play into the tremendously high quality of life that almost all (unfortunately not all) Norwegians enjoy. So the last laugh belongs to these “weird Norwegians”, you will hardly find a more balanced society.

  11. I must say; Spot on!
    After a day with meetings you still do not know what the agenda was and you have “angst” due to all the coffee.
    And if you do spreak your mind every one thinks your aggressive or you do not think things through.

  12. I’m a Norwegian living in France: points 9 and 11 actually applie quite well if France as well. Point 11 not because you have to fetch your children in kindergarten, but because of all the RTT and other “jours feries”. Come back and work a bit in France again, and you’ll see!

  13. Interesting post. Since coming here, I’ve had to change my expectation about how people communicate. In many ways I prefer Nordic bluntness, but the passive aggression drives me mad. Whereas in the UK there’s been a move against passive aggression for the last 15 years (‘discretion’ was once a prized English thing), these days it’s associated with weakness and not saying what you really mean – probably through the spread of psychology into the culture. In saying that though, I’ve met a Swedish person who says English people do that to the point she thought them dishonest and would never express what they truly thought or felt (e.g Q: Are you coming? A: Maybe (Maybe = no). In Norway, I’ve therefore found the passive aggressive hints and indirect communication made me think the Norwegians aren’t straightforward either and often omitted crucial pieces of information that later you’d discover exactly why that person had been indirect. The other side of it though is that lovely self-effacing quality. I remember giving a honest compliment to my Norwegian teacher and he blushed and was visibly moved. After years of overcoming my own English self-efacement, I’m not sure I want to change back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.