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Why are Norwegians always in tidsklemma?

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen exclusive for
Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen exclusive for

“What do you mean you can’t meet me as planned today? You don’t have time? But it’s Sunday and tomorrow is a bank holiday”. “Yeah I have bad time (dårlig tid), said my friend Guro. My other friend who heard the conversation said “Classic, she is in tidsklemma“.

What does tidsklemma mean?
She is in WHAT? Was my first reaction. For those of you new to Norway, there are many words in this country which don’t exist in other languages and are therefore hardly translatable to other languages. Tidsklemma is one of them, alongside koselig, Syden and pålegg. What does tidsklemma mean? Easy! Tid means time. Klem is a Norwegian hug. So Guro could not come to have coffee with me because it’s time for a hug? Somehow it did not make sense.

As always, my linguistic assumptions are completely wrong. It’s like when I thought those houses together were called rekerhus, imagining the history of these little houses glued to each other reflecting the behaviour of shrimps. Nope, they are called rekkehus. Anyway, tidsklemma doesn’t mean it’s time for a hug, it means that the time is squeezed (å klemme = to squeeze). This person is basically telling me that she took on many obligations the same day. She decided to go training to get perfect abs, and take her dog out, and meet her Tinder date, and last night she had to go to two parties because she couldn’t choose so she’s tired. So today I got kicked out of her busy schedule.

And this does not seem to apply just to my friend Guro, as this is a great concern for what seems to be 80% of the Norwegian population. Basically this word is used by all of those who have no time and feel stressed by all the things they have to squeeze in their very short days. Mind you, Norwegians seem to have shorter days and much more things to do than all of us mortals. This applies especially to families, where parents need to find time for their kids, their work, their training, their housework, and themselves. It applies to teenagers who need to go to school, do all their extra curricular activities that can happen as often as every day, train (yes, Norwegian teenagers train), meet their friends, get tanned, spend time on Facebook and be as perfect, cool, skinny, cool, and sporty as their peers expect them to be.

As one of my most fervent readers Kari E. told me in this very blog: anyone above the age of 5 and below retirement age is entitled to be in tidsklemma in Norway. And that seems just about to be the truth, except that parents of small kids will just laugh at any single person saying they are in tidsklemma. “Oh come on. You only have to take care of your own schedule”.

Why are Norwegians more in tidsklemma than other nations?

Now I am not saying, there is no doubt at all Norwegian families are super busy. But just like families all around the world, from New York to Paris and Beirut where both parents work full time (imagine single parents), have careers, kids, housework, elderly parents, and only 24 hours in one day. Being a good parent, a good partner, a good employee, a good daughter/son. It is tough no doubt. But what strikes me here is that Norwegians usually get out of work around 4pm. Sometimes earlier. Also, they have plenty of holidays, taking Fridays off to go to their hytte, Easter off, Christmas of course, and summer holidays obviously. Norwegians have lots of free time compared to many others such as other Europeans who get out of the office at 7pm for example. Still, I have never heard more tidsklemma people anywhere. What is so special about Norwegians for them to be overly busy all the time? As if they are Ministers/more special than us or something. They don’t even have time to cook!

1) Wanting to be perfect
I believe the first reason is that in Norway it is not enough just to be a good parent for example. You are also expected to be perfect in every way. Have a flat belly and look marvellous a few weeks after delivering your baby, have 3 kids and be sporty, and eat healthy, and be good at your job, and not be in depression, and train, and see your friends, and drive your kids to all their multiple activities every day, read the paper and participate in the public debate (except for the flat belly this applies to men and women equally). You also need to be happy and efficient. In my Mediterranean culture you go to your neighbour’s house every other day to drink tea and complain about your kids but in Norway that is a no go. That is not an activity in itself. Unless it is planned for 2 weeks in advance. And this applies to teenagers too. They need to be perfect, and some get depressed from it. No wonder.

2) Over-protection of children
It is quite obvious that taking care of small kids is a rough period, but kids aren’t in barnehage all their lives, they grow up and get more autonomy. But in Norway there are rules (which are new according to many) about the extremely present role adults should have in their children’s lives. Why do kids have to do so many activities? Can’t they play with the neighbour outside? can’t they climb trees and makes houses in the woods with leaves and sheets? Why do they need to be driven everywhere? Can’t they ride a bicycle? Why do they need to have matpakke their whole life? Can’t there be cantines giving a warm meal per day to the Norwegian children of this great nation? As a kid I also liked it when my parents were there when I played a concert with my little orchestra, but I didn’t need them to attend every single class. I actually liked being in a place where my parents weren’t. It is called freedom.

3) Inability to choose
Maybe a better party will come up. Maybe a hyttetur will be planned instead of that week end at the spa with my friends and I will be able to take a great picture of myself over a fjord to post on Facebook. And the duty and guilt people feel when saying no. So they say yes, or maybe, and then never show up or cancel at the last minute. As a Norwegian girl put it “When I feel like I have so many things to do, I usually take out the activities that involve other human beings”.

I personally believe this is the reason why Norwegians love to go to their hytte. The only place they don’t feel tidsklemma. The kids can play outside without anyone watching them. There is all the time in the world to read the papers from last year that is still standing there on the kitchen table, go skiing without looking at your iphone, cook and take a bath in the nearby lake. Hike and breathe the fresh air without thinking about your job and your deadlines and your loan on the car.

My advice, forget about your Iphone. And if you are sad, angry, frustrated, depressed, it’s okay. How do you think your grandparents did? They enjoyed every day they had warm food in their plates and there wasn’t a storm outside, and they had a party where no one had been lost at sea and there was enough akevitt for everyone. When they walked on top of a mountain to look at the majestic fjords of Norway they did not think of the right angle of the picture to get the most likes on Facebook. They just enjoyed the moment in silence without any tweets and hashtags.

This post wast published in VG on the 9th of may 2015 in a chronicle entitled Hvorfor er nordmenn alltid i tidsklemma.

19 thoughts on “Why are Norwegians always in tidsklemma?

  1. Glad you have discovered all Non Norwegians are mere mortals.Did not take me to long after living in Norway in 1976 .Where the strange D N A comes from , one may only guess.

  2. Want to see Norwegians who always seem to have all time in the world? Come and visit Sogn og Fjordane. Nobody is ever in hurry here, ever. I have lived here for two years now and still not managed to get used to the local pace of life. Reading this post I felt like we lived in two different countries.

    1. Hi Agnieszka, thank you for a very interesting comment. We probably almost live in a different country, because people in cities are always more stressed, and they tend to believe their life is a reflection of what everyone in the country is living. So maybe I became like them and end up thinking all Norwegians are as stressed as people in Oslo, thanks for reminding me it’s not like that everywhere 🙂 I should come visit Sogn og Fjordane!!

  3. Tidsklemma has nothing to do with nationality in general, and certainly not about beiing norwegian or french (or latin in general) : Most norwegians are better organised puerly from a cultural point of view: the further north you live, the more organised your lives needs to be to survive…With 20 C minus yoy just can’t lie back and make a “siestea”. I’m norvegian, and it’s in my bones to be “organised and dicisplined” in all matters.

  4. I agree that the “life on the road” in a hurry is more a characteristic of the big cities, rather than the National trait itself. And the same with the tendecy to safeguard and protect the children. However, from my experience of living in a big city of St.Petersburg – we just assumed that you can’t do everything with the same quality, but Norwegians, as you rightly noted want to be perfect in all aspects of their lifes

  5. Thank you so much for this text. Could make very similar observations at the West Coast of Norway.

    Yes, it does seem that many people strive for perfection, which seems like a positive thing on the surface. Sadly, it really mostly involves the surface: People seem to be interested to make a perfect impression on others, many of them egomaniacs who seem to live mostly to have perfect Facebook and LinkedIn profiles rather than to enjoy live themselves. I found that both sad and ridiculous. Seems like the proud Norwegian people do not have the cultural spine to resist the Facebook culture bullshit that now has invaded every part of their lives. (I’m very sorry to say that).

  6. As an American I don’t find the Norwegian culture busier. I find it slightly less busy than my life as a single thirty something in VA. They are definitely more involved in their own families and put much time into that…hytta time included. This is one aspect of norwegian culture that makes it hard for non-norwegians to break into a norwegian’s circle. Family and close friends first. And up north days are filled with small trips to the neighbors for a cup of tea and lefse. Veldig koselig. But as kids activities go its no greater than the east coast of the US and I love that I get off work at 1530 because we have dinner every night together…something that is NOT as common in the US.
    I live in Røyneberg and if the number of kids on sparkesykkler and sykkler in the mornings is any indication, most kids are not driven to school. I was in awe of the wave of kids making their way to school compared to the US where they take a school bus or get driven even if they don’t have to. And I have found the parenting is WAY more relaxed than in the US where kids cannot walk alone or even in pairs under the age of 10 without the parents going to jail. But that is another topic.

  7. First of all I want to thank you for a great blog, I just love it. This quite new word in the Norwegian vocabulary “tidsklemma”, is created in my believe of the time we are living in. When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, no one had ever heard of the word! When I wanted to play football in a local club, I was told it was ok, but I had to get there by myself. Which ment using my two legs or a bicycle. This applied not only to me, but it was the same for all my friends to. First of all it was not common for every family to have two cars, so we realy had to walk, bicycle, or take a bus if we wanted to get somewhere. Secondly many moms was still at home attending to the kids and house. So when dad got home from work, the dinner was on the table, the house was clean, and after the dinner all the kids hurryed outside to play with their friends. We only went inside our home at 18.00 to watch “barnetv”, and then hurryed outside again. So my parents could attend to theyr doings without beeing interupted by their kids, unless they where very small of course. We had the time to visit family, or friends of the family, and we did so without calling and tell them we was coming. If they were not at home, we just went to visit someone else. At sundays we were not allowed to go visit someone, instead the whole family went on trip, or to take a hike in the forrest, to go skiing or etc.
    Today everyone is so much stressed out, there`s no longer someone home to take care of the kids, so they have to be delivered to a kindergarten, and picked up on the way home. Since no one was at home, dinner has to be made. The kids does not play outside anymore or get to their activities by themselves, they has to be driven. It`s not appreciated to visit anyone, without a invitation anymore either. I shure do miss the old times now and then!

  8. Pieces of advice about being aware of simple and natural things, are usually good pieces of advice. 🙂 I understand how mobile phones and all of this can cut us from our surrounding, which is bad. I thought Norway had a certain way to be maybe more ecological and nature-oriented than many other nations… It may be just a cliché?…

    In what context is this supposed to be understood by the way? 🙂 The scene takes place in Oslo? If so, this seems to be surprisingly like more… a neighborhood… Or at least there are few people enough so that the mother or family can be there at many occasions?… The thing which is like a “lack of freedom” I mean ha ha. 😉 🙂

    I like your blog and enjoy reading it. Thanks. 🙂

  9. hard to believe. Coming from China and living in Norway, I feel people are so laid back and idle here…I guess this article is about difference between southern/northern European attitude of life. Norwegians do prefer time alone and socializing is not on the top of their list. Thank you for sharing, very interesting angle.

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