Several years ago when trying to learn about Norwegian culture and customs, I came across the work of Egil Aslak Aursund Haugerup. Yes I know his name is very long, and to this day I can barely say it, but the man has a few funny observations up his sleeve. He works for NRK, but also writes book about the Norwegian social codes. It is rare to meet a Norwegian with such distance to his own culture, when most Norwegians have one answer to everything “Sånn er det”. Egil firstly wrote “Norges uskrevne lover” which was very entertaining, with sharp and concise rules about one can and cannot do in Norway regarding anything from holiday time to dating. English version available here.
This year with two of his best friends met in a student group at university, namely Martin Aas and Paul I. Huse, they published a new book called “Norske standarder”, or Norwegian standards, with the following longer title: “A final end to meaningless discussions”. To be honest as a foreigner I was not sure what kind of endless discussions they were talking about. Then I opened the book, and interviewed both Egil Aslak and Martin Aas. Here are their enlightening answers.
Q: In your book you have created standards for when to know in which stage you are in a relationship with a Norwegian, to assess whether you are too ill to go to work according to Norwegian standards. How did you create so many standards, and does Norway really need more standards?
A: The first standard we made was how to split the bill for a group when you are drinking beers together over a few days. Because we discovered there was no good standard for this activity. We made a perfect system for that, where people pay in an alphabetical order, with a designated person to carry the beers etc. Then we realised that there are so many other discussions or awkward moments in life which need standards, this is why we wrote the book. We standardised existing discussions, so there should not be any big conflict here. These are things people know or think about without really having a standardised system.
Q: How did you define the “meaningless discussions” to standardise?
A: We defined meaningless discussions as popular things to discuss, like when to get up from your seat for someone else to sit in the bus, or how do you define good or bad Norwegian weather. But we do realise these discussions are usually typically Norwegian. The final aim of the standards and the book is to be funny and make people laugh. This is the reason why the beer paying standard was not included in the book, because it isn’t funny enough.
Q: Why do you think it is necessary to write such standards?
A: Norwegian society is probably much more awkward than other societies, and there are a lot of unsaid things, subliminal kindness and many actions put in place to avoid conflict. There is a big fear of committing a social misstep among Norwegians, of offending people, having to deal with an awkward silence or comment. This is rooted in a huge respect for other people. But there is also a lot of insecurity for a lot of people as to how to act to avoid all these missteps and conflicts.
Q: I must admit many standards you wrote about are very interesting for a foreigner, as we don’t know about these social codes. For example on dating, have you considered writing a PhD on the topic? I have been in Norway 9 years and some rules of dating are still a mystery to me.
A: Yes we wrote a standard answering the question “When are we officially boyfriend/girlfriend?”. We did not realise it was so hard for foreigners to understand this, but it is true that there are many difficult things to grasp when dating a Norwegian. You just need to answer our questions and you will find out your relationship status. Are you sleeping together? You are only “hanging out”. Has this gone on for a while, and people have started noticing it? You are “almost together”. Is there something romantic happening when you meet? You are “Flirting”. Is your relationship announced on Facebook? You are in a relationship (kjæreste). Have you farted in front of each other? You are in a “long term relationship”. Have you moved in together? You are “samboer”. etc.
Q: Same on defining the friendship level with a Norwegian. I could not believe it is so complicated! But then again this is a recurrent theme for foreigners to discuss, because we have trouble understanding how long it takes to make Norwegian friends.
A: yes it can be a bit awkward. Here is the graph we made to assess what kind of friend you are to the Norwegians you know, from “enemy” to “soul-mate friend”:
Q: Which is your favourite standard?
A: I think my favorite standard is the difference between a «brødskive med pålegg» and a «smørbrød». These are both words Norwegians uses for slices of bread with stuff on them. But nobody really knows the difference between the two. Except that a «smørbrød» is considered to be more fancy and expensive than a mere «brødskive med pålegg». The problem occurs when you buy and pay for a «smørbrød» at a cafeteria, but you receive something that looks more like a «brøskive med pålegg». Until now you haven’t had any means of complaining, since nobody really knows the difference between a «brødskive med pålegg» and a «smørbrød». By standardizing the difference we solve this problem by providing a table that lets you calculate whether or not your slice of bread classifies as a «smørbrød».
Q: One last thing: You have not standardised conflicts with Norwegians. I think this could be very interesting since so many foreigners struggle with understanding how angry Norwegians are, whether they agree, whether one is in a conflict and how to solve it.
A: Haha. Standardising conflict would be very un-Norwegian!
For anyone who has enough Norwegian skills to understand the book (it is not available in English), I highly recommend you to read it! Here is the cover of the book . It costs 262 NOK on ark.no.