Norway cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Weather and sports are always good topics; Norwegians are obsessed with both. Any kind of humour is great but remember that although almost everybody speaks English, subtle nuances of the language and culture might be lost on some. Family, work and place of origin are also good topics. Most Norwegians think Canadians work in big forests and shoot bears during their free time. People will generally never talk about their health problems unless with a very close friend or a family member. Be aware that Norwegians are not as politically correct as Canadians and we are not very good small talkers.
Topics of family, work, and international travel are all commonly discussed when meeting people for the first time. International politics - in addition to national politics -are commonly discussed in group settings. One should be prepared for a significant degree of anti-Americanism (though often combined with some hints of admiration towards Americans). No subjects are "taboo" per se, however a sure-fire way to offend a Norwegian is to suggest that their country's wealth is strictly the product of luck in finding oil off the Norwegian coast. They are generally proud of their social democratic welfare model (with good reason) and resent the implication that their hard work had little to do with their current economic stature. Humour is difficult to gauge on the whole, especially because there are many regional differences in this regard, but sarcasm is usually appreciated, as is poking fun of other Scandinavian cultures.
Norwegia is pretty much homogeonous culturally speaking; there is however a small proportion of the population from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Norwegians generally have a very strong sense of space and will generally stand so that the tips of the fingers of his or her outstretched arm just barely touch the other person. Distance can be even greater when speaking or dealing with strangers. It is best to carefully observe each person's degree of comfort with touching and their preference for personal space.
Regular eye contact is used in judging whether a person is trustworthy. Norwegians will not necessarily maintain constant eye contact, but it is considered a sign of dishonesty if a person refuses to or is reluctant to make eye contact.
It is customary to shake hands with both men and women when greeting. In some cases, men and women will give each other a kiss on each cheek. While talking, men generally do not touch other men unless they have reached a fairly high level of comfort with that person and even then it would be occasional, for emphasis. This rule is similar for contact between men and women. This also applies to a woman touching another woman, although somewhat less.
Friends are more likely to touch each other and although they will often maintain a similar distance when speaking, their sphere of personal space around each person is not considered as private and uninfringeable. Professionally, eye contact is particularly important. How much associates will touch each other or the distance they will keep depends on familiarity and level of comfort but it is best to keep one's distance if unsure.
Certain gestures are considered rude (middle finger erect, waiving a pointed index finger, pointing at someone). Nevertheless, Norwegians may expect people of other cultures to use more gestures.
Eye contact is important and well received - Norwegians often accuse North Americans of being too fast and impatient, and eye contact is an easy way to make someone feel comfortable. An acceptable distance when speaking to someone would generally be the same as North America; however, there is usually less overt touching or gesturing. Norwegian is a "tonal" language, therefore there is perhaps greater attention paid to "tone" than in other European countries.
Display of emotion
In general, people do not display anger or other emotions in public. Norwegians can be seen as very reserved. People do not talk to strangers unless they necessary.
Very public or overt displays of emotion (of any kind) are not very common. It's not terribly uncommon to see people kiss or walk down the street hand in hand, however much more than this would garner some attention. Anger - in particular shouting, throwing things, or cursing - is very much frowned upon. The exception appears to be among friends when a few too many drinks have been consumed and an argument ensues (sadly, this is common enough - Norwegians are quite avid "binge drinkers"). One is more likely forgiven for trespassing social barriers when alcohol is involved. (That is not to suggest that if you have broken the law any leniency will be granted - in fact, the opposite is true: you will be very severely punished.)
Dress, punctuality & formality
Work styles and pace differ between workplaces but it is important to be clean and punctual. Generally, Norwegians are very informal, and both men and women tend to dress informally in the workplace, both in summer and in winter. Shorts are OK in summer. Even T-shirts are OK. This applies even up to a fairly high level. There are not many ties or suits to be seen.
Colleagues and even supervisors are almost always addressed by their first names. Some executives (i.e. CEOs) will insist on first name only.
Many workplaces allow employees to work flexible hours rather than the usual 0800-1600, but punctuality and reliability are highly valued, both by colleagues and bosses. "Flexitid" is a term whereby a company states that between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., most employees should be on the job. Beyond that, employees' hours are more flexible. However, at the end of a set period (eg. a month), you hours of work should remain the same. In other words, flexibility within reason.
Lunch breaks can be very short and most Norwegians bring some sandwiches from home. We almost never go out for lunch. Deadlines are always set with the expectation that they will be met but it is uncommon to work considerable overtime in order to meet a deadline. If family considerations prevent you from working overtime it is OK. There are strict regulations and labour laws to protect against working too much overtime.
Dress is "corporate casual" - suits are more common in Oslo where fashion is a touch more "continental". Colleagues would almost always be addressed by first name, unless you are referring to them in a formal way, in which case "Dr. so-and-so" might be more appropriate. If in doubt, use the full name.
More important is the issue of deadlines, punctuality, absenteeism, and productivity. Norwegians may not work very long hours, but when at work, they are highly productive. They expect people to be on time for meetings, and meet their deadlines. Working overtime is almost never required, though is from time to time appreciated.
Preferred managerial qualities
A superior is usually respected for his or her level of experience in their field but management experience and the ability to bring out the best in his or her staff is also very important. Academic and professional skills give some indication of background and ability but an approachable boss will often be more trusted than one who puts a lot of distance between himself and his staff. Being open to ideas would also be a good quality to have in a superior.
If staff is generally very quiet around a superior and deferent, then it is often because there is a trust problem. A superior who is not respected might sometimes be told so directly.
Your staff will almost certainly not tell you if they are not happy until it's too late, unless you foster a culture of honest feedback within the organization. This is especially true if you (the manager) are an expatriate. That's not because they harbour ill-will towards you for being a foreigner (though you may experience minor amounts of this) but because of the fear of confrontation. You won't know how your staff views you until you are in a very casual social setting and they've had some wine... seriously.
Among more well educated people, education is a valued asset - though expect some discussion on the merits of a North American vs. European degree. Experience in some fields is seen as more valuable. Leadership and being a hard worker are desired, though creativity is not always rewarded. This is partially because there is often an institutional bias favouring those able to work within the "lines" - following rules of engagement within the workplace.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Decisions are generally made by management but they have almost always been discussed with staff and or unions before a final decision is made. Most places are unionized and unions have seats on boards and are much more involved in decision making in Norway than in Canada. It is acceptable to go to directly to a supervisor for answers and feedback - you should not exclude that person.
Decisions are generally taken in groups - most organizations are fairly "flat". However, when a supervisor / manager knows that his/her staff will not support them in a particular effort, it's not uncommon to "pull rank" and force decisions on others. Ideas are generated by all levels of employees, though like most places, it's the "top" that gets most of the credit. (This is tempered by the fact that creativity is not always rewarded - see above.) It is acceptable to go to one's immediate supervisor for assistance - it would be considered rude to overstep / sidestep one's manager in seeking assistance on a problem.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Men and women are very equal. There are more women in management positions. Views on sexuality, sexual orientation are very liberal.
Most Norwegians are members of the Church of Norway (Lutheran) by birth but most are not pious or practicing Lutherans.
Norwegia is a class free society. Most people would be regarded as middle class. There are very few poor and very few rich people. Most people own their own homes.
Most Norwegians are not used to living with other ethnic groups around them.
Gender and religion have no impact on the workplace but working with foreigners can be a challenge for Norwegians. This is where Canadians would have a great deal to offer.
Norway is among the most gender balanced and progressive countries in the world. The result - especially among young people - is a significant lack of tolerance for gender based analysis of a situation. To suggest that you didn't get the job (or that you weren't chosen for something) because you are a woman would very likely be met with hostility. That said, in speaking with women, one quickly realizes that there is still some amount of gender discrimination.
Norway still has a state religion (Lutheran). Most other religions are welcomed. The occasional exception to this would be religious practices are seen as interfering with other socially progressive policies (treatment of women, children, etc.). This could at times cause problems.
Norway is relatively free of class concerns. (It's fairly flat in this regard.)
Norway is struggling with multiculturalism, and what this will mean for "the Norwegian way". Ethnicity - more so than gender - is cause for concern in terms of workplace discrimination.
It is not important to have a personal relationship before getting down to business. Norwegians are very goal oriented and keep a distinct division between business and private life.
It's fairly important in the case of colleagues. This raises the trust level, and ensures more honest feedback about your performance. It's much less important with clients, as business is seen as distinct for social experiences. The exception may be among younger generations in Oslo and Bergen, who - like North Americans - seem to be mixing work and social life more often than their parents.
Privileges and favouritism
NEVER- corruption is virtually non-existant.
To some extent, professional reward is not strictly conferred upon those who work the hardest and who "deserve it". Like most small economies, personal connections make a difference in getting one's foot in the door. However, once in the door, there is little opportunity to reward people who do not deserve it - if for no other reason than the pay structure is so flat that it doesn't often make a significant difference.
Conflicts in the workplace
First, directly and privately with that colleague. If that is not enough, go up one level to the supervisor. Most of the time that person would address it directly with you. If not, you surely would feel some negative attitudes from that person. If in doubt, ask directly. Norwegians can be more direct than Canadians.
Confronting the colleague directly will raise tensions briefly, but if handled well - politely - then this is the best route. Going to a superior straight away will appear to be the least confrontational, but will actually cause the greatest harm in the long run. If a colleague is upset with you, they may not tell you and may opt to go to your superior. The best thing to do in such cases is acknowledge that Norwegians don't like confrontation, and ask that the next time they deal with you directly.
Motivating local colleagues
Job satisfaction, commitment and loyalty are likely the main motivational factors but money and working conditions are also important. Most people are not concerned about being fired or losing their jobs. Unemployment rates are very low. It is very difficult to fire someone. The workers protection law ensures everybody's individual right in that matter as well.
All of the traditional motivations (listed above) apply in Norway. The only significant additional motivation would be "contribution to society" which (decreasingly) continues to motivate people.
Recommended books, films & foods
Sometimes you can find Norwegian films in a video store in Canada and they will be subtitled. Most films in theatres in Norway are foreign (American) but some also come from other countries. These movies are always subtitled and never dubbed. Only animated films for kids are dubbed but often the original will be running at the same time.
NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Co.) has websites and great webTV. It is free for all and will give you a glimpse into all kinds of programs that are offered. The website can be found at: www.nrk.no
Pilot guides (Lonely Planet) on Norway and Scandinavia give a lot of information
WWII books. UK comedy television programmes. People who are well-travelled throughout Europe will have loads to talk about with Norwegians.
When in Norway there are many places to visit. The main attraction is nature and space. An ancient law allows anyone to use and camp on public AND private land. As long as it is not cultivated you can go everywhere. Fishing in lakes sometimes requires a permit. Fishing in the sea is free for everyone and at all times. There is an abundance of mountains, forests and fjords too see. The main trekking association runs several hundred huts around the country, some are manned, some are fully equipped with food and fuel. Some are locked and you bring a key and some are even unlocked.
Find out more here: http://www.turistforeningen.no/index.php?fo_id=782
Norwegian food is solid. But even small places will have a Chinese or Italian restaurants in addition to the Norwegian ones. It is very expensive to eat in a restaurant so most people only do it only occasionally. The beer is great but expensive. There is no Norwegian wine.
Cultural events are very often heavily sponsored by the government and businesses, so tickets for a symphony or play can be very cheap. Most papers have cultural sections with listings. Everybody speaks English and can be of help.
If a Norwegian invites you to their cottage, be prepared because lots of older cottages have outdoor toilets, no gas, no electricity and no plumbing whatsoever. It might even be winter. There might not even be a road. The Norwegian will think that it is just like in Canada. Snowmobiling is mostly illegal and so are seadoos due to environmental concerns. All Norwegians can ski very well compared to Canadians and most men have served at least one year in the army. So a few questions before you head out on a weekend trip is wise. Also be prepared for the true Norwegian party; most Norwegians do not touch alcohol until a party comes up and let it all go on a binge. Be prepared for a hangover. If you go on a private or business trip do as the locals. They might party hard and so should you. If in a sauna, do not give up, if the host cuts a hole in the ice on his lake for a swim after sauna you should jump in too. If you can do what the host do you are safe and you will establish very effective relations.
Train yourself on a cell phone so that you can handle SMS (Short Message Service) all Norwegians older than 9 years old use the service. Pagers do not exist anymore; it is all by cell phone. There is an absolute coverage for them, subway, mountains, tunnels, every where.
You will find the cost of things very high but keep in mind that income is pretty high as well.
Café culture is alive and well in Norway. These are the best places to get a sense of the overall culture, but it's not the easiest way to meet people/friends. Norwegians are action-oriented friend makers - they make friends when they are already doing something. So, join a sports team, a club, or a "society" of some kind. You will find like-minded people and interests. For example - if you're into rock music, by one ticket to a Norwegian Black metal concert - you'll meet lots of friendly people.
- All the Vikings; we discovered North America 400 years before Columbus.
- Polar explorers such as Fritjof Nansen and Harald Amundsen.
- We are sport obsessed so all Olympic gold medal winners are national heroes
Polar explorers and Nobel peace prize winners.
Shared historical events with Canada
Vikings settlements in Newfoundland and also, Canada was host to Norwegian air force bases during the Second World War in Toronto and Muskoka. I cannot think of any events present or historically that can harm a relationship.
To some extent, WWII is a shared historical event (though this should not be over-emphasised). But in general, visitors will be very surprised by great the number of things that Canadians and Norwegians have in common.
As mentioned earlier, most Norwegians think Canadians are big, burly outdoors people that hunt bears and fight blizzards with skis on and an axe over their shoulder. In summary, a Canadian will have no problems fitting into a Norwegian world. The political systems are pretty similar, the welfare system almost identical. The same goes for the standard of living. People think and behave similarly to Canadians. Almost everyone speaks English. Climate is also the same although I find the Canadian summer to be warmer and longer.
That Norwegians make all their money from oil. That Norwegians are rich because they are such a small country (and therefore easy to manage). That they are remarkably attractive. That they all fish and go on long walks. That Viking culture is at all related to present day Norwegian culture. All of these are at least partially true - which is what makes them stereotypes.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Bergen, Norway the oldest of two children. He was raised in this city until the age of 19 in the west of Norway. He moved to northern Norway for military service and then back to Bergen to continue his studies, where he graduated from the Bergen University College. He then worked in Norway for many years and also served with the UN forces in Lebanon. During travels, he met his wife on and moved to Canada to live and work in Toronto where he stills lives. He is married with two children.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Ottawa, the oldest of three children. He was raised in this city until age 19 he moved to Toronto to study Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Toronto. He travelled for work and pleasure throughout Asia and Europe before moving to Washington, DC for a Masters in Media and Public Affairs (George Washington U.) Afterwards, your cultural interpreter went to Norway, where he lived for approximately 2 years. He is currently living in Canada.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.