A social guidebook

Julien Bourrelle, a Norwegian transplant from Canada, has written a guide to help people understand each other better across cultures

Julien Bourrelle, author of The Social Guidebook, with Artur Wilczynski and Lars-Kåre Legernes at the Canadian Norwegian Business Association Christmas party.

Photo: Artur Wilczynski / Twitter
Julien Bourrelle, center, with Artur Wilczynski, Lars-Kåre Legernes, and a copy of his book, at the Canadian Norwegian Business Association Christmas party.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

Norway is a beautiful country full of opportunities, and challenges. Great people live here, however, Norwegians follow unique norms and traditions when communicating and socializing. A good understanding and awareness of unwritten social rules and rituals is necessary for people to connect. That is why the Canadian Julien S. Bourrelle wrote an illustrated introduction, “The Social Guidebook to Norway.”

Bourrelle is educated as a rocket scientist. He has lived in five countries and speaks four languages. He was the first foreign board member of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and sat on the Norwegian National Research Committee. The book grew from his experience living and integrating with numerous cultures. His work on intercultural communication attracted noticeable attention on the national scene in Norway. He is about to finish his PhD at NTNU.

He wrote the book to help Norwegians and foreigners to better communicate, socialize, and connect inside and outside the workplace. It’s helpful for Norwegians to learn about their own behaviors, how those may be perceived, and how to reach out and connect with foreigners. Foreigners learn to better understand the peculiar ways in which Norwegians communicate, the local social codes, and the socialization logic that Norwegians follow.

It might help employers benefit from diversity by improving communication at the workplace, and provide a platform for foreign employees to contribute to their full potential. It also provides crucial insight into some of the behavior that Norwegians may want to adopt when working on international contracts and abroad. All levels of society can benefit from this increased understanding; Bourrelle has even lectured for HRH Crown Prince Haakon.

Bourrelle wants to increase the competitiveness of Norwegian businesses by improving communication within multi-cultural environments. Moving to Norway has been by far the most challenging cultural experience of his life. His message is that what you perceive, or understand, from what you see is highly influenced by your cultural background. Cultural intelligence is the ability to understand the impact of an individual’s cultural background on their behaviors. It is essential for effective communication and for socializing within different cultures.

According to the author, in Norway equality is not about equality of opportunity. It is about equality of results. The most talented help the less gifted so that all end up being average. Norwegians use quotas to ensure equality of results. Gender points are given to enter programs at university. Leadership training is offered, often only for one gender. The wellbeing of society prevails over providing equal treatment to everyone. Do not worry. It is positive discrimination. A good side of the Norwegian equalitarian society is that there is a good balance in society. With similar social classes there is little criminality, even if it may sometime feel unfair on an individual basis.

Equality of results and similar social classes brings positive aspects. People communicate better. Everyone has enough income. Norwegians are honest and trustful. Do not worry if you leave your laptop unattended in a coffee shop, or if you forget your mobile phone on the bus. The book’s illustrator does this every month. He always gets it back.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 26, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Rasmus Falck

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo.