Norwegian politeness?

One researcher claims Norwegians are polite in their own special way

The Local

They may not say hello on the bus or make small talk in supermarket lines, but Norwegians have their own way of being polite.

There’s no obvious Norwegian equivalent of the American “have a nice day” or British habit of holding a door open for somebody. But Norwegian politeness is expressed by trying not to intrude on others’ privacy, says one researcher.

“Norwegians don’t want to disturb others or make superficial conversation with people we don’t know. We also do not ask for help unless we really need it,” Kristin Rygg, linguistics researcher at the Norwegian School of Economics (Norges Handelshøy­skole), told broadcaster NRK.

Rygg, who has written a number of articles on politeness theory, told the broadcaster that the Norwegian from of politeness can be difficult for foreigners to understand.

“There are many opinions on whether or not we are polite, but we are not really aware of this. When we are criticized for being impolite, we have no way of defending ourselves, because there are no clear norms on what Norwegian politeness is,” Rygg said.

The researcher said that, in her opinion, Norwegians are polite—but that they do not like to disturb others unnecessarily, which can be perceived as arrogance or a lack of caring.

“If we become more aware of how we are behaving, then we can change. There should probably be a discussion of what characterizes Norwegian politeness. There’s no such thing as a universal politeness that Norwegians can copy,” she said.

Pawel Urbanik, doctoral researcher at Oslo University’s Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, says that Norwegians can be both polite and impolite. “To say Norwegians are polite or impolite is an assessment, not something that you can say either yes or no to,” Urbanik told NRK.

But he added that there was a difference between how Norwegians perceive each other and how they are perceived by foreigners.

“People behave collectively. For example, when we see that most passengers are waiting for others to get off the Metro, we think that this is the right way to behave. So when we then see people forcing their way on without waiting for others to get off, we perceive this as impolite behavior,” said Urbanik.

“One thing that possibly helps you to be perceived as polite is being aware of other people around you,” the researcher said.

This article was originally published on The Local.

It also appeared in the April 7, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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