Norwegian social norms and where to find them

The book’s humor exaggerates, but it also does a good job literally illustrating some of the quirks of Norwegian culture.

Cole W. Chernushin
Arvada, Colo.

Over the course of the half-decade that I have spent in love with my native-Norwegian partner, not a day goes by when we don’t have to acknowledge a cultural difference either over the dinner table, over a contextual misunderstanding, or silently in our minds. Though this certainly gets old on the occasion, I find that it keeps me in constant check of basic assumptions I unwittingly make in the most seemingly mundane circumstances.

Perhaps the most telling difference occurs when we have extended conversations wherein the basic premise that one of us is building upon can be turned on its head by the misinterpretation of a single phrase. Take for instance the time I told my partner that I had my fill of a social gathering and she insisted we stay as she thought I meant that I was drunk and therefore unable to drive us home (“full” is a slang term for drunk in Norwegian).

In a country where one can easily drive thousands of miles while speaking the same language, and abiding by—close to, anyway—the same written and unwritten laws, one can be lulled into the sense that the way we act as Americans is a universal norm. Perhaps this is part of the reason why you find yourself reading The Norwegian American: to seek out voices from a different culture. In order to understand the basic premise of other cultures, one must accept that other groups of people understand the world in different ways. This is the premise of The Social Guidebook to Norway.

The image above comes with the explanation: “This is when you know that a Norwegian bus is full and that you need to stand!”

In this quick-to-read “illustrated introduction,” the author, Julien S. Bourrelle, breaks down some of the most easily misconstrued social norms that exist in Norwegian culture but not American culture and vice-versa. Bourrelle’s writing includes simple etiquette, topics of conversation, and the differences between how people in each nation tend to make friends out of acquaintances. Whether you plan to spend a week in Norway, a life in Norway, or simply wish to understand some overt differences between our cultures, this book provides a stable and easy-to-traverse bridge.

Say, perhaps, you find yourself on a bus or train in Norway. Surrounded by Norwegians and slightly bored due to the fact that you do not care to pay for cell phone data outside the U.S., you decide to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. According to Bourrelle’s (and my own) experiences, this can make a lot of Norwegians uncomfortable unless you specifically mention that you are a foreigner looking to better understand Norwegian life and culture.

Making a concerted effort to understand other cultures, especially when one intends to interact with them, makes one not only a more well-rounded human being but also a far more considerate one. Such a process is best fulfilled by consulting a non-human source, as few people enjoy being interrogated about their culture or cultural identity. Trust me, as someone who has had to listen to their partner answer the same basic questions many times, these conversations can get old very quickly. With this in mind, I cannot more highly suggest you turn to the compiled information in The Social Guidebook to Norway.

I’ll just say it will help make you “full” in the best way possible.

Cole Chernushin works in education and coffee. His pastimes include listening to podcasts, writing lesson plans, and trying to pull the perfect shot of espresso.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.