Traditions & Customs

Traditions & Customs

Norwegians are generally open-minded and tolerant and there are few, if any, dos and don'ts that foreign visitors need to keep in mind. If anything, it is important to keep in mind that Norway is perhaps the most egalitarian country in the world. Behaving in a way that suggest either party is inferior or superior is considered exceptionally rude, and the flaunting of wealth or rank (if any) is frowned upon. Most Norwegians will handle misunderstandings or possibly offensive comments in a friendly manner and almost all will respond well to compliments paid to the country in general.

Many Norwegian people can however be mistaken as somewhat rude and unwelcoming, because they can be very direct and that small talk generally doesn't come easy. This is just a matter of culture; making contact with strangers, such as talking with fellow passengers on the bus, is uncommon. This does not apply to train journeys, or outside the bigger cities where small talk will be made upon the base of curiosity. During hikes in remote wilderness, talking to strangers on the same trail is customary.

Furthermore, Norwegian as a language is very straightforward. The once common use of the polite pronoun is nowadays extremely rare, and so are polite phrases and words in everyday situations, so don't be offended if a Norwegian speaking a foreign language uses a very familiar language. The use of informal language also applies when shopping, checking in at hotels and similar, but do not expect small talk in those situations either. Norwegian does not have something corresponding directly to please (German bitte), some may say unnskyld (excuse me) to call your attention. On the other hand, expressing thanks is important in Norway, this occurs in many situations. For instance after being served food in a private home it is customary to say thanks for the meal (takk for maten), at more formal occasions the "thanks" is often accompanied by a handshake. For instance after a eating or travelling together some Norwegians says thanks for good company. Many Norwegians also express a thanks for last time we met for instance a few days after meeting a party.

The Norwegian culture in general is very informal and Norwegians usually address each other's by first name only, except perhaps in official meetings. The informal culture is not equivalent of that in southern parts of Europe; showing up late for meetings is considered rude, so is talking loud, being too personal with strangers and losing your temper. It is customary to take off your shoes when entering a Norwegian home, in winter this is often a necessity.

Norwegians' reputation for being cold and unwelcoming may be a result of a surprisingly complex unwritten code of conduct with many apparent contradictions. For example; while as noted before it is very uncommon to make contact with strangers at public transportation like buses, the opposite is true when you meet Norwegians in outdoor activities like hiking or skiing: Greeting a fellow hiker or skier is expected, not doing so is often considered quite rude. Another phenomena that often confuse foreigners is the role of alcohol in social interactions. It is best explained as the grease that enables Norwegians to meet and make contact without too much friction, again with exceptions. Fortunately, tourists are exempted from most or all social norms, and Norwegians are in general quite aware, and humorous, about the contradictions in their social norms.

It is increasingly popular among visitors to build stone cairns in wildnerness, along rocky beaches and on mountain passes. Stone cairns are used to mark trails and can in fact be misleading to hikers. Visitors building cairns often pick stones from stone fences, some are actually cultural heritage, some are in use for reindeer, sheep or cows. It is in fact illegal to alter nature like this, even if only with a simple boulder.


Norwegians can also be perceived as somewhat nationalistic. It is common to use the flag in private celebrations (such as anniversaries and weddings), and many will also fly the flag on public holidays. Most Norwegians will speak warmly of their country, in particular about subjects such as nature and the country's economic success. May 17, the constitution day, can perhaps be a bit overwhelming for foreigners, as the country is covered in flags, citizens dress up in their finest clothes and celebrate all day long. Norwegian nationalism is however generally an expression of appreciation of living in a successful community, not aggressive in any way. On constitution day, dress up and try to say gratulerer med dagen (literally "congratulations on the day") to anyone you meet, and you will probably get the same in response and see a lot of smiles, even if you're not Norwegian at all. Norwegians take pride in the fact that the parades on constitution day are made up of school children and families instead of military troops. It should also be noted that May 17 is a celebration of the 1814 constitution that established Norway as a liberal democracy, the constitution is still in effect.

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Norway - Travel guide