I spent a bit over four years living in the wonderful country of Norway. One of the most difficult adjustments to living in Norway was getting used to Norwegian people – their habits, beliefs, and everyday lifestyle. This post details everything I learned about Norwegian women and men from my years living there. This was originally published in 2011; last update April 2019.
26 Things I Learned About Norwegian People After Living in Norway
After moving from Norway to other countries in Europe and Asia, I realized that Norwegians are actually some of the coolest people and most relatable people on the planet. Below I dish on what I learned about Norwegian people from my four years of living in Norway.
Some good, some bad, and some just random observations that stuck with me throughout the years. Please feel free to chime in and add a comment from what you think about or have learned about Norwegian women and men too!
Norwegian People are (Mostly) Tolerant
The average Norwegian is pretty tolerant. Granted, the tolerance levels vary depending on where in the country you are, but for the most part, I found Norwegians to be accepting and tolerant of other people and their lifestyle choices.
You have exceptions everywhere, naturally, but if you lead a lifestyle that might not fit in in other countries, there is a good chance that you’ll find a higher level of acceptance in Norway.
Same-sex marriage laws were passed in 2009 and there is not a group of ignorant people trying to merge state and religion together by protesting a law that in no way affects them like in some other countries around the globe (ie: my own).
Religion in Norway
Speaking of religion… Norwegians are not religious. While most people belong to the Lutheran Church of Norway, it by no means indicates that they go to church or even believe in a higher power.
It is estimated that only 3% of Norwegians go to church on a weekly basis. Interestingly enough, religion just isn’t an issue in Norway. No one really talks about it or judges you for your beliefs or lack thereof. I really liked that.
Norwegians are Conformed
One thing that completely blew my mind when I first arrived in Norway was how conformed Norwegian people were. I arrived at a time where everyone wore EXACTLY THE SAME THING. The Norwegian women even wore their hair the same way.
I will never forget the ubiquitous sight of Converse sneakers or the atrocity that is a Canada Goose jacket donning just about every person in Norway. Conformity still rules in Norway, but much less than when I first arrived in the country.
Norwegians (Probably) Speak English Better Than I Do
I am not sure if this is a compliment to them or an insult to me… but dang… their English skills are stellar. Norway, along with the other Scandinavian countries, ranks as the top English speaking countries in the world that are not native-English speaking places.
There is a very light accent that comes out with most Scandinavians but it is never hard to decipher. But, you will likely meet those people who speak so freakishly good that they will sound completely American to you.
Norway does not dub films or television for people over like the age of six or seven. Children’s shows are dubbed, but Norwegian adults always watch shows in their original language. And their English skills are much, much better because of that.
While Norwegians speak exceptional English, it is still wise to learn a bit of their language if you’re looking to move or travel there. They will likely switch over to English once realizing you’re not fluent in Norwegian, but they will definitely appreciate the effort.
Don’t be offended when they switch to English… they genuinely love speaking it and are happy to converse with you if they make that switch.
The People of Norway Don’t Complain
Trust me, they will tell you that they do. But after living in the United States and later moving to the complainer capital of the world, Germany, I can officially confirm that Norwegians just don’t really complain. I worked in a cafe for a while and getting a complaint was a rare event. Maybe I just made awesome coffee but I don’t think that was the case. I think the people just complain when it is absolutely vital and keep their mouths shut when it is not.
I walk down the street in Germany and I have multiple people yelling at me telling me I won’t pick up my dog’s poop if he goes despite having a bag in my hand. Anything to make someone’s day a little more stressful and worse. I long for that Norwegian mentality again.
Norwegian Humor is Dry and Infectious
It took me a while to get it. In fact, for years I thought Norwegians were dull and just couldn’t crack a joke. I later realized that their jokes were far above my dumbed down, slapstick usuals that I was hearing and were actually pretty dang funny. Norwegian people aren’t PC (politically correct) and have no problem poking fun at themselves and their lifestyle or traditions. Just don’t tell them the Swedes are better. Ever.
Making Friends in Norway is Hard
Okay, so it wasn’t hard for me. I had a blog and I’m really outgoing, so I was already at an advantage over others. But many people tell me it is a very difficult thing for them to make Norwegian friends after moving to Norway. I find that Norwegians don’t really make small talk unless provoked and they often don’t move too far from where they grew up.
Because they stick to the same area, even though they will state they moved ‘far away’ with that distance of 45 miles in between their new home and their parents’ home, they keep the same friends a lot of times. I am not really friends with people I grew up with. Almost every Norwegian I met had some of the same friends since they were in grade school. When you’re around the same people for so long, I imagine it is difficult to bring someone new into your group with ease.
On the other hand… Norwegians WILL talk to you… when drunk. You’d be surprised at how many friendships came out of nights at the bar for me. New friends and empty wallets.
Drinking in Norway
Norwegians like to drink. But, alcohol in Norway is expensive, adding to its appeal. Norwegian men and women may not go out for a chilled out Happy Hour on a Tuesday night like Americans, but they will go out… and then some… on a Saturday night. I have never seen the levels of intoxication on the streets that I witnessed living in Norway. I remember walking to work one Sunday morning and counting seven piles of vomit on one block alone.
Spoiler alert: I take back the ‘I have never seen the levels of intoxication on the streets that I witnessed in Norway’. I have since been to Blackpool, England. No words.
Norwegians are Altruistic
Becoming friends with a Norwegian is no easy feat for a lot of folks. However, once you have a Norwegian friend, you have one of the most loyal and sincere people in your life. This is obviously a generalization, but I have found it is pretty accurate. I have also found Norwegians to be very inclusive to foreigners or expats on their holidays. They love celebrating with new people and including you as a genuine part of their special days (Christmas, 17.mai, birthday celebrations, etc).
Norwegians Don’t All have Blonde Hair
In fact, Norway is more diverse than many people realize until they arrive there. Oslo, especially, is rather diverse in its inhabitants and you can find people from all ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds calling the city home. I had friends from Somalia, Kenya, Colombia, Argentina, the US, China, and beyond. Obviously, it is less diverse in smaller towns and villages, but isn’t that the case everywhere?
Norwegians are Musical Geniuses
I don’t know what is in the water up there (besides being really freaking good), but Norway seems to breed some insanely talented artists. They may not all gain recognition on the bigger stage like artists from other places, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the talent.
Some of my favorite, underrated musicians from Norway are Anna of the North, Maya Vik, and an oldie but goodie- Royksopp.
Norwegians Buy Homes/Flats When Young
Many Norwegians really believe that renting a place is bad and you should purchase one as it is a better investment. While I totally get this logic, I still can’t wrap my head around how young many of them do this. I can’t even commit to what I’m going to eat for lunch and there are 22-year-old Norwegians buying flats. Where did I go wrong?
I guess that the value you place on a home or owning a home may just vary with what I find prevalent in the US. In the US, buying a home or flat is something that you do because it is the next step. Many Norwegians I know genuinely want their own place and will actively save up for the deposit at really young ages. And when they build or buy a place, they invest a lot into turning it into what they want.
Bathrooms are Superior
I don’t know what it is, but Norwegian bathrooms are just better than everywhere else in the world. Norwegian people spend so much time, money, and energy into building the perfect (almost always white) bathroom. With heated floors and beautiful, minimalistic tiles on the walls, the bathroom is often the most stunning room in a Norwegian home. It still fascinates me (in a good way). I think most Norwegians would cry if they saw my bathroom in Germany.
Learn to Ski
Norwegians often joke that they are born with skis on their feet. Well, this is probably true. Maybe it’s a birth defect. Or maybe it is an evil plot against the rest of the world every four years when the Winter Olympics take place. They are good at most forms of skiing, but especially cross-country skiing.
I have noticed Americans play sports because we are competitive and just like winning. Many Norwegian people love skiing for the sport, but most do it for fun. Not so that they can be number one or anything like that… they just genuinely like rocking around the trails on a pair of skis with little obligation.
I lived in Norway for four years and never put a pair of skis on. Not that I didn’t want to… but the competitive American in me didn’t want to suck at something when everyone else around me was good at it. I think that sentence speaks wonders when it comes to cultural differences.
Nature Therapy is a Real Thing
…and Norwegians love it. And I love Norwegians for their desire to keep their nature clean and pure. Norway was blessed with some of the most beautiful nature on the planet and Norwegians know this and take advantage of it on a regular basis. I have lived in Kazakhstan and I found it astonishing how few Kazakhs took advantage of the easy to access nature in and around Almaty.
Norwegians are the complete opposite. You can always find them hiking, active, and playing around in the forests. It was one of my favorite things about living there. The Norwegian lifestyle can be a bit too relaxed for me at times… but then I realized I lived on the most picturesque place on the planet and I was bored no more.
Norwegians are Blog-Obsessed
This is a phenomenon that I never understood. I always thought Americans were bad with being obsessed with the daily lives of others and then I moved to Norway. Things have changed a bit, but Norwegians are still obsessed with bloggers and getting the nitty gritty into the everyday lives of other Norwegians.
Lifestyle bloggers in many countries will post when they have something to say. Not Norwegian bloggers. They will post multiple times a day and you will know what their entire home looks like and when their dog last pooped.
I used to read a lot of these blogs because it helped me learn Norwegian quickly and I literally could tell you everything about the popular bloggers from their birthday to what they had for breakfast that morning. And this was all before Instagram came about.
Norwegians Travel… Just Not in Norway
Most of my Norwegian friends will tell me I am more traveled in their homeland than they are. Granted, I did a lot of my Norway travel actually AFTER I left Norway, but it was true. The reason most Norwegians shun traveling their own country? Well, it doesn’t exactly offer sunshine in the winter and it is cold.
Not to mention that Norway is super expensive. If the south of Spain was available over Molde, Norway for a winter trip, where would you pick? With that being said, you will run into Norwegians all over the world if you travel. They will usually be the gorgeous ones… taking advantage of cheap alcohol.
They are Pretty Good with Money
Taking myself and my inability to budget or save for things out of the equation, Norwegians are masterminds at saving. If they want something, they will save up for it and buy it. It could be a house or even just a new pair of shoes. It is really impressive.
I definitely don’t see many people just nonchalantly throwing things on the credit card to the same level Americans do. But then again, banking in Norway is brilliant and easy. Maybe I’d be encouraged to save and be better with money, too. Just kidding. I banked with two big banks in Norway for my entire time living there and I’m still crap with money.
Norwegians Have Basic Skills that Americans Lack
When I first moved to Norway, my jaw dropped when I found out school didn’t start as young as it did in the US. How dare children have the opportunity to be children?!
But seriously, I didn’t understand what Norwegian children did until age seven or whenever school started. I quickly learned that Barnehage (day-care or preschool) was a bit different than in the US. Norwegians learned social skills and basic skills that we just don’t learn in the US. Norwegians can tell you which berries are poisonous.
Norwegians can tell you how to put clean water into a water jug from a stream (don’t laugh… this was actually a challenge for me). They just understood regular things and had the basic skills that I severely lacked. Hell, I didn’t even know how to boil an egg until adulthood.
Norwegians Cook at Home A lot
My first experience eating out in Norway was Peppe’s Pizza. As tragic as its taste was, I wasn’t stopped in my tracks at that. I was at a standstill when I received my bill for my $40 pizza. Yep.
The currency when I moved to Norway was at the most expensive in history. It has since changed and that same pizza may only run you $25, but that is still a lot for a pizza you should be paid to eat based on taste.
Because eating out is expensive in Norway, Norwegians cook at home. It seems like such a simple thing, but it was a massive adjustment for me when I moved to Norway. I was used to the mindset that it was cheaper to eat out as a single person in the US than it was to cook. But, not in Norway.
I found a new love for cooking in Norway and it was refreshing. It also allowed me to be creative as I hunted for affordable food at the store and found ways to incorporate my favorite foods with local produce and ingredients. I still love cooking and I have Norway to thank.
Norwegian People Love the Sun
I guess this stands for most people around the world. But, Norwegians take it to another level. You haven’t seen the potential of a park or one-time grill (so bad for the environment, Norwegians) until you have seen Bergen on that rare, sunny day.
Norwegians flock to parks when the sun is out. And when the sun isn’t out? They flock to ‘syden’… or the ‘south’. Chartered, packaged trips to Spain, Greece, and Turkey are common and most Norwegians have taken one of these aforementioned trips.
Norway is a Family-Oriented Society
Every day I worked at the cafe in Norway, I cursed children. The food-throwing, screaming monsters made my days long and hellish on many occasions. ‘Why did mothers come here with their kids?’ I often asked myself.
‘Oh right, because mothers actually get time off to take care of their children in this country’. Norwegians are conditioned to put families and children first. And it doesn’t just stand with the person’s direct family… they think this way about others, too.
While children frustrated me to a new level at the cafe, not a single Norwegian seemed to be bothered by it. The society realizes that children are children and they are the future of the place. Mothers AND fathers both get a lot of time off to attend to their children, particularly after childbirth, and they even receive a stipend from the government (that they have paid into) to help them get set up for their new family member when pregnant.
The way society views the importance of families and children is remarkable. On the other hand, I don’t think the same care and concern is given to the elders in society.
Work-Life Balance in Norway is Superb
After living in both the US and Germany, I can say that Norway really gets it right when it comes to work-life balance. Your kid is sick? Stay at home with them. Need a mental health day? Take the day off and recuperate. Need to make an appointment with the bank and the hours are unsuitable to your work hours? Take a break from work and head to the bank. ‘Norwegians work to live and Americans live to work’. Never has a phrase had so much truth.
Are Norwegians Really Happy?
Norway has a high suicide rate, particularly in winter. So, are Norwegians happy? Are they not happy? To be honest, I always found this ‘happiness index’ to be a bit sensationalized. I think it should be called ‘stress index’ before ‘happiness index’.
If a Norwegian loses his or her job, they can feel comfort in knowing that these things happen and they have paid into a great system that will help them out until they get back on their feet. They receive a fair amount of holidays annually and are encouraged to take them all… unlike us Americans who refuse to take them all (really, people?!?!)
I rarely met Norwegians who endured the same amount of stress that I had seen many of my American friends go through, including myself. So, I’m not going to go into too much detail about that… but my opinion is as mentioned.
Gender Equality is High
…but not perfect. However, Norway definitely is one of the better places to live in the world for gender equality. Men and women split roles in the home and women are often in high jobs in society- government, corporate, and anywhere else.
While I think gender equality in Norway is really good, it naturally still has strides to make. Norwegian people are vocal and opinionated when it comes to issues, so I know they are actively participating in the fight for equality.
Norwegian Fashion is Minimalistic, Yet Hip
True- Norwegians are conformed. But, the fashion in Norway is so cool, minimalistic, and not overly trendy. Locals, especially Norwegian women, look so effortlessly cool at all times and it was hard to not adopt some of that to your own style. I really grew to love Norwegian and Scandinavian designers when living in Norway and still wear their minimalistic pieces even today.
In conclusion, Norwegian people actually made my years in Norway pretty pleasant and enjoyable. Their personality traits are easy to understand (usually) and the people make the country a wonderful place to visit and live in.