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Five Norwegian social norms that make complete sense

Whether you've lived in Norway for some time or just decided to move to the country, it's always a good idea to (re)familiarise yourself with the widely accepted social norms- especially the ones that just make sense.

Norwegian flag house
Norway has more than a few social norms that might strike foreigners as weird. We take a closer look at those that make complete sense. Photo by op23 / Unsplash

As is the case with every other country, Norway has a particular set of social norms that most Norwegians are very familiar with.

Getting a better understanding of these norms and shared values can help international citizens moving to or living in the country make a smoother transition into Norway’s social life.

In this article, we cover some of the prevailing norms – such as making the most out of Norway’s fantastic nature and looking for solutions that benefit the collective – that make complete sense.

Spending time outdoors – regardless of the weather

Norway is well-known for its unique landscapes and untamed nature.

From its deep fjords to its glorious mountains, the country offers its inhabitants innumerable – and accessible – opportunities for hikes, long walks, camping, and enjoying the wilderness.

As the weather in Norway can be pretty fickle, most Norwegians tend to opt for a proactive approach to enjoying nature – they stock up on warm, water-resistant clothing (woollen clothes are a must!) and head into nature at every chance they get (even on rainy and windy days).

In western Norway, especially Bergen, there are two common sayings perfectly reflecting this attitude: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” and “If you wait for nice weather, you’ll stay inside all the time.”

Weekends, in particular, are reserved for trips with friends and family to the mountains, forests, or parks – whether it’s camping, picking berries and mushrooms, barbequing or swimming, muster the courage to leave your comfort zone and the cosiness of your home, and join Norwegians in the simple pleasure of roaming the outdoors.

Obeying the rules – even if no one’s watching

Norwegians tend to share a particular type of patriotism that entails following the rules (both formal and informal) based on the shared understanding that adhering to common rules contributes to the functioning of society.

Crossing the street at a red light when there are no cars to be seen? Nope. Not paying in unsupervised venues that enable consumers to freely pick up a hot dog or coffee and pay via card? Not an option.

Norwegians believe that the system is there to protect and serve them, so they generally don’t look for a way to exploit it to their benefit. You’ll commonly hear phrases like, “Why would I try to pay less in taxes? It’s like stealing from myself.”

The entire framework is built on trust – Norwegians have extremely high levels of trust when it comes to social institutions and the political system. As Norway routinely scores at the top of lists when it comes to the happiness of its inhabitants, democratic values, and other indicators of a well-functioning society, consider buying into Norwegians’ shared values even if you’re somewhat sceptical of the model.

It’s not naivety if it works.

Putting the collective before the individual

Norway is a small but very wealthy country, and it has set up a welfare state to make sure that its inhabitants are well-protected from ending up on the fringes of society.

It has numerous systems in place that promote the quality of life among the population based on a widespread social norm of equality.

Individualism is often frowned upon, and the well-being and functioning of society as a whole are given paramount importance.

Hierarchies – especially in the workplace – tend to be more flat compared to other countries. The emphasis is on developing team players, and there is a shared belief that society and the economy can only prosper based on collective action.

So, put your altruistic foot forward, and you might just find that there are countries (and political systems) that take care of their people.

The ideals of self-sufficiency and not imposing

Norwegians place a high value on self-sufficiency and not imposing on others. This norm extends so far that it might come across as “coldness,” as Norwegians prize not disturbing other people highly – especially in public.

Minding your own business is the rule, so don’t expect a casual conversation with strangers on the bus. Foreigners are often amazed at the (pleasant) silence on public transport, the quiet and respectful way in which Norwegians queue up without people cutting the line, or the absence of car-honking in traffic.

All of these phenomena stem from the ingrained respect for others – and concern that one’s behaviour might cause discomfort to others.

Alcohol at parties

Norway has a habit of making anything it considers a vice expensive and, at times, hard to get. Nothing illustrates this approach better than alcohol.

Alcohol is costly in the country, and its sale is highly regulated. If you want to get anything stronger than a light beer, you’ll need to visit Vinmonopolet, the state-run chain of alcohol stores (in Norway, the state has a monopoly on selling drinks above the 4.75% alcohol threshold).

With that in mind, it is no surprise that the social rules surrounding alcohol at parties and get-togethers are somewhat different from what you might be used to.

First of all, people are expected to bring their own drinks to parties. Not only that, Norwegians will often take the leftover alcohol they brought home with them after the evening’s over.

In a country where a small beer in a bar will easily cost you 120 kroner, it makes sense to avoid your hosts going bankrupt trying to secure alcohol for all the guests.

Bring your own drink of choice, don’t impose on the host, and you’ll be off to a great (Norwegian) start to the party!

Pssst! Norwegians shy away from drinking on weekdays. However, they have quite a reputation for becoming party animals on the weekends – don’t be surprised to see office colleagues engage in some hard-core drinking at company events!

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EXPLAINED: Norway’s fascination with trolls 

If you've spent any time in Norway, you will have noticed that Norwegians are fond of trolls, whether it's the folklore surrounding them, naming things after the creatures or the ornaments in their homes. 

EXPLAINED: Norway's fascination with trolls 

Trollfjorden, Trolltunga, Trollveggen, Trollstigen, Trollvann and Jotunheimen National Park are among the things in Norway named after or with a heavy connection to trolls. 

If the on-the-nose naming of landmarks and beauty spots after trolls weren’t enough to go on, just peer into a souvenir shop (or many Norwegian homes), and you’d see plenty of small ornaments. 

Aside from Vikings, trolls are used more than anything else to symbolise Norway. Trolls’ origins are like, most Norwegian folklore, steeped in Norse mythology. The earliest written record of trolls appears in the book Prose Edda from the 13th century. 

Trolls, in Norwegian folklore, are said to be evil, mythical creatures that live in isolated areas such as mountains and forests, as well as caves. Mythology has them as both living solitary lives or in small families. 

Typically, trolls are depicted as large, ugly giants with big noses and bulging eyes. However, their depiction has been quite varied across Norwegian folklore. For example, in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore, they have been depicted with more than one head, some as giants, others as dwarfs more akin to the ornaments you’ll find in souvenir shops. 

They are also shown to have different behaviours and characteristics depending on the type of troll they are. For example, mountain and forest trolls are generally considered large and brutish creatures, using trees as clubs and causing extreme weather events such as avalanches, landslides and hurricanes. 

Then there are the more diminutive cave trolls, smaller than humans and depicted as rotund with stubby arms. These trolls use their mythical connections with nature to deceive humans. Trolls belonging to the sea, fjords, rivers and lakes are also depicted. 

Typically, trolls have feared sunlight and lighting (as Thor in Norse mythology would hunt them) and can normally be dispatched by humans using their quick wits and intuition to either strike deals, solve riddles or trick the troll into causing itself harm. 

Folklore explains many of the country’s most spectacular rock formations as trolls turned to stone when exposed to direct sunlight. 

As Christianity was introduced to Norway, religiosity became more intertwined with folklore. Much like how Santa Lucia was used to intertwine original mythology with Christianity, the church put tales of trolls to use. 

For example, the Trogre type of trolls, which looked like ogres in size and appearance (called Jotun, which forms the basis for the name of the Jotunheimen National Park), were considered evil, un-Christian creatures were warded off with the sound of church bells. These trolls were also said to destroy churches and attack priests. 

The other type of troll, Troblin, is much smaller in stature and more mischievous than outright evil. These creatures instead like to stir up trouble on Christmas, a Christian holiday. 

Trolls in popular culture

Many stories of trolls were passed down verbally until Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, and Jørgen Moe decided to collect folktales from Norway’s countryside and publish them. 

In many of the duo’s most famous tales, trolls play a pivotal role. Many of the stories are still enjoyed by young Norwegian children today. 

The creatures were also a subject of fascination for Theodor Kittelsen, whose most famous and eerie mountains centre around trolls. One of his most famous works, The Monster of The Lake, is on display in the national museum and depicts a lake troll. 

Norway’s most famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen, also wrote about trolls. His work Peer Gynt includes the appearance of the troll king of Dovregubben. 

The Norwegian fantasy film The Trollhunter also centres around trolls, using both characteristics displayed in myths and legends and basing their appearance on the work of Kittelsen. The film was acclaimed both in Norway and internationally. 

In 2022, trolls of the Norwegian variety would be cast back into the spotlight with the release of the Netflix creature feature Troll. The film centres around a girl and her father exploring the mountains and who enjoys reminiscing about fairy tales. As a grown woman, the girl finds that trolls are indeed real, and she needs to reconnect with her father to get to the bottom of the mystery. 

The film actually includes a nod to the mixing of the theological and mythological depictions of trolls as it includes a scene where the beast can sense somebody praying.