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An exchange student's insight into the Norwegian culture:

The Norwegians

Stereotypically, Norwegians are known for being very introvert compared to nationalities in the more southern European countries. Of course this does not include all of us, but this is still often the first impression foreigners get. But please do not dispair, just give us some time and our "cold" Norwegian hearts will eventually melt into hot chocolate. Additionally foreigners say that they often find us very helpful and kind, when you ask for assistance or when you are running for the bus the busdriver will often give you an extra minute. Also Norwegians are found to be very trustful - almost to the border of naive - when we leave all our valuables in plain open sight as we for example leave our desk at the University. Luckily experiements, where they left "fake" wallets (with money) in public spaces around in different cities, have found that almost all of them were returned to the owner by random finders. Sometimes you might be astonished by how causal we greet each other, on first name basis, even our boss or our professors. The explanation for this can in part be that Norway has always been a very egalitarian country withouth a strong aristocracy. At last there is a saying "you should not act as if you are better than anyone else (janteloven)", and this might explain why Norwegians seldomly brag or use exaggerations when talking about their achievements. In recent time it has become more accepted to brag more. But do not misunderstand, Norwegians like success, they just like their heroes to be successful but modest about it. Also we can get suspicious if you use to much exaggerations in your language, making us wonder if there is any truth/depht to it at all...

How to greet people

When being introduced Norwegians will greet each other with a hand shake.

Most people when they greet people they already know will just say "hello", but it is accepted to hug your friends and family when meeting them/leaving them. This often depends on your own comfort zone, and most people will accept your initative although they do not initiate it. For the most parts it is also girls that carry out this gesture, so if you get weird looks from your Norwegian mates, you might reconsider saving it for more special occasions.

Packed lunch

Most Norwegians will bring a packed lunch with them when they leave for work/school/trips/etc. As a student you can save a lot of money by doing this. A typical Norwegian packed lunch includes "smørbrød" or open sandwich: an example would be few slices of brown bread topped with brown cheese. It might also include a yoghurt and an apple or other fruit. 

Hiking as a sport

In Bergen you will notice as soon as a single sun-beam hits the city during a weekend, there will be a large number of people heading up into one of the 7 mountains. The most popular being the "Fløyen" area, since this is the one most accessible for all ages and shapes. You might also notice that most of them choose to run or at least walk very fast, especially if you find yourself close to the more challenging hikes. In addition, most people wear sport tights, colourful t-shirts/jackets and good, supportive sneakers. Even a pulse-watch might be spotted on their arm. Do not worry, you are not mixed up in the middle a marathon, it is just the way Norwegians do their hikes, or any sport for that matter—we like to be well-equipped. Especially in Bergen, with so many days of rain every year, a sunny day cannot be wasted and what better than to get some work out done as well. Then we can spend the next grey and cold day on the couch, drinking some delicious hot beverage.

Refleks (Reflector)

It was not until my own exchange year that I realized that wearing a "Refleks" is something "Norwegian". This is wore on your jacket during fall/winter in Norway, and the government has had a lot of campaigns to get people to wear these. The point of this object is to make you more visible for the cars, especially in areas where there are no sidewalks and where there are no streetlights. Sometimes you can see joggers, cyclists or dogs with a t-shirt looking type. Most people only put smaller ones on their jacket. I guess the reason why it is so well known in Norway is because of the darker winters and that there are a lot of areas where spotting pedestrians is really difficult.

Fire alarm/fire safety

Since most houses in Norway are wooden houses, it is required to have a fire alarm in your bed room. If you are renting an apartment, the landlord should provide for one and a fire exstinguisher. Fire exits should be easily accessible (window, fire stairs and so on). If you are living somewhere where this is not at an adequate level, you can actually complain to the fire department and they can give the owner of the house a ticket if it is not improved.

Preparty/Afterparty (bring your OWN drinks)

Preparties (often called vors or vorspiel) are quite common in Norway as it is cheaper for students to start the night with a few drinks at home before they go out. You bring your own alcohol to the preparty. At the preparty people chat, and if the chatting is getting boring it's normal to play drinking games. After a while, usually between 23:00 and 01:00, the preparty is over and the poeple move on to the clubs/bars.

The law on alcohol in Norway

In Norway you will probably find the rules regarding alcohol very strict - depending on where you are from. The prices are high, and there are certain restrictions to when/where you can buy alcohol in the store. You can buy alcohol up to 4,7 %, like beer and cider, in the grocery stores. If you are looking for wine, liqueur and hard liqueur you will have to go to Vinmonopolet (there are 2 in the city center of Bergen and usually one at all the big shopping mals outside of the center). On weekdays (monday - friday) the beer sale in the grocery stores closes at 20:00. Vinmonopolet closes at 18:00 in the weekdays. At saturdays the beer sale in the grocery stores closes at 18:00, and Vinmonopolet closes at 15:00. On sundays or at National Holidays it's not possible to buy any alcohol in the store.

It's also forbidden to drink in public places (this means on the street, at the Bybane, etc). You have to be 18 years old to drink beer and wine, and 20 years old to drink hard liquor (stronger than 22%). At the Vinmonopolet you are supposed to show your ID, unsolicited (without being asked) when you are younger than 25.

You are not allowed to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration over 0,2 %. Meaning that a glas of wine or a small beer will be put you over the limit.

So why do Norway have these strict rules? The idea is to reduce the damages due to alcohol, like abuse and violence. Research shows that restrictions work, but they're not popular among the people. Many people mean that the alcohol restrictions are causing the bad drinking culture in Norway. Instead of drinking a little bit every day (a glas of wine to the dinner and so on), we drink a lot in the weekends. Maybe we want to get as much out of the alcohol as possible when we first drink, because it is so expensive?

Norwegian Christmas traditions

In the Norwegian stores, christmas begins already in early november. However, most of the people begin preparing in the start of december. The children get a advent calender, which means they get a little present (normally candy) every day until the 24th. Many students continue getting this calender, sent per post by caring mothers.

Through november and december, almost every person in Norway attends a "julebord" (Christmas dinner). Mostly they're being arranged by your working place, or a organization you're being part of. The food is typical Norwegian christimas food, and the aim (can be unintentionally) of the evening is often to get as wasted as possible. Especially this happens when the drinks are being paid by the people who arrange it. NB: if you want to visit a restaurant in the christmas dinner season, make sure to make a reservation at least the day before, because almost every restaurant are filled up by these parties.

In most families over the country, you will find four candles on the kitchen table. Every sunday in december until the 24th, you light a candle. If preferable, it's also possible to sing a christmas song.

On the 13th of december, we celebrate Santa Lucia. However, this is usually a celebration for children. In the kindergarten and schools one girl (usually the blondest) gets to be Lucia herself. The rest have to be angels, and the boys are being dressed up with star hats (called moon men in Norwegian). The parents bake Lucia cakes, made of the same as buns - but with saffron.

On the 23th it's normal to decorate the Christmas three, and to watch "Dinner for one" (usually on NRK1 21:15). This is also a day where you will find stressed fathers and husbands running down the stores hoping to find a gift. They are also to be found on the 24th before the stores closes at 13:00. After 13:00 everything closes, and through the rest of the day the streets are pretty empty. People are gathering inside, and many are going to the churches (the only day of the year where the Norwegian churches are crowded).

On Christmas eve people dress up, eat traditional food like "ribbe" and "pinnekjøtt". Then the families gather around the christimas three, holding hands and walk around it while singing christmas songs. In the end, they open up the presents lying under the tree.

The rest of the christmas we sleep long, eat a lot, visit family, and go skiing.

17th of May

It's the National Day in Norway, where we celebrate our Constitution (written in 1814). This day is a big deal in Norway, and this is where you will see Norway at its most nationalistic. And yes there is a lot of nationalism in Norway, and we are not afraid to march in parades and hang out flags. Everywhere in the country there will be parades with a marching orchestra, that among other play the National Anthem "Ja vi elsker" ("yes we love"). On the TV there will be a TV show giving us glimts of the celebration around the country (all day looong). In Oslo, the capital, the royal family stands at their balcony while waving to the parades walking by the castle. Most of the parade consists of school children, the football team "Brann", student organizations, sport organizations, the veterans, "Russen", BUEKORPSENE (playing on drums - BIG DEAL in Bergen - BIG ANNOYANCE for some), the marine and so on. Ordinary people usually find a good spot in the center, to watch the parade.

For most people the day starts of with a "17th of may breakfast", and some choose to have a glass of champaign. Anyhow, this is a breakfast where one has all kinds of good food, fruits, cakes (and of course smoked salmon). The University holds a breakfast every year, so if you like you can sign up there. Since exams are usually just around the corner, most students stay in Bergen and arrange a breakfast with their friends, rather than going home to spend the day with family. The schools (children) often arrange gatherings after the parades, joined by the pupils and their families, where there are food and games throughout the day.

Important to note:

  • On 17th of May there are no limits to how many icecreams you are allowed to eat
  • "Rømmegrøt" with cured meat is the traditional dinner dish.
  • Clothing: the so-called "Bunad" is the traditional costume of Norway, and the different types represent different areas in Norway. Most women wear these if they have one on the 17th of May. It is more unusual for men to have the costume, but some do - and it looks smashing! 
  • If you want a table in a restaurant this day, book ahead! 
  • Russ: When Norwegians are in their last year of Highschool (or as called in Norway Videregående, 3 years), they become "Russ" from the 1st of May until the 17th of May. The most easy way to spot them, are their red/blue overalls or driving by in their colourful vans. During this time they carry out some dares and lets face it, they party a lot. The dares often involves alcohol, but some are more innocent, like crawling across "Torgallmenningen". In Oslo, at least in some of the more wealthier areas, the celebration is stepped up a gear - with enourmous busses and gigantic stereo systems. There are big gatherings, like the one in "kongeparken" in Stavanger, where Russ from all over the country come together. The 16th of May is the big party day, where the Russ do their major and final celebration.