Are Norwegians impolite?

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It was in the changing room that this thought started to intrude my mind. My youngest was having a gymnastic class with his fellow companions in the gym hall. It was freezing cold and windy, the snow was dancing in a rather disorganised way. I hid myself in the changing room, together with two other parents. Two fathers in their 40´s. We were all sitting on the long bench, with considerable distance between us. They were both reasonably dressed with scarves and boots. The noise from the hall broke the silence occasionally. None of us lifted our heads, all kinds of eye contact was to be avoided. Not a single word was exchanged, not a single smile was to be traced. I was occupied with my reading, a short story collection by Alice Munro. All their attention was paid to the phones. It´s awkward you might think. Is this the Norwegian version of politeness?

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An article titled “Norwegians impolite? Forget it” threw me into my thoughts. A few years ago, a letter from someone who had just settled in Norway was sent to the editor of a Norwegian newspaper, the descriptions of Norwegians as unsociable and unfriendly was  heavily debated in the social media.

Norwegians are criticised for not greeting or engaging in small talk with strangers, for not being personal and warm in social contexts, and for “the Norwegian arm”, a term used to describe Norwegians´ tendency to stretch across the person sitting next to them to reach what they want. Kristin Rygg, associate professor and researcher from Department of Professional and Intercultural Communication of Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) refutes these allegations. She points out that in the Norwegian version of politeness, it´s more important to not bother people. For many Norwegians, it´s polite to leave people alone, and they don’t engage in small talk unnecessarily. Respecting other people´s space is high on the list of being polite.

So if you encounter Norwegians who appear to be reserved, they might just be faithful to their form of politeness. If you take the first step to get to know them, the chance is good that you would be met with friendiness, helpfulness and warmth.

Want to read more about the article? Click http://sciencenordic.com/norwegians-impolite-forget-it

Thank you for reading and take care.

With love ❤️

Isabelle

(All pictures were taken in November this year, in Oslo, Norway)

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Author: Isabelle

Content writer / editor & Language advisor

39 thoughts on “Are Norwegians impolite?”

  1. Thats exactly how we Norwegians are. We don’t do so much of the small talk… ofc I often do it , even though I’m shy😂 but it’s not harder to get friends here then any other countries. But my experience is that Norwegian who lives in other places, like Malta where I live now, seems to keep to each other. It’s like they loose the Norwegian politeness as soon as they cross the borders. I don’t say they are all like that, but I see more and more of it. If you don’t party heavy or do what they wanna do, you’re being left out. But I agree…our politeness here is to give others privacy;)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Good to hear your reflections on this topic Tina. Thank you! I also notice that I behave a little differently when I’m in another country, let’s say in the Canadian Isles. But just s little bit, I’m so in to the Norwegian form of politeness that I avoide bothering people unnecessarily.
      I have a feeling that in Norway, we avoid having eye contact with people we don’t know, and we’re sort of reluctant to smile to strangers, like people we encounter on the bus. People rarely small talk with other passengers they don’t know. Just my impression 😊 Hope you’ll have a nice trip back to Malta!

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  2. I’ve encountered this in various cultures and agree with Your thoughts. Some people just keep to themselves out of respect, but once engaged are very warm and friendly. I particularly mistook the serious faces I encountered in India, until my son, who’s lived there for years, explained that they just don’t do the social smiling thing, but are actually very friendly if spoken to. And my gosh, he was so right!!! Very kind warm people, but it took me a couple of weeks in India to have to courage to engage. It’s very interesting the way we all move through the world. I like what Your post brings up. Cool beans! Cheers and Thank You! 🙂

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    1. I fully agree with you that the interpretation of politeness and how it’s practised in the society is very much culture-determined. Very interesting to know that India resembles Norway in this respect.
      I did a subject called Cross-cultural communications as part of my BA programme many years ago, and we discussed cultural differences/communicational barriers between the West and the East in particular. Surprisingly, we’ve learnt that there’re even vital distinctions between cultural norms in southern and Northern Europe. It surely contributes to make the world more interesting. Heterogeneity is more appealing than homogeneity, I think.

      Thank you for taking time to let me know your reflections on this topic. Very much appreciated! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for teaching me the word heterogeneity! 😊 I agree!!! “Variety is the spice of life” and all that. And it’s absolutely my pleasure. Thank You for taking the time to put out such nice posts. Have a great one!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post! Many years ago, I interned at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC. I shared an office with a Norwegian. She was a great person. But we did have a few discussions about the difference between the USA and Norway regarding certain social norms. In the end, we grew and learned from one another. Beautiful photos!

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    1. Thanks for the comment and the compliment on the photos Kevin! There’re cultural differences when it comes to the interpretation of politeness. It’s important to respect the social norms in the country we live, either as a tourist or a citizen.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, so true! I make fun of small talk all the time. I’ll do the small talk because if you don’t – people will think you’re a jerk. Lol But, I generally try to have meaningful conversations with people as opposed to boring, formulaic ones. Have a great day! 😎😊

        Liked by 1 person

  4. In France or in Spain we say “good morning, afternoon, or evening and that’s it. that’s to be polite. But to engage a conversation or not has nothing to do with.

    In Spain, we can engage a conversation with other people but it depends on the circumstances. In general, we don’t do it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you for the comment Antonio! Good to hear your reflections on it. Engaging in conversations has little to do with politeness. A good point. Greeting is more a politeness thing. In Norway we normally don’t greet people we don’t know. I guess it’s the same in Spain and France.

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      1. No, In France or in Spain, we always say good morning, afternoon, or evening, wherever we arrive if there are people. Only in the queues, we say nothing but ask for the last one.

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  5. I forgot that your comments appear on a Hotmail account. I have an outlook account and thought that they were bringing the emails from an account to another. Alas! they don’t. It explains why I am waiting for certain emails and they never come. In fact they were waiting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good point! (The Norwegian arm made me laugh!) I wonder if this is the case with Finns, too… but something tells me no. Being silent here is just a habit, the norm. It’s not polite and it’s not rude, just neutral. This is of course only my opinion 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You put it perfectly, and the same her I think. Being silent and keep distance is fine, just normal. People value privacy and personal space more than small talk in general. Thank you for letting me know your reflections on it. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have not encountered the Norwegian arm when I have been in Norway – must be because the Norwegians I met were h/armless! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun, but the ‘arm’ – I have missed that about Norwegian culture. I suppose it does differ from English folk who always are overly polite. In Australia, it is a mix of polite and forwardness. Some might stretch across to get food, others will smile on the street at a stranger and say good morning. It does vary from place to place. Most Norwegians have been happy to make small talk with me, except an elderly lady in the mountains near Voss, and I think that was due to the language barrier. She actually walked away from me when I began our conversation at the bus stop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing with me your thoughts and reflections on Norwegians’ politeness. I too think it might be the language barrier. Not all elderly people have a good grasp of English and they might be reluctant to have a conversation in a language that they aren’t comfortable with. And I agree with you, Norwegians are mostly nice and friendly people. It was interesting to hear the diverse traits among Australians, I think it’s the way it is. Humans cannot be generalised or categorised. We’re individuals and we’re all unique. Again, thanks for the chat!

      Like

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