It is my opinion that coming to a country empty of any preconceptions allow you to be wowed by its charm more so than having preconceived expectations of what somewhere should look like, or how things should function. That being said, I do think it is highly beneficial to understand some cultural norms about a place before diving straight in.

Norwegian flag
Welcome to Norway! Photo: Ghiac2001, Flickr.com

Below you will find a few answers to commonly thought about questions when entering a new country. Prepared with this knowledge, and being able to avoid these faux pas, go enjoy that big beautiful country!

1.   Tipping is not common

Like many European countries, service charge is almost always included in the bill. However it is the norm to round up your tab to the nearest 5 or 10 NOK. An extra 10% is regarded as generous, anything more is regarded as showy, or for truly exceptional service.

2.   Be prepared for uneven ground

With both your suitcase and foot wear (that means heels, ladies). You will find that many roads in Norway are either made of cobblestone, have gutters integrated into the paths, or are often coated in part, by sand or some other nature element. Imagine the state of your poor suitcase and or beloved footwear by the end of your journey.

Think about having a case you can pick up, a duffle bag, or a backpack.  Carrying your formal footwear in your luggage to be taken out once you are headed out from your destination is also a good idea.

3.   Marriage is not as big of a deal as you think

Bridal dress cake
Wedding dress cake. Both beautiful and delicious.

In Norway, and a few other surrounding countries, the emphasis on marriage carries much less of an importance and priority in people’s lives than elsewhere in the world. It is not uncommon in the least to live together or start a family without being legally married. Many couples don’t consider that legal paperwork validates their relationship any more so than not having them.

Also, since 1999, Norway allows same sex marriages, and there is no stigma in this union in the country.

4.   A lot is said in a handshake

Norwegians enjoy their open spaces and personal spaces. The common greeting in Norway is a handshake, not a kiss, unlike many other European countries. So get enthusiastic about those handshakes, and save the kisses for your loved ones.

5.   Drinking and driving in a BIG no no

The legal blood alcohol content for drinking and driving in Norway is .02. This means even ONE drink can put you over the legal limit here.

 

With unreliable weather and windy roads, it is very important to be alert behind the wheel while driving. The punishments can range from steep fines to prison time.

6.   Criticism is frowned upon

Keep your frowns and grips hidden underneath your smile.

Some things in Norway might be different than where you are from; the taxes a bit higher, the food a bit more controversial, the laws maybe a bit stricter on drinking and driving, but as a country Norway is a highly developed, peaceful, happy society, and have reasons for their laws and practices.

Yes, some things are different, but isn’t that the whole reason for traveling, to experience the different? Elsewise, everyone would stay at home, and I would never have gotten to try whale meat.

7.   It is not a haggling culture

Unlike the Middle East and Asia, Norway is not a country that readily partakes in this practice. Most everything in Norway has a set price shown and that is the price you should expect to pay.

 

8.   Norway is not the same thing as Scandinavia, it is its own separate country

This is one of those a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square type of thing. Norway is one of the 3 countries that make up Scandinavia, but has its own separate identity and culture apart from the other two countries.

National pride runs high in the country and, if asked, Norwegians will often gladly answer any questions you have, but do remember they are a distinct country. Imagine someone saying England and Ireland are the same place, or Australia and New Zealand. Just because it makes me smile, imagine someone confusing the States with Canada. This is how they would feel if Norway was mistaken for Denmark or Sweden.

Fjords picture
Beautiful Norway. Photo: Juergen Kurlvink, Flickr.com

9.   Be polite

This usually goes without saying, but is noted because Norwegians are a very polite people. Upon inviting you to their house, they will often set out a little arrangement of snacks and beverages to enjoy and have a conversation over.

Be timely, use utensils, don’t rush through your meal, and linger afterwards for some conversation. Norwegians enjoy entertaining guest and respect guest that fully participate in the whole process.

I once was meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time in Stavanger, just to say hi before we popped into town for dinner at his mates, in which we were already running late for. A quick meeting, in my American mindset, which I thought would last 10, maybe 20, minutes ended up adding an extra hour and a half to our tardiness for dinner. It just wasn’t possible to excuse ourselves from their company without feeling terribly rude.

10. Take off your shoes

Ok remember earlier when I said to wear appropriate shoes for walking around the city? I now am saying the appropriate footwear for inside a home is no footwear at all. This perhaps carries over from olden times when most work was conducted in nature or the sea, where shoes tended to get very dirty and thus it they were removed upon entering a household as to not make a mess.

Norwegians as a whole, work on a system of respect and community. One countryman helps another countryman in whatever fashion they can. Everyone is useful in their own talents and appreciated as such. This might be the reason they’re consistently ranked one of the happiest nations year after year.

What other customs am I missing out on? What experiences have you had with any of these? Let us know below!