- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Norway Guide (PDF)
There are specific areas of life where expats are likely to experience some culture shock in Norway. The cost of things, for instance: foreigners eventually get used to the prices, but often find they need to budget differently, and adopt the Norwegian tradition of driving to Sweden or taking a ferry to Germany or Denmark to purchase cheaper goods.
There is also a Norwegian social value called Janteloven, which can be difficult for expats to understand. It is similar to conformity and equality between all people. As a result, it is still considered inappropriate for people to flaunt wealth, achievements or their career status. This is slowly changing, as oil wealth and access to the world market is altering people’s views.
People in Norway
Norwegians are known for being reserved, honest, humble and straightforward people. They don’t like hierarchy in general, so an expat’s boss will be more likely to ask for their opinion than give them orders. Foreigners often find that Norwegians are difficult to get to know. They can be wary of strangers, but open up once they are familiar with someone. Once a person has been accepted and makes a Norwegian friend, they often find that they have a friend for life.
Expats may also discover that Norwegians are not outwardly social, and are unlikely to greet in shops, in the street or even in social settings until they know someone. Extroverted expats should use their skills to get to know people. Work is a good place to socialise and meet others, but new arrivals should not be surprised if they are the only ones wanting to socialise after work. Norwegians put a high priority on spending time with their families, and are likely to go home straight after work.
Office culture in Norway
Foreigners may find Norwegian working hours surprisingly lax and flexible, and very family- and sun-friendly. Norwegians work hard and are effective during work hours, and Norwegian companies expect employees to work between 8am and 4pm. On the rare warm and sunny days of the year, some companies close up shop at 3pm to allow their employees time to be with their families, play sports and be outdoors.
Employees with children can usually leave by 3.30pm or 4pm to pick them up from day care, without the need for an excuse or explanation. If one’s children are sick, it's also often possible to stay home for a few days to take care of them. These general rules apply to the public sector and most private sector companies, but not all of them. Also, certain jobs do not allow for this kind of work balance, such as consultants and senior management positions.
Language in Norway
Norway has two official languages: Norsk and Sami (spoken by the indigenous Sami of the north, and only recognised as an official language in certain areas of the country). English speakers have an advantage, since most Norwegians speak some English and anyone born after 1960 is probably quite proficient, if not fluent. English may be widely spoken in the cities, but it's less so in the rural areas and towns. Expatriates won’t necessarily need to learn Norwegian (unless they want to become a citizen), but it will certainly be useful in adapting to life in Norway.
Both Nynorsk and Bokmål are used in public administration, schools, churches, and on radio and television, and all Norwegians understand both languages. Strong local cultures are reflected in the language, and Norwegian is characterised by these numerous dialects.
Weather in Norway
One major challenge for those moving to Norway from warmer climates is coping with the cold weather and long, dark winters. About 10 percent of the population suffers from some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and most foreigners find the winter months tiring at best, and unbearable at worst. The best way to handle the winter season is to wear proper clothing, get a sunlamp at home and the office, take a mid-winter trip to a warmer climate, and practise winter sports such as skiing.
Food in Norway
Depending on a foreigner’s taste in food, they may find Norwegian cuisine takes some getting used to. Staple foods are fish and rice or potatoes. Lunch is usually eaten during a half-hour lunch break, and consists of cold spreads of fish, meat, eggs or vegetables on slices of bread, often accompanied by a glass of milk. There is more variety than this in most cafeterias and restaurants, but don’t be surprised to find colleagues eating these open-faced sandwiches every day.
Norwegian delicacies include pinnekjøtt (dried meat eaten at Christmas), lutefisk (dried whitefish prepared with lye), rakfisk (salted, fermented fish), risgrøt or riskrem (rice porridge), ribbe (fatty pork eaten around Christmas) and smalahove (sheep’s head).
Religion in Norway
Though Norway’s government is officially linked to the Church of Norway (a Lutheran church), the country is highly secular. Religion and personal faith are not common topics of discussion. There are many churches and a few temples and mosques, but there remains controversy over other religious faiths and practices, such as wearing the hijab.
Alcohol in Norway
Norwegians, especially teenagers, see alcohol as an integral part of social life – sometimes to an extreme. Expats shouldn’t be surprised if they come across vociferous and friendly alcoholics or drunken youths on public transport or in the streets after business hours and on weekends.