Challenges to Life in Norway (Part II)

By Sandra Larriva

Norway ranks as one of the best countries in the world in which to live: most people are honest and kind, city life is safe and relatively quiet, education and health care are free. If you are a new arrival, though, the integration process can be arduous and it may be awhile before you can fully enjoy Norway in all its glory.

One of the main challenges to life in this first-world nation, in my opinion, is the lack of diversity in some arenas, something I went into in my previous post. Here, I will mention a few more unexpected challenges to be aware of.

1) Understanding Trust

“The whole country runs on trust,” says Sean Percival, author of the book “The Loud American: Working With Norwegians. “Government officials are trusted, tax records are public.” (All tax records, that is: yours, your boss’ and even the prime minister’s. Imagine having access to Donald Trump’s tax returns without having to go through the Supreme Court!) Norway’s trust-based system is laudable and something every nation should aspire to. Not knowing the rules of the game, though, could get you in trouble. It’s helpful to understand how agreements are made, when to expect an invoice in the mail, etc.

“Norwegians are notoriously allergic to overly verbose contracts and extensive legal agreements,” says Percival. “Digital signatures are widely accepted. I have received contracts that don’t even require a signature,” he adds.

Moreover, some contracts don’t even require a contract! In other words, verbal agreements can be legally binding.

Let me give you a few other examples of how this system can be confusing:

a) In both the U.S. and Mexico, you cannot buy anything online until you’ve entered your credit card information. In Norway, you don’t need to enter payment info in order to enter a payment contract. I received a “faktura” in the mail after having browsed through some gym memberships on, completely unaware that I had made a purchase. (I was later able to cancel it after speaking to a few customer reps).

b) Similarly, someone could carry out a service for you and bill you later via a faktura, so always make sure you establish the terms beforehand. I once consulted a lawyer by email on something I considered to be very straightforward and it cost me several thousand kroner.

c) In the real estate world, you can bid for a home via text message. If your bid wins, you are legally bound to purchase that property or pay hefty penalties. In other words, don’t drink and text unless you have millions of kroner to spare.

While the concept of buying a home at the push of a button may seem very foreign to some, the truth is that you are required to enter your bank ID in order to register as a potential bidder. This may seem as casual as entering your phone number or your email, but in reality your bank ID is considered a secure electronic proof of identity and is as legally binding as a hand-written signature. Any time you are asked to enter your bank ID, be sure to check for any terms, conditions and/or agreements linked to that process.

For a more detailed report on buying and selling a house in Norway, click here.

2) Understanding Drunkness

Some say that there are two types of nordmenn: the sober Norwegian and the drunk Norwegian. Learning to navigate between the two is an important skill.

“When Norwegians are sober, rigid norms frame their social interactions,” says Julien S. Bourrelle in his book “The Social Guidebook to Norway 2: Friendships and Relationships.” “If you do not obey these unwritten social norms, you may easily end up not succeeding socially,” he adds. “This changes with alcohol and the contrast can be shocking.”

I’ll provide a few examples:

During the day, I have been vigorously honked at for minor traffic “violations” (i.e. standing at a crosswalk for a second too long or unintentionally blocking the way while trying to find myself on a map). Fast-forward to any Saturday night and it’s a starkly different picture: I’ve seen men unapologetically relieving themselves meters away from the king’s castle to the surprise of no one but me, or young women sitting smack in the middle of Bogstadveien, simultaneously laughing and attempting to put on their shoes, as a growing line of cars watched silently and patiently.

What to do with this information? Not much, actually. It’s just helpful to understand that Norwegians’ introversion and knack for following rules can turn on its head when alcohol is involved. Some of the rules that do remain in the drunken world: You will be denied entry to a bar or will be removed from it if you are considered “too drunk” (i.e. the silent kind who stares into the void and is, most likely, on the verge of throwing up). Also, Norway’s tolerance for drinking and driving is almost null so when in doubt, do not get behind the wheel (in Norway or anywhere else). Some people will choose not to drive the morning after they drank just to be safe.

3) Understanding Work Culture

If you work/will work with Norwegians, there are a few differences you’ll need to understand.

“Some think that Norwegians are lazy because they go home at 3pm,” says Percival. “But they’re super efficient; they start early, they have a short lunch, they don’t do small talk, and they leave early without saying goodbye.” Americans, on the other hand, “will work 8-10 hours a day but one of them will be spent talking about Game of Thrones,” he adds.

Another reason why Norwegians leave the office early is because they can! In previous jobs, both in Mexico and the U.S., leaving the office before the clock struck 5:30pm was frowned upon, however silently.

Norwegians value family life greatly and office life reflects that in many ways. Far from being frowned upon, it is common for parents to leave early to pick up their children at school (or to go to the hytte) or to bring their children to the office.

Finally, business life in Norway is rather non-hierarchical, which means that the decision process is a lot more democratic and the pressure to perform isn’t as high. The latter is also supported by the fact that it is a lot harder to lose your job in Norway once you’ve passed the initial trial period.

For a more detailed description of life in the Norwegian office and all of its intricacies, read “Working with Norwegians” by Karin Ellis and/or “The Loud American: Working With Norwegians” by Sean Percival.

Lastly, some say that one of the biggest challenges to life in Norway is connecting with Norwegians. Fortunately, I’ve had a very different experience, and I’m not the only one. Several of the sources interviewed for this piece agree that if you’re open, Norwegians are too (yes, even when they’re sober). So next time you step into a new day (preferably a sunny day), look up and around you, and smile. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll find.

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