Suggest Sweden is better.
Or Denmark. Or Finland. But especially Sweden. We see our welfare system as absolutely perfect; and we’re better than them at sports and just about everything else. To the average Norwegian, the best thing about Sweden is lower prices on cigarettes, alcohol, and candy. Challenge this truth and you will provoke strong reactions. Be aware that saying the opposite in Sweden will lead to either a very good laugh or even more anger.
Make eye contact.
You’ll find this situation on trains, in buses, anywhere in public really. Everyone is staring in a slightly different direction. This is because we like to avoid eye contact. In fact, a total stranger making eye contact will often be regarded by a Norwegian as a threat to his or her existence and treated thusly. This sometimes leads to absurd situations where the last arrivals on a stuffed bus will have to start playing with their cellphones because every single field of view available to them overlaps with somebody else’s.
Show up late for anything.
There is probably only one people in the world that cares more about punctuality than the Scandinavians, and that people is the Germans. Showing up late for anything more formal than a family party is considered a grave offense. And don’t even think about showing up early unless you want to do the host’s work.
Build something in our backyard.
Norwegians in particular have a firm belief that immediate access to nature is a human right. Basically, wherever you are in Norway, if you look in the right direction, you will see a forest. And even if we don’t all use it, the fact that it’s there is vitally important.
This occasionally leads to roads having to take mile-long detours every time they come within the same postal code as a forest so as not to impede access for the 50 people living in the nearest village. Also, skyscraper construction in Oslo has been impossible for several years because it might obscure a couple people’s view of the woods.
Sit down beside a complete stranger on public transport when there are other seats available.
If there are unoccupied banks of seats available on a bus, you use one of them. It’s that simple. A common joke involves a Norwegian and an Indian being the only passengers on a bus: the Indian, not used to having elbow room on any form of public transport, thinks the Norwegian is lonely and decides to sit down beside him. Awkward hilarity ensues. And in the unfortunate event that you have to sit next to a stranger, under no circumstances should you talk to him/her.
Speak negatively about the King.
A lot of Norwegians are passive republicans. But nobody dislikes the King. Nobody can think of anything negative to say about the King, actually. His father, King Olav, was known to say “I have 4.5 million bodyguards.” Because nobody has anything negative to say about him, all criticism of the King will be taken personally — as if you just insulted someone’s father. Politicians, however, are fair game.
Laugh at our favorite sports.
We are, like the US, one of the world’s greatest sporting nations…at sports nobody cares about. Where the US has baseball and American football, we have cross-country skiing, orienteering, and handball. We, however, believe that most of our athletes are known worldwide. And never mind that our football team was beaten by f*cking Moldova! We don’t care about the fact that “we beat you at handball” will likely draw a blank stare in Brazil.
Draw attention to our dialects.
Most Norwegians speak in a particular dialect. The dialects were formed as a result of Norway consisting of about a million different little valleys with very little contact with each other. In some regions, two people who live one kilometer down the road from each other speak comically different dialects. The dialects divide people into two camps: those who worship their dialect, and those who wish they spoke a different dialect. Tell the wrong person the wrong thing, and they will actually get angry at you.
Dismiss our high cost of living.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that things here are expensive. In Norway gasoline costs an astounding $9.79 per gallon and prices on meat, alcohol, and tobacco are generally lower in neighboring countries. It’s a time-honored Norwegian tradition to drive to Sweden a few times a year to stock up on…well, everything. So high prices are a fact of life — and we love to gripe about them. The Minister of Agriculture has even declared a war on high food prices.
Occasionally, someone tries to point out that we also have ridiculously high incomes. The average worker in Norway has to work for all of 20 minutes to pay for a Big Mac — higher than in the neighboring countries, but still lower than most of the Western world. When this is pointed out to us, we are not amused. Don’t rob us of our favorite gripe!
Suggest we aren’t the only people who can handle the cold.
Nobody knows how to handle cold weather like us! We ski to work if we have to. We cope with four months of darkness, ice and freezing temperatures every year. Nobody knows why our ancestors settled in this place, the most frozen land on Earth…wait, it isn’t? You’re trying to tell me that Siberia is colder? How dare you!
Photo: Lars Kristian Flem