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Working With Norwegians

Glossary of Norwegian Business Terms

Here’s a few words you might hear as your work with Norwegians.

Pull one out to impress a colleague sometime!

BIRKEBEINERRENNET – A famous ski race in Norway that business executives often participate in. Companies have their own teams and your achievement in the tracks has become as important as your resume.

DET GRØNNE SKIFTET – ‘The Green Shift’. Creating a sustainable society based on green jobs and reduce the country’s dependency on oil and gas production.

FELLESFERIE – The summer holiday shutdown. You won’t be getting much work done this time as your colleagues will no doubt be out on holiday.

FJORD – One Norwegian word that has become truly international. Fjord in its basic meaning ‘where one fares through’ has the same origin as the word “fare” (travel) and the noun “ferry”. The narrow canyons with steep sides called fjords are formed by giant glacier slowly moving across the land and carving these paths.

GÅ PÅ TUR – ‘Take a hike!’ Literally. Not everybody actually does it, but everybody likes to give the impression they do it, and everybody at the very least talks about it. Norwegians love exercise!

HV-ØVELSER – Similar to the American National Guard, this is a mandatory military training exercise some of your colleagues might be part of. It’s the one time when it’s OK to make jokes about shooting guns with a Norwegian.

HYTTE – A small winter or summer cabin that Norwegian workers like to retreat to as much as possible. In Norwegian business culture it’s not considered extravagant to have a cabin.

KVIKK LUNSJ – The Norwegian version of a Kitt-Katt bar. You eat these with your Norwegian colleagues after a good cross country ski. Norwegians just love milk chocolate!

LANGRENN – Cross country skiing is a long and tiring physical activity your Norwegian colleagues will try talk you into. A Norwegian will tell you that cross-country skiing involves the highest endurance levels of all sports, as its motions makes use of every major muscle group, and that it burns the most calories. So in other words it’s pure torture.

LAW OF JANTE – A description of Norwegian group behavior that criticizes individual achievement as unworthy.

OPPSØKENDE SALG – Perhaps the one thing Norwegians hate to do the most! Cold calling customers and doing sales.

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Coffee, waffles and brown cheese: The foods of Norwegian business

In many other business cultures you tantalize and amaze your business contacts with veritable cornucopia of treats. From pastries, to sandwiches, to sushi, and of course the American doughnut. I once continued meeting with a Silicon Valley startup not for the business opportunities, but simply because they always had the best flakey French croissants at their meetings. Norwegians however share and appreciate food differently, especially in business.

This is driven much by Norway’s history with food. Prior to the oil boom Norway was historically a rather poor country so having food was not about enjoyment but more about plain survival. While times have certainly changed economically these humble food traditions have remained. The waffles in the Telenor conference are a perfect example of this and they can even be considered a luxury for Norwegians. Beyond the flour and milk a simple item like this is considered to be ‘made with love’ and the waffles carry that love throughout their delicious crevices. So what I perceived as a low budget snack was actually a symbolic gesture of my importance as their guest. They appreciated me, it was just easier for them to show it through waffles than to have to say it verbally. It was very Norwegian, actually.

The Norwegian business lunch is a fairly unremarkable with little fanfare. Since the typical Norwegian office is more about efficiency lunches are meant to be quick (usually just 30 minutes). They also typically start at 11:30am, slightly earlier than most other business cultures. So by noon you’re already done and back to work. Lunch is also not meant to be enjoyable but instead you just need it to survive. The polar opposite of this would be the French business lunch which can run two hours and might even include some wine. Drinking during a Norwegian business lunch is not typical and would likely be considered inappropriate. Norwegians in general like to save their drinking for the evening, times they need to be social, and of course when they are trying to get laid.

For lunch cold sandwiches are often on the menu and warm lunch is not always available, which is strange in a country so cold you think you would find more items to warm one’s tummy. Once again, it comes down to food as more of a means for survival. It’s also about being practical and fast so that you can get back work. All that being said, lunches are in most cases very healthy. You might lose some weight in Norway and be more healthy. I know I shed a few kilos simply by avoiding the sugary foods often found in the American lunch. No wonder everyone in Norway is in such good shape.
You typically don’t go out for lunch in the Norwegian workplace. That might be considered an inefficient use of time, plus food is so damn expensive. Employees sometimes bring in their own lunch wrapped in wax paper (matpapir). They bring mostly sandwiches of the open face variety. Many companies also offer a cafeteria (or kantine as it’s called in Norway.) Here you should be expected to bus your own tray and clean your plate. Everyone in the corporate cafeteria is an equal and it’s common to see the CEO dining here right alongside the rank-and-file employees. He or she will also bus their own plate just like everyone else. That famous Norwegian equity even comes down to doing the dishes.

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Making business contacts in a shy country like Norway

The scene: 3am at a McDonald’s in Oslo. I had just attended a business event and survived the Norwegian drinking culture. Now it was time to do something us Americans do best: eat a big greasy cheeseburger.

With me were several new Norwegian business contacts I had been in discussions with over the last few months. In their well lubricated state the shyness was gone and thus they eagerly asked:

“So have you ever been cross-country skiing?!”

As I day dreamt about the burger on its way, I thought well I’ve been ‘normal’ skiing many times but I have no idea what cross-country skiing actually is. It sounds like a lot of work to be honest.

“No…” I replied simply.

“Oh then you must join us! It’s amazing! We’ll trek for hours in the freezing snow, take a break to eat a candy bar, and then return!” They explained with much excitement in their eyes.

To me this sounded like an awful way to further get to know each other. How could we work on our business partnership while skiing in a straight line, in the middle of the woods, in total silence? I was not incredibly eager to accept and follow up on their invitation. This was a big mistake on my part, and as a result the business relationship did not go much further.

What I had missed was that for Norwegians an activity like cross country skiing is how business relationships are strengthened. We do a physical activity together and that usually includes some element of suffering or hard work and then after that, we can begin to build trust together. You have to first put in the work to build a solid foundation for your working relationship.

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How To Be Less American While In Norway

As I spend more time in Norway it becomes easier to spot my fellow Americans here. Sometimes I laugh to myself and remember when I was the same way. I remember how it took some time adjusting.

I feel like I should say something to them.

I don’t of course.

I’m already Norwegian enough to know one never talks to strangers here. So since I can’t do that I have composed a few rules for how to not appear too American here in Norway. I hope you enjoy these Pro Tips (a Norwegian would just call them tips) and that they perhaps save you a bit of embarrassment.

DO NOT BE LOUD

The number #1 tell-tale sign of an American is the sheer volume that comes out of their mouth. It doesn’t matter if they are home alone, on a crowded subway or in a restaurant – they are loud. Although to be fair, many other cultures are as loud. In Norway, however, it’s more important to both respect and maintain the peace so use your inside voice. Or, better yet just keep your thoughts inside your head as many Norwegians do.

ACCEPT AND ENJOY THE SILENCE IN A CONVERSATION

Americans are master conversationalists. We can paint a colorful canvas of words and stories about even the most mundane of topics. Americans are also prone to always try to fill any conversation gaps with more and more words. In Norway you have to learn that sometimes silence in a conversation is OK! In fact, you’ll know when you have a good friend in Norway when there is silence in a conversation (even long stretches of it) and no awkwardness. There’s also a wonderful Norwegian saying that goes: ‘Og så ble ingenting mer sagt den vinteren’ which translates to ‘And then nothing was said that winter until spring.’ It comes from Norwegian farmlands where often something is agreed upon between two farmers before winter sets in and they only take up the conversion again once spring breaks. That’s a long time for neighbors to not speak but that’s also perfectly normal in Norway.

DO NOT ATTRACT ATTENTION TO YOURSELF AND DO NOT BRAG

This is a tough one for Americans. We love to both shoot our mouths in addition to our beloved guns. Attracting attention to yourself is a national pastime which is why we have created so much bad reality television and just about every major social media application. In Norway, one does not often brag about themselves. It’s much better if others do it for you based on their own experiences. When others brag about you that’s OK but you shouldn’t be doing it yourself.

DO NOT NAME DROP

The standard American business greeting consists of ‘Hello’, following by a series of personal brags and name drops. This is especially true in my former home of Los Angeles. There, name-dropping is almost used like currency. This isn’t really the case in Norway. In a small country everyone pretty much already knows everyone, so name-dropping is less impressive here.

DO NOT SHOW WEALTH

Norway is not a flashy country despite the wealth found here. You would think you would see more sports cars and furs! However those are only found in a small part of the west side of Oslo, in the Frogner neighborhood. I sold my expensive German sports car before settling down in Norway and take public transportation like everyone else. Citizens show off their wealth in more subtle ways like wearing expensive ski outfits and luxury wool.

DO NOT PAY FOR OTHERS

My former very American, very New Yorker boss once told me “You always pick up the dinner bill, even if you can’t afford it. People remember that and it’s the secret to success in business”. Since then, I’ve spent a small fortune on doing just that with few regrets. However, this is not something you do in Norway. Norwegians don’t like to feel they owe someone anything or that you’re trying to win favor with such an act. This includes even smaller gestures like picking up a cup of coffee for a colleague.

DO NOT BE TOO ENTHUSIASTIC

In American business industries, we usually see being too enthusiastic as a good thing. You’re passionate about your work and likely to work very hard for your goals. However, in Norway being too enthusiastic will cause Norwegians to doubt your abilities or assume you’re overcompensating. Worse, they might feel you’re being fake.

DO NOT COME TO A MEETING IN A BLACK MERCEDES

As one of my meetings in Oslo was concluding I called up a black Mercedes from my Uber application. As I said goodbye to the business contact outside their office the car arrived, flying down the street at great speed and screeching the tires as it rolled up. My business contact wore a shocked look on his face. It wasn’t the loud tires screeching that worried him – it was my own extravagance that offended him. That’s because in Norway only royalty or the Prime Minister arrives and leaves in such a fashion. Everyone else takes public transportation.


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Do you need to speak Norwegian to work in Norway?

Thanks to a robust education system and lots of bad American television and movies, the majority of Norwegians speak perfectly good English! It’s not hard to communicate both in public and business settings. In most cases they’re happy to switch to English in your presence and sometimes enjoy being able to speak English with you.

That being said learning Norwegian, even in small amounts, can help you build camaraderie with your colleagues. If you plan to stay in Norway for a while there is some expectation in society that you’ll learn the language. Foreigners that stay here for 5+ years can be looked down upon if they have yet to grasp the language so it’s recommended to make some effort in this area. It’s typically always best to show both some admiration and desire to learn the language to your colleagues.

Your pronunciation will likely be dreadful at first and if Norwegians see you struggle they’ll be eager to switch to English for your comfort and theirs. However, if you let them know you’re really trying to learn and appreciate their support it’ll go a long way. It’s important to understand that Norwegians are typically too polite to correct your bad Norwegian. You’ll have to repeatedly ask them to do so, much to their discomfort. In the workplace, you can subtly signal your interest in the language through meetings and everyday interactions. For example, when handing a colleague a coffee or paper say “vær så god” pronounced like vah-sha-go to a native English speaker. You would typically say this after they “takk” (thanks) for giving them something as it loosely means “Here you go.” This is by far the most common opportunity to get started speaking a little Norwegian. You’ll earn a little bump in admiration from your colleagues and they’ll likely be keen to help you learn additional words.

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What is Pinse in Norway?

Much like Ascension Day, Pinse is another Christian based public holiday in Norway. It is also known as Whit Monday.

This holiday takes place 10 days after Ascension Day and falls on a Sunday and Monday. It’s considered a public holiday and long weekend in Norway.

How do Norwegians celebrate Pinse?

As it’s a religious holiday most Norwegians don’t do much in terms of observance. This is a society that would much rather spend their Sundays on a hike than sitting in a church.

Still, Norwegians enjoy taking all faith-based public holidays because they have faith in something also considered a divine experience here. That being a rare sunny day in Norway. You see the majority of these religious holidays fall in May and June, right when Spring is starting and the sun makes its first real showing since lasts summer. So Norwegians celebrate the day the best way they know-how.

At their summer cabin and with close access to nature.


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Working with Norwegians (Again, after COVID-19)

It seems that life is slowly returning back to normal here in Norway. Albeit in a slightly modified form.

The schools and some businesses are opening their doors once again. Soon the many quiet and modern offices of Norway will start to fill up. Although this being Norway they’ll still be very quiet even when full of workers. No one likes a loud office talker in this country of course.

But what does work-life after COVID-19 look like with regard to working with Norwegians? What adjustments do both foreign and local cultures need to make?

Let us take a look!

Lockdown is different for everyone

Remember your colleague’s lockdown experience might be very different than yours. Especially as it relates to colleagues with kids and those without kids.

If you don’t have kids you likely did all kinds of fun things like catching up on your reading, learned a new skill, baked some sourdough, and day drinking. So much day drinking.

However, those with kids and no barnehage (kindergarten) to drop them at probably had a much different experience. It’s a bit tough to upskill and work on your novel when the kids are driving you freaking nuts and you’ve still got video meetings to attend for work. There are only so many iPad apps to play and trampolines to jump on to pass the time.

So be careful not to brag about all your free time. Other colleagues might not have been so lucky.

We still need to keep some social distance

Even though Norway has done well to slow the spread the battle is far from over. We all still need to keep some social distance for the foreseeable future. This probably won’t be so difficult here as Norwegians were already keeping their distance from colleagues, both physically and emotionally! When many Norwegians heard they are supposed to stay 2 meters away from each other they simply asked: “Why are they making us stand closer than before?”. Take for example Norwegians at a bus stop.

However, don’t take offense if you’re sensing your colleagues are taking yet even more personal space. Give everyone some time to adjust and respect their boundaries. Even when sometimes in Norway those social boundaries are as wide as the fjord is long.

About that tracking app

Your coworkers might bring up the new COVID-19 tracking app that was recently released. It’s called Smittestopp (Infection Stop) and there has been much debate about its use along with some privacy concerns. At the same time, over 1.7 million Norwegians downloaded the app when it was released. Not too bad for a country with only 5.5 million people.

That’s because it’s important to remember that most Norwegians have very high trust for their government. Even when it comes to an app that tracks all your movements. Most see this as a good thing and something that can help the entire population. Let’s also not forget that in Norway it’s not about what’s good for the individual but what is best for the entire society.

If you’re a foreigner and an American like myself you probably have very little trust for your home government, especially when it comes to privacy and tracking. This is ironic given how we turn over basically all the same information to companies like Facebook and Google every single day.

Still, you may have colleagues who feel it’s important everyone downloads this tracking app and does their part. If you don’t feel the same it’s best to just fake it and tell them “Oh yes, I’ll download it later today!”. Even if you only plan to play Candy Crush that evening.

It’s a great time to shame the Swedes

Everyone around the world and here in Norway has been following the news about Sweden and their approach to Corona. Time will tell if they were correct in not locking down and allowing a herd immunity to build. Oh, and don’t worry if they were correct we’ll hear all about it. They’ll be bragging about it for the next few decades no doubt.

Still, until then it is an easy thing to joke about with colleagues. Even if some of them are Swedish! For example:

Swedish Coworker: “Hey so any big plans this weekend?”

American Coworker: “No, I’m going to do absolutely nothing. Just like you Swedes did about COVID!”

Worst case if you’re not comfortable dragging down the Swedes over COVID-19 there’s one country that’s even easier to Corona shame. That, of course, being America. Don’t worry we can take it. It gives us energy when you make fun of us. Energy we use to clean our guns.

Summer vibes at last

If there’s one thing COVID-19 doesn’t stand a chance against that’s the sun coming out in Scandinavia. And I’m not talking about the reports that warmer weather may slow the spread of the virus. As soon as consistent sunny days are here expect all rules to be off and life to rush back to normal. Nothing, not even a global pandemic, can stop Norwegians from getting some previous sun.

Although of course there’s no summer vacay in Spain this year for many Norwegians. So for us foreigners it’s best we show a little compassion there when discussing summer plans. Most Norwegians will be ‘suffering’ by having to spend time at their other summer destination, the summer hytte (cabin) instead.

Welcome back to work! Just 2 more months until summer break so don’t get too comfortable.


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How to Work with Your Norwegian Colleagues During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The COVID-19 or Coronavirus has gripped the world and made its way to Norway, potentially impacting millions of working Norwegians.

How can you stay safe and virus free even up in the cold north? Here are a few recommended tips to help you out in the workplace.

  1. Avoid small talk with coworkers.
  2. Avoid all personal interaction with colleagues, especially in the morning. Just take your seat and no need to say a word.
  3. Go to the doctor even if you don’t feel symptoms. It’s better to wait in line at the hospital then risk infecting others at work. And hey, it’s mostly free thanks to socialized medicine.
  4. Take another unnecessary vacation. Not so much to travel and further risk exposure but because you likely have the vacation time available.
  5. Avoid individual praise of coworkers. Not only is it discouraged but it might require you to get within speaking distance of a colleague.
  6. Cancel that meeting that was meant to plan a future meeting. There will be plenty of time for meetings when this all blows over.
  7. Wrap yourself in no less than 3 layers of wool. As most Norwegians will tell you wool is always the answer.
  8. Wear a face mask. Made of wool.
  9. Gargle with Akevitt every morning.
  10. When making your boring cold sandwich lunch use gloves (made of wool) to avoid touching the food directly.

We hope these tips are helpful and keep you both virus and social interaction-free. We’re all in this together. Except of course for those of you who have already retreated to your vacation home in Spain.


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Corporate Ethics in Norway

When asked about conflicts of interest John Doerr, a famous American venture capitalist, once reportedly replied:

“Well, no conflict, no interest”.

If his firm did not have a conflict or an unfair competitive advantage, they really had no interest in the deal. This simple and short statement well encapsulates the American ‘win at all costs’ attitude you find in some industries.

Businessmen and women in America like myself hear these war stories throughout their careers, along with grand tales of fortunes made by bending a few both ethical and legal rules.

This is not the case in Norway.

Breaking the rules, especially in business, is not common in Norway. Those that do, regardless of the outcome is positive for their business, quickly lose respect in the public eye. The press seems also to take great pleasure in hanging those who do so out to dry.

Unlike in America, you’re not likely to get a second chance when your bad behavior becomes known.

The Norwegian’s memory of such bad actors lasts for as long as the fjords are deep…


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Typical Norwegians You Meet in the Workplace

Working in Norway as a foreigner you’re going to meet a wide range of different people and personalities. So it’s not fair to generalize, even in such a homogenous culture that is Norway!

Still, with that being said, I have found a few repeating archetypes within the Norwegian workplace. So here are some sweeping generalizations about a few Norwegians you might meet in the workplace.

Perhaps you recognize someone or maybe even yourself?

Typical Norwegian Businessman

The typical Norwegian or den typiske nordmann, is the proudest Norwegian you’ll meet. He’s proud of his country and proud of his cross-country skiing. He’s also incredibly proud of that one time he was successful in business 20 years ago and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. He’s a global traveler but somewhat skeptical of foreigners who come to Norway for business. He feels that business in Norway is best done by and with other Norwegians.

Miss Follow Through

They are your modern empowered Norwegian businesswoman. She enjoys one of the smallest gender pay gaps in the world thanks to Norway’s emphasis on fairness and equal pay. She’s known in the office for always following through on her work, which earns her great respect. That’s due to her approach of under-promising and overdelivering to her colleagues. She won’t take that many risks in business as a result.

Mr. Gotta Go

A slippery one, they are the most difficult Norwegian to get to know either personally or on a business level. A master of slipping away to avoid small talk or business dealings, they are a tricky one to connect with in the office. Look for opportunities to connect over a hobby like skiing or doing dugnad (community work) away from the office.

The Love Refugee

Not a native Norwegian but an ex-pat who settled in Norway many years ago. Like most foreigners who settle here, they came here for love. The rather attractive Norwegians have managed to keep a steady flow coming to Norway.

They will be much easier to get to know, both on a personal and business level. They understand how challenging it can be to form relationships here in Norway. They might even invite to drinks after work! Your other Norwegian colleagues run off to home and the barnehage (kids school) so quickly after work they don’t even bother to say goodbye!

That One Loud Ass Norwegian

One of the few loud voices you’ll find in Norway, they don’t respect the quiet sanctuary of the Norwegian office. They are known for squawking at meetings and around the office, much to the dismay of coworkers who prefer more peaceful surroundings. When Norwegian drinking culture comes into play, that loudness only intensifies with each shot of aquavit they consume. They are also usually from the west coast from areas like Bergen.

Super Sporty Scandie

They never stop moving and live a very healthy lifestyle. They will almost always be planning a hike, going skiing, swimming in a fjord, or just doing any other physical activity. They are super sporty and as a result, have exceptionally low BMI (and typically a very cute butt). They also don’t let work get in the way when the weather is nice, or physical activity can take them out of the office. Your best chance to catch them and build a relationship will be to join her or him in one of these physical activities. If they see a foreigner embrace Norwegian nature and exercise, this can help you earn their great respect.

The Gretas

This friendly and eager millennial is now established in the Norwegian workforce. Raised in a highly functional and fair socially democratic society, their optimism can only be matched by their drive to do good in the world. You’ll find them drinking from metal straws, posting Instagrams from Africa, and talking about reducing their carbon footprint all while they jet off to Spain for yet another holiday.

They are however thankfully less held back by the restrictive Law of Jante and as a result, represent great potential for Norway’s future. Now, if we could only get them to stop constantly staring at their phones.

The Old Timer

The old-timer has seen it all before and isn’t interested in doing business differently. Especially when that new approach is proposed by a foreigner. They will be most skeptical and address the outsider with an uninterested response, followed by the exhibition of a general lack of willingness to work together. Things are working well enough, why try to go and change anything?

No Plan to Small

They create a plan for the plan and backup plans for both plans. They book meetings to plan a future meeting. They can whip up a plan with great speed because Norwegians take great pride in being able to do such an exercise. The output is generally considered less important than planning for the output itself in Norway.


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