Norwegians are notoriously allergic to overly verbose contracts and extensive legal agreements. I learned this hard way over my years of doing business here. Upon arrival here I started by using the same type of legal documents I was accustomed to at home in America. These, I soon found out, were incredibly offensive to Norwegians, who in general feel like too much fine print shows a lack of trust. Since trust is the key pillar to Norwegian business, too much fine print is thought to erode that trust. This is also because legal English or ‘legalese’ is difficult to understand even for native English speakers. Imagine how tough it is for those who have English as a second language.
Upon sending a rather simple consulting contract to a Norwegian business contact once:
“I’ll get back to you soon on this. It may take me some time to digest the ‘fine print’ here”. He passively aggressively replied in email.
The contract, especially by American standards, was rather light. It included two pages of the terms of our arrangement but also another two pages of the terms and conditions, aka the fine print. None of these terms would have been considered offensive in most other international business dealings but things are a little different in Norway. Since business is done on the basis of trust here, it’s not recommended to over burden your business partners with extensive fine print. To do so can start your relationship off without this foundation of trust, making closing the deal and building further trust much more difficult.
In Norway, it’s usually not required for a contract to be signed in person. As a fairly tech savvy population digital signatures are widely accepted. I have also received contracts that don’t even require a signature. It’s more of a statement of work between two parties. Once again, Norway is a country of trust so to not honor an agreement will quickly cause you to lose both authority and status in the business world here.
This is an unofficial view of the current situation so please also check official sources prior to travel. However if it’s hard to figure out your situation from the official Norwegian government pages hopefully this helps.
It seems American actor and comedian Will Ferrell doesn’t like Norway but what gives?
General Motors has released a few previews of their upcoming ad campaign to air during this year’s Super Bowl. The ads feature Will Ferrell sharing his dislike for Norway! How rude!
He hits upon several true albeit easy jokes at Norway’s expensive. The fact that pretty everyone is named Olav here for example and that Norwegians are well known for their love of both skiing and fish.
We’ll have to wait until February 7th to find out why he hates Norway so much. Although early guesses center around the fact that Norway has done so well with electric vehicle adoption, something GM also hopes to achieve back in America. So it’s probably more about jealousy than genuine hatred.
Until then, when we can see the full ads and their Norway trashing talking glory, enjoy these ad previews:
Norway is a country based on trust, and this is significantly important in the business world here. Trust is extensively woven throughout the entire society. A very simple example of this that in a city like Oslo you can leave your bag, your phone, or other valuables out in the open for extended periods of time, while in most other major cities such items would disappear quickly, likely never to be seen again. In Norway, there is a high level of trust for each other. Very few would steal someone’s property or even disturb it anyway.
There is also a strong, and to some extent, blind trust for the government in Norway. As you can probably imagine, for an American this was difficult to adjust to. I mean, like any good American, I love my own country, I even love the government, but I absolutely do not trust them. Perhaps if you follow the news coming from America you can understand why. So, it has taken me some time to trust the government here in Norway. Although, one simply needs to look to the last few decades of how well the Norwegian government has taken care of its people. On top of that Norway was recently ranked the least corrupt country in the entire world. This is an incredible achievement when you consider that several other societies that have amassed their wealth from oil have not done so well to manage corruption. There’s reason to trust the government in Norway. You might even go as far as to say they’re worth every krone they get from those ridiculously high tax rates. It might also be why there is not much Bitcoin in Norway as the is such high trust in the economy as well.
Most shocking to a foreigner like myself is the trust that even large corporations have managed to build in Norway. I mean, trusting the government is one thing but a big scary corporation?! This is so counter to both American and other global markets where big companies do big, bad things. Not so much in Norway. Here, people even love local airline companies! How often do you hear people speak fondly of an airline? Usually, it’s more like complaints about rude service, delayed flights, and lost luggage. Having flown more miles than I care to admit between the US and Norway, I can tell you this is almost never the case. The planes are on time, my bags get where they should go, and the staff is not only nice but incredibly good looking. Corporations here operate differently. They care about their employees and customers. They won’t do something bad for either party even if it means making slightly more profit. For this, and their typically squeaky clean history, they have earned the trust of the people.
On an individual level, most Norwegians consider themselves to be very trustworthy. They will feel great disrespect if you question their trustworthiness. This is important to know in business as many other business cultures do not operate this way. Instead, in those cultures, as you do business you set up many walls for protection and backup plans. You get lawyers to spin up endless terms that protect you in every obscure way possible. Or, you are always looking for some type of advantage as part of the deal. These types of moves will only concern a Norwegian. They will assume you don’t trust them and as a result, they can’t trust you. This will put an abrupt halt to your business dealings with them. I had to learn this lesson a few times the hard way.
Building trust in Norway takes a long time, so one has to prepare oneself to be patient. This applies to both personal and business relationships you’ll make in the country. This can be one of the toughest things you’ll encounter while doing business in Norway. It’s common for outsiders to feel shut out or excluded while trying to build this elusive trust. This certainly doesn’t help make the cold and dark winters any easier to manage. Just know that once you do build that trust, you can make a friend, a lover, or a business partner for life. Getting there, however, will be a foreigner’s greatest challenge.
As a foreigner here in Norway, it’s going to be an additional challenge to build this trust. While Norway is a very equal and inclusive country there is some distrust for outsiders here. Perhaps not by society as a whole, but more specifically in the business world. This is not going to be a popular sentiment, but this was my experience at least. The best I can figure is, it comes down to a few things. First, with Norway enjoying 50+ years of economic prosperity, there hasn’t been much pressure to aggressively go global in business. Most businesses here do just fine selling only to the domestic market, especially where they have a monopoly position. So, the oil that has driven that prosperity is by far the largest export business. And since Norwegians prefer Norwegian products over, say, cheaper Chinese products, there’s not much desire to do extensive importing, aside from importing a lot from Scandinavian neighbor countries who share a desire for quality products and similar aesthetics appeal. As a result, Norwegian businesses can sometimes lack experience working with foreigners.
On the rare occasion when I could get a Norwegian to be open to the challenge of working with foreigners, I sometimes got an interesting response. It was along the lines of “Oh yes, another American once came here for business and ripped a few people off” – they would say. When I would press for the American’s name or which company they worked for, curiously the Norwegian could never remember. It’s almost as if the story of a scary foreigner coming to Norway for business is a ghost tale, passed along throughout the years and likely starting with the discovery of oil and increased international interest in Norway. These stories have been used to scare generations of Norwegian workers from opening up themselves too much once independence was firmly established. You can see this further in Norway avoiding joining the EU on several occasions for example. Norwegians would rather do it themselves than be overly dependent or worse, in debt to an outsider.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a Norwegian to trust you as a foreigner here. I’ve managed to make it happen a few times, but more often than not, I’ve failed to establish the trust needed in business. Common reasons include being too aggressive, too impatient, but in most cases, it simply comes down to failing to understand Norwegians and their culture. However, when you do establish this trust you’ll feel it. The typical Norwegian will start looking you in the eye and hanging on your words instead of shying away. I wish you the best of luck in this regard – you’ll need it.
I made a serious gaffe in one of my early visits to Norway. I had asked a colleague to assemble a dinner with influential players in my industry. My goal was nothing more than a casual setting to get to know each other and for me to explain the new work I was doing in the region. Even though I specifically said ahead of time the dinner would “be my treat”, panic ensued when the bill came I swiftly swiped my credit card covering the entire bill. Once finished I turned around to see a look of shock and uncomfortableness upon their faces. I had made a huge mistake and there was no going back now. A wonderful night of getting to know my new business contacts quickly turned into an awkward moment for everyone.
Before I could swipe my card with the speed of fine dining ninja there was some polite protesting and insistence on covering their own meals. However, I waved those off, assuming it was a general courtesy that one often does. You offer to pay once or twice and eventually relent, letting the other person pick up the tab. All the while I was not truly understanding the uncomfortable position I had put my dinner guests in.
You see, in Norway, there really is no such thing as a free meal. And that’s too bad, as you’ll soon find out that food in Norway is incredibly expensive! To buy someone a meal, even in a business setting, is often construed as you trying to win favor. You can imagine how this might complicate dating life in Norway for a foreigner! This is a culture that does not want debts or the feeling that something is owed to anyone. They value their independence and have fought hard (and fought off several invasions) to keep it. So, you have to be mindful of your wining and dining as you do business in Norway.
Additionally, there are even further tax repercussions in these scenarios. In a country where they love their taxes, there is little affordance for gifting, free meals or other questionable business expenses. One could easily get in trouble for accepting too many gifts and meals. And you, as the giver, are also limited to what is considered an appropriate business expense. For example, buying a colleague a glass of wine is probably OK, but an expensive dinner and several bottles of wine is probably not. This is contrary to many other Western and European business expense rules. In those markets, one might be more prone to going slightly overboard knowing that both the company is paying and probably writing it off as a business expense. In American business culture, it’s even a bit of a joke one might make while covering a huge bill. Proclaiming “tax write off!” as they eagerly swipe the corporate credit card. In Norway it’s not really a joking matter. And in the name of transparency, which this country loves, you may have to record who attended a business dinner and even what was discussed. Which makes me hope none of my bad or inappropriate dinner jokes made the official records.
When it comes to buying dinners or other business-related perks, I’ve come to learn that Norwegians have a very broad definition of corruption. This is for several reasons but primarily comes down to Norwegians not wanting to feel indebted to anyone. When they do, they’ll be eager to pay off any debts quickly, as having this debt hanging over them will create great stress and anxiety. One has to be super careful about not offering too much at first when building a new business or personal relationship in Norway, as you can literally lose them through your generosity, even if your intentions are not to win influence.
So, in Norway don’t feel an overwhelming pressure to buy business contacts dinners as you might feel in other business cultures around the world. As the waiter comes to your table they will typically first ask if they should split the bill. Instead of using this moment to show off your credit card prowess, take a moment to read the vibe from your dinner companion(s). If they insist on splitting, it’s better to offer little protest and avoid being overly insistent on covering the bill.
On a national average Norwegians work about 37 hours per week. Although the total hours worked can be less in a corporate office. This is because many Norwegian organizations offer ‘flexible hours’ and there is great autonomy in managing your own hours.
Unlike in many other cultures in Norway, corporate foot soldiers don’t often brag about working more hours than their peers. This can actually be construed as being inefficient or bragging unnecessarily about your contribution at work. Or worse, clashing with Janteloven (the Law of Jante), a social construct where individual success is discouraged and, in many cases, considered inappropriate.
As a small country with a population of about 5M there are several industries that experience shortages of qualified applications. Currently, the most highly in-demand sectors are oil & gas, hospitality, IT (information technology), nursing, construction, and the fishing industry.
Your guide to what it takes to relocate to Norway from America from an American who has done it.
Before you get started
Before you pack your bags there are a few things you should know. To immigrate to Norway from any non-EU country such as the USA is an uphill battle. In other words, it’s not so easy.
The only easy ways to relocate
When it comes down to it there are really only two easy ways to relcoate to Norway from America.
You fall in love with a Norwegian citizen and marry them.
You have a written job offer in hand from a Norwegian company.
To be honest I’m not sure which is a bigger challenge. Both have their advantages and both their own challenges. Since you’re reading this I’ll assume you don’t have either. So keep reading for more tips.
Does having Norwegian heritage help?
There are some 8,000,000 Americans with Norwegian heritage. During the early 1900s life in Norway was not so great. The country was extremely poor and both good jobs and food were scarce. As a result, many brave Norwegians relocated to America, specifically to Washington, Minnesota, and Wyoming. Parts of my own Norwegian family ended up spending time in all of the above with my Great Grandparents settling in the Seattle, Washinton area.
Unfortunately having this family connection will not be enough to immigrate to Norway. Norwegians will be impressed with these connections and ask you about what area they are from, but it won’t get you into the country.
Can you claim asylum as an American?
Regardless of how bad or dangerous things get in Amerca asylum is unfortunately not really an option. While the Norwegian government does a commendable job allowing asylum cases, they focus on countries with much worse conditions or those raged by war. Even so, Norway is a very attractive country for asylum seekers so the process can be difficult regardless of your country of origin.
How long can Americans stay in Norway without a resident permit?
Having an American passport does have some advantages. With it, you can come to Norway visa-free and stay for up to 90 days at a time. It’s recommended you take a few trips before relocating to be sure you’re ready to make the leap. While Norway seems exotic and beautiful from what you see online just like any new country it may not be for everyone.
It’s important while visiting Norway you don’t overstay your welcome or your visa. Read the latest visa rules and following them closely. If you do spend too much time in Norway without a resident permit you can be banned from entering the country in the future.
Getting a Norwegian Resident Permit
The most straightforward way to obtain a Norwegian resident permit is with a full time and permanent job offer. Norway has a shortage of what they called skilled workers such as IT (information technology) and other types of business executives. If you have these qualifications it will be much easier to be accepted for a permit. However, getting a company to hire you has it’s own challenges.
Other way to get a resident permit
Self Employed: This is how I was first able to obtain Norwegian residency. While it does not require a full-time job offer in Norway it still requires work (and the contracts to prove it) in Norway. If you are already a consultant or have a highly specialized skill you can sell consulting hours this might be the best way to start. Due to the high cost of employing people in Norway, and the difficultly to fire them, Norwegian business uses a lot of consulting services. This permit is usually good for just 1 year but that will give you ample time to learn about the country and find longer-term employment.
Job Seeker: If you are a skilled worker and need more time to land a job you might be able to get a job seeker permit. This allows you to stay in the country for 6 months.
Sleeping with Norwegians
You want to sleep with Norwegians and there’s nothing wrong with that. I highly recommend it and you’ll find the legends are true, many of them are very very good looking. Beyond the superfical however Norwegians are also great people and can make wonderful life partners. Getting them to marry you though might be an even bigger challenge than finding employement in Norway.
Truth be told most Norwegian men and women are not driven to get married. Thanks to a fair and egalitarian society there really is not much need to. Partners get the same benefits even if not married, unlike America which requires partners to marry to share things such as health insurance. Many of my Norwegian friends have been together for 10+ years, have kids together, and own real estate together without ever officially tying the knot.
So again it’ll be a challenge to marry into the country and get a quick ticket inside. But in love and war, anything is possible so perhaps you’ll find a way to do so. Best of luck!
What do Norwegians think about Americans these days?
To be honest, Americans used to be much more highly regarded in Norway. I recall some 5 years ago when this was exciting to Norwegians who met me. However, times have changed and the political sideshow in America has tarnished our image, unfortunately.
Previously you could have said that America led the world and that was certainly true in Norway. Like many countries, they consumed our media, film, and other aspects of American life with much delight. Over the last few years that has changed and it’s noticeable here in Norway.
You’re better off to own up your own American-ness and make a little fun of yourself. I’ve found this to be the best route and I’ve come to enjoy their little jabs at America. I think about them every night while I’m at home cleaning my guns. 😉
Resources for Relocating to Norway from America
Here are a few resources to help you with your research.
UDI: The official Norwegian immigration authority. They have a ton of easy to find information with most of it available in English.
Loosely translates to “open-air living” is a big part of Norwegian culture and country heritage. It means a commitment to celebrate the outdoors and spending time outdoors. Even if the weather is not so great.
The famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen coined the term in 1859 but even today friluftsliv is still very much a part of Norwegian culture. In Norwegian society, it is encouraged to spend some of your free time outdoors. To enjoy nature is to be Norwegian.
And there might be something to this way of thinking. Many experts believe that spending time in nature boosts well-being and happiness. Perhaps this is why Norway is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries.
So if you’re wondering why Norwegians have a borderline fetish over nature now you know why. It’s because of friluftsliv.
There was a new song released today by Daniel Kvammen titled ‘Janteloven’. It covers one of the more interesting sides of Norwegian culture and how society works in Norway, that being Janteloven or The Law of Jante.
Even in this modern age and after creating such a successful and prosperous society, Norwegians still struggle with both individual success and what happens after success. In a very egalitarian society, it can be considered inappropriate for any one person to have too much of anything.
If you have Spotify you can hit play below to have a listen for background music on the rest of this post.
The song is inspired by one of the loudest Norwegians to be firmly anti-Janteloven. The one and only Petter Northug. As a former gold medal ski champion Petter never really had to worry about being held back by Janteloven. That’s because in Norway sports and athleticism are some of the few areas where it’s allowed to be very successful. It’s allowed to be better than others. Unlike in business where it’s better to be more modest about your achievements.
When the song was penned some 6 months ago life was a bit different for Northug. He was enjoying the afterglow of his skiing career while also enjoying the strobe light glow of various night clubs around Norway. That’s where the song’s author found him, still seeking the attention of yesterday. The very next morning he wrote this song.
Since then a new debate has emerged about the anti-Janeloven king Northug. After a recent run-in with the police while driving under the influence of drugs the spotlight was once again on the former gold medalist. Although unlike in other societies where a celebrity in trouble might expect a public crucifixion, things work differently in Norway.
Most of the public debate centered more around how to help Northug. And why didn’t society help him sooner? That’s Norway and even Janteloven for ya! When a member of society is down, society should come together to bring them back up.