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Working With Norwegians

What is The Law of Jante (Janteloven)?

One of my most jarring experiences doing business in Norway was when I first encountered the Law of Jante, or Janteloven. While discussing why a Norwegian business was not excelling, a colleague of mine simply shrugged their shoulders and proclaimed “Well, you know, Law of Jante”. Jante?

What was Jante?

He sat me down for an hour and laid out a cultural anomaly that colored how almost every Norwegian (and more broadly Scandinavians) operate, both in business and in life. The Law of Jante is a social concept created by Danish / Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. You may be familiar with a similar concept used in other parts of the world called “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

In Janteloven, individual success is discouraged and, in many cases, considered inappropriate. Instead society encourages the good of the collective over any one individual. This has shaped Scandinavian culture over many years and helped to create the peaceful, modest, and homogenous society of today.

The Law of Jante

You’re not to think you are anything special.

You’re not to think you are as good as we are.

You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.

You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.

You’re not to think you know more than we do.

You’re not to think you are more important than we are.

You’re not to think you are good at anything.

You’re not to laugh at us.

You’re not to think anyone cares about you.

You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

About Jante Law

How does Janteloven affect business competitiveness?

The Law of Jante also adds a unique angle when it comes to being competitive in business in Norway. You’re likely to find there’s actually not much competition in just about every industry. Consumers usually have some choice, but not an overwhelming degree as is often found in other markets. For example, there are typically about two real options for any product. Often those limited options are even owned by the same company, so it’s more of an artificial choice. You’ll find a lot of monopolies in Norway.

In fact, Norwegians really don’t mind monopolies at all. Even their state-run wine store is called the Vinmonopolet, or the Wine Monopoly. They literally have so little shame about it being a monopoly they put it right in the name! You see, often Norwegians don’t understand that this is counter to how the majority of other business markets work. Monopolies are usually considered bad for business. To the Norwegians it’s just more efficient to have a single provider who does a good enough job. They prefer this to many competing producers who have to constantly one-up each other. The Law of Jante strikes again.

Dig a little deeper and you see even more of the Law of Jante in advertising. This makes it especially tough to advertise and sell your product. How will a consumer know your offering is better if you can’t directly tell them so? Many of the tried-and-true advertising techniques found in Western markets simply don’t work in Norway. Those play on the emotions of envy, greed and even fear. In Norway you’ll need to focus on other attributes in your advertising instead. You have to talk about the quality of your product and point out that those who use it are content but not exuberantly happy. You cannot say that your product is better than others nor that buying your product will make your consumers better people. Instead tell them or show them that the consumer will be made content. Your product is good, but never exceptionally better than others. If a Norwegian describes your business or product as “nice” it means it’s probably going to be a massive success.

Law of Jante in Advertising

Bad-mouthing competitors, be it in advertising or even private meetings, is also highly discouraged.

To truly respect the Law of Jante in your business advertising you need to do one very specific thing: have other people say why you’re the best or your product is superior. CEOs shouldn’t stand up and claim superiority but instead they should focus on getting all of Norway to say that the product is acceptably good. Word-of-mouth marketing is everything in Norway. For example, the typical Norwegian will be highly skeptical of you and working with you until their friends or family have first validated your offering. Once that happens, Norwegians begin to build trust and are open to engage with something new. Otherwise, there is little risk tolerance in Norway and that is especially true if that product or a person claims to be better. However, if just a handful of Norwegians speak highly of something, news tends to spread very fast. That’s one of the advantages of working in a small country.

How does Jante Law impact setting expectations in Norway?

When it comes to Norwegian business culture and the Law of Jante, I have found one thing to be universally true: Norwegians will always set expectations fairly low. They will almost always exceed those expectations, but it’s important not to over-promise anything or promise things you know you will not manage to do. Remember: you are good at what you do, but you are not to be exceedingly better than others. In Norwegian business it’s actually significantly more important that you follow through on what you say you’ll do versus boldly promising amazing results. In other words: don’t be too American and you’ll be just fine.


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Working with Norwegians is the guide to work culture in Norway.

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Working With Norwegians

Morning at the Norwegian Office

The modern Norwegian corporate office is a thing of beauty. Imagine a vista of sensible floor plans along with that slick Scandinavian furniture in a workplace that is as efficient as the Norwegians that occupy it. Open spaces, calm colors, exposed wood and great coffee machines with touch screens make them a worker’s paradise.

Like many things in Norway, much thought is put into the office design and overall experience. You won’t find many dark, lifeless offices like you find throughout the world. Instead you’ll find big open windows with amazing views. Even when the Norwegian worker is at the office it’s important their precious nature is still within reach or at least within view.

You won’t find many mazes of endless cubicles nor will you find many private offices. This isn’t America where one’s office sends a clear signal of your status in the company. The American executive often dreams of obtaining the coveted corner office as the ultimate symbol of status. Sometimes this even goes as far as putting the executive’s office on a higher floor and overlooking the rank-and-file, lower-level employees. That is of course so they can easily survey their domain and loyal subjects. It also creates a very clear distinction of where one sits in the multi layered hierarchy of the American office place. This is less important in the flat hierarchy of Norwegian companies where they go to great lengths to avoid such perceptions of inequality.

In addition to this equality there’s a calm and peace found inside the Norwegian office. However, if you ever want to cause pandemonium within these walls I recommend this one simple trick: go around and ask every single person “How are you doing!?” when you arrive in the morning. This type of pleasantry might be common in other work cultures but not so much in Norway. Instead it’s more common for workers to arrive at their desk and not speak to a single soul. Norwegians are also notoriously awful making small talk as well. So if you ask how they are doing, they might even take you seriously and start telling you about all sorts of random personal issues!


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Working with Norwegians is the guide to work culture in Norway.

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Are Norwegians Lazy?

For many Norwegians work-life balance is incredibly important.

With a heavier emphasis on the life balance part.

The ideal Norwegian maintains a delicate balance in his or her life, optimizing both for efficiency but also optimal relaxation time. This is best described as working to live, and not living to work. So greater joy is taken in say getting to the ski slopes, or just enjoying a quiet evening at homes with some candles lit than say working extra hours to advance in the workplace. 

This sometimes causes Norwegians to be perceived as lazy, which is not entirely accurate. You don’t often meet many lazy cultures who enjoy 4-hour mountain hikes and many other types of physical punishment such as cross country skiing.

In truth, the modern Norwegian is actually highly efficient in the workplace. That makes it easier for them to put the work aside at the end of the day and get back to enjoying life. They also take great pride in their work so even if it takes longer to accomplish that perfectly alright.

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Working with Norwegians is the guide to work culture in Norway.

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Ascension Day in Norway Explained

In Norway, Ascension Day is the celebration of the Nordic god Odin ascending from deep within a fjord and going up the mountain to his cabin for a nice long weekend. There, and behind the cold walls of this cabin, he lights a fire and waits approximately 9 hours for the cabin to reach a level that one can describe as not totally freezing. He enjoys a great feast on this day. Which by Norwegian standards consists of several cold sandwiches, some type of goo packaged in a tube oh and of course some brown cheese.

As it turns out even the Nordic gods can’t afford a decent meal here in expensive Norway. Content with his meal and his cabin on the mountain he enjoys sitting there, quietly and with himself. Before he calls it a night he makes his way outside to the bathroom. A humble shack and a hole in the ground to do his business. As he sits upon this throne, he says to himself, “Yes, this truly is heaven!”.

Not the story you’re familiar with?

I tried asking a few Norwegians about the meaning of today but was unable to get a straight answer. You see Norway is not a very religious country, so no one really knew the real reason for the day off.

Of course, they still don’t mind taking vacation on pretty much every religious holiday. It’s just part of the heavy focus on work/life balance you find here in Norway. Enjoy the day off!

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Working with Norwegians is the guide to work culture in Norway.

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Being competitive in sports vs being competitive in business

Every weekday morning a highly competitive sporting event takes place in Oslo.

It’s not a marathon or football game.

It’s not even a real sporting event to be honest.

You’ve no doubt heard of the bike race the Tour de France but please let me introduce to the Norwegian version: The Tour De Finance.

It takes place every morning as the Norwegian corporate foot soldiers living in the suburbs (Bærum) make their way on bicycle into the Oslo city center. Here on the urban grid of streets and bike paths, the Norwegian worker has the chance to do something that’s more difficult to do within the office walls. That is to aggressively compete with their coworkers and perhaps a few business competitors.

When physical activity is involved then it’s OK to be really competitive in Norway.

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The Loud  American: Working with Norwegian Book on God morgen Norge

Sean Percival, the author of The Loud American: Working with Norwegians book will appear on God Morning Norge (Good Morning Norway) to discuss the book! 

 

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Working with Norwegians is the guide to work culture in Norway.

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20 Ways to Answer the Question “Why Norway?”

When you move to Norway as a foreigner there’s one question you’ll be asked often. That of course being “Why Norway?”. 

Usually that’s also followed by “And do you plan to stay?”

So much for feeling welcome.

These questions can easily be as jarring as the culture shock us foreigners sometimes experience in Norway. I don’t completely understand why Norwegians often ask such questions. These questions are usually the first or second thing they ask you! So to help my fellow foreigners better answer this question I’ve assembled this list of possible (albeit somewhat sarcastic) answers. I hope it helps.

  1. I’m here for the amazing weather!
  2. I’m here for a girl.
  3. I’m here for a boy.
  4. I’m here for a girl who used to be a boy.
  5. I just want to be closer to your beloved fjords.
  6. I thought it might be fun to double my tax liability in this wonderful country.
  7. I’m hoping to get on your nice welfare system and ride that out for as long as possible.
  8. After living in a place with sun for so many years I kind of got sick of it to be honest.
  9. I’m hiding in the one place no one would ever care to look.
  10. I was tired of the corporate rat race at home so I moved to a place where no one works too hard.
  11. I just cant get enough of that brown cheese!
  12. I no longer wish to engage in small talk or make any friends so Norway is perfect for avoiding such things.
  13. My liver has had it far too easy at home so I’m here for the Norwegian drinking culture.
  14. It’s much easier to dress in Norway. Instead of having to worry about what to wear now I can just wear all black every day.
  15. I’m just here to access Norwegian Tinder.
  16. I really enjoy the punishment that is cross country skiing.
  17. I come from a war torn region so the struggle of life in Norway as a foreigner is slightly less grueling.
  18. I really like the feeling of wool on my skin.
  19. I love the Norwegian summer. It’s the best day of the year!
  20. I’m trying to switch to an all bread diet.

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Julebord: The Norwegian Christmas Party

The apex of Norwegian drinking culture, at least as it pertains to the workplace, is Julebord, or the Christmas party. A year’s worth of pent up work frustrations is released on this glorious night. It’s a bit of a fancy night, at least fancier than a typical Norwegian event. Often taking place in a luxury hotel or other fine establishment, this is one night of the year when it’s ok to indulge a little (more like a lot). You’ve almost made it through the brutal winter so perhaps you’ve earned it after all. 

Before you join a Norwegian work Julebord there are a few rules to live by. Let’s go through them.

  • Norwegian men should dust off the suits and ties they never wear for this evening. It’s expected you’ll look a little nice tonight.
  • Norwegian women also get a little fancy and even wear stiletto heels. This is not a sight you often see in Norway as it’s not so easy to traverse snowy streets in such footwear.
  • This is the night to share feedback with your colleagues, good or bad. The alcohol will help you muster up the courage to do so.
  • If you have romantic feelings for a colleague now is the time to let them know. Once again the alcohol should help.
  • It’s perfectly OK to sleep with your boss this night, even if he or she is married!
  • The same rules that apply to Las Vegas apply to Julebord. So what happens at the Julebord stays at the Julebord. Don’t make your coworkers uncomfortable by discussing the night’s events the next day. Or ever again really.

For foreigners, this is a night to celebrate and strengthen your relationship with your Norwegian colleagues. It’s one of the few evenings when this is easy to do. For the Norwegians out there please check in on your foreign workers to ensure they are not overwhelmed. They will not be used to seeing such an overly social experience in Norway. Hand them a shot of aquavit and help them sing along on this wonderful night.

God Jul!


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The Typical Norwegian Business Man

The typical Norwegian businessman or ‘den typiske nordmann’, is the Fox and he’s the proudest Norwegian you’ll meet. He’s proud of his country and even more proud of his cross-country skiing. For him, a physical activity like cross-country skiing is one of the few times he can get hyper-competitive. When physical activity is involved then it’s OK in Norway. That’s because one does not win in sports by simply being a slick salesperson or ruthless in business dealings.

In physical competition, you have to put in the work. You have to extend your own limitations and practice often. You have to take great pride in the effort to truly master it. This is what earns great respect from other Norwegians. The Fox competes in the Birkebeinerrennet, a famous ski race in Norway that business executives often participate in. His company has its own team and his achievement in the tracks has become as important as his resume. He wears his very expensive sports outfits around town and even at the office sometimes, as this is how Norwegian shows status through clothing. When it is done during a sport or physical activity context it is allowed. This also includes the brand of wool he wears as it sends a subtle signal about his social status.

The Fox is a global traveler but skeptical of foreigners who come to Norway for business. He feels that business in Norway is best done by and with other Norwegians. Do you work with The Typical Norwegian Business Man aka The Fox? Read ‘The Loud American: Working with Norwegians‘ to learn about this type of Norwegian animal and much much more.

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Working with Norwegians is the guide to work culture in Norway.

Living with Norwegians is the guide for moving to and surviving Norway.