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Working With Norwegians

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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