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.