Working With Norwegians

The Art (and Power) of a Handshake in Norway

A majority of the initial work I did in Norway consisted of fundraising capital: an incredibly difficult task in the country. Norwegians, despite their considerable wealth, are not overly eager to part with it, especially to a foreigner like myself. This is, of course, due in part to them being rather risk-averse. Another reason being the incredibly high wealth taxes of the country. If I was successful with their investment money they’d have the luxury problem of owing an incredibly high amount come tax time. It’s much safer to simply buy another house or cabin and leverage the tax benefits of such an investment. Finally, as a foreigner who just showed up into town asking for millions of dollars, I could see how this might not be the most effective approach. Although in my previous home of Silicon Valley I saw this happen on a daily basis. As we have already learned trust is earned, and it takes time in Norway.

Once, after a successful meeting I had done the impossible. I got a Norwegian to part with some of their money to support my project. We shook hands and parted our separate ways. I quickly, and somewhat frantically turned to my Norwegian colleague and said:

“We should get him a contract to sign ASAP to confirm his investment. Before he changes his mind!”

That’s when she told me to relax. She further went on to say that we didn’t need to worry. He shook on the deal and gave his word, something of significantly more importance in Norway than perhaps other business cultures.

In America, for example we shake on just about everything. But in terms of closing a deal, we often let the lawyers fight it out from that point. In America, and many other business cultures, a deal is never truly done until it’s signed, usually on some overly detailed legal document. Things are however different in Norway. One’s word and the handshake that accompanies it is incredibly symbolic.