As you start to work in Norway, you’ll notice things are a bit different with regard to names. First of all, there aren’t that many unique names in Norway. This reminds me of the time when a colleague was trying to remember a business contact whose name started with “J.” I responded, “I know 10 people named Johan, 6 people named Jonas, and 5 more guys named Jonah”, which didn’t help us remember. So, while working with Norwegians, you won’t have to remember too many distinctly unique names. You will, however, have enough challenges keeping them all straight and matched to the right people.
In Norway, titles are also not used very often as most business environments are causal in nature. Additionally, to use flashy titles as a means of impressing colleagues is discouraged, lest anyone individual try to assert themselves as more important in the organization. Yes, I’m talking to you Brad Braderson, Senior Vice President of Regional Sales and New Product Development Asset Manager. In Norway, you’re just Brad and that’s perfectly all right. Save the long titles for the business card. Although, many Norwegians go as far as to even exclude their titles on their business cards, at least the Norwegian version of it. This can even apply to using distinguished titles such as Doctor, depending on the social setting. Much of this is because Norway is a very egalitarian society that never had an aristocracy. Those fancy people lived in Stockholm or Copenhagen. The last lordship in Norway (The Count of Jarlsberg) lost his title in 1829 and that was the end of that. For a quick tip, it’s best to simply listen to how Norwegians introduce themselves to figure out how they wish to be identified.
Both in business and in personal interactions it is best to avoid using “Mr.”, “Mrs.” and “Miss” courtesy titles. This is considered too formal in almost every type of setting. Also, in Norway, one’s personal relationship status is not really the business of others. Thanks to a strong and equal social welfare system, many couples are together for many years without formally marrying. It’s best to avoid potentially “miss”-identifying a colleague’s or business partners’ marital status and risking the embarrassment.
One exception where titles are required is when referring to the members of the royal family of Norway. Even in an extremely egalitarian culture, and with the Law of Jante, it’s good to be king! They are always referred to as “King”, “Queen”, “Crown Prince” and “Crown Princess”. If you’re lucky enough to speak directly to the royal family, you would address the King and Queen as “Your Majesty” and “His or Her Royal Highness” in the case of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess respectively. They also require more formal introductions for example, “His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon…” I was actually lucky enough to meet the Crown Prince for an intimate breakfast at his home, the Skaugum Estate, and I was incredibly nervous about the event. We Americans don’t have much experience with nobility. You could even say we’ve spent the last 200+ years moving away from the concept altogether. Still, such a title demands a serious amount of respect that I was ill-prepared for. Do I bow? Do I kiss the ring? Does he greet me by touching a sword to both shoulders? I was unsure. However, the experience proved to be surprisingly casual. Despite their high stature and exclusive use of titles, even the royal family in Norway is incredibly approachable and treated similarly to the population at large.
This wasn’t always the case in Norway; as recently as the 1970s, titles were used throughout the country. This included in business, noble families and included the professional titles like Doctor. Although as the society enjoyed its new financial prosperity during the time, the focus quickly shifted towards the more egalitarian approach we see today throughout Scandinavia. Personally, I don’t think their usage has been missed and even my big American ego has learned to accept it. Although, I still keep my title on my business cards. In bold. Maybe in a slightly larger font. Some old habits are hard to change, after all.