Norwegian politeness (***)
How do we judge others?
We all tend to judge others from our own viewpoint, thinking that the way things are done in our home culture is the right and natural way.
What is considered as reasonable behaviour varies from culture to culture and when we see members of other cultures do something in a different way, we often forget to take their culture into account. This is very natural, but when we are in, or work with, another culture, we need to have an open mind and be aware that many things will be done differently to what we are used to at home.
It is best to observe, ask open questions and challenge ourselves and our own thinking and doing. By doing this we can all learn something from people from other cultures and we may achieve better results if we combine the best of the different cultures.
Have you ever considered that what is polite in one culture may be rude in another? Please reflect for a moment upon cultural behaviour in Norway versus where you come from. Can you think of any examples of behaviour that:
- You have observed in Norway that would be rude in the culture you come from?
- Would be considered acceptable in your home culture, but are considered rude in Norway?
How is the greeting behaviour in Norway compared to the country you come from? I have addressed this in video.
What does it take to be polite in Norway?
Norwegians are not concerned about following strict rules of etiquette. Politeness can more or less be summarised in three simple ‘rules’:
1. It is rude to disturb others unnecessarily
This is the most important rule. For example, you are rude if you are talking loudly on the mobile phone on the bus. Making loud noises is perceived as disruptive and annoying. Since Norwegians do not like to have open conflicts, they will usually suffer in silence and not complain. But inside, they will think that you are being very rude. There is an article that describes this part of the politeness very well: 'Norwegians impolite? Forget it!' by Sigrid Folkestad.
2. Politeness should come from the heart
Empty greetings or rituals have little value. Therefore, Norwegians will rarely ask you how you are doing. Most people only ask if they are interested in listening to the answer and have enough time to be able to show compassion if you are not doing so well. If so, it would be unacceptable to just move on without taking any notice of the reply. It therefore makes little sense to ask strangers how they are.
3. Norwegians prefer to manage by themselves and not be a bother to others
Independence is a very important trait of the culture. This is why people will not offer any help without knowing that it is wanted. Norwegians are in fact very helpful when they know you want or need their help.
At work, it is polite to greet your colleagues in the morning by saying “Hei” or with just a smile or a nod. Some Norwegians may refrain from saying hi if they feel it disturbs their colleagues in their work. It could also be because they are quite shy and feel that they do not know you.
It is also good behaviour to acknowledge the bus driver whilst getting on the bus, or the shop assistant when you enter and leave a small shop where the assistant sees you entering or leaving. We are, after all, in a land of equals and we therefore consider the bus driver and shop assistants as our equals.
It is also polite to say “Unnskyld!” (Sorry) or “Beklager!” (Pardon) when you bump into someone on the bus etc. or when you need to push past someone in a crowd. The same goes for looking over your shoulder so that you can keep the door open for someone following behind. Many Norwegians forget to do this, and they are therefore being impolite by Norwegian standards.
Many Norwegians will not say goodbye when they leave work if they feel that this will disturb their colleagues in their work. And similarly, when leaving a party because they do not want to spoil the good mood and create a feeling that it is time to leave. In other words, they do not want to disturb or break up the party.