Even though Norway and Australia are both modern, civilised, Western countries, the two cultures are quite different in many respects. Deciphering these differences can often be as difficult as predicting the weather in Bergen or Melbourne. In this post, I will be talking about social etiquette.
In the English language, many words and phrases hold less value than they do in Norwegian, and you often have be ‘careful’ with what you say. In Norway, you frequently say what you mean, so a simple question such as ‘how are you?’ can hold much more power. It’s similar to how some people in England use ‘are you OK?’ as an opening line in conversation—it can come across as very personal. If you do use this line in Norway, it generally means you really want to know how the person you are speaking to is actually feeling. If you bump into a Norwegian friend in the street, it is normal to skip this ‘formality’ and jump straight into conversation. However, I have found that N0rwegians, who interact a lot with foreigners or who have been on foreign exchange, tend to start conversations with the ‘how it’s going?’ line much more readily.
Politeness is not as necessary as it is back home. Social hierarchies are more relaxed and professional relationships with academics are less strict and more casual. A formal dress code for a job interview is called for much less frequently, and smart casual is generally acceptable. Addressing academics by their first name without using ‘Sir’ or ‘Professor’ is also normal here (and in Australia!), but generally not so much in the US. From experience, starting an e-mail with the line ‘Hi XXX’ is seems to be fine for the most part. I recently took a class with a rather laid back professor, who would crack jokes and talk a bit more personally with us than what I was used to with lecturers or tutors back home.
Another thing that took me a while to get used to is how to pass people on the street. You know, when you both sidestep in the same direction while trying to walk past each another. Normally you would say ‘sorry’, but this is rarely the case in Norway. You might say the odd ‘oi’, but normally this process is a quiet event involving minimal eye contact.
A foreigner listening to how Norwegians speak over the dining table might also be surprised. Norwegian phrases such as ‘send me the salt’, ‘can I get some bread’ or ‘I want water’ are nowhere near as offending as they would be at an Australian dinner table. ‘Please’ is rarely used, but ‘thanks’ is quite common.
Knowing all of these tips and tricks however doesn’t mean you should start behaving how a Norwegian would. Most Norwegians have a good understanding of the English culture and language, and can easily tell whether or not you are being polite. If you’re going to speak English, stick to how you would normally speak until you get a feel for what is right and wrong. Each person or group of people react differently to phrases and some might take on responses or certain mannerisms more personally than others.