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16 Things To Know About Norwegian People

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So, you are planning a visit to Norway? Here’s what you should know about Norwegian people to help make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable.

Norway is one of the countries in the Scandinavia region of Europe. It is known for its mountains, beautiful fjords, and some of the world’s best landscapes.

But, that’s not everything. Norwegian people are amazing too. They are some of the most incredible people you’ll meet anywhere in the world.

So if you plan on visiting Norway one day, it is good to know a few things about Norwegian people. These include some of their most outstanding traits, habits, and aspects of their culture and lifestyle. This will prepare you for what to expect once you get there and how to behave around Norwegians.

The countries of Northern Europe are unlike any other, and there are a few cultural differences it’s important to note before you head over. Living in Norway comes with its own set of rules, and if you’ve never experienced Norwegian culture before, there are a few things to know so you don’t have a major culture shock while you explore this wonderful country.

Norwegian People

Here are 16 things you need to know about Norwegian people before your planned travel.

Top Things to Know About Norwegians

1. They Are Some of the World’s Happiest People

happy norwegian people

Every year, numerous studies are conducted to measure the happiness index around the world. Some of these studies are commissioned by various credible bodies, such as the United Nations. Not surprisingly, Norwegians and their Scandinavian neighbors are ranked as some of the happiest people in the world.

For example, in the 2019 World Happiness Report released by the Happiness Research Institute, Norwegians came in third behind Finland and Denmark. Norwegian people are proud and very patriotic individuals. They also demonstrate a lot of togetherness, evident to anyone visiting the country.

Many experts attribute their happiness to the Norwegian welfare system that ensures that all people of Norway are well cared for. They have very high standards of living and prioritize gender equality with very minimal differences between them in terms of quality of life. 

Norway is also one of the safest countries in the world, and the low crime rate could easily be attributed to one of the reasons everyone is so happy. Strict gun laws plus a very low murder rate have earned Norway one of the top spots for safety, alongside other Scandinavian countries. 

See Related: How Much is a Trip to Norway? [Full Trip Cost Guide]

2. Norwegian People Love Skiing

Panoramic view of man cross-country skiing on a track in beautiful winter wonderland scenery in Scandinavia with scenic evening light at sunset in winter
JFL Photography / Adobe Stock

Did you know that Norwegians have won the most medals in the Winter Olympics? And, deservedly so! After all, Norway experiences a much harsher winter than other European countries, so naturally many Norwegians have taken to skiing to get around during the winter months. It’s just a part of the Norwegian lifestyle!

One of the trademark sports in the Winter Olympics is skiing, and this is where Norway trumps all other nations. Norwegians have a rich tradition of skiing. In fact, many Norwegians love skiing, not just for purposes of competition, but as a means of having fun.

They were the pioneers of modern skiing. Norwegians have a saying that they are born with skis on their feet. This shows just how deeply skiing is ingrained in their culture. 

Children are introduced to skiing at a very young age. Skiing is part of the curriculum in schools, and there are many ski events for children held all around the country every year. 

Because the country is located near the polar region, there are some parts of the country where people ski even during the summer. If you are a skiing enthusiast, then exploring Norway would be incomplete without hitting the ski slopes or resorts in Norway.

See Related: Famous Historical Landmarks in Norway

3. They Speak Norwegian

Chalkboard with the question do you speak Norwegian? written in Norwegian
nito / Shutterstock

There are many languages spoken in Norway and multiple different dialects within the Norwegian language. There are also different languages to use depending on whether you’re speaking or writing!

The two official languages in Norway are Norwegian and Sami. Most Norwegians speak Norwegian and write in one of two official written forms. Within the Norwegian language, there are two official forms of written Norwegian: Bokmål and Nynorsk. 

Bokmål (book language) developed from the Dani-Norwegian language and became the elite language after the union of Denmark-Norway in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

Nynorsk (new Norwegian) developed around a collective of spoken Norwegian dialects. Don’t let the “new Norwegian” fool you, Nynorsk in fact dates back to before the union with Denmark.

Both Bokmål and Nynorsk are taught in schools, with many Norwegians preferring Bokmål over Nynorsk. Nynorsk is slightly more common in rural areas.

Sami is a Finno-Ugric language primarily spoken by the Sami, the native inhabitants of northern Europe including Sweden, Finland, and Russia as well as Norway. The Sami language is more of a blanket term to describe many different languages and dialects within the Sami culture. Out of the nine Sami languages, three are actively used in Northern Norway by the Sami.

Because Sami has Finnish and Hungarian roots, the language is much different than Norwegian or other Scandinavian languages, so they cannot understand each other. 

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Because of so many regional dialects, there is no official spoken language of Norway.

Depending on where you are in Norway, the dialects can change drastically. Most people learning Norwegian are taught the Oslo dialect, which seems to be the unofficial standard. 

The good news is that Norwegians are taught English from an early age, so most Norwegians also speak English. I don’t speak any Norwegian languages and had no problems getting around in Norway, especially in major cities. 

That being said, if you are interested in learning Norwegian, we’d recommend getting both a traditional book and an audio version, so you can hear the correct pronunciations.

See Related: Things to Do In Tromso, Norway

4. Most Norwegian People Can Speak English

Child, visiting little town in south Norway, Arendal, on a rainy summer day
Tomsickova / Adobe Stock

Apart from Norwegian, one of the most widely spoken languages is English. While we can’t speak for the entire Norwegian population, the average Norwegian can understand other English speakers and even offer satisfactory responses.

Statistics show that 86 percent of Norwegians can speak English, a relatively high proportion. Contrast this with Canada, which is considered a native English-speaking nation, but where only 78 percent speak English.

English is taught in schools from an early age, so many Norwegians are close to fluent by the time they are teenagers. This means that even if you do not know Norwegian but can speak English, you can still have some amazing times in Norway without worrying too much about a language barrier.

It’s always helpful to learn the essentials and a few important Norwegian verbs before your travel, and there are several resources available online to help you learn Norwegian.

5. Norwegians Love Food

Cured fish plate with sauce and shots of vodka
fazeful / Adobe Stock

To be honest, most countries and cultures enjoy food and have some unique dish or spice blend that they’re known for. Norway is no different!

Why do you think Norwegian people look so healthy and radiant? The secret must be in their cuisine. Norwegian food is an absolute delight, where the traditional cuisine consists of fish, meat, and vegetables. 

Bordered by the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea, it should come as no surprise that seafood makes up a good chunk of a Norwegian’s diet. 

One important fact to note is that Norwegian people introduced salmon sushi to the world. Norway began exporting salmon to Japan in 1980, which ended up completely changing the sushi landscape forever. 

Norwegian food is also more savory compared to other European countries. A typical breakfast for example will include cheese, bread, meat, cheese, and fish. This can be a bit of a shock to the American traveler, who might be used to eggs and bacon or a sweet breakfast like French toast or cereal. 

They have a staple food called lutefisk, which is based on lye–soaked cod. Other foods Norwegians enjoy include brown cheese, waffles, and reindeer meat.

A food tour is one of the best ways to experience the culinary scene in Norway, and if you’re staying in major cities, you’ll have no problem finding one. For instance, this food tour in Oslo focuses on street food, but maybe you’d prefer to board a boat and savor authentic Norwegian meats, cheeses, and beers!

See Related: Best River Cruises in Europe

6. Norwegian People Are Outdoorsy

Woman with a waving flag of Norway with nature background
Andrey Armyagov / Shutterstock

Norwegians have an immense love for nature. Despite the cold polar weather in Norway, they enjoy outdoor activities year-round.

That is why you will find many skiing, hiking, and fishing. Mountain biking is also a hobby for many Norwegian people.

In fact, access to nature is so important in Norway that there’s even a law about it! Allemannsretten (“everyman’s right”) is a law that allows anyone to roam free on uncultivated land in Norway. There are also hundreds of managed campsites all over Norway. These campsites offer extra conveniences, such as running water and electricity, for those who desire a more comfortable outdoor environment.

Most Norwegians also own or rent cabins or mountain huts, with some of these cabins located in very remote places. If you’re eager to experience this outdoor lifestyle, you can book a vacation rental or cabin through VRBO and come prepared to have a wonderful time in the middle of nature.

Voss, Norway, is the extreme sports capital of the world.
Jacks / ViaTravelers

Nicknamed the “Extreme Sports Capital Of The World,” Voss is one of the best towns in Norway for nature lovers. From white-water rafting to mountain biking, you can get your fill on all things adrenaline-pumping. Plus, it’s a stop on the “Norway in a Nutshell” train ride, and it’s easy to get to from both Bergen and Oslo. 

7. They Don’t Eat Out Often

eating out on restaurants

Norway is an expensive place to live in. In fact, Oslo, the capital, is ranked among the most expensive cities in the world to live in.

Naturally, most things are more expensive here than in other European countries. And eating out is one of them. It costs a fortune to dine in Norwegian restaurants.

As a result, many Norwegian people prefer cooking their own food at home. It is cheaper for them to buy food at the supermarket and eat at home with their families. This is something that makes many visitors raise eyebrows, especially tourists from other parts of Europe and the United States where eating out is big.

Of course, we highly recommend splurging on a restaurant while you’re in Norway. If you’re staying in a hotel, then you won’t have a full kitchen to cook your meals anyway, so find yourself an authentic Norwegian restaurant while you’re visiting to indulge in.

8. Norwegian People Are Big Fans of Slow TV

Watching a slow TV show
Jonas Leupe / Unsplash

Slow TV refers to a TV program that covers ordinary events in their entirety. Such programs allow viewers to be part of the experience in real-time. It is described as slow because of the slow pace of the events.

Norwegians were the first people to popularize slow TV. It happened in 2009 when the Norwegian state broadcaster gave a live broadcast of a seven-hour train journey involving the Bergensbanen Express train.

The broadcast became so popular that the state broadcaster added another broadcast of a 135-hour train ride. It is estimated that at one point, over fifty percent of Norwegians tuned in to watch.

This set the stage for mainstream slow TV. Today you will find Norwegian people sitting down to watch 24 hours of knitting pins in motion during the National Knitting Night.

Other popular shows include watching a log fire burning for twelve hours or an 18-hour show of salmon spawning. Slow TV has become such a phenomenon in Norway that even international viewers have joined in.

9. They Aren’t Chatty      

Group of friends having a serious discussion
Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Norwegians like keeping to themselves, especially around new people. Rarely will you see anyone trying to smile at a stranger or engaging in small talk. So do not be surprised when you try to strike up a conversation and are met with a raised eyebrow.

Although some people find this strange and even rude, Norwegian people consider it their version of politeness. If they do not know someone, they prefer keeping their mouths shut. And even though this kind of behavior is initially unnerving for visitors, it comes with benefits.

For example, no pressure exists to start or keep a conversation going. It, therefore, means that when you are hanging out with Norwegians, you don’t have to feel like you’re supposed to fill moments of silence with conversation. Silence is normal. In fact, silence is preferred!

As a visitor, you should learn to accept and adjust. Remember, this is part of Norwegian culture, and etiquette is ingrained in them. They are also very direct in their speech and do not waste time on niceties.

10. They Take Their Shoes Off When Visiting Someone Else’s House

no shoes policy

This is another behavior that is just peculiar to the Norwegian people. When you want to get into someone else’s house, you must remove your shoes first and leave them at the door. To them, this is a way of showing respect to your host and their home.

It’s also a way to ensure the home environment remains clean and comfortable. Instead of shoes, Norwegians wear socks around the house instead of shoes, even during winter. So, if you are planning to visit someone while there, ensure you are wearing clean socks.

While it may seem strange to people just visiting Norway for the first time, it benefits both the host and other visitors.

Why? Because shoes carry so much dirt and germs, and in the winter they can be filled with snow, dirt, etc. And, often do not even realize we are carrying all this under our shoes. For that reason we end up creating such a mess. Personally, I’m bringing this habit back with me.

See related: German Culture: Facts, Traditions, and Concepts

11. Norwegians Are Some of the Most Literate People in the World

Young boy holding a pencil studying
Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Worldwide, Scandinavian countries lead in terms of literacy levels. And Norway is no exception. In a study done by the Central Connecticut State University, Norway was ranked second behind Finland, in the list of the world’s most literate nations.

These findings are based on the five pillars of literacy. They include having a wide variety of newspapers, availability, and accessibility of public libraries, and access to computers. Researchers also consider the educational resources available.

9 out of 10 Norwegians read at least one book a year. Among women, it is even higher with about 97 percent reading a book a year compared to 89 percent in men. Over 40 percent of the population says they read one book per month translating to at least 10 books in one year.

Very few other countries come close. There is a peculiar tradition during the Easter holiday when many Norwegians read crime thrillers. It is worth noting that books are not taxed here, which is good if you want your citizens to read.

12. They Value Social Equality

Woman protecting colorful pawns at wooden table
New Africa / Shutterstock

Norwegians are very egalitarian. From a young age, they are taught that all people are equal and deserve equal rights.

This helps them to grow up upholding this value of equality. It applies to all aspects of life including gender, sexual orientation, race, and even at the workplace.

The Norwegian school curriculum is also responsible for teaching such values. At school, students are taught that there are no gender-specific tasks and that gender equality is important.

Boys are taught that they should take part in house chores, while girls are also taught how to perform tasks that are considered manly. Even economically speaking, the difference between high and low-paying jobs is minimal. A CEO for example earns just slightly higher wages than their employees.

13. Norwegian People Love Saunas

Sauna interior
HUUM / Unsplash

Although saunas are considered a Finnish invention, Norwegian sauna culture is equally strong. Saunaing is an integral part of the lifestyle of the Norwegian people. 

They have saunas of all kinds, including private and public ones, floating saunas, etc. And being very active and sporty, they like visiting saunas to sweat, remove toxins, and improve blood circulation.

Norwegians have their way of doing it. They prefer the hot-cold cycle, which involves following up a sauna session with a swim in cold water. Trust me, jumping in the ice-cold fjord waters after a sauna is one of the most invigorating experiences you’ll ever have!

Traditionally, most of these saunas were in private homes and public places like hotels. But recently, public saunas have sprouted in many cities and towns across Europe.

They are found in convenient locations such as restaurants, public libraries, and concert halls. They even have mobile saunas on buses and boats.

Norwegians even have sauna events that are held regularly. As a visitor, you should pop into one to experience a taste of this charming Norwegian culture. You can easily browse online and make hotel reservations with some of the best saunas right from where you are.  

14. They Consume A Lot of Coffee

Coffee Shop in Flam, Norway
Coffee With a View in Flam, Norway (Jacks / ViaTravelers)

Norwegian people are obsessed with coffee. Per international statistics, Norway is ranked among the top three nations in the world that consume the highest amount of coffee.

On average, Norwegians take at least 4 cups of coffee a day. This translates to an average annual consumption of about 10 kilograms of coffee beans for every Norwegian. To put this into context, the world average for coffee beans consumption stands at 1.3 kilograms per person.

That difference is astronomical, making me think that coffee might also be the national drink for the Norwegians. There are coffee shops at almost every turn. The coffee is usually made in a stove-top kettle and most love it black.

Several theories have been put forward to explain this phenomenon. But the most plausible one is that coffee was introduced by the government to replace alcohol between 1916 and 1927. Before then, the country had a serious drinking problem.

To this day, Norway has very strict alcohol laws to limit alcohol consumption. All the same, coffee seems like a perfect alternative.

15. Norwegian People Are Not Religious

Arctic Cathedral Church in Tromso Norway at dusk twilight
vichie81 / Adobe Stock

Religion in Norway is much different today than it was hundreds of years ago. Like most Scandinavian countries, early Norwegians were affiliated with Norse paganism. As Christianity spread throughout the world, it reached Norway somewhere between 1000 and 1150. 

Today, most Norwegians, close to 70 percent, are Christian and belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but as few as 3 percent attend church on Sundays. So while the majority of Norwegians to belong to a religion, most aren’t actively practicing. In fact, in 2018 a European Values Study reported that 52.9 percent of the Norwegian population did not believe in God. 

Statistics provided by the University of Agder in Norway show that over a quarter of the population does not hold any religious beliefs. This group does not believe in the existence of any higher power.

If you look at a country like the United States, over 80 percent of the people believe in the existence of God. Interestingly, even some Norwegians who do not believe in God still attend church, albeit for ceremonial reasons.

Notably, most of the world’s religions are still represented in the country. These include Christianity, Islam, Jewish, and even Oriental religions. Norwegians also take part in religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas, although they are highly secularized.

Despite the decline in practicing religion, churches are one of the most visited attractions for tourists, especially stave churches. Stave churches are medieval wooden buildings that were constructed with a post and lintel construction, a popular method in northern Europe.

Today, most of the surviving stave churches (28 in total) are here in Norway. Built in 1200, the Heddal Stave Church in Heddal is the largest stave church in Norway, and guided tours are offered daily. 

16. Some Norwegians are World-Famous

Henrik Ibsen, Norwegian playwright

Apart from its happy people, majestic landscape, and stunning cities, Norway is also home to remarkable people who have left an indelible mark on the world. They are extremely gifted and have come up with creations that have impacted the world in one way or the other. They range from explorers, scientists, and academics to musicians, humanitarians, and artists.

For example, did you know that the world-famous writer Henrik Ibsen was Norwegian? He is a towering figure in the literary world and is considered by many as the father of modern realism. Although he later emigrated from the country, most of his plays are based in Norway.

Edvard Grieg, the critically acclaimed composer, and pianist, was also Norwegian. He is regarded as the foremost Romantic-era composer. His music is also included in the standard repertoire of classical music. Other contemporary famous Norwegian people include;

  • Magnus Carlsen, the world champion chess grandmaster
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the professional football player turned coach
  • Kristofer Hivju, the actor and Games of Thrones star
  • Sigrid, the singer, and songwriter
  • Jens Stoltenberg, the current Secretary-General of Nato

Norway also played a huge part in both Antarctic and Arctic exploration. Norwegian explorers Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen both made multiple polar explorations, with Amundsen being credited as the first to reach the South Pole, beating British explorer Captain Robert F. Scott in 1911. Amundsen was also the first man to navigate the Northwest Passage and the first to fly across the Arctic Ocean.

There are museums in both Tromso and Oslo dedicated to their expeditions, and you can even step on board the actual ships that made the arduous journey! 

Norwegian Culture

What are people from Norway called?

People from Norway are called Norwegians. Nordmenn in Norwegian. 

Norway Political Map
Peter Hermes Furian / Adobe Stock

Where is Norway?

Norway is located in northern Europe and is one of the Nordic countries alongside Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland. It’s part of the Scandinavian Peninsula along with Sweden and Finland.

Norway is mostly bordered by Sweden to the east, but northern Norway does in fact share borders with both Finland and Russia. On the western side, Norway is surrounded by the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea. 

FAQs

What are the characteristics of a Norwegian person?

Norwegian people are typically known for their reserved and polite nature. They value personal space and privacy, often as quiet and introspective, especially to newcomers. But, once you get to know them, Norwegians are warm, friendly, and have a great sense of humor, often infused with Norwegian irony.

What are Norwegians most known for?

Norwegians are most recognized for their deep connection to nature and outdoor activities. They are passionate about ‘friluftsliv’, a concept that translates to ‘open-air living,’ which embodies the Norwegian love for hiking, skiing, and generally spending time outdoors. Additionally, Norway is renowned for its contributions to art and literature, with famous figures like painter Edvard Munch and playwright Henrik Ibsen hailing from the country.

What are the beauty standards in Norway?

In Norway, beauty standards are often tied to naturalness and simplicity. Norwegians prefer a more natural look, favoring minimal makeup and casual, functional clothing. Health and fitness are also considered beautiful, reflecting the Norwegian love for outdoor activities and a healthy, active lifestyle.

Are Norwegian people Germanic?

Yes, Norwegian people are considered Germanic. The term ‘Germanic’ refers to the ethnic group of people who speak Germanic languages, of which Norwegian is one. Historically, early Norwegian settlers immigrating were Germanic tribes, and both modern Norwegian culture and language have evolved from these early Germanic influences.

The Sami, the indigenous people who live in Lapland, are not of Germanic descent. The Sami people speak a language that is a member of the Uralic linguistic group, which has Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian roots. 

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