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Dec 14 2013

There’s nothing weird about Norway

Hang on here: this article about undemonstrative Norwegian reserve is a bit unfair. I’ve been there, lovely country, friendly people, I felt no deficiency of affection from the good Norwegians I met, so don’t let it put you off.

But then, I am coming from a Scandinavian-American family and live in Minnesota, where all the behaviors described in the article are considered perfectly normal.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    cartomancer

    Pffft. Here in stuffy old England we find the Norwegians to be uncomfortably chummy, expressive and informal. If you want to see reserved and uptight, try watching middle-class people from Guildford.

    I mean, every Englishman knows that the proper response to bumping into someone in the street is for both of you to freeze, abase yourselves in mortal horror and apologise profusely for your unconscionable act of invasive clumsiness. Simply ignoring it and walking on would be unthinkable – without a fulsome tirade of red-faced self-abnegation from both parties the very fabric of society might collapse. The mere thought of invading someone else’s personal space (generally anything more intimate than their postcode district) keeps Englishmen awake at night in paroxysms of sweaty terror.

    Which is odd, given that a couple of hundred years ago invading people’s space was what we were all about. I guess we’re just overcompensating. Which might explain the Scandinavian case too – making up for all those viking raids.

  2. 2
    cartomancer

    Also, where a Norwegian might wait a few days before showing interest in another person, so as not to appear overly keen, a true Englishman just avoids the whole social minefield by not getting close to them at all!

  3. 3
    Samuel Vimes

    Obviously this fellow went to and lived in a different Norway from you and I. I actually thought at times that they were almost too friendly.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    cartomancer –

    Something like this?

    http://satwcomic.com/monster

  5. 5
    cartomancer

    Yup, that’s exactly what we’re like!

  6. 6
    unbound

    Sorry, but lutefisk is definitely weird.

  7. 7
    Roy G

    I don’t think this person has been in the same Norway I live in.

    Also…
    “I speak fluent Norwegian.”
    No, you donot, not if you’re serious about those translations.
    Ex.: What you call meat cake, kjøttkake, is meatball or meat patty in English. Also, if you pronounce kjøtt as shit, you are definitely not speaking Norwegian.

  8. 8
    Sili

    . Also, if you pronounce kjøtt as shit,

    you’re Swedish.

    As the Kå joke goes about the Irish Nobel laureate trying to check in to his hotel.

  9. 9
    robnyny

    The jostling on the street was something that I noticed within minutes of arriving in Denmark. (I’ve only changed planes in Norway.) As much as I complain about tourists in New York not knowing how to walk (their experience being limited to the distance between their car and the Walmart, and not realizing that you can’t really walk four abreast), at least we never jostle, at least not without apologies. But walking around Copenhagen, where the sidewalks were not particularly crowded, was like being in a pinball machine.

  10. 10
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Maybe it’s just my mood today, but I didn’t find the article especially funny.
    I’m sure it could have been funny, hyperbole and all, but this was just somehow mean (mean can be funny too, but this just wasn’t).

    Dunno.
    (Nope, I’m not Norwegian)

  11. 11
    exterus

    Maybe it’s just my mood today, but I didn’t find the article especially funny.
    I’m sure it could have been funny, hyperbole and all, but this was just somehow mean (mean can be funny too, but this just wasn’t).

    Dunno.
    (Nope, I’m not Norwegian)

    It’s not just your mood. The article most certainly felt mean-spirited and a little bitchy.

    I’m not norwegian, but I am swedish and I live not too far from the border to Norway, so I have some experience with the norwegians. There is some truth in us scandos being reserved and a little standoffish. But that’s just how we are. It’s a cultural thing. I think we outweigh it by being polite and generally decent. I’m speaking in generalities here, of course. The author of the article obviously doesn’t understand cultural differences or even the norwegian language very well and used this rather lacking level of understanding to score some cheap, vaguely (generously speaking) humorous points.

    Oh, and remember that I’m swedish. Our rivalry with the norwegians is legendary. I wouldn’t pass up a good chance to stick it to the norwegians. ;) This just wasn’t a good one.

  12. 12
    Sili

    But walking around Copenhagen, where the sidewalks were not particularly crowded, was like being in a pinball machine.

    Just how drunkenly do you walk?

    I don’t recall the last time I actually bumped into anyone.

  13. 13
    sigurd jorsalfar

    Surely there must be something weird about Norway?

  14. 14
    jnorris

    Sigurd, why do expect Shirley to know something about Norway?

  15. 15
    Seize

    Wow, it’s interesting to see all of this put on paper! I thought immediately not of Norwegians as a strange outgroup, but rather identified these behaviors as an extension of my own white American socialization.

    I’m a white person who has lived worked in a majority-Black community for 3 years. In contrast to the social norms I was taught as growing up in upper-class white-majority suburbs, in DC, we “say hey” to everybody. “To say hey” means “to greet and acknowledge.” The politeness of the words is irrelevant. Most usual in my particular neighborhood is “How you doin,” though actually verbally saying “Hey,” is fine, as long as you make eye contact. The unitary value of “hey” is a personal acknowledgment: you must make eye contact and show recognition on your face, otherwise you come off (at best) as impaired, or, worse, willfully disrespectful.

    Like many WASP-socialized people, I consider the following things polite: to studiously ignore another person in passing, to walk around a person or group of people by crossing into the street or mud, to sit in complete silence beside a stranger without looking them, to avoid eye contact during a mumbled “excuse me.” Where I live now this is all considered incredibly rude and, when woven into existing power structures, is the substance of daily racial microaggressions.

    Once you become sensitized to a new set of norms you can learn quite quickly, but realizing how totally awkward and rude I must have been where I started living here still makes me cringe to think of.

  16. 16
    anne mariehovgaard

    Some of it is true, some of it is… somewhat exaggerated (this person clearly hasn’t been to the same concerts as me), some of it is just problems caused by thinking you speak Norwegian fluently when you don’t – like the “my friend” thing: there are several different phrases that could be translated as “my friend”. The overly-affectionate one is “vennen min”; if you are a man and call another man “vennen min” they’ll think you are gay not that you have a brain tumor. It’s more “dear” than “friend”.

  17. 17
    robnyny

    “Just how drunkenly do you walk?”

    Not at all. What an odd thing for you to say.

  18. 18
    Albert Bakker

    I think they were all really funny and true. I wouldn’t be able to distinguish 16 different faces though.

  19. 19
    coldthinker

    Come on, everybody knows the Norwegians are intolerably smug, arrogant and self-absorbed, filthy rich and consider themselves above all other nations. We only tolerate them for their fjords and the cash flow they generate us by crossing the Lapland border to the Finnish side for cheaper gas and alcohol. And of course, they hate the Swedes like we do. Which makes them kind of ok, I guess.

  20. 20
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There’s nothing like an entitled English native speaker* who thinks that they know everything and that any differences they find mean that the other language, people and culture are wrong.

    This collection about Germans, OTOH was funny, a bit stereotypical in some places but overall a benevolent and loving view on German culture from an outsider.

    *Does not have to be an English native speaker, but there is a serious history tied to “English being the best language ever and only people who speak English are civilised. I recommend Pennycook for an interesting read

  21. 21
    coldthinker

    Giliell,

    For every time and age, there seems to be an international lingua franca. In Europe it used to be Latin, in Africa Swahili (being the language of slave trafficers), etc etc. Now it’s English, somewhat globally this time. In a century or less, it might most likely be Chinese.

    I don’t find this a problem, since for practical purposes some language just has to have that “priviledged position”, and English has a rich literary and scientific history going for it. And basic English is very easy to pick up almost without any formal education.

    To balance the score: there is also an intellectual downside to it, since many if not most native English speakers seem to be seriously handicapped in learning other languages. It’s sad, because there are studies suggesting that growing up multilingual is beneficial to critical thinking, organizational skills and other kinds of intellectual multi-tasking. My daughter is five, bilingual and expected to be fairly fluent in 3-4 languages by the time she’s about twelwe. Which is not that unusual in Scandinavia. And I’m happy to see how easy it seems to be for her to understand abstract concepts and pick up foreign polysyllabic words.

    So, let the English natives snicker at us reindeer herders, we don’t really mind it that much.

  22. 22
    Pilum

    There’s more to understanding a language than understanding the meaning of individual words.
    Keyword: idioms. :-)

  23. 23
    wayner

    Sorry? I live in Norway and I must say J Russell Mikkelsen’s article is as sorry as anything I’ve read since birth.
    His whole bit about ending a phone conversation is just wrong. A simple ‘ha det godt’ in any tone
    is sufficient. It means ‘have it good’ and is often shortened to just ‘ha det’ which is pronounced to rhyme
    with ‘hah day’. It’s like a combined goodbye and have a good day. Very efficient actually.
    He says the food is bad. Yeah – fresh fish out of the North Sea and fresh potatoes with flavor out of the garden in the backyard. I get his point. A BK fishwhich and fries is to die for, or really to die from.
    Maybe he should write an article about the cuisine, ha, in Nebraska or New England. We don’t lead the world in obesity either, btw. What’s for dinner here is not beef and that’s not bad.
    After his rant about no physical contact or dancing without contact I figured out he entirely
    missed the disco and line dance eras. We slow dance here, we dirty dance here and we hold hands
    walking down the street in public and we make babies. We laugh in public and we cry in public. What
    we don’t do upon meeting someone for the first time is immediately ask “What do you do?” and then
    judge their worthiness based on their answer. We have a good sense of humor about ourselves too.
    In fact I love my wife so much I almost told her.
    As for the seriousness of sports he couldn’t be more wrong. Our schools educate and are not caught
    up in ridiculous interscholastic athletics. We don’t even have school athletic departments let alone the
    Rose Bowl or March Madness. And no we don’t get disappointed when we don’t qualify for world
    competitions. We just passed the 5 million population mark and we know our place. When our women’s
    soccer team wins the world championship, yes we do go crazy. But the only time we get a bit down
    is when our skiers don’t do well, because we simply own that sport. Otherwise our goal is not always
    to be number one but only to beat the Swedes. Shout “Yankees suck” in the Bronx or wear a Gators
    jersey in Tallahassee – that’s when you’ll need a God of mercy.
    J. Russell Mikkelsen might be half Norwegian but the other half is full hack. He should use his
    fluency ‘i norsk’ to find a way to say he’s sorry for writing such a ‘shitkawk’ article.
    (Hint to J.R.M. – “Jeg beklager å ha skrevet en så dårlig artikkel”.)

  24. 24
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    coldthinker
    Nowhere did I complain about English being the lingua franca of these days (BTW, lingua franca got its name from an actual pidgin called Lingua Franca which was a trade language based on several romanic languages).
    My argument is about attitudes of superiority in which every culture and language is judge in comparison to English and deemed wrong where it differs. The author of the article shows a seroious lack of intercultural competence. Because as many people here have witnessed, people live happily in other areas of the world, too, where people don’t speak English, don’t speak languages that are merely translated from English (which is something many people seem to expect), and have their social norms and rituals that are different and that still work.

  25. 25
    coldthinker

    Gilliell,
    You probably have more insight into the actual attitudes of the native English speakers than I do. Not being one myself, I’ve actually found them quite welcoming and respectful. Much more so than the native French or German speakers, for instance. Also, many of my own compatriots are prone to making fun of foreigners speaking our language, up to the point of discouraging some from even trying. One example being a brilliant Croatian linguist, the wife of a friend of mine, who’s lived here for over a decade and still avoids using Finnish or Swedish. So, I’m not saying you’re wrong in any way, but it’s sadly quite a universal sin to look down on people not totally fluent in your own native language (if that’s the language you’re conversing in). You just see it more often in case of English, since broken English is much more widely spoken than say, broken Finnish or Norwegian.

  26. 26
    David Marjanović

    For every time and age, there seems to be an international lingua franca. In Europe it used to be Latin, in Africa Swahili (being the language of slave trafficers), etc etc. Now it’s English, somewhat globally this time. In a century or less, it might most likely be Chinese.

    Except for one thing: the speed at which you can learn Chinese, even if you can deal with the tones one way or another, is limited by the writing system. Unless you’re fine with being illiterate, or maybe if you’re already fluent in written Japanese, you can learn enough English to make yourself understood much faster than you could learn an equivalent amount of Chinese.

    To balance the score: there is also an intellectual downside to it, since many if not most native English speakers seem to be seriously handicapped in learning other languages.

    That’s because, like the French, they start learning other languages so late, if ever. And that’s because their governments assume – correctly, for the most part – that everyone else speaks English anyway.

  27. 27
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    coldthinker
    Oh, these are two different things: English native speakers are seriously nice in every day situations when you’re the one speaking imperfect English.
    The problems arise whenever there’s somebody obnoxiously insisting that the English-speaking way is not the only way to go.
    BTW, I’m a German natice speaker, I’m just dabbling in linguistics ;)

  28. 28
    ivarhusa

    On the Scandahoovian theme, and stereotypes: “How can you tell an extroverted Finn from an introverted Finn? The extroverted Finn will look at your shoe tops, instead of his own.

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