Norwegians love talking about Norway in English

Taking a bachelor’s in computer science has naturally led me to meet quite a lot of international people. Couple that with working on international community events and you’ll have a ton of experience with explaining your culture and home country to random drunk people. This exchange of knowledge about our cultures has always seemed natural to me as learning about how people do things incorrectly in other countries is fascinating and teaching them how they should be doing things correctly makes me look like a twat learned/cool person.

I’m currently reading the excellent science fiction book Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and a certain conversation sparked the inspiration for this post. Two characters are discussing which side of a debate they are on. Character A tells B that she thinks that D put forth some good points. B turns and tells her something like this:

“D could have said anything, what they are saying to support their statement has no real meaning on whether you think C or D is correct. You know roughly what they stand for and after that the only thing that matters are who they are. You like D, so you will naturally see their side as correct”

  • I’m listening to the audiobook at no one else thought the passage worth quoting so this is poor paraphrasing from memory.

This simplified idea that the person saying something is more is more important than what they are saying is something that I agree with. It’s an easy idea to agree too, as it’s trivial to support it with anecdotal evidence. I’ve caught myself enjoying dumb movies more because people I like enjoyed them and managed to say that before I managed to air my complaints. It’s also why I’m reluctant to be the first to voice my opinion on a piece of art if it didn’t connect with me. Opinions are contagious and we all know that it’s easier to spread viruses and bacteria to people we really like, looking at you Trude.

So how is this idea of contagion relevant to the Norwegian pastime of talking about Norway? Well as mentioned I’ve met quite a bunch of internationals and they always seem to have some very weird notions about Norwegian culture. One guy I met was shocked that we had tea at the conference centre, When I asked him why this would surprise him he explained:

“I was told that Norwegians only drink coffee and cocoa. Coffee for work days and cocoa for your weekend ski trips”

While it’s true that Norway and coffee has a special relationship we do still drink tea. ( This friendly guy had however heard this from a Norwegian friend, maybe as a quip or maybe because the community his friend was from really does not drink tea. However it may be, the fact remains that this friendly international had a skewed view of Norway from the statement.

Again, this is nothing special to either explaining cultures or a Norwegian thing, but I know Norwegians love reading about Norwegians explaining Norway to international people, so I went with that gimmick. You find these hard-held beliefs everywhere from art style to what coding language you should use. But it fascinates me how easy it is to take these cultural titbits as facts and not as a person’s subjective view. And these subjective views are usually merged with universally agreed stereotypes to really sell it home.

If you’ve ever taken the bus in Norway, you will find that no one sits next to one another. To simulate any bus ride just put a bunch of magnets in a box and make the same charge side face one another. This is an easily observable social construct which is why it crops up everywhere. The interesting part comes when some Norwegian tries to explain why we are like this. Some might blame our socialist government where we are all cogs in a machine. Some supports the idea of personal space being holy. We all have our theories and the problem arrives when we present our idea as a nationally accepted fact. The reason this is a problem is that it inhibits international visitors. Of course, you’re trying to fit in. You want to learn and act like us when living here, but if you’ve been given tips that stops you from meeting more people. You might end up having no friends after living for three years in a strange country, (Tried to find an example of the rude Norwegian stereotype and have been battling to keep the whole text into becoming a rant about how flawed this logic is).

So anyways… I advise trying to see how many of these near truths you’ve told someone lately. Maybe you’ve based your behaviour on some well-meaning advice which might be correct for the one who told you that truth, but not for the whole society? This is the sort of thing that easily ends up an obsession for me. I constantly find myself spouting the same subjective truths and catching others in doing so, but I figure that in trying to moderate myself I’m doing something right at least.

If you ever travel to this very long and cold country, just try your best and ignore any universal truths about behaviour not thought up on your own. You’ll learn them fast enough. The only thing you really need is this video explaining everything.

PS: yes, I see the irony of the post title, no I’m not sorry.


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