April 24th, 2022
April 24th, 2022
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‘Practicality first, politeness second’
You will quickly notice that Norwegians are not overly polite or correct. They do not have a word for ‘please’. Well, they do, but they do not say ‘please’ after every single thing said, and will rather use a grunt, ‘Hæ’, to say ‘excuse me’. Norwegians do, however, have a few fundamentally polite proverbs, and every one of them is cute. These include ‘takk for maten’ (thanks for the food) and the heartfelt 'takk for sist' (thanks for the last time we met). Really: how more polite can one get? These are thoroughly genuine, too. Another you will hear is voiced after you have been invited as a guest for dinner: 'Er du forsynt?' (were you provided with enough food?’) This is always a customary enquiry, even if you have consumed a whole elk, and gravy is dripping from your chin. Norwegians are certainly not impolite. They are genuine when they are polite, and they are polite when it really counts.
Norwegians have always heavily emphasised egalitarian principles, tossing in a healthy portion of common sense for good measure. They do not treat people differently based on wealth or rank, and they are as polite to men as towards women, as well as children (that goes without saying). Waiters may be there to serve you, but they’re nonetheless your equal. Of course, you could be forgiven for thinking Norwegians are rude: service levels sometimes feel as low as the fjords are deep, a wise man once said. But, if you believe you are not being properly served, try ‘pragmatic’ instead of ‘angry’, and think 'practicality’ before ‘politeness’. Life's too short for politeness when there's a door to be opened.
When it comes to Norwegian egalitarianism, first names are okay in most settings, and the use of the polite form of ‘you’ – the equivalent of the French, plural ‘Vous’ - is a definite no-no, although it does in fact exist. Even if you do not know someone well, it is totally unnecessary to use a title like Herr or Fru (Mr and Mrs). Scandinavians find this courtesy antiquated, even rude, especially since you can go very wrong indeed addressing a woman with her husband’s surname. Modern Norwegian women prefer to stick to their own family name unless both spouses take both names, which is now the trend.
Norwegians just do not see the point in constant gratitude for the tiniest things. As with their world famous Scandinavian design, so it is with linguistics: less is more. Too much ‘please’ can feel like begging, too much debate can feel intrusive, and we certainly don’t want any of that. So, it's not really that we are rude: Norwegian "politeness" lies more in being friendly than in decorum.
Maybe we are not into small talk because winters are long and it is freezing cold. We would rather cherish the energy that is inside, and wait for spring. There is an old Norwegian saying: ‘Can somebody light a fire in the fireplace? - after that, nothing else was said all winter’. This is what the Norwegians call ‘koselig’: snuggling up in front of the fireplace in silence to read a book... most likely one of those Nordic Noirs we love so much. In other words, it’s all about egalitarianism and practicality. And, yeah, enjoying ‘koselig’. *Most advice mentioned here does not apply when Norwegians have been drinking.