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11 Customs Only Norwegians Can Understand

Picture of Louise Older Steffensen
Updated: 10 June 2017
Norwegians are a lovely bunch overall, but like any other culture, they have developed some traditions, manners, and institutions that appear rather baffling to outsiders at first (and sometimes, let’s face it, after a good long while as well). Here are 11 of Norway’s unique customs.

They See Me Rollin’…

During the winter months, skiers and snowboarders pack trains, buses, and the metro while wearing large amounts of flashy winter sports gear. Think the coming of summer and the melting of snow puts an end to this? Wrong! In the summer, Norwegian skiing enthusiasts simply jump into their roller skis instead!

When summer comes, prepare to see a number of determined Norwegians powering up and down Norway’s hilly roads and be aware that an astonishing number of men seem to prefer riding these oddities topless.

Rulleskitrening i Trysil
Rulleskitrening i Trysil | © Trysil / Flickr

Liking a Bit of Blood and Gore for Easter

There’s nothing like watching a bit of crime on the telly to get into the Easter spirit, right? In Norway, reading or watching modern or classic detective series has become an integral part of the holidays. The tradition is said to have started rather sensationally in the 1920s.

Eating Brown Cheese on Waffles

Brown cheese is a Norwegian institution in itself. Made with cow or goat’s milk, whey, and cream, the cheese ends up with a soft, sticky consistency and tastes almost caramelised. It’s definitely an unusual taste, but it’s actually really good. To become a full-fledged Norwegian, pop this on top of a delicious soft, pancake-like waffle.

(Norwegian) goat cheese (geitost) (and an old, silver cheese slicer)
(Norwegian) goat cheese (geitost) (and an old, silver cheese slicer) | © Arnstein Bjone / Wiki Commons

Requiring Endless Amounts of Personal Space in Public

Norway is a huge country with only five million inhabitants. Perhaps the endless vastness of their country is how Norwegians came to require the equivalent of a small city-sized amount of space around them to feel comfortable in while out. This is true while riding public transportation—where Norwegians will only sit down next to or directly opposite someone else if there are no other options available—as well as while waiting for the bus or train as well.

Taco: The National Dish

Like brown cheese, the humble taco has become a bit of a culinary institution in Norwegian culture (top tip: don’t try to mix the two) to the extent that someone has created a history of the taco in Norway webpage. The taco became a regular Friday-night guest in Norwegian homes in the 1990s. Now, the consensus seems to be the more tacos, the better, all week long. Its nearest rival is the “Grandiosa”, a brand of frozen pizza. In the interests of full disclosure, “taco” in Norway also includes tortillas for some reason.

Spending a lot of Money on Folk Costumes

Many Norwegians spend as much as 50,000 NOK ($5878, £4624) on these national folk costumes called “bunads”. They are available for both men and women and include the beautiful suits or dresses as well as their accessories—specific to each region of Norway, this causes some creative Norwegians to search through their family trees to locate an ancestor from a region with a particularly beautiful garment. They are worn on special occasions and most prominently on the National Day. It is quite something to see the usually trendy and conservative styles of many Norwegians transformed into quaint fairy-tale farmers of past centuries.

Not Introducing Friends to One Another

Many non-Norwegians who live here for a while experience the confusing moment when a Norwegian friend runs into someone else they know and proceeds to have a chat with them without introducing the two of you. This leaves the odd person out to shuffle around awkwardly while the other two discuss the weather, the political situation, and the meaning of life. This is not meant as an offence; it is just a weird facet of Norwegian-social customs of not wishing to disturb or impose themselves on situations or others.

Talking
Talking | ©

Celebrating National Day with Costumes and Hedonism

Move over USA, not even the 4th of July rivals the enthusiasm and commitment of Norwegians celebrating their National Day. Many don those bunads discussed earlier, gorge on a champagne breakfast, and then head to the city or town centre to watch a seemingly endless but tear-inducingly cute parade of all the local schoolchildren waving flags and banners. In Oslo, this takes place in front of the royal family at the castle. The tradition then dictates spending the rest of the day inhaling as many hot-dog sausages, ice lollies, waffles, and pieces of cake as possible and/or consuming impressive amounts of alcohol.

Buying Alcohol from the State

In Norway, prohibition never really seems to have ended completely. Drinkers can, of course, buy alcohol in bars, clubs, and restaurants, but the only way to buy it for home consumption means going to the state-run “Vinmonopolet” shops that close at the same time as normal shops. Although supermarkets can now sell some beer brands, their sale also stops earlier than the rest of the shop and remains off limits on Sundays.

Party Hard For a Month…Just Before Your Exams

Foreign fans of the SKAM cult tv-series may have caught on to the fact that Norwegian high-school students are crazy about buses. In (rich areas of) Oslo and Bergen, a graduation tradition has emerged where students group together to buy—buy—a bus, bling it up in the year leading up to graduation, and drive around and party in it during graduation celebrations. This period of celebrations—true of many Norwegian high-school students who partake—takes place throughout the month before exams begin.

Apparently, the decision to put the celebration a month before exams is quite rational: this allows students to get back to studying with enough time to do well. However, with the whole month now dedicated to drinking for many, it’s fair to say that that idea isn’t what was originally envisioned.

Also, students wear the same pair of red dungarees during the entire month and are not supposed to wash them. The whole thing climaxes on the National Day, where the red russe-students often walk in the parade looking suspiciously worn out.

Paying Extortionate Prices For Everything Except Salmon and Blueberries

It may be a bit of a Norwegian stereotype, but it is also a true one. Compared to most other countries, prices are pretty high in Norway. Expect to pay £9/$12 for a pint of beer in Oslo. Norwegians are also paid some of the highest average wages in the world, so it sort of evens out for them. It also has the nice added benefit of making almost everywhere else seem laughably inexpensive when Norwegians go on holiday.