“Norwegians are like coconuts. Americans are like peaches.”

Now that I’ve been in Norway for a month, I think I have a fairly good idea of what distinguishes a Norwegian from an American.  Everything that I read about Norwegians before I came here said that Norwegians are a very reserved people and can even come across as rude.  On the plane ride to Oslo, the rest of the passengers on the plane (I assume the majority were Norwegian) were strangely silent.  I sat down next to a stranger and he didn’t say a word to me the whole flight.  The bus from Oslo to Moss was the same; eerily quiet.  However, when I got to ACN I walked into a room where everyone was reuniting with their friends after Christmas break and was surprised by the level of intimacy between them.  Everyone was hugging and kissing each other on the cheeks and greeting one another excitedly.  From the looks of what I was seeing you’d think that these friends had been estranged from one another for years!  Gradually, I have come to understand the inconsistency between the social interactions I experienced on the plane and on the bus and what I see on campus.

Norwegians are very reserved in public, but when they are in a setting with friends and family they are very animated.  At first, I felt very uncomfortable walking around downtown Moss and shopping on my own.  When I walked past a group of people oftentimes they were hushed and I could feel their eyes following me as I walked by.  Granted, perhaps I have “tourist” written all over me with my American Columbia jacket (no one wears that style or brand here) and my chunky Canon camera slung around my neck.  The first time I went for a walk I felt like I was Nicole Kidman in a scene of Invasion.  Think of it this way;  we’ve all experienced that moment in a lively gathering when for some reason everyone abruptly ceases talking and the room goes from being very noisy to perfectly still.  Imagine that instant, that moment when all of the sudden you are slightly uncomfortable and wish someone would say something.  Anything!  That’s how going out to eat or walking into a small store in Norway felt like at first.

However, I’ve come to like the peace of being in public in Norway.  When I walk into H&M to shop I’m not bombarded by a sales associate with “Jeans are on sale for buy one pair, get the second pair half-off” and no one is constantly knocking on the changing room door saying, “How ya doing in there?”  When I go shopping I can focus on my shopping and I don’t have to worry about being sucked into a fifteen minute conversation with an overly chatty stranger in aisle 12.  I am still trying to get used to people not saying “excuse me” though.  If I am blocking the fridge door and someone needs to reach in and get a carton of milk, then they will just stand close to me and stare until I acknowledge that I need to move.

Norwegians in public may seem impersonal and rude but once you get to know them they are incredibly accepting and open.  I was once told, “Norwegians are like coconuts.  Americans are like peaches.”  Don’t get lost in the fruit analogy; it simply means this.  Norwegians are hard on the exterior (it’s hard to get to know them) but once you do know them you really know them.  Americans, on the other hand, are soft on the exterior (it’s not too hard to go through the typical “Hi, how are you?” spiel), but if you really want to know an American on a personal level then it is going to take some work to get through the core.

After being here for a week or two, I was really starting to appreciate the social culture of Norwegians.  I began to ask myself, “Why can’t the people in America be like this???”  So I decided to see what Norwegians think about the people in America (this topic is for another day…) and what they think of their Norwegian culture.  Here, I began to piece together a different story and regained appreciation for the values that America stands for.  Another quality that Norwegians hold to the utmost importance is being humble; I haven’t really heard anyone brag about their accomplishments here.  Some of the students are very talented singers or athletes, but I never hear it from them.  Sounds good right?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we never had to listen to anyone go on and on about themselves?  But…on the flip side of things from a Norwegian’s point of view, the pressure to be humble means not being able to speak about their dreams and goals in life.  They hold the United States up as the place where you are free to express what you want to become.  It is a place where you can speak openly about your aspirations and not have anyone label you as being prideful for doing so.


4 comments on ““Norwegians are like coconuts. Americans are like peaches.”

  1. Audrey says:

    Is it normal for Americans to just talk to others who aren’t your friends in public? Like, someone makes a passing remark while you’re standing in queue for the cashier or something?

    It seems kind of weird to me to just talk to a stranger in public, when you don’t even know the person! That’s not really rude is it? It’s just .. not feeling comfortable talking to someone you don’t know. What if he/she turns out to be some creepy weirdo? Lol.

    • darcielujan says:

      Yes it is normal to just strike up a conversation with a complete stranger! It really depends on the person though. I never really talk to strangers when I am in public but there have been many times when I have been approached by a stranger and had them start up a conversation. Not too long ago, I actually had a man give me his email address and son’s name because after a 20 minute conversation with me waiting in line he wanted to set me up with his son! It can be a little crazy how friendly people are but I like it. Sometimes it’s nice to just chat with someone random. If you think of it, it’s no different than Omegle or Chat Roulette.

  2. G says:

    It’s an American thing to feel the need to talk to anyone,I havnt seen it anywhere else in the world,it’s really strange to outsiders,,they also quickly try hard to find common ground to feel accepted I think it makes them feel safe.Europeans tend to say what they feel regardless of what people think so can come across as being rude but they just don’t mind being an individual, fellow Euros respect peoples uniqueness in the US they would see people like that as an outsider in their society.Peaches are soft on the outside,hard and bitter at heart

    • darcielujan says:

      There are definitely pros and cons to the two ways of communicating. I found it refreshing that in Norway people were very real with me. They were friendly and warm with their friends and didn’t put on an act for people they didn’t know very well. Whereas in the United States, it’s a daily occurrence to see someone be friendly to someone’s face and gossip about them as soon as they turn their back. I guess it’s reassuring in the U.S. because people can always assume that everyone likes them when everyone is friendly to them. Norway doesn’t give people the luxury of believing what they want to; you’ll know if someone doesn’t like you! That being said, it’s nice that you don’t ever have to question if someone is your friend or not in Norway.

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