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.