Norway is one of the countries that place emphasis on team success rather than personal excellence. Norwegians have learned to work together and achieve goals as a team. It is important to understand that this mentality is present in all aspects of life and not only in the confines of a work-related environment, where there is always a certain goal to be achieved – be it a sales number, a deadline, a conference to be held etc. In many industries though, the capitalistic view is as common in Norway as in other countries, but the old joke remains of the so-called Law of Jante (Norwegian: Janteloven), a set of rules created by Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in an attempt to describe the negative disposition of Nordic countries towards individualism.
The ten rules (or commandments) of the Law of Jante
You are not to think you are anything special.
You are not to think you are as good as we are.
You are not to think you are smarter than we are.
You are not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
You are not to think you know more than we do.
You are not to think you are more important than we are.
You are not to think you are good at anything.
You are not to laugh at us.
You are not to think anyone cares about you.
You are not to think you can teach us anything.
Now, if you are not familiar with the North-European culture, these rules may sound inexplicably harsh. Keep in mind, though, that they are only a way to express just one simple concept: we live, work and evolve as a team.
Upon signing a work contract where you are planning to stay in Norway for a while, you can become a member of the National Insurance Scheme (Norwegian: Folketrygden). You can opt not to join, but this is highly inadvisable, since public health care in Norway is among the best in the world.
All members of the National Insurance scheme are entitled to a primary doctor (Norwegian: fastlege). The primary doctor is responsible for examining, diagnosing, prescribing medication and referring to a specialist doctor or hospital if necessary. The doctor is not appointed arbitrarily; the insured person gets to choose from a list of available practitioners in the near vicinity. If you do not make a choice, there is an automatic selection, but you can opt to change afterwards.
Your primary doctor can grant you a leave of absence from work if they deem fit. The severity of the condition determines whether you get full leave (100%), or reduced working time over a certain period. In case your doctor says you can work part-time, it is the employer’s duty to modify your schedule and adapt it to your needs.
If you are a member of the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme and are staying temporarily in another EEA country or in Switzerland, it is recommend having a European Health Insurance Card.
The card proves that you are entitled to necessary healthcare in the same way as nationals of the country you are visiting.
The major hospitals in Oslo is under the cooperative umbrella of Oslo University hospital, making it one of the largest in Scandinavia and the 3 major Oslo hospitals of Ullevål hospital, Rikshospitalet and Aker Sykehus.
Ullevål Sykehus has many specialized areas, including a reputable maternity ward. The hospital also runs many residency-training programs for different groups engaged in healthcare, such as doctors, nurses and lab technicians. The hospital is a level I trauma center, servicing approximately half of Norway’s population
Rikshospitalet does specialized treatment and research. About 60 percent of the patients admitted to Rikshospitalet are referred from other hospitals in Norway. In Norway, Rikshospitalet plays an important role in the treatment of rare and complicated disorders.
Call 113 for life-threatening and acute health problems.
Treatment of illnesses and injuries that cannot wait until the next day, you need to go to the emergency care (Norwegian: Legevakten) at Oslo Emergency Ward
Contrary to popular belief, Norway is not “in the freezer” throughout the year. The Golf stream, a warm sea current originating from the Caribbean Sea and ending up to Barents Sea, is primarily responsible for Norway’s rather mild climate, at least compared to other countries of the same latitude.
Summers in Norway can be pleasantly warm, with the average high temperature in Oslo exceeding 20 degrees Celsius. Oslo’s record high is 35 degrees, though temperatures above 30 are far from a frequent phenomenon.
Oslo has a stable climate, compared to the coast of Norway, with more sunny days. It’s common to enjoy the beaches along the fjord, go sailing or do sports outside in the spring and summer season.
The fall can be similar to the North East of the US with cooling temperatures and colorful leaves. The Norwegians love their mountains, and the fall is a popular time to take mountain walks while picking an abundance of berries and mushrooms that are free for all.
This is not to say that it cannot get cold in Norway. Winters in Oslo and adjacent areas are marked by average temperatures between -10 and 0 degrees, with temperatures around -15 degrees being the norm for a few days every year. Snowfalls can occur between October and April, but they are most frequent in January, February and March. In the recent years the climate changes have been very visible in the Oslo region with more rain and less snow. Those who love to ski are therefore going off to the mountains to look for good snow conditions whenever they can.
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”, according to a popular Norwegian saying. Winter clothes are best purchased in Norway or in countries with similar cold climate zones and wool is recommended during the days of winter.
You already know that Norwegians speak a language that falls into the category of Scandinavian languages and you may know that it is a North Germanic language. What you probably do not know is that there are three official written languages in Norway. The first is Bokmål, which means «language of books». Bokmål was once the only written language in Norway and is an evolution of Danish. If you compare a text in Norwegian and the exact same text in Danish, you will notice that there are striking similarities. The vast majority of Norwegians (more than 85 percent) use Bokmål today.
The second official written language is Nynorsk (literally: New Norwegian). Nynorsk is the spiritual child of Ivar Aasen, a Philologist who traveled across the country during the 19th century and collected various elements of local dialects, eventually proposing the Nynorsk written standard. Nynorsk is particularly common in the western part of Norway.
While sharing the same rules and structure, these two standards can appear quite different to the untrained eye. In reality, though, they are just variations of the same language. These are the main languages used in schools, churches, public services and the media.
The third language is Sami, which is the language of Norway’s indigenous people. It is a group of Uralic languages spoken by the Sami people in Northern Europe Northern Europe (in parts of northern Finland, Norway, Sweden and extreme northwestern Russia).
When it comes to oral communication, things can get even more confusing. With the exception of Oslo, Bergen and a handful of other large cities, Norway’s population has always been scattered throughout the country. Before the establishment of telecommunications, many communities in Norway were virtually isolated entities with little external interaction. This has led, among other things, to the development of countless local dialects, some of which are nearly incomprehensible to the average city dweller. Note, however, that Oslo and its neighboring communities share pretty much the same dialect. Therefore, foreigners who stay in the area are not required to master several variations of the language.
The Norwegian work culture has a flat structure and empowered employees. For a newcomer it may be difficult to distinguish the boss from the rest of the employees. Decision-making is often by consensus, depending on the nature of the situation. There is a high degree of autonomy in both what employees do and how they do it. Employees are often given a great sense of individual responsibility to carry out their tasks, and expected to ask along the way, rather than given clear directions. This is very different from many other working cultures, and employers generally has is a high level of trust that everyone contributes to the common goals and objectives.
Dress code is informal in most businesses, except those working with sales, finance and officials – that is, men are required to wear a tie only on very special occasions
Personal development, a good working environment and friendly colleagues commonly motivate Norwegians, more so than high financial or other quantitative rewards. Employees are expected to work for the common good, and to a lesser extent for personal fame and fortune. Team spirit is a key aspect in Norwegian work culture and salary structure bears witness to that.
Salaries and taxes
The gap between top- and entry-level salaries in Norway is surprisingly narrow, at least when compared to other countries with strong economy, such as Germany or the USA. Simply put, a line manager in a Norwegian corporation does earn more than a janitor, but the difference is not huge – at least not as much as you might expect. You pay rather high taxes in Norway, but when having a family in Norway you see the benefits of the taxes, which includes medical costs, payments for maternity and paternity leave, supported kindergartens and education, even at the university level. These are high costs that in other countries, parents start saving for the kids early.
Children are highly valued in society and this influences work culture. It is acceptable for families with young children to leave work early to pick up their children from kindergarten.
At the very core of Norway’s culture lies the importance of work/life balance. There is a general notion that people work to live rather than live to work. Norwegian lifestyle focuses on family values, sports and outdoors life. Norwegians have a close relation to nature, and many families have cabins (Norwegian: hytte) close to the coast or in the mountains. Do not be surprised if you find your colleagues leaving work early on Fridays to go to their “hytte”. If you don’t’ have your own cabin, there are plenty to rent for a low cost in the mountain or by the fjord. Oslo offers a great number of cabins from 2 – 40 people.
Norwegians are calm and modest people, much based to their history as farmers, living with long distances in between and times with economic hardship. They seldom show intense emotions, but that does not mean that they have no feelings. It may seem impossible at first to be friends with a Norwegian, but this is a common misconception. Once you get past the first few interactions, you will see that Norwegians value friendship and prefer to have a few very good friends than many superficial friends. If you come from a country where it is customary to meet people every other day, be prepared for fewer interactions with your Norwegian friends. Norway is a society with a strong family focus and time with the children is a priority. The society is built on equality, and men and women are expected to take equal part in taking care of the children.
HiOA offers Cultural Understanding courses for its entire staff to help provide a better understanding of the Norwegian work culture, what are the cultural differences and how can we use and learn from them, language challenges and how to work in multicultural teams at HiOA. Courses are free for staff and are posted on the HiOA intranet.
How to greet in Norway
When meeting someone for the first time a handshake is required, while a hug is common when encountering friends or acquaintances. Kissing cheeks is not as common as in other countries, though the younger generation and those who have travelled a bit are starting to adopt that custom. To be safe, start with a handshake both for men and for women.
Norwegians like to keep things informal whenever possible. There is no particular dress code when visiting friends or relatives, but you would normally try to dress according to whom you are visiting. It is always better to dress up rather than down the first time you visit someone, as this is a show of respect for the host. A shirt but no tie for men and a nice blouse for women will do.
The dress code at work varies on the place of work. If you have a job that requires you to meet with clients or officials, it will be more formal. Working in Academia in Norway is generally informal. Women are not required to wear a skirt and everyone can wear jeans to work. Wearing a full suit with a tie is only for special occasions, though in industries such as finance, that would be a daily work outfit.
Keep in mind that it is customary for Norwegians to take off their shoes when entering someone’s home, though it is no crime if you choose not to remove them. After experiencing the changing of the season, you will soon understand why this is a practical custom.
People living in Norway value their work/life balance and employers expect you to have interests outside of work. When working in Norway, you may find yourself having more spare time than what you had back home, as the general working hours are from 08.00 – 16.00, although many people work longer than that. The separation between your work time and private time is stronger in Norway than many other countries, and this often comes as a big cultural shock to foreigners, at least until they have been long enough in Norway to enjoy having more time for their hobbies.
One the best ways to get to know Norwegians is to take part in sports or volunteer activities, enjoying the outdoors, finding a hobby, playing music and so on. See the sport and activity offers from HiOA’s own sports club “HiOABIL”.
Interesting reading on understanding Norwegian culture
Residence in Norway comes in various shapes and sizes, ranging from cozy apartments with few rooms, to real estate wonders with gardens and lakes. The vast majority of advertisements are found on websites such as finn.no, where one can go through extensive galleries of available apartments and houses, and some are also advertised in local newspaper and the biggest Oslo newspaper called Aftenposten. Some real estate agents also deal with property for rent, such as Utleiemegleren where you can sign up to get available rental listings.
You can choose between furnished, somewhat furnished and unfurnished housing. In the beginning, newcomers are recommended to get a ready furnished place to save time and money, but should you want to get your own things, Oslo has several inexpensive furniture stores such as IKEA that has a free shuttle bus to/from downtown.
Rent or own?
Rent is usually seen as a temporary solution in Norway. Owning a house or an apartment is one of the cornerstones of Norwegian culture. As the old Norwegian saying goes: “paying for rent is like throwing money out of the window”. Banks in Norway are secure and offer good interest rates. You can often support a loan for the same money as paying rent; therefore, many people choose to buy as soon as they have a stable income.
The contract between the property owner and the tenant describes the exact terms of the lease, such as monthly rent and deposit amount. It is common that the deposit is 3 months’ rent. Note that electricity and heating expenses are often included in the rent, and apartments in Norway always come with electrical appliances.
While prices can vary significantly, depending on the size of the house and its proximity to the city center, a typical rent in Oslo for an one-bedroom apartment can easily exceed NOK 10.000 (Norwegian kroner) a month. Larger apartments with more bedrooms cost around NOK 16.000 and can even break the barrier of NOK 20.000 a month. If you come on your own and do not mind sharing a place to save on rent, you can opt to live in shared housing (Norwegian: kollektiv).
Buildings and floors
The first floor in a Norwegian building is the ground or street floor. One flight of stairs upwards leads to the second floor, and so forth. If you come from a country where the first floor lies above the ground floor, your first few months in a Norwegian city can be somewhat confusing, but it is only a matter of time before you get used to it.
Mandatory fire protection
Keep in mind that fire protection is mandatory in Norway. Smoke detectors must be installed and maintained properly in every home. If you are considering living in Norway even for a short time, you should familiarize yourself with the procedures.
If you are moving to Norway with your children, you must see to it that they are properly educated. Norway has a very strong tradition in promoting equal opportunities for all and the domestic education system is based on that principle.
Norwegian and international schools and kindergartens
Depending of your children’s age and linguistic background, as well as the amount of time you are planning to stay in Norway, there are quite a few alternatives to choose from. There are several Norwegian-speaking kindergartens and schools around the campuses of Oslo and Akershus University College. Should you need a kindergarten spot for your child, please let your contact person know so he/she can advise you how to apply. There are also international kindergartens and schools in Oslo founded on the English, French, and German language, as well as Catholic school and Montessori schools.
If you have a long-term plan of staying in Norway, having your children in a public school is often recommended. They learn Norwegian faster, integrate faster and get more Norwegian friends faster. Children are quick learners of language, and all the schools have special programs to help newcomers who arrives with a different language background.
The norwegian school system consists of four stages:
Pre-school day care, kindergardens (0-5 years)
Primary School (6-12 years)
Lower secondary school (13-15 years)
Upper secondary school (over 16 years)
Note that Primary school and Lower secondary school are obligatory for all children living in Norway. Tuition is free in all stages, except pre-school day care, although highly financially supported by the government. Private kindergartens and schools has a monthly fee. Check the school of interest for prices and admittance policy. Some of the private schools are very popular and may be difficult to get into.
Kindergartens feature outdoors activities in their daily program, even during the cold winter months. Parents from warm countries are often surprised by this, and wearing clothes according to the climate of the season is important. This way, children get used to extreme weather conditions from a very young age.
Practical Information on Oslo International school
Oslo International School (OIS) offers a challenging international education, in English, to children of all nationalities within the greater Oslo area. OIS is a fully accredited independent international day school for students from 3 to 19 years of age (Pre-School to International Baccalaureate Diploma).
Oslo Montessori School (Norwegian Medium Private School)
Address: Huldreveien 28, 0781 Oslo
Moving to another country is always a challenge, even if you come from a somewhat similar culture. Certain differences are obvious right from the start. You may have never been in Norway before, but you are most likely aware that the official language is Norwegian, weather is cold and the majority of the people are Christians. However, what about other aspects of everyday life that have never even crossed your mind? For instance, if you are moving toNorway, you are probably bringing with you a mobile phone. Is your charger compatible with power outlets used in Norway? Moreover, where exactly is the first floor in a building? Is it on ground level or is it one flight of stairs above it? Where should I look for a place to live and how do I meet new people?
We have prepared a “survival guide” for newcomers, with useful information about life in Norway.