There’s no “I” in “TEAM”

Two men and a woman sitting around a table with papers in front of them
Working together as a team is an important part of Norwegian work culture. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward/HiOA All rights reserved.

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

  1. You are not to think you are anything special.
  2. You are not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You are not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You are not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You are not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You are not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You are not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You are not to laugh at us.
  9. You are not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. 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.

People and social interactions

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.

Dress code

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.

Work/life balance

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

Norwegian culture with an international view

How to meet Norwegians

Heading North

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.