How to survive your culture shock
Learn as much as you can about Norwegian culture. Get Norwegian friends who can help you. Here are some key words and tips intended for people from many different cultures (not all will apply to you):
- Climate and weather: Light summer nights (cover your windows), dark winter days (be prepared for depressions, few people in the streets), cold winter (move your fingers and toes and make strange faces to keep yourself warm)
- Food: Matpakke is common and healthy. And ... Norwegians eat a lot of bread. You'll get used to it by the time you leave! Cheap stores include: Rimi, Rema 1000, Prix and Kiwi. Fruit and vegetables are cheaper (and better quality!) at the immigrants stores.
- Transportation in Oslo: Get the map and schedule free from Oslo Sporveier. Be ware of delays which are quite frequent at times.
- Traffic: Crossing a street at a pedestrian crossing: Stretch out your arm, and you have right of way. It is not illegal to walk on 'red man' if the street is empty. If driving a car, 'Automatisk Trafikkontroll' means there are cameras taking pictures of you if you drive to fast. Don't park illegally, or pay 500 kr. Bicycling on the pavement is legal.
- Your relations with the Government (Foreign office, Lånekassen etc.): Make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter - don't be afraid to ask if you don't understand. The police can be trusted and is not corrupt, but be aware of some prejudices against dark skinned people, wear ID-card or passport.
- Crime: It's advisable to stay away from the Oslo City/Youngstorget area after midnight. Still the crime rate in Oslo is low compared to other European cities.
- Social units: Families are breaking apart, people divorce and remarry. Many live together while not married (='samboere') and this is legally equivalent to marriage. Very individualistic society: Only you cont, not the group (family, colleges).
- Equality: The polite form 'De' (='You') is out. The prime minister is referred to as 'Jens'.
- Studies: The teachers (or professors) will not tell you what to read and do for the next lecture. They will be happy to help you and answer questions, but you have to ask them. Teachers will generally treat you as if you were on the same 'level', and Norwegians seldom have or show an awful lot of respect for their teachers or professors.
- Women's liberation: A woman can do everything that a man can do, going out alone, talking to strangers, having male friends in addition to her husband. A Norwegian woman may look you straight in the eyes and talk to you without wanting anything else than a chat. Some women will be insulted if you open the door for them, try anyway :)
- Getting in touch with Norwegians: Don't expect them to talk to you first. Expect a lot of prejudices and ignorance about you, your country and your culture.
- Organisations: There are organisations for almost anything; sports, politics, religions, hobbies, folklore. A very good place to meet Norwegians and find friends.
- Spots: Try to experience soccer matches, skiing and skating competitions - and throwing snowball. Almost any sport can be done in Oslo: Check at the gym in Fredrikke, where you can also rent skis quite cheap. If you plan to buy skis, wait until March/April when they are on sale.
- Skiing: Rent some skis at the Fredrikke building and take a trip to Nordmarka (take subway no. 1 to Frognerseteren, ski in direction of Tryvannstua. From there follow the signs back to Sognsvann.
- Health care: As a student in Oslo, you're a member of the University Foundation for Student Life. They provide among other, free health care (but no dentists!).
- Politics: There is full political freedom and freedom of speech in Norway. Both right wing and left wing extremists exist.
- Religion: 90% belong to the Norwegian stat church, but only 3% go there every Sunday. Most other denominations have churches in Oslo. There is also a growing Muslim community.
- Friendships: There are several levels of closeness in a friendship. It might take a while before you get a deep friendship with a Norwegian. Be sensitive as to how much time both of you want to spend together. NB: Norwegian men don't hold hands (unless they are gay).
- Responding to invitations: Say "yes" if you want to come and "no, I'm sorry, I've got other plans" if you don't. Never say "yes" and then not show up. When they have given you time and place, don't expect a second invitation. You are not required to refuse the first time to be polite.
- Timing: Most things in Norway begin exactly at the time given. Don't be more than ten minutes late to a party, particularly if warm food is served. If you realize you will be more than half an hour late, give them a call and say your are delayed.
- Saying hello in Norwegian: 'Hei' to friends, shaking hands is more formal, small hugs to relatives, big hugs for friends. Kissing is only for your boy/girl friend. Most foreigners regard Norwegian greetings to be rather cold and reserved. Don't be discouraged by this.
- Gifts: It is common to give a small gift when you visit people for the first time in a new house or flat, and for birthday parties. However, people won't expect much from 'poor' students.
- Dress code: Jeans at work and at university, often more formal at parties.
- When arriving: It is customary to take off your shoes when entering a Norwegian home - particularly in the winter! See if the others wear out-door shoes, if not, take off your own too. Say hello to your hosts. You may not need to shake hands with all the other guests if there are many of them sitting all around, just say 'Hei' and wave your hand.
- Norwegian table manners: The Norwegian Reach: just grab what you want on the table.
- Alcohol: You will often be served alcohol in a Norwegian home - and definitely at a party - but it is okay to refuse if you don't want it. Alcohol is very expensive here. Many Norwegians drink to get drunk, so watch out for drunken men in a taxi line, they like to fight.
- Leaving: Make sure you are not the last guest to leave. If the next day is a working day, people might want to get to bed early, but can be embarrassed to ask you to leave.
- Norwegian sarcasm: Norwegians will often say the exact opposite of what they mean, you have to listen to the intonation to get the true meaning.
- Special social skills: Saying 'ja' while inhaling air. Saying 'mhm' at the right places.
- Critics: It's not a good idea to criticize Norway or Norwegians when Norwegians are present (unless they are close friends of you).
- Preparing for re-entry: If you intend to go back to your home country some time, remember that both you and your country has changed.
This list was compiled for an international evening at CU in the mid 90'ies. I'm not sure by whom. If you want to contribute, please let us know! Please send comments to christan-union[at]studorg.uio.no
(replace [at] by @)