Norwegian Stereotypes

Norwegian stereotypes: What are Norwegian people like?

Before you hop on a plane to visit or live in Norway, learning more about the people who call this country home is a good idea. So, what are the main Norwegian stereotypes — and what are Norwegians *actually* like? Let’s find out…

Norway is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s not difficult to see why. The country is home to some of the world’s most outstanding natural beauty, from jaw-dropping fjords to dramatic mountain peaks rising high into the sky.

Norwegians have a lot in common with their Scandinavian neighbors; natives can speak to the Swedes in their mother tongue, and they’ll have few — if any — problems reading written Danish.

And, of course, the Norwegians share their Viking heritage with Denmark and Sweden — along with Iceland a little further afield. Having said that, people in Norway probably have a lot less in common with the other Nordic people than you think.

If you believe the stereotypes, Norwegians are filthy rich. And thanks to their generous welfare state and huge natural resources in the North Sea, they don’t need to worry too much if something goes wrong.

Everyone wears fancy colored sweaters as they trudge (or ski along) streets covered in snow, wary that they might need to fend off a polar bear before preparing fish soup for dinner.

How many of these are true, we hear you ask? Well, let’s jump in and find out.

Norwegian Stereotypes

What are Norwegians like?

While the Norwegians have a shared national identity, it’s important to remember that Norway is a huge country when looking at land size. It’s over 1,000 kilometers long, and it takes around three hours to fly from Stavanger in the south to Tromsø in the north.

Even from Tromsø, you’ve still got another 778.2 kilometers to travel before reaching Nordkapp — the northernmost point in mainland Norway.

When factoring in geography, you’ll also need to remember that many settlements were isolated for years due to the mountains and fjords. Each region has very distinct cultures — and you will notice subtle differences in attitudes depending on where you go.

To make things easier, we’ll break down what typical Norwegians are like by region. First, we’ll start with the native Sámi people.

The Sámi people

The Sámi are natives of Norway’s Arctic north and a fascinating group of people. Even though the country is technologically advanced these days and one of the world’s wealthiest, the Norwegian Sámi still live a very traditional lifestyle.

Under national laws, the Sámi people can herd and own reindeer; you can see a reindeer farm at first glance if you visit Tromsø in the winter.

Sámi people also speak their own languages, which — along with Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian — fall into the Uralic family. You will also notice that they have a very distinct way of dressing, which often includes reindeer fur and leather.

Considering that reindeer can survive in temperatures as low as -70ºC, you can guarantee that it’ll keep you warm during those cold Polar Nights.

The Norwegian Sámi also have their own parliament, and the main building is in the town of Karasjok. Roughly 40,000 Sámi people live in Norway, with the others spread across Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Most of those living in Norway are in the Troms og Finnmark county.

Northern Norwegians

Even non-Sámi Northern Norwegians are quite different from Norwegians in other parts of the country. Many people here argue that the further north in Norway you go, the friendlier the people are — and this stereotype has an element of truth.

As you might expect from one of the country’s most rural areas, many people in Northern Norway have a close connection to nature. Even in Tromsø, the largest city in the Norwegian Arctic, you don’t have to leave the city center to enjoy the beautiful landscapes surrounding the island.

Many Northern Norwegians work in traditional industries, especially fishing. Tourism is also a crucial part of the economy, with hotspots like the Lofoten Islands and phenomena like the Northern Lights on many travelers’ bucket lists.

People from Oslo

Oslo is Norway’s capital city, and with a metropolitan area population exceeding one million, it’s also the country’s largest. Like most capital cities and their respective countries, Oslo is very different from the rest of Norway.

The city is the country’s main political and administrative center, and many significant domestic and international companies have offices here.

Many Norwegians from other parts of the country think that people from Oslo are snobbier, but the reality is that they’re quite friendly compared to many other parts of the world.

Fashion is also a bit more of a big deal here, and you’ll notice many people in the city center well-dressed in neutral colors. Like elsewhere in Scandinavia, their fashion involves function — and you’ll need to dress in layers throughout most of the year.

But while Oslo has many differences compared to the rest of Norway, people from the capital still have a close connection to nature. You can hop on the metro to go skiing at Holmenkollen, and you’ll find plenty of beautiful hiking spots within easy reach of the city center.

You’re also only 10 minutes by boat from the first of the many scenic islands in the Oslofjord.

While most people living here are Norwegian, Oslo is one of Scandinavia’s most diverse cities. Almost a third of people living in Norway’s largest city are from other countries, and you’ll notice a distinct international influence.

Southern Norwegians

Most people tend to start their Norwegian adventure in Oslo before venturing further north, and it’s not uncommon for many people’s only venture in the south to be an arrival or departure from Torp Airport.

The hub is the budget airport serving the capital, but it’s actually based over 100 kilometers away in Sandefjord.

It’s a shame that many people don’t visit Southern Norway because this part of the country has several hidden gems to explore. The people are still kind, but perhaps a little more standoffish at first compared to those in the north.

Many parts of Southern Norway, namely Stavanger and its surrounding regions, are quite international. Stavanger is the hub for the country’s lucrative oil industry, and it’s home to several Brits — among numerous other nationalities.

Western Norwegians

Norway’s west coast is one of the country’s most desirable tourist destinations. In addition to awe-inspiring natural beauties like the Hardangerfjord, Bergen — the country’s second-largest city — is one of the most beautiful examples of how Norway seamlessly combines urbanism with nature.

If we believe the stereotypes Norwegians have of each other, Western Norwegians — especially people from Bergen — are louder than individuals from different parts of the country.

When strolling through the city’s downtown areas, people tend to wear earthy colors; those quickly change to bright-colored jackets when navigating the surrounding seven peaks.

Western Norwegians also have a fierce sense of regional pride. The dialect is very distinct, and its base is from Nynorsk — the written form of Norwegian only used by 5% of the population.

Differing words and sounds include:

  • I (English) = Jeg (Bokmål), Eg (Nynorsk)
  • How (English) = Hvorfor (Bokmål), Kifor (Nynorsk)
  • What (English) = Hva (Bokmål), Ka (Nynorsk)

If you decide to learn Norwegian Bokmål, you should still be able to understand people that use Nynorsk — though it might take a little practice.

Norwegian Stereotypes

What are Norwegians known for?

Despite having numerous regional differences, the Norwegians still have a lot of overarching similarities. We’ll identify some of the most common Norwegian stereotypes below and determine whether or not they’re accurate.

Loving the outdoors

Okay, this one is definitely true for most people. The Norwegians are huge lovers of the Great Outdoors; if you date a Norwegian, you should probably invest in a good pair of trekking boots.

Even in major cities like Oslo and Bergen, you won’t necessarily look out of place if you’re dressed from head to toe in hiking equipment. And in addition to day hikes, camping is a very popular activity among Norwegians.

Almost everywhere you go in Norway is close to beautiful nature — and with only 5.4 million inhabiting all of that land mass, you’ve got plenty of space to roam.

You’ll also notice that Norwegians make the most of every season; winters might be dark and cold, but who cares when you’ve got stunning peaks surrounding you?

Enjoying waffles and cheese

Before you angrily close the tab on your web browser, hear us out — the Norwegians are actually onto something here. You can’t complete a trip to Norway without trying their distinct waffles, which are something of a hybrid between their American and Belgian counterparts.

You will typically accompany Norwegian waffles with brunost (brown cheese), a caramelized version of goat’s cheese. You’ll often add jam, too, and it’s not uncommon to see them served with cream.

Norwegians don’t usually eat waffles and brown cheese every day, but they consume quite a lot of it nonetheless.

(Allegedly) having a lot of money

Since discovering oil in the North Sea during the latter half of the 20th century, Norway has grown into one of the world’s richest countries. The cost of living is high, and Oslo regularly ranks as one of the priciest cities on the globe.

To offset that, Norwegian stereotypes make you believe that everybody is rich.

Is that true, though? Yes and no. By and large, Norwegians earn excellent money compared to other countries; according to Statistics Norway, the average pre-tax salary was 50,790 Norwegian Kroner in 2021.

When converted to other currencies, that’s around $5,356 in USD and £4,271 for any Brits reading this article.

Even for part-time positions, Norwegian wages are much higher than in most other countries — and many people earn a living wage for even the most basic jobs.

In terms of income inequality, Norway isn’t doing too badly when put against the rest of the world. The country had a Gini coefficient rating of 0.26 in 2019 (lower numbers equal better distribution of wealth). Only four OECD countries — Iceland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Slovakia — scored better.

Norway’s income tax is high, which helps ensure that people can get the help they need if life deals them a challenging blow.

Does poverty in Norway exist? Yes, but it’s very low. The definition of poverty in the country is earning less than 50% of the country’s median income, and in 2018, the poverty rate was just 0.4%.

Worshiping the sun

If you ask other Nordic people what the Norwegians are like, you’ll probably get many answers mentioning how much they worship the sun. This stereotype definitely has elements of truth, and it’s not surprising.

Because it’s so far north, Norway’s seasons vary drastically in light. In the country’s Arctic regions, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon for months during the winter. And even in Oslo, the sunrise on 21st December — the shortest day — is 09:18 (sunset is at 15:12).

Throughout the year, rain is frequent in many parts of the country. But when the sun appears behind those clouds, you can guarantee that most Norwegians will leave their homes and lounge in whatever public spaces they can find.

17th May

If you visit Norway on normal occasions during the year, you won’t notice the Norwegian flag as much as in countries like Denmark. But on Constitution Day — 17th May — that goes out the window.

Visiting Norway on 17th May is an experience you won’t forget. You’ll notice people dressed in bunads (traditional Norwegian dress), along with crowded streets and festivities that last well into the night.

Norwegian Stereotypes

Skiing

In conversations about Norwegian stereotypes, you will often hear that they were born with skis on their feet. And while not every person in Norway loves to hit the slopes, many of them do.

During Easter, spring still hasn’t arrived in many parts of Norway. Many Norwegians include skiing as part of their holiday at this time of year, and the Oslo Ski Festival — which takes place every March — is popular with locals and tourists alike.

Unsurprisingly, Norway has the highest number of Winter Olympic medalists since the games began — with 368 in total. At the 2022 Winter Olympics, it won six medals in cross-country skiing.

Having a love for travel

If you found yourself asking “what are Norwegian people like?”, you might have initially prompted the question because you met someone from Norway on holiday. As you might expect from a country with such a strong connection to the Vikings, the Norwegians love to travel.

Norwegians are big on both staycations and international holidays. They appreciate their country’s natural beauty but are also pretty open to other cultures. It’s not uncommon for Norwegian people to head south during the winter and get some much-needed Vitamin D; many even fly as far as Thailand.

Other popular destinations include Spain, Italy, and Croatia.

Work-life balance

Scandinavians have formed their own Norwegian stereotypes, and one of them is that they perhaps have too much free time on their hands — even for the Nordic region. Companies in Norway offer employees an excellent work-life balance, but do people there really work less than in other countries?

The Norwegians aren’t workshy, but at the same time, they don’t work long hours. According to Statista, the average Norwegian worked 33.7 hours per week in 2021. In most instances, employees aren’t allowed to work longer than nine hours every 24 hours.

Singing when they talk

Have you ever heard of an angry Norwegian? It’s almost impossible to tell in some instances.

You’ll quickly notice that the sentences require a little pronunciation practice when you learn the Norwegian language. You always finish on a higher note than you started, which — while it might be difficult to initially adapt to — makes it easy to know when someone has finished talking.

To other people, the Norwegians can certainly sound like they’re singing. Scandinavians often say this about those from Norway, and it’s partially true.

Going to their cabin

If you’re from a city like New York City or Los Angeles, you’ll probably think that even Oslo feels like a small seaside town. But even Norwegian city-dwellers occasionally want to escape, and when they do, it’s often to their cabins.

Many Norwegians retreat to their cabins during the Easter break, and it’s not uncommon to read crime books as part of the tradition.

Seafood, and a lot of it

Norway has the world’s second-longest coastline, and fishing is one of its most important industries. Put both of those together, and you’re forgiven for thinking that the Norwegians consume a lot of seafood. But not only are you forgiven; you’re right.

Many Norwegian dishes involve fish in some form, and you should try fish soup at least once when you visit. Salmon is also immensely popular here, and some argue that the Norwegians invented sushi. 

Norwegian Stereotypes

Are Norwegians friendly?

Many foreigners who move to Norway complain that Norwegians are cold, and some go as far as calling them rude. However, neither of these is entirely accurate.

As you’ll be used to if you’ve spent time in other parts of Northern Europe, Norwegians usually keep themselves to themselves.

As a foreigner, you might find it very difficult to make friends in your early days — not because the Norwegians don’t like foreigners, but because they don’t often talk to people they don’t know.

However, Norwegians are more than happy to help when you need something — and you are expected to say “hei” (hello) when passing people on a hike. Once you get to know the Norwegians on a personal level, you will have a very loyal friend as well.

Norwegian personality traits

While every person is different, Norwegian people certainly have a couple of common personality traits. Below are some of the main ones.

Optimistic

As you might expect from a country with such high living standards, Norwegian people are largely optimistic. Norwegians typically don’t complain too much, and they generally have a positive outlook on life.

While not everybody is bouncing around on the outside, most people are content and see the better side of things.

Resourceful

It’s easy to pin Norway’s success on its oil money, but that’s not an entirely fair statement. Look at countries with lots of oil but still have high income inequality; Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are just three nations that fall into this category.

As is shown by the country’s huge wealth fund, Norwegians tend to be resourceful. While they earn a lot of money, they don’t usually throw it about in a reckless manner.

Trusting

If you’ve never been to Norway, you might find the high levels of public trust a little discerning. However, Norwegians tend to see the good in others and are very trusting people — to the point that many individuals let their babies sleep outside while they’re in a café or shop.

Norway is a very safe country, with some of the lowest crime rates in the world. And in some parts, it’s not uncommon for people to leave their doors unlocked.

Norwegian Stereotypes

Norwegian men stereotypes

To round up this article, we’ll look at a couple of Norwegian stereotypes of men and women. We’ll do two for both, starting with common perceptions of men.

Shyer than men from other cultures

Dating Norwegians as a foreigner can involve a culture shock, and if you date men, you might find that those from Norway are shyer than men in other countries.

Norway is a relatively equal society, and norms around who makes the first move and whatnot don’t apply here. If you like someone, it’s on you to go and speak to them — even if you’re the woman and you’re used to others approaching you.

The true Vikings

With the exception of Icelanders, many people view Norwegian men as the true Vikings. And compared to Denmark and Sweden, you’ll certainly see more “Viking”-looking men — many are quite muscular, and you’ll see a lot of blonde and ginger beards.

However, you will see a lot of Norwegians that are a little skinnier as well — so it’s not universally accurate.

Norwegian Stereotypes

Norwegian women stereotypes

Now that we’ve discussed some of the common Norwegian stereotypes for men, we’ll do likewise for women.

Blonde

Even compared to other Scandinavians, many Norwegian women are blonde. You’ll often see a larger proportion compared to Denmark and Sweden, and their hair is also lighter shades in many instances.

However, you will also see women with other hair colors. Modern Norway also has a lot of foreign influence; 14% of people living here come from other countries, with many more having at least one non-Norwegian parent.

So, the stereotype isn’t as common as it once was.

Good at sports

Norwegian women have a knack for being pretty good at sports, and most are quite outdoorsy. Many compete at a high level, too; soccer player Ada Hegerberg won the Women’s Ballon D’Or in 2018 and has lifted several accolades.

You will also see a lot of Norwegian women winning medals at the Winter Olympics; the likes of Therese Johaug and Marte Olsbu Røseland were imperative in the country’s 2022 success in Beijing.

Norwegian stereotypes: Fact or fiction?

The answer is a bit of both.

Norwegian stereotypes are somewhat exaggerated, but a lot of them have an element of truth. People from Norway have a unique shared culture, but regional differences are huge, and you’ll notice various things depending on where you go.

On the whole, Norwegians tend to be quietly optimistic and appreciate the good in life; they live in a beautiful country and make the most of it, even during the worst weather.

Despite many people viewing the Norwegians as rude, that’s not true in most instances. Once you navigate the directness and appreciate that you’re left to your personal space, you’ll probably start to appreciate them.

Norway is an excellent place to live, but neighboring Sweden isn’t too bad either. Before you make your choice, check out the differences between living in Norway and Sweden.

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