International Student Blog

We’re all quirky to each other

Variety is the spice of life. We can all see many differences between cultures of countries, and within countries, regions, and we all acknowledge there are many differences individuals. There are things we find amusing about ourselves, our individual foibles, and the cultures we were born into. And, of course, there are things we notice about other cultures which we respect or admire, as well as those characteristics that may surprise, confuse, or amuse us. In addition to my 6 months here in Norway, I’ve done a little exploring online in order to present this blog post to you – basically themed “everybody is weird to everybody else”, but specifically looking at a few of my favorite quirks of Americans (based on my experience of being one) and Norwegians (based on my experience of not being one).

 

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Freakin’ Friendly Americans.

A memorable moment for me from the ‘Meeting the Locals’ portion of the Introductory Programme was the list they offered at the end. It was a list entitled “You know you’ve been in Norway too long when”, and a stand out from that list was:

When a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume that

  1. he is drunk;
  2. he is insane;
  3. he is American;
  4. he is all of the above.

While there is a lot of individual variation in any of the traits discussed in this blog, it may be true that Americans are more likely to:

1. Smile at you, talk to strangers, and give compliments

Smiling at you from Bryggen, like a creepy American

I’m currently guilty of all of these Americanisms. In the past,they was something I hated about American culture. Being so smiley felt disingenuous. I preferred the stoicism of the blank face, why fake something I wasn’t feeling? Then I read a study which indicated putting a pencil in your mouth to force your body to think it was smiling might help release the same feel-good chemicals as a genuine smile. This idea, and trying to get over my crushing shyness, helped convince me to smile (although I still like to reserve it for when it is genuine), talk to others (my antidote for shyness was forcing myself to talk to every clerk, bus driver, cashier, etc – probably sounds terrible to a European), and give compliments. So if I walk by  you, smile and tell you I like your boots, I hope I don’t disturb you. I do like your boots, and I don’t mean to invade your day, I’m just American (forgive me!).

2. Speak at… let’s say, exuberant volumes.

I hope I’m not too guilty of this. My mother always told me I mumble. But I have to admit, early last semester a classmate of mine told me I didn’t know how to whisper. I do, actually! It was just before class and everyone else was speaking too… I didn’t realize it was whispering time.

3. According to some of my reading, Americans need less of a ‘comfort bubble’

If we’re talking about proxemics (our use of space as an expression of culture). Apparently Americans prefer 18 inches of personal space. I couldn’t find a measurement for the amount of space Norwegians would like, but I did find this cartoon which may have some truth behind it. Any Norwegians out there want to let me know I stand too close to them? Please let me know by commenting below!

 

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How you know a Norwegian Bus stop is full.

 

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My former flatmate and I at the Tonga Bar, demonstrating an American lack of need for personal space.

 

And of course, Americans can come across as entitled, and downright ignorant of other languages and cultures.

I hope that is the exception rather than the rule, I certainly have lots to learn about other cultures, but gathering new information about new places and people is thrilling for me, and I hope I do it an attitude of discovery and never one of superiority.

For more impressions of Americans (from a Norwegian perspective), check out this video.

Norwegian Nuances

I’ve read in several places that Norwegians are more:

1. Straight forward and blunt.

I don’t know that I’ve found them especially so, or at least not in any type of off-putting manner. Again, the same cartoonist offers this assessment of Norwegian mannerisms on a guidebook cover.

 

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2. Ingressive

One surprise in my personal experience here when speaking to Norwegians was something known as an ingressive sound (a sound made when the airstream flows inward through the mouth or nose). When I initially heard it I was distinctly startled, to me, it sounded like the person with whom I was speaking had seen impending danger in the distance behind me.  It definitely isn’t common to all Norwegians, in my experience it’s only been in an older generation, but according to my reading it may be more regional than anything else. It is not just specific to Norway, there are many countries who use similar ingressives. Apparently linguistics terms this type of phenomenon ‘back-channeling’. It’s a way of acknowledging to the speaker that you’re hearing them while not interrupting. In the US, we might say “Mm-hm”. Well, you probably just want to hear it for yourself, so here it is: a “Ja” juxaposed with an ingressive Norwegian Sound of Agreement.

 

 

3. Nature-loving

Let’s just briefly talk about the Norwegian love of the outdoors. It cannot be overemphasized. I thought I loved the outdoors, Norwegians seem to take extreme outdoormanship to the extreme.

 

 

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Lovin’ Ulriken.

 

 

I have heard that it is common for Norwegians to vacation in a simple, wooden mountain cottage (hytte). These can be extremely simple, extremely remote, and extremely rudimentary – for example no electricity. I think, perhaps, this Ylvis video best describes this phenomenon.

 

 

There are far too excellent Norwegianisms to cover in one post:

From brun ost (a carmelized brown cheese) to the Bunad (traditional Norwegian garb), Constitution Day, or the 17th of May (Norway’s most important national holiday), the intense pride in the invention of the cheese slicer (thanks, Mr. Bjorklund). I was once told, buying a marble slicer with an arm that held a little wire to slice the cheese at a flea market the price would only be 20 nok because, “That is not Norwegian”. “I know, I know” I replied, defensively, “We already have a Norwegian one at home.” I hope I didn’t insult by insinuating that there was any reason to need another.)

If you’re still hungry for more, you may, for example, take a taste of brun ost by checking out this new viral video from a recent international convert (I, myself, was skeptical, then enthusiastically converted to brun ost on waffles… but I haven’t tried the brun ost and jam that he describes yet).

 

 

Still dying to know more specifics about Norway ways? Maybe this video will help.

 

 

Hoping for a snarky Canadian to act like – well, like an American – in Norway? Here ya go!

 

 

14 comments for “We’re all quirky to each other

  1. Kristin
    20. February 2015 at 17:31

    Hi!

    Nicely written! I must add though, that not talking to the clerks and bus drivers are considered immature or rude. Of course, talking too long with them is considered weird, and sort of American :p

    As a Norwegian, I can’t imagine how weird it must be to be an American in Norway. Do you feel like we are complete opposites?

    • khi005
      23. February 2015 at 17:02

      Hi Kristin,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I would love to know what the right amount of talking to clerks and bus drivers is here – I’m afraid I’d end up in the weird American camp.

      Certainly it is an interesting experience to be a foreigner in another country, especially (unfortunately) not speaking the language (which I will always feel bad about, no matter how perfect everyone’s English is and how kind to me people are). But, while we have many differences, I think ultimately we’re more similar than we are different, just because the human experience has so many commonalities. I expect as I learn more about Norway and Norwegians I’ll discover more and more about our similarities as well as our unique qualities. I’m looking forward to this process 🙂

      • Kristin
        25. February 2015 at 19:52

        Looking bus drivers in the eye and say hi when you enter, and bye when you leave. If you want to really friendly you can say ‘god helg’ or ‘takk skal du ha’. But no more than that. And clerks one says hello to if one makes eyecontact in the store, and of course hi and thank you when one pays.

        Sometimes the clerks and bus drivers will start a conversation, but that is more accepted than if the customer does it, because the person is at work and should choose for them self if they want to be social or not. I assume the the norms are the same in the US, but to a larger or lesser degree? Because, as you said, we are pretty similar all of us 🙂

  2. Sina
    20. February 2015 at 20:45

    Hi 🙂 Indeed a very interesting topic to read about. That’s true, the culture seems to be very different in here compared to almost all countries in different regions of the world, even inside Europe. What I would say is that it seems that the more International student present at a department, the more international-like the environment would look like and the less need to be bored about not being a Norwegian! Anyway, being in my second semester in here, I would say, let’s keep our own culture and not pretend to be like Norwegians, as we are probably more accepted in our own original way.
    Sina from Iran

    • khi005
      23. February 2015 at 16:56

      Hi Sina,
      Thanks for sharing your experience and viewpoint!
      I hope for both sharing my culture as well as getting to learn about, experience, and even integrate Norwegian culture while I’m here. Maybe that is hoping for too much 😉
      Do you feel like most of your friends are international students or have you also made Norwegian friends by sharing yourself and your culture with them?
      Whichever is the case, I hope you are enjoying your second semester, thanks for commenting!

      • Sina
        24. February 2015 at 23:21

        Hi again 🙂
        I was not able to make real Norwegian friends the first semester that I was here. The most strange thing for me was that the things that I made fun of, was strange for Norwegians! Probably you know what I’m talking about. For instance, it is common in Persian culture (and also the American culture as far as I know) to make fun of things to feel better about it 🙂 But this doesn’t look to be the case here. It really seems that people here are also very different and some of them really look like and behave like others. The most important thing to me is to try to know as many people as you can. In this way, you’ll avoid making generalizations about a culture.
        I really appreciate the fact that people seem to be more equal here. I cannot distinguish the rich and the poor as it exists in many countries.
        It is indeed very nice to see that there are some Norwegian students here whose minds are not based on media and they try to collect information about other cultures based on more reliable sources.
        You really have done a great job keeping this weblog full of interesting information. Great.

  3. Sina
    24. February 2015 at 23:24

    Hi again 🙂
    I was not able to make real Norwegian friends the first semester that I was here. The most strange thing for me was that the things that I made fun of, were strange for Norwegians! Probably you know what I’m talking about. For instance, it is common in Persian culture (and also the American culture as far as I know) to make fun of things to feel better about them 🙂 But this doesn’t look to be the case here. It really seems that people here are also very different and some of them really look like and behave like other international students. The most important thing is to try to know as many people as you can. In this way, you’ll avoid making generalizations about a culture.
    I really appreciate the fact that people seem to be more equal here. I cannot distinguish the rich and the poor as it exists in many countries.
    It is indeed very nice to see that there are some Norwegian students here whose minds are not based on media and they try to collect information about other cultures based on more reliable sources.
    You really have done a great job keeping this weblog full of interesting information. Great.

    • khi005
      26. February 2015 at 15:41

      Sina,
      I’m glad to hear you are making Norwegian friends here, and it is fascinating to read about your experiences. I can’t thank you enough for sharing! I had not heard about people feeling more accepted as foreigners speaking in English than in Norwegian, I hope to find out more from international students about their experiences of learning Norwegian too. I’m curious to know if that is a common experience or if it was unique to your friend. Thanks again for all you’ve shared, so interesting to hear your viewpoints!

      • Sina
        26. February 2015 at 17:15

        Hi 🙂 A very common thing in student life in my country is to state how much you hate doing an assignment when you are with other classmates!! Then, after stating your hatred, you feel better, and get start preparing for that assignment 🙂 I think this is very uncommon here. Right?!

  4. Sina
    24. February 2015 at 23:29

    Just to add to my previous comment. The expression that “when in Rome, do as Romans do” does not seem to be case here. It was a lecture by a Canadian guy last semester, he managed to learn Norwegian. But he said, he later tried to stick to English as he was more accepted as a foreigner rather than an insider who does’t behave properly 🙂 I now feel that he was right 🙂

    • Kristin
      25. February 2015 at 19:44

      This is very true Sina! In my experience at least. It is very important for me and the people I know, that people are them selves. And I think “doing as the Romans” easily will be interpreted as not being oneself, and a bit misadjusted and not honest. But we Norwegians as I know us are very accepting and curious of other cultures, and in general of people who are different! But to get friends one needs to be polite “in Norwegian” at first, or else people will find you plain weird! :p Norwegian polite usually means not taking up too much space, but be very humble and kind. But not too submissive, as Norwegians themselves are pretty straight forward and say what they mean. And asking someone how they are is reserved for friends. Do you, Sina, agree with my caracteristics of Norwegians?

      I have been to Japan, where there are norms that are similar to the way an introverted Norwegian acts. It was great fun, but I can see that some people would find Japanese culture difficult and hostile. I didn’t, though.

      • khi005
        26. February 2015 at 15:45

        Kristin,

        What an interesting conversation between you and Sina, thanks so much for sharing your insights here. It is great to have a Norwegian perspective on this topic. I do find Norwegians to generally be both curious and accepting of my foreign culture and I hope the Norwegians I’ve encountered feel the same towards me. I sure do hope I don’t take up too much space now 😉
        Can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share your thoughts! So interesting!

  5. Sina
    25. February 2015 at 21:36

    Nice to know your point of view Kristin. It seems it takes some time and practice to really know Norwegians 🙂 You know I sometimes see Norwegians who are exactly like foreigners in their behavior. I once wanted to ask a Norwegian guy, “are you sure you are a Norwegian”!!? But my experience so far is that if I can become a friend with a Norwegian at first, I’m always considered as a friend and if I don’t, the passage of time doesn’t make us nice friends 🙂 correct me if i’m wrong.
    I’ve heard that in Japan, people offer seats to older people in many places such as train and bus.Right? It’s the same thing that we normally do in Iran but seems very strange here 🙂 Once I did it and a lady was looking at me as if I’m from another planet :))))
    Sometimes I feel that when you ask somebody in a street for information, something like lower than half of the people in Bergen are not that willing to help and they just provide a quick information and go. Maybe I’m wrong. Once I was in Paris and they were much more helpful even though they are not fluent in English. I think back in my home country we help foreigners even better than ourselves!! Anyway I avoid making generalizations 🙂

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