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).
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
- he is drunk;
- he is insane;
- he is American;
- 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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!