12 Common Norwegian Stereotypes (truth or myth?)

Stereotypes, are they accurate reflections of a nation’s personality or caricatures that oversimplify?

Whatever your chosen position on the stereotype debate, there’s no denying they often contain elements of truth. Even if they are inflated.

But how do you know which parts of a stereotype are true? Well, for Norwegian stereotypes, here’s where we can come to the rescue. Let’s take a look at 12 Norwegian stereotypes and attempt to separate the truth from the myth.

All Norwegians are blonde with blue eyes

For our first stereotype, let’s take a look at looks. Do all Norwegians have blonde hair and blue eyes? No. While it’s true that Northern Europe contains the most blue eyes and blonde hair of all populations, to say all Norwegians look like that just isn’t true.

Some statistics say up to 70-80% of the Norwegian population has these stereotypical features. And while that may have been true once, globalization means you can now find Norwegians with every hair/eye combination under the sun.

In the interest of bringing you the latest figures, a highly unscientific survey of a local shopping center was conducted which found that about 50-60% of people fit the stereotype.

So, while there is undoubtedly a majority of this combination, to say all Norwegians have blonde hair and blue eyes is definitely an exaggeration.

Norwegians are insular fishing/mountain bumkins

This myth is a product of the ongoing, but relatively friendly rivalry between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

When making jokes about each other. Swedes are portrayed as tech-savvy, but arrogant. Danes are constantly semi-drunk, while Norwegians are uneducated, insular bumkins with a fish not far from reach.

Is there some truth to this stereotype? Norwegians are very proud of the Norwegian countryside, and rightly so. Many can’t wait until their next hiking/walking/skiing/fishing/cabin trip (and that’s often on the same weekend).

But to say that Norwegians are insular about their outdoor pursuits would be wrong. There is nothing a Norwegian loves more than showing off the landscape to a visitor. Trips are almost always family affairs and very often friends will have cabins close to each other so that they can share their mountain experiences.

So yes, Norwegians love their mountains and fishing, but insular? Definitely not.

Norwegians are rude

On the surface, a visitor to Norway can be forgiven for thinking that this stereotype is true. Norwegians aren’t big on please and thank you. Their idea of a queue looks like a mass wrestling event. Even neighbors rarely exchange more than a perfunctory nod.

The Norwegian rules of social engagement can be a little confusing to a non-Norwegian and can therefore appear rude. But to a Norwegian, they are the secret oil that keeps society moving slickly.

Norwegians are big on personal space and individualism (apart from being in a queue for some reason) both physical and emotional. And these social norms that appear rude to visitors are a large part of the fabric that gives Norwegians their required distance.

Norwegians can appear rude. But dig beneath the surface and there is more than meets the eye.

Everyone skis everywhere all year round

The vast majority of Norwegians ski, both cross-country and alpine. But do they ski everywhere all year round? No, of course not.

If for no other reason than there isn’t snow all year round. That being said, it actually doesn’t stop the most enthusiastic who can be seen on roller skis throughout the summer.

There is a saying that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. And if you look at recent alpine sports successes, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was true. For a nation of less than 5.5 million, they obviously punch way above their weight when it comes to winter sports.

Large parts of Norway have no snow at all, or for only a few days a year. Which explains why there is a mass exodus to the mountains every winter weekend. Norwegians are very enthusiastic skiers, but they definitely don’t ski everywhere all the time.

Polar bears roam the streets

No, this stereotype is not true at all. In fact, there are no polar bears anywhere on mainland Norway. If you want to see a polar bear, you must travel to the islands far to the north, such as Svalbard.

There it is quite common to see a polar bear if you go looking for them. And very occasionally a polar bear might wander into town in the search of food. But even on Svalbard that is a fairly rare occurrence.

All Norwegians are wealthy

This is actually quite a complicated stereotype. The idea that all Norwegians are wealthy stems in part from most visitors to Norway finding it very expensive. And it can be.

Certain things are more expensive than in most other countries such as alcohol and eating out. Since these are the things that visitors tend to want to purchase, it can give a skewed impression. Learn more about why Norway can be expensive in this article.

Norwegian salaries can seem high, but that is because the cost of living in Norway is high. In truth, Norway has its rich, poor, and in-between just as any other country. But thanks to the Norwegian system, most people make a living wage, and those that struggle with financial issues can get help.

Then there is the Norwegian sovereign wealth find. Thanks to Norwegian oil and the forward-thinking of some politicians in the early days of oil exploration. Tax on Norwegian oil has gone into a special state fund.

That fund has grown and grown until it is now one of the richest funds in the world. I once read a statistic that it owns more than 1% of the world. Since it is a state fund, in one way, all Norwegians own a piece of it. That being said, no one can withdraw their portion of it.

Are all Norwegians wealthy? No. And ever so slightly yes.

Norwegians are shy unless they have alcohol

Do Norwegians like to drink? Yes.

Norwegians tend to be weekend drinkers. They usually have a fairly dry week and then indulge in a glass or three on Fridays and Saturdays. And it is true that a usually reserved and moderate Norwegian can suddenly become chatty and quite open after a glass.

But the myth is that Norwegians are shy. Because they aren’t. Reserved, yes. Shy, no. Their usual demeanor of quiet and circumspect can sometimes be confused with shyness but it’s not the same. And if a Norwegian feels the need to voice an opinion, they will.

Norwegians are informal

Casual Friday has no meaning in Norway. If a Norwegian got any more casual when dressing for work, they’d arrive in a nightgown. So yes, in a lot of circumstances Norway is a very informal place.

None more so than at work. Most Norwegian companies have quite flat structures and it is very common for the rank and file to have lunch with the CEO, who may well be wearing jeans.

But as with most stereotypes, there are of course exceptions. There are rules for formality on certain days and for certain events. Family gatherings, Christmas, and the national day all have certain rules to be followed.

But as a stereotype, it is pretty spot on. Norwegian informality begins early, with almost all teachers being called by their first names and it continues throughout Norwegian life.

Norway is the land of Black metal

This is an odd stereotype that is more true outside of Norway’s borders than within. Some of Norway’s biggest musical exports are black metal bands. But black metal is nowhere to be found within mainstream Norwegian music.

The charts are filled with the usual western mix of pop, dance, and light rock. So if you want a Norwegian black metal band you’re just as likely to find it touring abroad than at your local venue.

Norwegians are too trusting and naïve

Norway is one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crime is thankfully rare. As is theft, fraud, or confidence scams. This means that Norwegians aren’t used to being on their guard the same way populations of other more crime-familiar countries are.

Also, the entire Norwegian (and Scandinavian) social democratic model is built upon trust. Trust that politicians, colleagues, neighbors, and businesses do what they are supposed to and have the best interests of society at heart. And for the most part, this works.

This trust for and in the system can seem naïve to citizens of countries where it does not exist. If you have grown up in a country where self-interest is the only interest, Norwegians can seem naïve.

However, Norwegians don’t see this as naivety. They think that the belief in the goodness of society is a strength. And since Norway is consistently voted as one of the best places in the world to live. They would seem to be right.

Norwegians love the outdoors

I could answer this stereotype in a single word. Yes. Norwegians love the outdoors.

They welcomed anything that gets them out into their beautiful scenery. Sport and adventure equipment is a huge business and a proper Norwegian will have a kayak next to the tent next to the skis. And every Norwegian owns at least three backpacks.

Even their favorite chocolate (Kvikk Lunsj – think KitKat) has been built and marketed on the fact that it is the perfect hiking companion.

Norwegians are not romantic

One of the things that creates this stereotype is actually one of the greatest things about Norway. Everyone is equal. But from a romance point of view, that means a man is not expected to pay for dinner or hold a door open.

Therefore it is not uncommon to split dinner bills and a woman is expected to paint the house just as a man is expected to cook dinner. That being said, there are those that are conservative enough to pay for dinner, myself included.

Does this mean there is no romance? No, of course not. Grand gestures of love and small everyday reminders occur in Norway all the time. They just happen in the mountains. With skis.

Closing remarks

There you have it. Twelve Norwegian stereotypes explained and exploded. Like most stereotypes, they have their foundations in both truth and myth. Why not come to Norway and see for yourself?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run to the gas station to buy flowers. I forgot our anniversary.

Photo of author


Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.