The truth about Norwegian etiquette: Are Norwegians rude?

We live in a huge and complex world where every nationality has a certain stereotype associated with them. 

When it comes to Norway people there are often described as cold, shy, or generally unapproachable. 

But is it true that they are actually rude? In this article, I’m going to help you answer this question. And I’ll explain to you how Norwegian politeness can be often mistaken for rudeness.

Why Norwegians might be perceived as rude

First, let’s define what “politeness” is. It’s important to know that what might be considered polite in one country might be seen as offensive in another. 

In general, politeness is defined as “a behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people.”

With this definition in mind, it’s also important to understand the local culture of the place you’re at. Before jumping to any conclusions.

We humans have different ways and customs for almost anything. Let’s take greetings for example.

In many cultures, it’s considered polite to always greet people and take part in a small talk ritual. In Norway, however, that’s not the case. People prefer to go about their day without that small talk unless it’s necessary.

Here’s another example, the (in)famous “Norwegian Arm.” Although it’s considered rude in other cultures, in Norway, it’s very common to reach for items across the table instead of asking someone else to pass them to you.

Simply because bothering someone with your unsalted soup is considered ruder than reaching for salt over the table. Once again, it all depends on the perspective you take.

I could name many more such examples but I think you get my point. So even though I think Norwegians have a way to go when it comes to holding doors and acknowledging someone’s presence in the hallway with a slight nod or hello, we are not rude by any means.

Norwegians are polite (in their own way)

An important key takeaway when it comes to understanding how Norwegians are actually polite is the fact that it’s considered rude to unnecessarily bother other people. 

If you want to be nice and show respect to someone, don’t waste their time. Don’t bother them with unnecessary small talk, because you value that person’s time. 

That is not to say that Norwegians never engage in small talk. However, you’ll find Norwegians to be a lot more approachable in certain settings.

For example, it is perfectly acceptable to engage in friendly conversation at a social event such as a party or in a hotel lobby when you are both on vacation.

In contrast, Norwegians might be bothered if being approached when minding their own business on their daily commute to/from work.

That being said, no Norwegian will find it rude to be asked for directions, etc. despite being on their daily commute. 

So Norwegians are in fact very polite, only in the way that is familiar to them. The fact that they are considered shy or rude is just a huge misunderstanding of Norwegian politeness! 

Because it all comes down to the perspective. (Yes, it’s important enough to be repeated over and over!)

Because would you really call respect and unwillingness to bother others rude behavior?


Just as there are hundreds of different cultures around the globe, there are as many different ways of showing respect and being polite.

In Norway, it takes the form of valuing other person time and space, and not bothering them with small things.

Just remember that the next time that a Norwegian seems rude to you, he might be just showing you respect.


Norwegians impolite? Forget it! – NHH

Watch out for the Norwegian Arm! – The social guidebook

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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.