Norwegian culture and traditions reveal a lot about the country. 

Are you visiting Norway soon and want to know the culture? You’ve come to the right place. For my first couple of trips outside the country, I tried my best to dive into the heart of each city and country that I visited. And I’ve got to say, it was one of the best decisions I made. During my visit to Norway, I traveled through Bergen and Flam and made some of my best friends on that trip. When you truly try to understand and respect Norwegian culture, your effort will go a long way. 

It’s easy to see. Norwegian culture and traditions are alluring to foreigners. In fact, certain parts of the culture are world famous. Fashion and the culinary scene are two such parts. And then, there are parts of Norwegian culture that are more nuanced. You need to either get to know a local or live in Norway for a while to truly understand them. Whether you are staying in the country for four days, weeks, or years, familiarizing yourself with traditions will help you travel in a new way. Here’s a quick guide to set you up for your journey.

Location and Geography

Norwegian culture - Location & Geography

Credit: Flickr

Location and geography play into understanding Norwegian culture. Located on the western side of the Scandinavian peninsula, Norway shares with its neighbor, Sweden. On the west, the country is bordered by the North Sea and the Barent Sea to the north. Norway also shares a border with both Russia and Finland in the northern regions. A long, narrow landmass, the country is longer than it is wide. It extends approximately 1,100 miles from north to south and varies in width from 270 miles to only 4 miles in width.

One third of the country is located above the Arctic Circle. If you are looking for standout features, the prominent feature of the topography are the mountains running down its backbone. As a result, much of the country is dominated by these rugged landscapes, providing a beautiful backdrop for cities. These dramatic and coastal landscapes are the main reasons why Norway has such a massive tourism draw.

A Brief Overview of Norwegian Culture: History

Norwegian culture - History

In order to truly understand Norwegian culture, you have to go back to its roots in history. As a self-professed history nerd, this is one of the things I enjoy reading up on before my travels. How else are you going to learn about the famous Norse myths? In this article, we’ll cover all the bases. 

ow did the country of Norway get its name? Dating back to 900 A.D., the name Norge was used to refer to the region before political consolidation under Harald the Fair-Haired. The north was home to an indigenous population of Sami who had both a separate language and cultural traditions. Some Samis practice nomadism, spanning across Sweden and Finland as well as Norway. A small sect of gypsies were also part of the homogeneous population. Today, Norwegians have a strong sense of identity fostered by the romantic movement in the 1900s. With a population of only 5.2 million, this small scale society also promotes social sharing.

Viking Backstory

From folklore to traditions, much of Norwegian culture can be traced back to its Viking origins. While we all learned about them in history class at one point or another, it helps to have a little refresher. This group of seafaring pirates, pioneers, and traders landed in northern Europe during the eighth century. Throughout their history, they have always identified with rural culture. Today, two common modern expressions of Norwegian culture come in Jante Law and Constitution Day.

Location and Geography

Norwegian culture - Location & Geography

Location and geography play into understanding Norwegian culture. Located on the western side of the Scandinavian peninsula, Norway shares with its neighbor, Sweden. On the west, the country is bordered by the North Sea and the Barent Sea to the north. Norway also shares a border with both Russia and Finland in the northern regions. A long, narrow landmass, the country is longer than it is wide. It extends approximately 1,100 miles from north to south and varies in width from 270 miles to only 4 miles in width.

One third of the country is located above the Arctic Circle. If you are looking for standout features, the prominent feature of the topography are the mountains running down its backbone. As a result, much of the country is dominated by these rugged landscapes, providing a beautiful backdrop for cities. These dramatic and coastal landscapes are the main reasons why Norway has such a massive tourism draw.

A Brief Overview of Norwegian Culture: History

Norwegian culture - History

Credit: Wikipedia

In order to truly understand Norwegian culture, you have to go back to its roots in history. As a self-professed history nerd, this is one of the things I enjoy reading up on before my travels. How else are you going to learn about the famous Norse myths? In this article, we’ll cover all the bases.

How did the country of Norway get its name? Dating back to 900 A.D., the name Norge was used to refer to the region before political consolidation under Harald the Fair-Haired. The north was home to an indigenous population of Sami who had both a separate language and cultural traditions. Some Samis practice nomadism, spanning across Sweden and Finland as well as Norway. A small sect of gypsies were also part of the homogeneous population. Today, Norwegians have a strong sense of identity fostered by the romantic movement in the 1900s. With a population of only 5.2 million, this small scale society also promotes social sharing.

The Background

What are these celebrations? Jante Law is a common code of conduct in Nordic countries. Also called Janteloven, it explicitly refers to societal norms. Collectivist needs are prioritized over individual ones, don’t boast about your accomplishments, or be jealous of others. Since there seems to be a lot of confusion about Jante Law, we’ll break it down for you. Clearly, it’s not an actual law. Think of it more like an unspoken yet generally understood social code of conduct.

When it comes to conforming to societal expectations, Norwegian culture is much more cohesive than that of the United States. What do I mean by this? For one, the people in Norway are very courteous. Even if you ask for help in English, it’s rare that someone would brush you off. Walking the streets, you’ll find that they are all very tidy and clean. Citizens do their duty by taking part in the process of dugnad (traditional volunteering).

Overall, Jante Law means that your actions should be taken for the general good. The word janteloven has been traced back to Aksel Sandemose, a Danish author whose literary works included reference to these social codes. They have been translated.

Nationalism

May 17th marks Norway’s Constitution Day, celebrating nationhood. Better known as syttende mai among the locals, it’s easily the country’s biggest holiday. Every year, citizens gather to remember the day of May 17, 1814 when Norway signed its constitution and was recognized as a kingdom independent from Sweden following the Napoleonic Wars. How do people celebrate? Think big breakfasts, plenty of champagne, parades, and flags. It’s vastly different from America’s display of militarism every July 4th.

Kick off the day with a 7 am champagne breakfast of scrambled eggs, fresh salmon, coffee, toast, and of course, champagne. Women wear traditional folkwear passed down from their ancestors while men typically opt for a nice suit and the occasional top hat. If you’re looking to get in on the most action, book your trip for Oslo.

Parades in the city center are commonly composed of about 100,000 people. Make sure to remember that the shops will be closed and plan ahead for your food and activities for the day, unless you want to eat an abundance of street food. I know I’d be okay with that. Think waffles, hot dogs, shaved ice, and ice cream. Eat now, think about the consequences later. That’s my motto. You’ll be walking it off anyways, right?

Cuisine

Norwegian culture - Cuisine

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One of my favorite ways to get to know a culture is to dive into the local cuisine. Norwegian culture is no different. If you have ever visited Norway before, you know that the country places a heavy emphasis on fresh, locally sourced foods, particularly seafood. One of the most typical foods is thinly-sliced brown cheese eaten with bread. Other popular menu options include salmon and Fiskepudding (a light fish pudding served with mustard or Hollandaise sauce). On Constitution Day, locals celebrate by eating traditional meals of dried meats, flatbread, and porridge with a beer.

Language

While there are many languages spoken in Norway, the two official languages are Norwegian and Sami. Many Americans are under the impression that when they visit, they won’t know how to communicate with the locals. This is false. In major cities, pretty much everyone speaks English and speaks it fluently. It isn’t rare to meet someone who speaks multiple languages there fluently; they have a great public education system.

If you plan on moving to Norway for a while, it is good practice to know key phrases like this before initiating conversation with a local. Not only is it considered good manners but you will feel more confident talking with the locals in your city too. Trust us. It will open up a whole new world to you. People appreciate it when you make efforts to understand and acknowledge their culture. Don’t just be a tourist. Be a traveler who really understands Norwegian culture.

Traditional Folklore and Mythology

Norwegian culture - Traditional Folklore and Mythology

 Credit: Wikipedia

Folklore plays a large part of Norwegian culture. Since the country has a rich history of inhabitation by nomads for centuries, it has played a big part in its heritage. The country’s legends are the things great books and movies are made of. Do you know the movie Thor? The legend of Ragnarok and his hammer, the Mjolnir are based off or Norwegian mythology. Legends commonly include references to elves, trolls, witches, gods, demigods, and other non-human entities. All of these creatures are juxtaposed alongside the human condition.

Norway’s geography and topography have also played a large role in the development of its folklore. If you didn’t already know, many legends of trolls and elves describe their habitation in the country’s dense forests. Many of the stories passed down from Vikings are retained in modern Norwegian culture. Did you know that one of the Viking’s tales about the curse of Andvari’s ring was actually used as inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous work, Lord of the Rings.

Music and Dancing

Here is yet another part of Norwegian culture that has been influenced by Viking traditions. Did you know that Norway folk music has been passed down for hundreds of years? Folk music culture consists of music in both vocal and instrumental pieces often performed by solo artists. One of the most popular instruments played is the Hardanger (fiddle) along the harp. As the national instrument of Norway, the Hardanger has been used extensively in films like Lord of the Rings. Traditional Norwegian folk dances includes the Halling.

It’s Time to Travel: Let’s Dive into Norwegian Culture

We hope you enjoyed reading our article on Norwegian culture. As you can see, this country is filled with natural beauty, rich culture, and so many amazing opportunities to learn about its past. Now that you know Norwegian culture, it’s time to book your dream trip. What kind of vacation are you seeking? Whether you are coming for nature observation, adventure, or all of the above, this country has it all. Let us know your plans to visit the land of the fjords.

To save a little more money, consider visiting in the shoulder and off seasons. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the price rates you’ll discover. Besides, we would rather sacrifice a little sunshine for less tourists. We loved having a little more space on the streets to ourselves. Lines to museums and exhibits were shorter too.

Last but certainly not least, do you have any questions or comments for us? If you have a fun story about your visit to Norway and some favorite hot spots, we’d love to hear those too. Feel free to leave us a message in the comment section below. We look forward to hearing from you and will be sure to get back with you soon.

Related Article: 5 Incredible Things to Do in Norway

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