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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Bergen, Norway

Jan 12, 2015

An expat from the U.K. admits to having a hard time adjusting to the culture in Bergen, Norway.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

We lived for over 10 years in Denmark which is another Scandinavian country, so we speak Danish fairly well. Danish is quite similar when written to Norwegian, though the accent and pronounciation are different (inagine a Scot speaking to a Jamaican!).

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

On this side of the country they speak Nynorsk, which is a dialect based form of Norwegian and when spoken has many different forms. It makes tuning into the locals at gatherings very difficult, and they know it, and seem to get a peverse satisfaction from it! I have taken lessons but really need to go to conversation classes which are non existent! Since we are both English speakers working (in my case) in an english-language environment I have taken over 4 years to get close to some kind of fluency, and often revert to my Danish in frustration because Norwegians really do not try to 'meet you half way' on the language front. I put it down to them being such a new country, but I think I am being too charitable.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No, not at all having enjoyed our time in Denmark. With hindsight I should have been.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Very. This country is less open, less multi-cultural and less international than Denmark. As Scandinavians go, Norwegians are insular (everything Norwegian is great, no foreign goods or ideas can compare), closed and quite selfish! Finding a job here is impossible unless you speak perfect Norwegian and they insist you have the Bergens Test as proof which costs thousands of kroner in lessons and exam fees. They really do not make it easy for you. They also set up barriers regarding qualifications. I am a teacher from the UK and at first they wouldn't recognise my degree, and then said it only qualifies me for a lower level job than the one I had in the UK - plenty of stories out there about nurses, doctors, engineers etc. who have faced the same.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

After 5 years I must admit to rejecting Norwegian culture. This is not a positive place to live if you want to make new friends. The only friends you will make will be foreigners too :-(

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I am much more closed than I was before. Friends in the UK notice I am quieter. In the winter I can get quite depressed because of the darkness and lack of social interaction. We don't go out much as it is soooo expensive, and have never been invited round to a Norwegian's house for dinner, even though we have tried.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

The only thing Norway has going for it is the scenery.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Norwegians are very good at avoiding responsibility and passing the buck. Bureaucracy here is really bad. It can take months for a simple form to be processed, especially if you do not fall into a specific category. At NAV when looking for a job because NOKUT had recognised my qualification (after a year!) I could only be put in education jobs, despite the fact that I am also an office administrator too (worked in management for a while). Couldn't have both. Very frustrating place to be after the open-mindedness of Denmark and UK.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!


Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

If you can live elsewhere do! Don't think you can ever make good solid Norwegian friends here - they just aren't interested.

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Comments about this Report

Jan 26, 2015 09:25

I could not agree more with what the writer says about Norway. I have lived in Belgium, Nigeria and the States. Now I live in Kristiansand Norway. This is the most depressing country I have been in. If you are not Norwegian you will never be excepted. Please think twice before moving here.

Jan 26, 2015 09:30

I could not agree more with what the writer says about Norway. I have lived in Belgium, Nigeria and the States. Now I live in Kristiansand Norway. This is the most depressing country I have been in. If you are not Norwegian you will never be excepted. Please think twice before moving here.

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