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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Western Norway City, Norway

Jan 26, 2015

Stavanger, Norway

Norway often is cited as a difficult country for expats to settle into, especially when it comes to making friendships that make one feel truly settled. Read this informative culture shock report for some thoughts on how to make it happen.

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

Western Norway City

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

No training

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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?

I learned the language after I already had moved here. Took classes at both the university and at Folkeuniversitetet; if you qualify, I definitely recommend the university courses. Now I speak quite fluently. It took about 8 months to be able to get a job, but I didn't start feeling comfortable with the language until about 3 years. It can be difficlut to understand people, depending on where they are from and what dialect they have!

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

Not really. I just wanted to learn the language as quickly as possible. I also had intended to stay for a much shorter time.

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

Initially it wasn't very significant, since I was living with other students who were foreigners. After time though, when I decided to stay more permanently it became more significant.

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?

I think that I did go through these stages, and that they aren't linear or mutually exclusive. I still am going through the irritation/anger stage, but am mostly culturally adjusted.

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.

Pretty much all of the above things were caused by culture shock. I got slightly depressed and definitely ate more, perhaps because of the poor weather.

Most frustrating overall is that Norway is a collectivist society (their idea of equality means SAMENESS), whereas I am used to more individualism. People here, even in the bigger cities want to fit in with each other-they wear the same clothes, purses, etc. Janteloven is going strong. If you look different, people will stare. For example, I get a lot of stares wearing shorts when I go for a jog in the winter. I usually just make eye contact until they look away uncomfortably :)

It is also hard to make friends. In the end, many of your friends may end up being foreigners, although all of my best friends are Norwegian.

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

Norwegians are kind and will help you if you need.

If you eventually are able to make friends with a Norwegian, you probably have a friend for life.

They are less superficial, and are less likely to say things that they don't mean, compared to, for example, Americans.

People won't try to talk to you on the bus; they'll probably try to avoid even sitting with you! :)

Beautiful nature

The whole culture of going for hikes on the weekends

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Norwegians don't like to stand out or call too much attention to themselves. If you are different, people will stare, which can be annoying.

It can be difficult to make new friends. People have this idea that after they have 3-4 good friends (often ones they've known from elementary school) they have enough.

Because Norwegians are less superficial, they also come across as rude sometimes

If someone bumps you in the street, don't expect an apoplogy. Also, don't expect anyone to hold doors for you, and expect sneaking in queues for the bus or airplane (if there is a queue at all!)

People, particularly government employees, are often inefficient and incompetent, doing "just enough"

It is really expensive to eat out in a restaurant, and the service is usually ranging from average/apathetic to terrible. I almost never eat out anymore because of this.

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

The first pre-party ("vorspiel") I went to, I did not bring alcohol, since I thought the hosts would provide it. Remember, always bring beer for yourself, even for normal parties since alcohol is expensive here!

Made some silly language mistakes. For example, told my friend "thanks for the kiss" (kyss) instead of "thanks for the ride/driving me" (skyss) in front of his wife :))) Ooops.

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

Try to learn the language, especially the local dialect! It makes things much easier when you try and meet new people. And it gives them something to ask about--Norwegians are proud of their dialects!

Realize that it's not a utopia here. It's easy to get depressed and feel excluded. So try to keep active, join clubs or volunteer organizations or even couchsurfing as a way to meet people!

Also remember that it gets better. But don't give up who you are just to try and fit in :)

Read Next

10 Tips for Living in Norway

Expats in Norway often have a hard time adjusting to life there. Expats share their tips and experiences living in Norway -- from the high taxes and difficulty making friends with locals to the beautiful scenery and outdoor living.

5 Tips for Living in Stavanger, Norway

Life in Stavanger can be complicated for expats. By most accounts, it is a difficult culture to get accustomed to, but with the right frame of mind and a willingness to adapt, it can be a rewarding expat experience.

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