Becoming a Norwegian New Yorker
There is something about New York. The energy, the people, the constant buzz, the opportunities and the magic of just being in New York. People ask me all the time what my favorite part about New York is. It’s a tough question to answer, at least with just one sentence. What I usually say is that I love the fact that I can do anything – at any time. New York really is the city that never sleeps and I absolutely love it. I’m all by myself here, a small town girl from an island in the frostbitten north of Norway, but I never feel alone or lonely. It’s a city where you blend in and are a nobody, yet the energy and people here encourages you to be somebody. Although you’re surrounded by crowds of people, all strangers, there’s something about this city that quickly makes you feel like you belong.
Being a Norwegian, there are quite a few cultural differences it took me a while to get used to. Here are some of them.
Janteloven vs. Individualism
In Norway (and Scandinavia) we have this unwritten law called Janteloven or “The Law of Jante”. To put it simply, it can be described as the way that Norwegians are “supposed to” behave: putting society ahead of the individual, not boasting about individual accomplishments or being jealous of others. The fact that Norway is such a liberal and equalized society seems to backfire a little bit when it comes supporting entrepreneurs, startups and freelancer. This anti-bragging attitude and way of thinking may restrain a lot of Norwegians from achieving success globally. Here in the US and especially in New York I see and experience a very different attitude. It’s focused more on the individual, and you learn pretty quickly that if you want to get anywhere or achieve anything it’s up to you yourself. It can be quite tough, especially when you’re coming from a country where you get so much help and support from the government, but it also pushes you and helps you achieve goals you never thought were possible. It really is true what they say; if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
No one looks the same
Historically, New York was a hub for immigrants, and it still is today. One of my absolute favorite things about New York is the diversity of people, cultures, religions and nationalities. It makes you curious, it makes you wonder who are all these people and what are their backgrounds. People would often assume that to experience culture in New York, you have to go to a specific neighborhood. I wouldn’t say that is the case. I find I learn more about the world through meeting people and having conversations with them, than by visiting different areas of the city. Norway is definitely a very different place. Yes, we have immigrants in Norway, and yes not everyone looks the same. Still compared to New York I’d say most Norwegians look and act very similar. The Law of Jante might be a reason for this.
The value of time
New Yorker’s value their time and they are masters at getting the most out of it. There’s nothing they won’t be ableto squeeze into their busy schedule. From early morning runs in Central Park, to the office, to lunch meetings, to more meetings, to Bikram Yoga, to after work drinks, to dinners with their loved ones and so on. People here are good with their priorities and don’t mind doing a million things in one day. The fact that Manhattan is a small island makes it a lot easier as well. I feel like Norwegians on the other hand live a pretty similar day-to-day life with set schedules. They seem to like planning ahead and I wouldn’t say they are huge fans of last minute plans or impulsive activities. If you make lunch plans the week before with someone, agreeing on a certain time and place, you usually wouldn’t have to confirm it the day (or hours) before, they will be there, on time. I like to call it the Norwegians punctuality.
From sirens to cat-calling
Anyone who’s been to New York knows it is extremely noisy, all day – every day. It’s really anything from honking cars, sirens, construction work, angry New Yorker’s on the street, to “white-van guys” cat-calling you. It can be annoying and hectic to say it the least. Some days it definitely gets to you, and I’ll admit I find it easy to relate to aggressive New Yorker’s. I’m learning how to master the art of completely ignoring it, letting it pass and not affect me. I usually just plug in my headphones (which are noise cancelling as well) with my favorite playlist or podcast and I’m ready to step into the chaos. I usually don’t realize just how noisy it gets here until I go back home to Norway. Norway is such a peaceful place where pretty much everyone lives in harmony, nobody raises their voices or shout after you on the street. People usually mind their own business and they are not big fans of small talk. Try smiling to a stranger on the street in Norway, it will probably freak them out. I’ve heard some people complain that Norwegians come across as a bit rude and too blunt. We are just very straightforward, honest and genuine in my opinion. Yes we could expand our politeness vocabulary, however when a Norwegian is nice to someone it’s 100% real. If you ask someone “how are you” in Norway, expect to get a real answer.