Norway is a special country with special people. Norwegians are often laid back in their appearance and communication, but not so much when it comes to time and structure. They tend to trust others and the system in ways that few people do. Most countries have more defined social classes and the social classes people believe you belong to influences the trust and credibility they put into you.
Here are 10 tips from the author of “The Social Guidebook to Norway” for Norwegians who want to increase their credibility when travelling and working abroad:
(1) Shoes: In many cultures, the shoes you are wearing will influence how credible you appear. If you are wearing a suit, make sure to have nicely polished leather shoes. Thick rubber soles are not elegant in most countries. Brown shoes are less formal than black shoes and they should only be wear during the day. If you are invited to an evening reception or dinner, wear black shoes. . Make sure to match the colour of your shoe with your belt.
Similar tips apply for women. Running shoes or shoes made of textile are usually not a good mix with a business outfit. Nicely polished, preferably high-heeled, shoes will usually provide you with a better credibility.
(2) Backpack: Backpacks are less common in most countries as they are in Norway. If you are wearing a blazer or a dress, never wear a backpack on top of it. Actually, you should refrain from wearing a backpack or anything on your shoulder. It risks associating you with a lower social class and reduce your credibility in front of your collaborators and clients. People of higher importance tend to carry as little as possible, and never anything on their shoulders.
(3) Clothing: Make sure to learn the clothing standard of the country you are visiting. Both Norwegian men and women tend to dress in a less formal way than what is usual around the world, at least during the day. At night, some societies tend to be less formal than Norwegians, for dinner for example.
(4) Car: In most countries, it is not common to walk to your meetings, to the restaurant for lunch or to your hotel. This may be linked to the local culture, to safety issues, the weather, social status, etc. Using a car is the safest option to keep your credibility. If you are representing a company dealing large contracts, make sure to get a nice car and not the common street taxi. You thus make sure that your clients or collaborators do not wonder why you cannot afford a nice car, and do not become suspicious about your ability to pay or the success or income of the company you represent. In Norway, we are used to simply walk or take a normal taxi for most meetings – or sometime even take public transportation - this is not the common in most places abroad. Get a car that represents your position in the company.
(5) Hotel: Stay at a hotel that also represents your position at the company. While choosing a more affordable option is encouraged by the Norwegian culture: Trenger du virkelig å betale så mye for å sove? Hvem tror du at du er som sove på et fem stjerners hotell? Some Norwegian employers will also encourage their employees to take more affordable accommodation. This is not always a good idea in certain countries as it will affect the credibility you have in front of your clients. You risk being be asked where you are staying, and to be judged based on that. A high-end hotel shows that you have financial means, that you are used to dealing valuable contracts and that you belong to a high social class – that gives you more credibility in the eyes of many cultures. Again, if you choose a cheaper hotel, people may wonder why you cannot afford the more comfortable high-end option.
(6) Meetings: Meetings in Norway are a place to discuss ideas, to include others in the discussion, to convince others to follow your point of view. In many cultures, meetings are a place where the final decision is announced, it is not expected nor acceptable that you then discuss issues there. This needs to be done before the meeting, by lobbying other members. Also, the announced time for a meeting usually does not mean the same as in Norway. Come before, chitchat with those you will be discussing with at the meeting. When the meeting is over, make sure you have plenty of time to stay and discuss with the others present at the meeting – collaboration and discussion are done outside the meeting room. Having an informal talk with the people you need to convince after a first meeting is a great way to create the necessary contact that will allow you to lobby them to your ideas before the next meeting.
(7) Gender: Genders have more defined roles in most places around the world. As you are the guest / visitor, try to follow the norms of the country you are visiting, rather than the ideal you have at home. If it is expected that men play specific roles towards women, and women towards men, play along. It will make your host more comfortable in dealing with you and the company you represent. They may include opening the door, who is entering in the room first, carrying of bags, who you are seated with, what clothing you should wear, etc.
(8) Meal: I many cultures, when you are served your plate, you are expected to wait before starting to eat. When to start eating depends on different rules, try to observe how locals do and play along. Sometime the oldest woman is expected to start eating first, sometime to person in the highest position, sometimes simply that everyone has been served and a toast has been made by the host. Never start eating before your host has started.
(9) Gifts: Norwegians like their friendships and relationships to be equal. You should not owe to the others. In many cultures, relationships both private and professional, include some sort a gift ritual where someone receives a gift, owes to the other person and is expected to give back in some way. You build relationships by receiving, owing, and giving back on both sides. You build trust that way. In a business setting that can be challenging and easily seen as a form of corruption from a Norwegian perspective. If in a business setting you cannot accept gifts, inform your host. Try as much as possible to accept private gifts and give back to the person who offered you something.
(10) Time: What time means and how you should follow it is very cultural. In Norway we have a tendency to follow a strict schedule where time is respected by the minute, or the second. If you are not there when you should, things will go forward without you. Many things are planned and the schedule is full. Many cultures have a much more laid-back relationships to time. Time flows, they are flexible on the start and end of appointments, transport may not start on time but rather wait if someone is not ready to go, lunch can last several hours, work days will be longer but more flexible. I suggest having a flexible schedule when abroad, many opportunities may arise on the side of your planned activities – before and after meetings for example – plan with some gaps in your schedule to allow for unplanned discussions and meetings. Also, observe and ask locals about the cultural expectations of time when you receive an invitation. The time written on an invitation is sometimes not the time at which you are expected to come.
Everyone believes their culture is best. If you try to impose your own cultural norms when abroad, you make it difficult for yourself and reduce the chances of settling deals and of ensuring smooth collaboration.
I always encourage people to adapt to the country they are living in or visiting. Foreigners in Norway shall adapt to Norway, Norwegians abroad shall adapt to the country they visit. It is not always easy to do. Therefore, I wrote two books about the Norwegian culture which help Norwegians to see how they are different and for foreigners to understand Norwegians better.
I also created a publishing house which publishes books in Norway and Scandinavia from different authors about the Scandinavian cultures: Mondå Forlag www.mondabooks.com .
- Julien S. Bourrelle
Read more about our amazing Norwegian friends in Our Social Guidebooks to Norway