Norwegian Service from Expectations to Reality

Today I walked into a hotel just outside Oslo.

Two employees were talking together at the reception desk.

I waited a few seconds looking at them.


They did not look at me nor greeted.

I stepped in and politely interrupted the conversation

"Excuse me"

They stopped talking, turned around and looked at me. They did not say anything.

I waited a few more seconds expecting something like:

"Hi, welcome to our hotel, can we help you with anything?"

Nothing. They keep silent and continued to look at me, a little bit as if I were an intruder. I said:


No answer. they just continue look at me. I continued:

"I will be holding a lecture in one hour..." 

Interrupting in the middle of my sentence:

"All conferences are in the other building".

They immediately turned their backs and began talking to each other again. 

I stood there for a few seconds. A little shocked. I have been living in Norway for years, yet this is one of the things I am still struggling with. I interrupted again:

"Is there a place I can sit and work before holding my lecture"

They pointed around them

"You can sit where ever you like"

Expectations are different from countries to countries. Some people come from places where guests are greeted, smiled to and given attention.

In some countries, hotel employees may even take initiatives to make their guests feel comfortable, welcomed and create an enjoyable feeling. It could look something like this:

"Good afternoon Sir. A pleasure that you will be lecturing at our hotel, all our conference facilities are located on the other side of the garden. Would you like to leave your luggage at the reception?"

The staff may have continued with a smile :

"You may sit in our lobby or at the bar where someone will help you with coffee."

In Norway, service is more pragmatic, more efficient. You get the information you need. Only the information you need. Unnecessary communication has been removed. It is more direct. It does not mean the Norwegian hotel staff was rude today, it just means that they want things to be as efficient and pragmatic as possible.

I carried my suitcase up the stairs to the bar area - not wanting to interrupt again to ask if i could leave it at the reception.

I left my jacket on a chair and walked towards the bar. The employee who was behind saw me, and without any smile nor acknowledgement she turned around and started to go down the stairs before I managed to get to the bar.

"Excuse me"
"Excuse me"

She turns around

"Would it be possible to order a coffee"

She looked at me like I was a little stupid. I was speaking Norwegian with a foreign accent. I usually speak English with unknown people in Norway, it helps people not to be affected by the unconscious bias that language skills is linked to intelligence. 

"The bar is closed until 16h30. You need to walk to the basement and get coffee at the restaurant."

She turns away and walks off before i get to say anything more. I stand their for a few seconds trying to smile to myself.

In some countries, people may have different expectations of service. Hotel employees may be expected to acknowledge when a client enters a room, especially when standing behind the bar. If for some reason they do not see the client, one may expect something like

"I am so sorry that I did not see you Sir/Madam" 

In the situation above, one could expect the hotel staff to walk back up the stairs so that it be a comfortable distance to communicate, instead of screaming across the room, and say something like:

"We unfortunately do not have anyone working at the bar at the moment, but I will gladly get you a coffee from the restaurant."


"I will gladly show you where you can buy a coffee, please follow me."

Expectations are different from places to places. Norwegians do not lack people skills, are not rude, nor impolite, nor uneducated, they are simply effective, efficient and their interactions are pragmatic.

This is what I say on stage and in my books. It is not always easy to live it, but it is almost always more enjoyable and constructive to take the positive side of someone's behaviors  - blaming it on efficiency and pragmatism, rather than blaming it on a lack of good manners, makes life in Norway so much more enjoyable.

- Julien 

"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it."


By Julien S. Bourrelle

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