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Business Culture in Norway

Please select one of the following subjects and find out more about Norwegian business culture:

All information under 'Business Culture' is from the book "Internasjonal Skikk og Bruk" written by Henrik Ulven. Please note that any copying of this information is strictly forbidden. To order  the book, please send an email to Findexa Forlag. The book is in norwegian only.

1. Hellos and goodbyes
Norwegians usually greet and take their leave of one another with a firm handshake - the firmer the better. There are few formal rules for greeting and no great importance is attached to greeting in order of rank, gender, etc. It is important to note, however, that Norwegians are used to introducing themselves to one another, e.g. before meetings, during coffee breaks, at cocktail parties, so don’t expect your host to do the honours. It is common to exchange business cards after introductions have been made. Norwegians are egalitarian by nature and have a strong feeling of social equality. They will not be impressed by titles or name dropping.
During conversation, direct eye contact is very important in Norway. Norwegians are often perceived as being open and informal and discussions may assume a direct and personal tone even when the participants are not well acquainted.

2. Small talk with Norwegians
Norwegians are not accustomed to engaging in small talk and are usually very goal-oriented in their discussions. They prefer to get down to business right away instead of using time to chat. However, those who do enjoy small talk - and even those who don’t - tend to warm up to certain topics. Talking about the weather is a surer way to elicit a response. Interest in and knowledge of winter sports athletes and events is also popular, as are most outdoor recreation activities. The Norwegian cultural sphere has fostered many well-known names and conversations about authors (Henrik Ibsen, Sigrid Undset, Jostein Gaarder), musicians (Edvard Grieg, Jan Garbarek, A-ha, Lene Marlin, Røyksopp) and artists (Edvard Munch, Odd Nerdrum) will also be well received. Another approach that works is to hold a cocktail party or social lunch prior to the start of business meetings. Activities that take place in a purely social context can pave the way to easier interaction at the bargaining table.

3. Business meetings and negotiations
The best time for meetings is usually between 9 and 12 in the morning and 1 and 4 in the afternoon. Meetings should be set up beforehand and confirmed by letter, telephone or e-mail. Punctuality is important and it is considered impolite to be late to meetings. Although latecomers are always welcomed, they will be seen as somewhat unprofessional and can not expect to receive a briefing to bring them up to speed. Repeated cancellation of appointments is not popular and will quickly give off a bad impression. For social events such as dinner parties there is a grace period of about 15 minutes. And be aware that words of welcome are usually spoken about 30 minutes into a reception or cocktail party.
In Norway, it is still relatively easy to reach top-level executives within a corporation. It is often possible to go all the way to the top but care should be taken to determine whether this is really the wisest move - sometimes the best place to start may be a bit further down the organizational structure.
When it comes to language, Norwegians are reputed to be relatively skilled speakers of English. This is true in most cases but many are reluctant to admit that there is something that they do not understand. This means that they may have grasped the general idea but perhaps not all the finer details in your discussions. It may be a good idea to check to see if your Norwegian partners have truly understood the ramifications of your ideas. Moreover, their skills in written English do not always match their oral skills, so be sure to read through any papers and clarify any ambiguities at an early stage. Many Norwegians have a working knowledge of either German or French but will seldom feel comfortable participating in discussions in these languages during meetings.
It is crucial that you be thoroughly prepared for business meetings. Start with an agenda and choose a fact-oriented presentation form. It is also important that you stick to the time frame. You may find that negotiations move more quickly than you had expected. Norwegians may well be empowered to take quick decisions and inclined to do so. Other times, proposals will need to be discussed internally in their companies and some time may elapse before a decision can be taken.
Contracts and agreements are mutually binding. Prices and specifications are black and white and an offer stands as tendered. Bargaining will probably get you nowhere and may well generate resistance among your Norwegian counterparts. This attitude has given Norwegians a reputation as inflexible and tough to deal with. On the other hand, Norwegians are direct and present their intentions immediately without pussyfooting around. And all parties are expected to honour all agreements and promises. Norwegians set great store by openness and honesty.

4. Following up business contacts
Follow-up procedures depend largely on how important the business contact is to your company. Circulating a report of all decisions taken at a meeting is an excellent way of demonstrating that you took the meetings seriously and will make a good impression. If a contact is very important, it is a good idea to follow up with a phone call soon after a meeting, for instance with a polite summary of agreed tasks.

5. Business lunches and dinners
Lunch in Norway is a simpler affair than in many other countries. It usually consists of open-faced sandwiches — often home-made — eaten with coffee or tea during a half-hour break taken sometime between 11.30 am and 1 pm. The Continental custom of enjoying a warm meal at midday is becoming more widespread, but is still not the norm. Most workplaces have a lunchroom or canteen, with or without cafeteria facilities. Business partners may be taken to the company facilities for lunch or served during a meeting. Either way, the meal will probably consist of cold sandwiches and/or rolls, fruit, baked goods and various non-alcoholic beverages. In urban areas, it is not uncommon for business visitors to be taken out to lunch at a nearby restaurant.
Norwegians tend to end their working day at the end of business hours and prefer to eat dinner at home with their families. Thus, business dinners intended to cultivate customer relations are more the exception than the rule. As business partnerships turn into friendships, however, it becomes more common to go out for an informal meal or drink together at the end of the workday. Events such as the signing of contracts or successful negotiations are good occasions for celebrating and most Norwegians enjoy the opportunity of gathering socially with their colleagues. Formal meetings and seminars lasting more than a day will usually incorporate one or two dinners and receptions for the participants.

6. Invitations to private homes
After you have become better acquainted with your Norwegian business partner, you will probably find yourself invited to his or her home. The same ideas about punctuality apply to social as well as business situations, so be on time.
Home dinner parties tend to be informal and the host places the guests as they are seated at the table. A male guest of honour is usually placed to the left of the hostess, while a female guest of honour is seated to the right of the host. Toasts (raising your glass and saying “skål”, or “Cheers”) are traditional. The host is responsible for the first toast, during which he or she welcomes the participants to the meal. This is also the cue that it is OK to begin to drink. After this, participants toast one another or suggest a collective raising of the glass at frequent intervals throughout the meal. At formal events, toasts follow special conventions of rank and age. The golden rule to remember is that all personal toasts should be returned during a meal. It is proper etiquette to look the toaster in the eye both before and after a toast. If you are not drinking wine or beer, it is acceptable to toast with mineral water. After dessert, before coffee is served, there is usually a final toast to end the meal. This can take the form of a well-rehearsed speech (e.g. at an arranged company function) or be a spontaneous thank you from one of the guests. Such actions are much appreciated on the part of the hosts.
Norwegians have often been described as a people who eat to live, not live to eat. Year-round access to fresh produce and an increased interest in the culinary traditions of other countries have changed all that and Norwegian cuisine today is renowned for its focus on freshness and simplicity. Most dinners will consist of an appetizer, main course, vegetable(s) and dessert, with or without a cocktail beforehand. After dinner, it is common to serve coffee with cake and cognac or a digestive. It is unlikely that you will leave a dinner party hungry or dissatisfied. Small, empty bowls or dishes placed at intervals around the table are intended as receptacles for bones and other detritus as a way of cleaning your plate between servings.
Few subjects are taboo during dinner conversation, although it may be wise to steer clear of discussions on religion unless your hosts bring it up. Norwegians are relaxed in their own social setting and are willing to talk about just about anything. They are very curious and may well ask a lot of questions. An individual’s financial information is public in Norway and people are often interested in finding out how much their foreign counterparts earn and what things cost. So don’t be surprised if the conversation turns to economic matters.

7. Gifts
Gifts are not a necessary part of Norwegian business life but it is always a nice gesture to bring a small gift to your business connections or host, especially if you are invited to their homes. A small souvenir or local delicacy from your country is a suitable gift. Flowers, a potted plant, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine are always popular for home visits. Expensive gifts are generally not appropriate in any context and may be misunderstood to imply hidden motives.

8. Special information for women
Gender equality is set out in legislation in Norway and women are active in all walks of public life and commerce. Women encounter few problems and little chauvinism in Norway and are expected to take part in meetings on an equal footing with their male partners. Norwegians often only use last names when referring to one another in meetings. Some women feel slightly uncomfortable with this practice while some men may feel it is impolite to call a woman by her last name alone, so don’t be surprised if they tack on a “Mrs.” whether this is appropriate or not.
Although chivalry is by no means dead in Norway, many of the courtesies automatically extended to women in other countries are not practised. Norwegians are not expected to open car doors or hold doors open for women (or anyone else). Men do not generally rise when a woman enters or leaves a room, nor do they necessarily introduce women first in a meeting. None of these actions should be interpreted as rude – they should be seen as an expression of the egalitarianism that permeates Norwegian society.

9. Attire
Norwegians dress more informally than many other Europeans; this is also the case when they do business. It is common to wear casual suits or sports coats and jackets to work, although many simply wear nice trousers and shirts. Most men don ties for meetings and visits and many take them off as soon as they return to their offices. Women wear skirts and sweaters, suits, trousers, blazers and dresses. For more formal occasions men usually wear dark suits and women wear either nice dresses or suits.
If there is a dress code for private functions, it will usually be indicated on the invitation.