These tips on Norwegian business etiquette are not intended to stereotype Norwegians or insist that all Norwegian businesspeople and companies operate in exactly the same way. Rather, the tips serve as a guide, providing you with greater cultural awareness and understanding of Norwegian cultural norms when it comes to doing business. Remember to always respect the culture, value and traditions of your prospective partners.
The typical greeting in Norway is a brief, firm handshake with a short period of eye contact. You should then address your Norwegian counterpart by their title and surname, although you will probably soon be told to move to a first name basis. You should use professional titles where appropriate (such as Doctor or Professor), but not business titles like “Manager” or “Director” as is common in countries such as China.
You should also be aware that, unlike in some cultures that favour personal contact and closeness, the appropriate speaking distance in Norway may be further away than you are used to, and Norwegians will be uncomfortable if you stand closer than what they perceive as acceptable.
Planning your business meeting:
Punctuality is taken very seriously, and if you are going to be anything more than five or ten minutes late you should call, apologise and advise them of when you will arrive. You should arrange an appointment well in advance and it is also considered polite to suggest an end time to your meeting so that your hosts can plan the rest of their day. It is very rude to interrupt a meeting to make a telephone call and intrusions are rare. There will usually be an agenda to discuss and schedules and deadlines are firm. Persistent lateness and a failure to keep to agreed agendas and timings could seriously harm your business dealings in Norway.
At your first meeting, don’t be surprised if Norwegians are only prepared to discuss light conversational topics and exchange social niceties for a short amount of time. The personal aspect of business relationships, which can take up a great deal of time in other countries, is limited to a few minutes before turning to the business at hand.
Norwegian business culture, enshrined in the aforementioned Jante Law, is based on humility, modesty and frowns on what it perceives to be any attempt to grab the spotlight or boast about one’s achievements. They usually consider it poor taste to flaunt wealth and success. Therefore in business meetings and other situations you should avoid boastful and showy language and refrain from making hyperbolic promises that you cannot back up with fact and logic.
Even though English is a widely spoken business language in Norway, it is polite and considered respectful to offer professional translations of all relevant documentation in Norwegian, as this shows your business counterparts that you are serious about your interactions with them and are willing to go the extra mile.
Norwegians favour a straightforward approach to negotiating and they like arguments to be well-presented and backed up with facts and statistics. As previously stated, they do not respond well to hyperbole or exaggerated claims. Avoid high-pressure tactics or artificial deadlines because this can be counterproductive. Once again, do not be tempted to boast or flaunt your business acumen and success – Norwegians will respond much better to humility and your business dealings will be easier for it.
Norwegians view a written contract as set in stone, and will refer to the terms within it if disagreements arise. Unlike some cultures, where a written contract is fluid and subject to change, Norwegians are unlikely to want to dispute the terms of your agreement after you have signed it, so ensure that you are happy with what the contract contains before you put pen to paper.
Business Meals and Social Occasions:
The type of meal that you go for is usually an indication of the type of conversation you will be having. If you are invited for a business lunch, it will usually be to talk about business, but if you are invited to dinner or to somebody’s home, it is more of a social occasion. Unlike in some other cultures, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to invite a man to a business lunch or dinner, and she will also pay the bill if she has done the inviting. If you do go to somebody’s home, a gift of alcohol, such as wine or liquor in particular (which is expensive as it is heavily taxed in Norway) would be very welcome.
The concept of fashionably late doesn’t really exist for social events. If you have an arrangement to be at your host’s home at 6.30, it would be wise to be there at 6.30. If you think you will be more than a few minutes late, make sure that you call, otherwise this could be considered as impolite.
Table manners are continental – hold your knife in your right and your fork in your left, and when you have finished, place them both together diagonally across your plate. You shouldn’t start eating until everybody has been served and your host tells you to begin eating or starts to eat. You should expect to linger over coffee or drinks after dinner – it is considered impolite to go home straight after dinner.
Norway is known as quite an informal culture, however business attire should be smart and conservative, especially on the first meeting, with men wearing a well-cut suit and tie and women wearing conservative suits or dresses. If you find that your Norwegian counterparts do dress more casually in the office, you can then adapt your dress style accordingly, but it is better to be overdressed than underdressed to make your first impression.
Don’t let it happen to you!
An Italian businessman travels to Norway to meet with potential business partners. He is running slightly late for their meeting, but it is only fifteen minutes so he doesn’t think it’s worth calling ahead. While they are talking about the business deal, he interjects or interrupts at times with points that he thinks are important to consider and at times talks about other things that aren’t on the agenda that he thinks need to be dealt with. The Norwegian businessmen are quietly affronted and not very well disposed towards their Italian counterpart.
If he had been more aware of how Norwegians conduct business, he would have known that punctuality has a lot of importance attached to it, whereas things can be more relaxed in Italy. The Norwegians would also have known, if they had been taught about Italian etiquette, that at business meetings in Italy it is common to all talk simultaneously and follow several lines of enquiry at once, and that this is simply seen as enthusiasm and an interest in the business relationship. Lingua Translations offers cross-cultural training that enables your company to make those vital steps abroad without the fear of a faux pas. Contact us now to find out more and one of our friendly Project Managers will be only too happy to talk to you.
The Jante Law
Business dealings in Norway, and indeed in many Scandinavian countries, are governed by a concept called Janteloven or the Jante Law, written by Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose. The tenets of Jante Law are:
> Don’t think you’re anything special
> Don’t think you’re as good as us
> Don’t think you’re smarter than us
> Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us
> Don’t think you know more than us
> Don’t think you’re more important than us
> Don’t think you are good at anything
> Don’t laugh at us
> Don’t think anyone cares about you
> Don’t think you can teach us anything
Therefore, humility and modesty are prized and boastfulness and excessive showiness are not at all appreciated.