Norwegian Language Blog

Being Polite in Norwegian Posted by on Apr 26, 2015 in Traditions

In Norway, as elsewhere in the world, things like greeting and shaking hands are a sign of good manners. (Photo by Aidan Jones at Flickr, CC License.)

In Norway, as in many other places in the world, things like greeting and shaking hands are a sign of good manners. (Illustration by Aidan Jones at Flickr, CC License.)

Last summer an avis (newspaper) article about Norwegians being uhøflig (impolite) shocked me into writing … this blog post one year later! 🙂 I’ve thrown away the paper, but it still bugs me that anyone could come up with such tull (nonsense, bullsh*t). Most Norwegians I’ve met are very kind and høflig (polite)! True, Norwegian has no proper word for please. There are, however, other remedies:

takk (thank you) is used much more than in English. You say takk for maten (thank you for the food) when you’ve eaten, takk for sist (thank you for the last time) when you meet somebody again, takk, i like måte (thank you, likewise) when someone wishes you well, takk som byr (thank you who’s offering) when someone’s offering you something (edible), takk, det var snilt av deg (thank you, that was kind of you), tusen takk (thousand thanks), takk skal du ha (thanks, literally: thank you shall you have), takk, takk (thank you, thank you)! It can also be nice alternative to please: Et pizzastykke, takk! (A slice of pizza, please!)

unnskyld (I’m sorry) or unnskyld meg (excuse me): Unnskyld, kan du vise meg veien til Frognerparken? (Excuse me, can you show me the way to Frogner Park?) Unnskyld meg, men du har spist rømmegrøten min! (Sorry, but you’ve eaten my Norwegian sour cream porridge!)

dessverre (unfortunately) and beklager (I’m sorry): Beklager! Vi har dessverre ingen lefser igjen! (Unfortunately, we’ve got no lefser left!)

vær så snill (”be so kind”) is probably the closest you get to please: Kan ikke du kjøpe den største bamsen i butikken? Vær så snill!!! (Can’t you buy me the biggest teddy bear in the shop? Please!!!) Hjelp meg, er du snill. (Help me, please.)

There are certainly many other ways of showing høflighet (courteosness) in Norwegian. All this talk about being nice, however, has me wondering: What are your experiences from Norway like? Were people kind, polite, rude or something in between? Share your stories in the comments section – please! 🙂

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Traci:

    I definitely agree that Norwegians are very polite. My boyfriend has to keep reminding myself to say “Nei, takk” or “Ja, takk” all the time. And he considers it very rude when I forget.

  2. Traci:

    I definitely agree that Norwegians are very polite. My boyfriend has to keep reminding me to say “Nei, takk” or “Ja, takk” all the time. And he considers it very rude when I forget.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Traci @Traci
      Thanks for your story, Traci! 🙂 Or, I should probably say: Tusen takk!

  3. Barb Heian-Bjørnsen:

    They’re always polite! Of course

  4. Linda:

    I am a first generation Norwegian/American and I just came back from Norway after being there for a month.
    I find that if you are not with family and are not introduced to someone by family, Norwegians were very self absorbed. I especially saw this in the stores, (customers, not sales people) on the street and while they drive. Shop workers were very helpful and patient.
    However, if people bumped into you on the street, they never said pardon me, or if they were in my way or pushed in front of me they did not say sorry or apologize. They just pushed past me. I thought they were very rude, in fact. I was quite surprised.
    People driving were always in a hurry and seemed bothered if you crossed the street at a crosswalk and practically didn’t stop at all. I always waited for the green light, and you better stand far from the curb, they really take turns very quickly.
    No one held an elevator either, or moved so you could get into the elevator.
    I love my family and I love Norway, but I was disappointed in SIMPLE human curtesy.
    Norway may be a very rich country today, AND extremely expensive, but they have lost the human interaction with people. As I said, very self absorbed, self centered, and constantly on their devices as well.
    Perhaps they do need God back in their lives.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Linda @Linda

      Thank you for your comments. That was really interesting to read. Many Norwegians have this idea that Norway is ”the best”. So, often there are some ”blind spots” that only outsiders are able to see. I once travelled to Norway with a German. She had some of the same experiences as you.
      Yes, Norway is a very rich country, so maybe people have become too obsessed with things?

  5. Nancy:

    When I was in Norway last summer I fell twice and needed help getting up from the street. It is difficult for me to get up as I have 2 knee replacements, after about 5 minutes a young man came over to help me get up. It was a bit disappointing that the majority of people there just walk by and do not offer any assistance.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Nancy Hei Nancy! I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience in Norway. 🙁 Generally, most Norwegians are friendly people, but maybe also a bit reserved and shy. Of course, 5 minutes is a long time to wait when somebody is hurt and needs help. I hope this hasn’t scared you away from Norway or Norwegian! 🙂

  6. E. Vass:

    I spend a lot of time in Norway, and speak the language, which I learned when I was young, and living there. I must say I find Oslo Norwegians very conceited and arrogant, but country people can be really nice and very kind.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @E. Vass @E. Vass – thanks for the comment! 🙂 Isn’t that a typical thing, though – city people having less time to talk and be kind?

  7. Michelle:

    I live in Finnmark, in a small town, and this winter I got stuck with my car on my way home from work at 1 am due to a gigantic snow storm with extremely strong wind. I got into a snowdrift in the middle of a hill and could not move neither backwards nor forwards. Within two minutes to snille jenter tapped on my window as I was trying to figure out what to do, they were waving two shovels and asking if I needed help. Long story short, for an entire hour they digged and pushed and navigated and genuinely cheered when i finally managed to park infront of my house, repeating – between 1 and 2 am in a snow storm. Even now I cant express how grateful and stunned I was with their kindness and patience.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Michelle @Michelle – Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. It’s good to know that people were kind and helped you in the snow storm! I also think that people from Northern Norway have a special ”warmth” that maybe sometimes lacks in the south (where people have less time).

  8. Sandy Freeman:

    Hei Bjorg I love your blog and I am due to visit Norway in a few days time. I am soooo excited and have been trying to learn the language. Much to the delight of my family who think I’m silly “because they will all speak English anyway”. I just think it is polite to try and speak the language of that country. I love the language and I’m doing well so far I think but not too sure that what I’m learning will be relevant to every day things but I like the tak, tusen tak etc. Fingers crossed 🙂

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Sandy Freeman @Sandy Hei Sandy, thank you for the comment. I hope you will have the chance to speak Norwegian! 🙂 Lykke til!