Country Fact file
Location: Northern Europe
Capital City: Oslo
Population: 5.2 million
Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Currency: Norwegian Krone (NOK)
Main Languages: Norwegian, Sami, English
Main Religions: Christianity (Evangelical Lutheran, Catholicism), Judaism, Islam.
The Kingdom of Norway is Europe’s northernmost country, sharing a long eastern border with Sweden and with Finland and Russia to the north. The capital of Oslo lies close to the border with Sweden and is the most densely populated area with around one million inhabitants. Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, known for its spectacular landscape of soaring mountains and rugged coastline broken by vast fjords, glaciers and island clusters. It is also the richest nation in the world, thanks partly to oil and gas exports. Although not a member of the European Union, Norway is an EEA partner with close links to the rest of the continent.
Norway has a liberal egalitarian culture, with a commitment to equality and fairness at all levels of society. The Law of Jante (Janteloven), a philosophy posed by the author Aksel Sandemose, which describes how Norwegians should behave (by putting society ahead of individual needs and not boasting or being envious of others), is deeply entrenched in all aspects of Norwegian culture and life. Although outward-looking and progressive in their attitudes, Norwegians are also very patriotic and fiercely proud of their unique cultural heritage and independence. This is evidenced in the many national holidays and ‘flag-flying days’ held throughout the year.
The Norwegian landscape influences every aspect of leisure, with hiking, skiing, canoeing and fishing among the most popular activities. Football also has a passionate following – the fact that some Norwegian players have been snapped up by the English Premier League is a source of national pride. The majority of Norwegians spend the summer months in cabins and houses near the fjords or overlooking the many white, sandy beaches. Parties, picnics and barbeques to celebrate the Midnight Sun and enjoying the ethereal Aurora Borealis are also popular summer activities. Such events can be vast (and raucous), with large numbers of even the most distant family members gathering to celebrate through the long sunlit nights.
Food and drink
Traditional Norwegian cuisine relies on fresh produce from the mountains, lakes and sea, with fish and game being an integral part of the national diet. Norwegian cuisine is protein-packed and considered to be very healthy. Breakfast is one of the main meals of the day and comprises smoked or pickled fish, cheese, eggs, meat and traditional rye bread, which is also eaten at lunch as open sandwiches. Dinner is eaten between 4-5pm and popular dishes include meatballs (kjøttboller), boiled or dried fish and boiled potatoes with a number of delicious sauces and pickles.
Coffee is by far the most popular drink and Norwegians are the second highest consumers of coffee in the world, after Finland. Beer and wine are the most popular alcoholic drinks, as well as Akvavit, a strong flavoured spirit produced across Scandinavia. However, the purchase of alcohol is subject to strict laws in Norway.
Norwegian is the most widely spoken language, followed by Sami, spoken by the approximately 40,000 indigenous Sami people resident in Norway. Norwegian is a Germanic language and has two official written forms – Bokmål and Nyorsk – which can make the language rather complex for new learners. However, nearly 90% of Norwegians speak English fluently, as well as a high level of Swedish, Danish, German and French.
Accents and dialects
Norway has a rich pattern of dialects that are broadly divided into four groups (eastern, western, central and northern). Dialects are unique to each region and differ according to grammar, syntax, vocabulary and accent. Norwegians themselves may not even understand some words from a dialect outside of their region. However, as most Norwegians speak English proficiently, new expats will not be expected to learn dialects, which are mainly spoken at home and in community settings. Standard Norwegian is used in public and professional arenas.
Its northern location, sharing the same latitude as Alaska, Greenland and Siberia, means that Norway is a cold country. However, thanks to westerly winds, Norway’s climate is much friendlier than people realise. Northern Norway, with its Midnight Sun in the summer months and no sunshine at all during winter, differs greatly from the southern areas, which have a more moderate climate. In winter (December to February) temperatures can drop to between -15°C and -40°C in northern areas. Summer temperatures can climb to around 30°C in the north (due to the midnight sun) and 20°C in the south.
Safety and security
Crime rates are extremely low in Norway and police do not carry guns. Tourists have reported incidents of pick-pocketing in Oslo and Bergen but Norway is still considered one of the safest places in the world in terms of violent crime and robbery. Alcohol-fuelled crime has increased in recent years but figures remain low as the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated. Culturally, Norwegians have a reputation for impeccable honesty, so incidents of being ripped off in shops or restaurants are almost non-existent.