How to greet a Norwegian
I am writing in English today to help ensure you receive this important information.
An American living in Bergen recently accused us locals of being terribly ill-mannered. He had tried to say hello to strangers on the street, but none of them smiled back at him. Poor guy.
As many foreigners have the same misconception, it would seem that an explanation of our customs is in order.
Please follow these rules for interacting with Norwegians:
Strangers: Do not greet them unless you absolutely have to. In Norway it is actually considered rude as we really value our privacy. If you must engage with a stranger, always start with the word «unnskyld» («sorry», pronounced «oon-shul»).
Distant acquaintances (i.e. you don’t know their name): Make eye contact for about two seconds while you smile and nod briefly. Never stop walking.
Colleagues, neighbours etc. that you know only superficially: Smiling and nodding is fine. In addition you can say «hei» (pronounced «hay») or «hallo».
People you see often: As above, but if you know their name you may add it after «hei». You may also stop for a few seconds and comment on the weather. British people will surely get the hang of this.
Friends: Say «hei», smile and chat for a little while if you have the time. Excuse yourself if you’re in a hurry.
People you meet in the wilderness or in a bar: Break all the rules. Feel free to talk to strangers.
You see, we don’t really have bad manners. We just have different manners.