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10 ways to (not) hug a Norwegian

We are one year into the pandemic and a hug is one of the things we miss the most. But how to physically go about this in Norway is anything but simple. Here are Wil Lee-Wright's do’s, don’ts and don’t knows, published in our first issue November 2014.

1. An unwanted kiss on the cheek Norwegian greetings are quite formal. A firm handshake will suffice for either male or female. Unless you know the person, in which case a hug is expected. This ‘hug’ has exactly the same approach as a kiss on the cheek in any other land. So for years I have been going in for a peck on the cheek, only to miss because the other person is on a completely different wavelength.

2. A mouthful of ear

Missing the cheek peck has many embarrassing pitfalls. You will never be more aware of your personal kissing noise than when it is unreciprocated. But the worst has to be the mouth of ear. The Norwegian hug is basically just a ‘pretend kiss,’ where one lightly presses cheeks together, like some sort of French Eskimo. However, if either individual is unaware and goes in for the kiss, the ear can become an unwelcome destination for your soup coolers.

3. Formal greetings in Norway

The firm handshake mentioned above has many pitfalls of its own. In the UK people shake to whatever barometer they choose, for better, or for worse. Here however, the notion of Norwegians being very reserved goes right out the window if you are caught giving the wet fish. “*****” she said.

4. Choosing the right handshake

The decision between the standard missionary handshake and the arm-wrestler grip is a modern day question for the ages. The latter is undoubtedly cooler but if your partner misses the signal you can end up in some sort of strange thumb war. Don’t get me started on fist-bumps, knuckle-snappers, palm-sweeps and combinations thereof. A dilemma not exclusive to Norway.

5. Back slap and clap

Unless you are playing a sport, I would advise against slapping people you have just met on the shoulder. Norwegians do not fight very often, but if they did, they would probably kick your butt. This being said, in the one fight I have seen on the streets of Trondheim, the two gentlemen in question mutually consented to take off their shoes beforehand, so it would probably be quite a gentle butt-kicking. One thing is for sure, your shoulder slap will be returned with interest later in the evening.

6. The Viking Crush – when to hug a guy

As with the afore mentioned Norwegian ‘Hug’, the rules are different when you know the person from before. The key element here is understanding what counts as “knowing somebody”. ‘Don’t fret, you will find out soon enough. An unkown acquaintance will bend their entire body backwards and squirm to avoid the unwarranted greeting. Whereas known will crush you with their Viking love. Rock meet Hard Place, Hard Place meet Rock.

7. Special Situation #1 - weddings

Norwegian weddings include a fantastic tradition where when the groom goes to the toilet, all of the male guests get up, form a queue and give the bride a hug and a kiss. Having heard rumours of this, I personally made sure that I was first in line at a recent wedding. It was only when I got back to my seat that I looked over and realised that everyone else was in a state of utter shock. I had gone in and planted a wet smackeroo, right on the bride’s lips. Because in my world of regular (attempted) cheek kissing, where is the exclusivity of kissing the bride on the cheek? Got to get to grips with rule number one.

8. Special Situation #2 – back from somewhere foreign

There does seem to be an allowance for the continental cheek kissing for those freshly returned from holidays. Indeed, I have seen a double or triple cheek kiss dished out without so much as a “thank-you maam”. I am yet to work out the ‘how and when’ of this allowance – perhaps it has something to do with the strength of their tan?

9. Special situation #3 – Christmas

You can now disregard everything I have just written because all formality goes out the window during Julebord season! Just when I am coming to terms with my lips, the whole country turns on its head and becomes some sort of Arctic San Tropez – all clutch bags, air kisses and extrovert demonstrations of emotion. After 10 months of trying to keep a stiff upper lip I am suddenly the uptight foreigner. So kiss and be kissed, I say – I’ve been trying for years. Sooner or later it’s going to catch on.


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