Articles

Norwegian honor culture

What makes Norwegians’ blood boil? And what is needed to insult a Norwegian? The answer has four wheels and exterior mirrors.

Honor your car: If you ask Norwegians to limit their driving, you have seriously insulted them, writes guest writer Irene Kinunda.
Photo: Fred Ivar Utsi Klemetsen (archive)

Opinion by Irene Kinunda Afriyie
first published in Bergens Tidende June 12, 2019.

We hear about the concept of honor when the conversation is related to some immigrant environment. But honor culture is also rooted in Norwegian culture. It is as Norwegian as brown cheese and cheese slicer.

In some cultures, if one says something negative about a god, it can engage the whole country. People get furious.

It is certainly not religion that controls the concept of honor in Norway. Although Norway has been a Christian nation for a thousand years. Norwegians will not be furious if someone says something negative about Jesus or God.

Honor in Norway is not related to family either. In Congo, for example, I am someone’s first daughter or grandchild. Everything I do affects them and everything they do affects me.


In Norway, however, you primarily represent yourself. Therefore, honor is just as shame. It is mostly an individual matter that will not affect people around you to the same extent. Honor in Norwegian society is linked to freedom. Being self-reliant and independent of others is perhaps the most typical Norwegian attribute. Norwegians learn it everywhere and as early as possible. Typical Norwegian for me is that you have your own packed lunch, your own seating, your own bed, your own everything. It’s like everyone goes through the training of “me” and “my”. This continues in adulthood: Own house and own car.

Norwegians become enraged with everything and everyone who limits freedom. It is, therefore, people like the Bergen city council Anna Elisa Tryti (Ap), Klepp’s mayor Ane Mari Braut Nese (H), Oslo city council Lan Marie Nguyen Berg (MDG) and others who support toll roads live with smear campaigns, death threats, and police protection.

Road tolls are an attack on “me” and “mine”. This is the culture many in Norway learn from birth.

If you ask Norwegians to limit their driving, you have insulted them in the worst possible way. You would have violated many peoples honor. The car is “the symbol” of freedom and independence. Many Norwegians feel free when they have their own car.

Therefore we see time and time again that so many people bother to sit in a traffic jam for hours every single day. The relationship many Norwegians have to their car is special. The car is sacred in Norway, and therefore more important than anything?

Why else should one say no to toll roads that will contribute to less air pollution, secure money for better public transport, bring down greenhouse gas emissions and make everyday life safer for children who want to walk or cycle.

I do not think that better public transport is going to make Norwegians happy. Norwegians do not like to be with each other. Being alone, independent and free lies in the Norwegians soul.

This is why having a cottage is so very popular here in Norway. There is often no one else in the cottage. There are many kilometers to the next neighbor and when you go skiing, you only see traces of yourself. Being alone, where no one else has been, is most Norwegians wet dream.

It is no wonder the latest survey shows that the new “Peoples Anti Toll Road Party” (FNB) is the largest party in the toll road city of Bergen. For this is about much more than peoples money. This lies deeper in us.

You only sit with others on the Bybanen (light rail) when you need to. Everyone, including myself, first tries to find a vacant seat by the window. And everyone should look straight ahead and sit still and calmly.

When the person sitting by the window is to depart, it is best if they communicate this subtle without words or too much movement.

An ideal public transport for Norwegians is not city rail or buses. It must be something that you can control yourself, be alone in and where you do not have to deal with other people.

It could almost resemble a car.

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