Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Norway “the best country to live in”?

We Norwegians like to praise ourselves with top international rankings, we like to say that “we are the world’s best country to live in” and Norway is currently the best country to be a mother in. Ok, so it is relatively glorious to be a Norwegian.  But might there be an international ranking that Norwegians should not celebrate?  

Imagine sitting on the bus, a young dude sits in front of you with headphones playing earsplitting music. What do you do? Chances are that if you are sitting on a Norwegian bus you won’t have time to do anything before someone kindly ask the dude to turn the music down. 

A group of scientists have found that out of 33 nations, Norway is one of the countries with highest expectations and sanctions to social norms. In Norway’s group were countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, India, Singapore and South-Korea; all countries that Norway is usually not comparable to (other Scandinavian countries however are not included in the survey). The scientists judge this finding to be rather surprising.

Frankly, I’m not so surprised. On the other end of the scale is the Netherlands, a country filled with people that are more than willing to have conversation with you trams, supermarkets or at libraries. I can honestly say that it is very different living in the Netherlands compared to Norway.  I feel very few, if any restrictions and expectations to me (or my bike’s) appearance.

I can’t help but wonder whether these tight norms might actually serve a purpose though. Perhaps is tightness necessary in order to sustain the institutions that make up Norway’s success? But is it worth it? How can Norway be “the best country to live in” if all actions have to fit neatly into society’s strict expectations? 


  1. It seems that Norwegians don't mind this kind appearance though.

  2. i think the bus example is not so good. based on my fairly extensive experience with norwegian bus rides, i would the say the chances are equally high that no-one would complain to the guy with the loud music. reprimanding strangers is not something often done in a country of virtually institutionalized passive-aggressiveness, a trait which surely is a product of the social norms you write about.

  3. After further consideration I do agree that the bus/music example is not the best. But how does Norwegians excersise the tight norms when they at the same time are also avoiding confrontation? Now that's a puzzle! We must express our norms in a way that is subtil but really efficient...

    Now to that photo: LOVE IT. Even Norwegian black metal can't tip the scale in favor of openness...

  4. The other dimension to having strongly defined "social norms" is that they are at risk of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, i.e. anyone who does not fit the norm moves away. In this way problematic social norms can then become ingrained, because the only people who would challenge them disappear over the horizon.