I have been in Norway for a month.
I have been dating a Norwegian for about 5 months.
What I have learned in immersing myself in this culture, and dating a Norwegian (all for the sake of research), is that the peculiar mating habits of the native Norwegian are one of our world’s most fascinating modern mysteries.
From the outside, they may look similar. But peer a little closer and you’ll find the differences are based on unintentional courtship and the necessity of warmth in long winters.
Curious if I was the only one who felt this way, I enlisted the help and opinions of two of my friends who have lived and dated in both the US and Norway as well as a very good blog about a French girl living in Norway called the Frog in the Fjord.
For an insightful essay on The Norwegian “Art” of Seduction, click here. “Art” is definitely meant sarcastically.
What I’ve found is a most unusual courtship ritual that is dictated by a desire to never invade another person’s space, punctuated with awkward pauses, motivated by months of cold, dark weather, and sustained by a casual agreement to tolerate one another warmly.
Let me explain…
Karl is a perfect example of the Native Norwegian. He is blonde, blue-eyed, grew up in the fjords and comes from a long history of sea-faring people.
I met Karl at a yoga retreat in Thailand. This is a very unnatural place to find a Norwegian man but I have discovered that occasionally they venture into the unknown for limitless amounts of time and return to their homeland to continue life in a contemplative state.
Karl was a friend first, but a most peculiar one.
For example, the first time we chatted, he asked me what my five-year plan was, if I believed in monogamy and then told me we could never be together, even if we wanted to be.
Then he drove off on his scooter.
Did I mention this was NOT a date and only our first real conversation?!
I shrugged this off as one of the crazy things that the type of person who attends yoga retreats and meditates silently for 10 days does.
But as Karl and I saw each other more frequently at yoga classes, on the road in Koh Phangan and through both attending a writing class, I noted that his anti-social behavior continued but was conducted with confidence as though it were totally normal.
So, we were in for a bumpy ride with more long silences than would be considered appropriate in the US, but which seems to be typical in Norway.
As it turns out, this is a traditional part of the native Norwegian mating ritual.
Norwegians look at most westernized dating as overly formal and weird.
But for those native Norwegians, the whole asking someone on a date, getting exclusive, etc. It seems to take too much social gusto and require a lot of official-sounding decisions.
It may also involve eye contact.
Couple that with the fact that Norwegians don’t really have a dining out or drinking culture (outside the cities) and you have a VERY awkward dating situation.
Imagine, no bars and no dates. It’s amazing Norwegians are able to procreate at all.
So where does that leave their dating scene?
Back in the high school days where you get drunk together at a house party and see what happens.
This is often initiated by Norwegian women, who are much bolder and prone to eye-contact than their typical male counterparts.
After a drunken night together, a young couple may wake up together and ask themselves, “so are we together now?”
The answer is determined based on hazy memories of the night before and the level of attractiveness of the opposite partner.
After this thrilling beginning, the new couple may choose to go on an outing. Say computer shopping, or to eat lefse at grandma’s house.
Then conversation gets really awkward.
For example, a Norwegian man may ask a girl if she would be interested in moving to a remote village and living next door to his mother if they were to have kids… as casual conversation.
Did you notice it’s asked as “if they were to have kids” and not “if they were to get married”? The reason is Norwegians don’t get married as much as we do in the US. The tradition is still there, but it’s much less important.
You know, it’s kinda formal… kinda weird, displaying emotions in a public setting.
Plus, they don’t need to get married for insurance purposes. Everyone here has health insurance, so there goes that romantic motivation.
So a few years in, a young couple may decide to buy a house and have a baby together. And in a couple of years they may just as easily decide this whole relationship thing has lost its edge.
And it’s just the natural course of things.
There’s that weird thing about living in remote, small villages in long dark winters that sometimes makes people get bored.
For those who do get married, their chances of making it until death due them part are some of the lowest anywhere. Infidelity is also particularly high here.
One can only stare at another person in the dark for so many hours before one starts desiring a change of scenery.
Rather than opting for a vacation in Spain or Turkey to spice things up, many will look to see what’s behind door number 2.
That’s when they begin the uncomfortable process of un-coupling and all switch partners after a decade or so of togetherness.
It’s the Norwegian do-si-do so to speak.
So change it up, they begin the whole strange process over again. Most likely, the newly minted couple will remodel a house together. This is a symbol of their commitment to weathering a few long winters to come.
As the story goes, boy meets girl, they get ridiculously drunk together and wake up the next morning to live happily ever after…
Or at least, in mild, quiet discomfort and without commitment for the next decade or so.
And as for me and Karl?
I have decided he is not crazy.
– And –
He has decided to alter his stance that we couldn’t be together, even if we wanted to.