So a lot of my work is actually explaining Norwegian behavior to other nationalities. So I’m constantly looking for this sort of, “Can we describe a Norwegian in a nutshell?” And I think I found it.
I found this fantastic text on the Internet, I want you to read it, it’s really worth reading. “If you were to use a color to describe this person, he’d have to be green. He lives in isolation in his home, a place he best describes as ‘his’ and ‘cosy’. However, he is not the most receptive of people when it comes to visitors.” The typical Norwegian. “He is somewhat primitive, but he is honest, straightforward, all he really wants in life are the simple little pleasures like peace and quiet.” Do you recognize any of this?
There are some key words — can you see that? They jump out at you. And you think OK, it’s a stereotype, but a lot of this is a bit true. And I show this to Norwegians, and they kind of nod, “Yeah, OK. I’ll give you that one.” And then I surprise them: this is a description not of a Norwegian, but of a Hollywood film star. Yeah! Would you like to know who it is? There it is. Is that person there.
And the point about this is you often believe what people tell you as well. I could sit there and tell you this is a Norwegian, and you believe it. It’s not a Norwegian at all; although maybe this could be a Norwegian that is going off to this house, but there are many words in there which are accepted and familiar.
Another accepted and familiar thing about Norwegian life is the Norwegian forest; I live in the Oslo area, it’s all forest. Working across borders is basically not accepting completely that your assumptions are the assumptions of others. I mean that’s logic; you know, common sense. The Norwegian forest is a good thing, isn’t it, Norwegians in the room? It’s all good, it’s fresh air, nature, elks, skiing, it’s fantastic. Well that’s what my wife thought the first time my father visited us in Norway because she thought we would do something nice.
So my wife asked my Italian father, “Would you like to go for a walk in the forest?”
And my father looked at her and said, “Why?” And I had to explain to my wife that if you say to another Italian, “Hey, you and me, we go for a walk in the forest,” that means something else, you don’t do that. But how can you know that? How could you know that? Accepted and familiar.
At the time, we went for a drive, we went for a drive with my father, and we are all looking at the same thing. Look at this beautiful Norwegian landscape. And my father is taking photographs that he wants to show his friends. The road is kind of bumpy, so he says to my wife, “Could you slow the car down please? Stop the car. I want to take a proper photograph.”
My wife says, “But Mr. Riccardi, there is nothing here.”
He looks at her and he says to her, “I know. I’ve never seen nothing before.” What was amazing with this is we’re looking at the same pictures and we’re using completely different words to describe it and this is the challenge of working across borders. We’ve got different ideas of accepted and familiar.
Here is what is accepted and familiar to me when I queue. I was raised in the UK, we’re the world champions of queueing, waiting in line. And you know? We’re fantastic. If you’re waiting in line in a supermarket in the UK, let’s say there are 10 people waiting in line, and we all are getting a bit impatient because we’re all waiting in line — and then they open a new cash register, do you know what will happen in the UK?
The first four people, they won’t move, they’ll stay in the queue. The next six people will move to the next cash register in more or less the same order, and they kind of check with each other.
And if they open another cash register, the same will happen. It’s like a formation dance, it’s fantastic. Would the same happen in Norway? No. What would happen if they shout in Norwegian “Ledig kasse”, which is “Available cash register”? What happens? Everybody goes for it. It’s first come, first served, isn’t it? Isn’t that what is accepted and familiar?
Now the first time that happened to me, I was shocked, and I said some not very nice things about Norwegians. But, you know, you got to dig a bit deeper to find out why Norwegians do that. Why are they running for that cash register? Why is it a free for all and first come, first served? I think it has got to do with this. “What?” they say.