As of 9:15 this morning, my first exam period at a Norwegian University began. I’m at the SV-Library preparing for this three to four thousand word paper with two Norwegian girls from class. Outlining is going well, but unfortunately, I’m sick. I keep sniffeling. There is mucus in my throat and filling my nose. The timing is unfortunate, but it happens.
I’m prepared in that I brought a role of toilet paper, but I’m still sitting here sniffing and blowing my nose. When I pulled out the toilet paper this morning, one of the Norwegian girls asked why I had it. It seemed obvious to me, but I told her it was to blow my nose.
Later, after I’ve sneezed a few dozen times and blew my nose twice, I was struck by a cultural difference. Apparently, it’s preferred to sniff repeatedly instead of blowing your nose. If you do blow your nose, you must go to the bathroom. The Norwegian girl told me I was breaking a cultural norm by blowing my nose in front of them. The only reason she told me was because she was certain I wouldn’t know. Since I was with friends and we’re studying, it’s normal for me to feel comfortable to blow my nose.
Breaking a social norm can be an uncomfortable experience. Generally, people won’t tell you that you’re doing it. Often times, they will pretend like everything is normal as to not draw attention to the behavior and to protect your image. But I was called out this time. She did it in a joking way, but I felt bad only in that I likely made them uncomfortable by my willingness to deal with a bodily issue in front of them.
My advice for incoming students: be you and do what you want, but also be aware of these norms. Disrupting deeply ingrained social norms can negatively impact your ability to make Norwegian friends here and you may not be lucky enough for someone to tell you.