The brow of a Norwegian

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EXPATRIATE MUSINGS
Phillip M Louis, an American living and working in Oslo, is
a regular contributor to Views and News from Norway.

In Oslo and other cities in Norway, whether we’re an expatriate or guest, the more we understand our day-to-day activities and duties, the more we begin to blend into our unique Norwegian environments. Among other things I’ve come to understand, and appreciate, is the strong brow of our host countrymen and women.

Just study (discreetly, of course) the faces around you on the T-bane(metro), the trikk (tram), while walking around or sitting out (which we love to do) here in Norway: You may come upon a frown or two. Initially one would think this person is angry … but nei nei nei(pronounced “nigh,” for “no”), don’t let this frown or faint scowl (photo at right) push you away.

  • What you see is simply natural (you may find yourself doing it as well, and there is so much more behind you and that opposing brow.)
  • What you reflect is just as important for that interaction, and presents an opportunity to change what you think you see.
  • The scenario may present itself as potential for better communication; getting to know your neighbour, business deals in the workplace or doorways to an interesting exchange or conversation.
  • I tested my own increased awareness and quietly surveyed 100 Norwegian people. The results:

    Smiles                Frowns               Neutral
    34%                  53%                     13%

    Perceptions are only skin deep. It is only after we try to dig into the brow or facial expression (if desired) that we begin to understand the person or situation better. We all have opportunities to bridge and link to the people of our host country in so many ways, no matter who you are, how old you happen to be, or where you come from.

    How many muscles does it take to smile, or to frown? No one really knows. The truth is that people smile — and frown — differently, even when presented with similar stimuli. There is an even wider range of variety when one begins using different expressive muscles for the eyes, mouth, nose and forehead.

    As a guest in Norway, what we may find behind the brow of our Norwegian colleagues, friends or family are sound educational backgrounds aligned with strong work ethics, outgoing personalities willing to share amazing experiences, strong family units and values, vast social networks, the potential for friendship and business relationships. Many Norwegians are well-travelled and versed in many languages. This all lends itself to learning more about our host country and how we fit in as expatriates.

    You will also find in many cases that Norwegians are incredibly focused and their ‘brow’ displays the intensity that they carry throughout the day. There are plenty of wonderful smiles to be sighted as well, and they open the same doorways as mentioned above.

    So don’t take the brow personally. Instead of being put off by a stoic Norwegian’s inadvertent frown, remember that we are generally welcome visitors in this land. The next time you see that ‘brow,’ use it as an opportunity. Get behind the brow — there just may be a light on the other side. This is all about finding your way in Norway. A country with boundless opportunities to become more than just a face in the crowd.

    Suggested tools for adaptability:
    Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands Europe: How to Do Business in 25 European Countries,
    by Terri Morrison and Wayne A Conaway;
    Culture Shock! Norway (Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs & Etiquette),
    by Elizabeth Su-Dale

    Phillip Louis works for Citibank International in Oslo and has been living in Norway since early 2008.

    (Written October 5, 2009)
    Views and News from Norway/Phillip Louis

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