Bergen Stavanger Hardangerfjord

Norway culture and quirks

This post will outline a few things I noticed during our vacation in Norway. I’m by no means an expert but I did learn a thing or two whilst there.

Here’s a list of shortcuts if you’re looking for specific information.

Store opening hours

Visiting Norway was like stepping back in time for a few reasons. One was that stores and most restaurants/cafes are not open on Sundays. We were in Norway for two Sundays. The first Sunday was our arrival day and we didn’t notice the closures because our focus was enjoying the sunshine.

It was on our second Sunday when we were in Stavanger when we took note. All stores except a handful of supermarkets were closed. The supermarkets that were open had reduced hours.

Additionally, all coffee shops/cafes were closed except for one and there were only a few restaurants open for dinner.

Note: Following Sunday is obviously Monday and that’s when a switcharoo happened. Stores were open but most restaurants, bars, and cafes were closed. The result was two days of limited services in Stavanger.

When we moved to the UK in 2011, it took a long time to adjust to reduced operating hours on Sundays but at least stores and shops were open. Living in a society where almost everything is closed on Sundays is not something I think I could adjust to, but maybe this is why Norwegians are considered some of the happiest people in the world?

Throughout Norway, stores, parking signs, and even parking garages had hours for Monday-Saturday and then Sunday. The Sunday hours were always in parenthesis.

Here’s an example of opening hours for two parking garages on Google Maps.

Tap water

Tap water is Norway’s pride and joy, I swear.

Free tap water was everywhere.

In bars and cafes, there’d be stacks of glasses and carafes of water that we could help ourselves to.

In restaurants, a carafe of water would be delivered to the table immediately, often times before menus were delivered.

The oddest of all were the water dispensers in stores, like clothing and shoe stores. There were water dispensers with cups next to the door.

The people in this country love to stay hydrated.

Toilets and toilet paper

And with hydration comes toilet breaks.

The toilets in Norway are lovely.

With the exception of the public toilets in Bergen near the fish market and one trailhead toilet (to be expected), I did not have any bad toilet experiences.

Unless otherwise stated, toilet paper/roll should always be flushed, no matter how rural the toilet location is.

In fact, there is a big problem with women NOT flushing toilet paper at the Kjeragbolten hike trailhead toilets and they’ve posted a sign on the back of the stall door stating, “PUT THE TOILET PAPER IN THE TOILET!!!! IT’S THE LAW!”

Do I think it’s the law? No, but I’d been following the Kjerabolten Facebook page long enough to know that prior attempts to get the public service announcement out had failed and I found the sign hilarious.

Alcohol rules

Norway was like the state of Utah when it came to alcohol rules. Off-sale alcohol is tightly controlled, yet both Bergen and Stavanger had bars that stayed open until 3am (alcohol cannot be served after 2am except in Oslo).

Per Norway’s tourism site:

Beer can be found in most shops but is only sold before 8pm on weekdays or 6pm on Saturdays. For wine, spirits, or strong beer, you must visit one of the Vinmonopolet outlets, found in most large cities and towns.

“Strong beer” in Norway is defined as having an ABV above 4.6%.

Sweden has similar regulations but strong beer in Sweden is defined as having an ABV above 3.6%.

Wine and spirits in Norway are only sold at Vinmonopolets (English: Wine Monopoly) and Vinmonopolets have even stricter opening hours: until 6pm on weekdays and 3pm on Saturdays.

We spent nearly two weeks in Norway and never saw a Vinmonopolet but we also weren’t looking for one.

Norway’s alcohol rules were wild to me but it’s been reported that 80 percent of Norwegians support the alcohol regulations.

Fun fact: Proceeds from liquor sales become public funds.

How did we find out about the alcohol rules? Well, we attempted to buy three cans of beer at the supermarket on a Monday. The time was 8:40pm.

We carefully studied the beer selection and then did what everyone else in Norway does, we opened a pack of beer and took a couple of cans out of the pack.

This is another quirky thing – beer is priced per can/bottle, not per multipack. I am on board with pricing by the can/bottle because it gives the flexibility to try different beers without having to buy a multipack of something you might not like.

Anyway, beer in hand, we walked to the register and plopped our cans on the belt. The cashier looked at the clock and then looked at us. Peter and I looked at each other. We didn’t know what was going on but knew something wasn’t right.

The cashier called the manager. The manager arrived. We thought this was an ID check. It was not.

Note: Cashiers who are under a certain age – presumably under the legal age to buy beer which is 18 – are not allowed to scan beer and must call a manager to scan the beer. We experienced this during another beer-buying attempt.

The manager picked up the cans and cradled them in her arms and smiled. We were confused.

The manager told us that “we were late” because they can’t sell beer after 8pm.

Oh.

We walked out of the store empty-handed.

We returned to our hotel room sober and got to Googling. Here are some things we learned.

In licensed bars, clubs, and pubs, alcohol is allowed to be sold every day, including Sundays.

There are rules for the start time of spirit sales at bars, pubs, etc. As an example, in some locales, spirits can’t be served before 1pm.

There are age rules for off-sale purchases. There are different age limits for beer, spirits below 22%, and spirits 22%+. It’s complex!

Finally, I read that residents of Svalbard are limited in the amount of alcohol they can buy and are required to present a quota card when making purchases at the Vinmonopolet outlet.

Tipping

Norway is darn close to being a cashless society.

We withdrew a limited amount of cash when we arrived for incidentals and trailhead parking which is kinda funny because all of the parking was paid by credit card except for one hike.

Similar to our experience in France (also in the UK), there’s usually no way to add a tip at the time of credit card payment. I didn’t see anyone leave a cash tip on a table or bar counter. There were a couple of tip jars that I noticed but those were always in the heavy tourist areas and one never knows if the money on those jars was planted there or actually left by patrons.

As for a service charge, Peter and I cannot recall seeing a service charge on any of our checks but it is possible that we overlooked this charge because we’re used to seeing it on checks in the UK and Europe.

Between not seeing anyone tip and only seeing a few tip jars in the tourist areas, we did not get the feeling that there is a tipping culture in Norway, at least not in restaurants/bars.

Paying by card

One quirky thing when paying by card in Norway is that you have to confirm/agree to the pending charge by entering the amount on the machine.

This was a first for us.

The process went like this:

  • The employee sends the charge to the payment machine
  • The amount is shown on the payment machine
  • The customer enters the amount to be charged on the machine’s keypad
  • The customer taps or inserts their card (or inserts/taps their card before entering the amount, I cannot recall)
  • The charge is applied to the card

VIPPS

What the heck is VIPPS?

It’s a Norwegian mobile payment app, sorta like Apple Pay.

VIPPS could be used to pay for nearly everything, everywhere. Every business that accepted VIPPS had a unique ID number that was usually scribbled on a piece of paper and taped a the cash register or signpost.

In order to set up a VIPPS account, you need a Norwegian personal ID number, Norwegian telephone number, and a Norwegian bank account debit card.

As a foreigner, you’re pretty much out of luck when it comes to VIPPS, so you can ignore it.

Next: driving in Norway.

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