Do Germans and Norwegians Communicate in Different Ways?

“Germany is Norway’s most important partner in Europe”, according to Ms. Aslaug Nygård. An insight into the Norwegian-German relations.

February 14th, 2020
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Aslaug Nygård, Norwegian Councilor of Press, Culture and Information met us for an interview in the Oslo coffee bar. This was in the Fellehus (Common House) of the five Nordic embassies, where there was a beautiful Nordic art exhibition called Ocean dwellers.

We discussed why Germany is the most important European partner for Norway when it comes to intercultural exchange. In addition, she believes that cultural diplomacy is twofold and that the cultural field is the initiator of ideas which are then adopted by the political field. Furthermore, Ms Nygård noted that Norwegians discuss with a different intention than German, which was a cultural clash for the councillor of press

Ms. Nygård, as the councilor of press, culture and information, could you give us an introduction to your work? 
It means that I’m the head of the department, working with communication and cultural affairs. Our tasks are to broaden the possibilities for Norwegian artists in Germany and the communication process is very important. 
We do loads of different activities. We’re on social media, which is a big part of the communication part, but what is more important for us is to work towards the German press. So we invite press when we have cultural events but also events about policy issues or business cooperation and then we also have the possibility to send German journalists to Norway. 
I would also say that Germany is very important to Norwegian artists because of the cultural interchange. Norwegian artists and musicians come to Germany for an international interaction and that makes it important, not only for Norway-German relationships, but also to broaden it more internationally. 

We have read that Germany can be described as the most important platform for the internationalisation of art and culture from Norway. We wonder why not Sweden, since it is also close language-wise. What are some reasons for this fact? Could you give us some explanations for it?
Sweden is of course also very important for Norwegian artists but maybe, because we’re so close with Sweden and we actually understand each other, it is more of an internal thing.
I think that Germany is more important internationally in the cultural scene than Sweden. So if you do something here in the German scenes it will probably get more international attention than if a Norwegian artist does something in Sweden. That might be one of the reasons why Germany is important for us. Often what happens is if you do something good in Germany, it could have effects in the English-speaking market. Probably to a higher extent than if you do something in Stockholm. Nevertheless, Sweden and Denmark are also important partners given the language, history and so on.

If you would need to choose a symbol that represents the Norwegian culture best, what would it be?
One thing I would describe as typically Norwegian is this lack of hierarchy and that we’re seeing that we have the same opportunities. We have this open and equal way. I think that the result from that is that we trust each other and that makes co-operations easier. In addition, we also trust the Norwegian state. We do believe that the Norwegian government is working based on what they perceive as best for the Norwegian population, even though you might disagree on their policies. 
Everyone can go to university because it is free. Also, you can get a loan from the government which makes you independent from your parents.

What’s your definition and your vision of cultural diplomacy? What positive effects can cultural diplomacy have on the relations between countries?
It is twofold because for us, as an embassy, it is important to increase the possibilities for Norwegian artists abroad so they can make a living. 
On the other hand, we also want Norwegians to participate in the international discussions on important topics. Not only Norwegian politicians, but also intellectuals and artists with a Norwegian perspective. In turn, these international ideas should be brought back to Norway, in order for these intellectual interchanges to happen. 
Oftentimes, something develops in the cultural field before politicians’ notice, so you have these groundbreaking movements. This is important for the society as a whole and, therefore, I think that cultural diplomacy is very important. Not only to think that this is the Norwegian business, but this idea to interchange, to find solutions to common global problems.

Is there something about the German culture that you found surprising (may be negative or positive)? 
I had already lived in Berlin for a year during my studies. The largest cultural differences might be that in Norway, we want to agree. If you discuss with someone, you’re actually discussing to find a compromise. This is not only in work contexts, it could be at a dinner party too. If someone suddenly disagrees, you would try to find a common ground because this is seen as socially acceptable, you shouldn’t disagree too much. I think here in Germany, it’s a little bit different. You argue more, maybe without it being the aim of it, which to me was a little bit strange. Here you try to exchange arguments and to make your arguments as good as possible, to convince the other side. It can be strange to Norwegians. You might think that “Oh God, does this mean that we don’t like each other anymore?” But no, it doesn’t, it’s just a way to socialize.

What’s your best experience as the councilor of the Embassy? What do you like most about your job?
Norway was chosen as the guest country at The Frankfurt Book Fair last year and it was fantastic. When you’re the guest of honor, you have an area of over 2000 square meters at the book fair. We had two stages and a lot of discussions and it was incredible to experience that. I really found that to be a good week.


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