Being a good neighbour: in good and bad times but always private!

Copenhagen, Denmark. You get out of your house and right in the yard of the house next door is your dear neighbour. That tall, blond (stereotyping enough) guy, who sits on a chair, sipping his coffee, in the sunlight. He noticed you coming out but did not turn around to see you. You saw him out of the corner of your eye but did not turn your head either. He is reading, you are going for shopping. Farewell!

In most countries, that would mean one of these two things. Either it is that you and your neighbours don’t like each other or fight about the noise you make or ignore each other deliberately. In most cases, this is an issue. Not getting along with your neighbours happens quite often. And you just can’t let it go. In the Nordics, this is not the case. The example above is an expression of the Nordic culture and values, deeply ingrained in their DNA. No hard feelings, no issues, no reason to worry. They might be the best and most loved neighbours. It is just that they show it in a different way.

Curious to find out? What makes them act like that? What lies behind it? Read on!

How do the Nordic people treat their neighbours?

First things first, who are the neighbours? They are strangers that just happened to live next to you. You did not choose them, nor did they choose you. That being said, the Nordic people do not feel the need or urge to become friends with them. Respect yes, but friends not necessarily. You know what they say about friendships in the Nordics, right? That people have very few close friends, most of whom are life long friends. And this circle does not open up very often, to include new friends. Research says that the Nordics are the worst places in the world to make friends. Confirmed!

But what is that respect we talked about? It has two dimensions:

– respect for private space. Your Nordic neighbours will never do anything that intrudes your home or space. Like, for example, put some of their stuff at a place that belongs to you or park their car right outside your house. And they will not intrude your space just to say hi or talk about the weather. They are busy with their own life and they leave you in peace to go along with your life.
– respect for privacy in general. Your Nordic neighbours will not bother to try to talk to you. Like, for example, to say hello, ask how you are doing and if all goes well with your life. As mentioned before, neighbours are strangers so why do that? It is the same as with strangers on the street.

Note that the question “How are you” is really important in the Nordics. You do not ask it unless you are really interested in the other person’s answer and you feel that this other person is close enough to you to open up and reply with details. A simple “Hi” is enough for social greetings (if at all). Oh! And don’t get it wrong if you happen to spot your neighbour randomly on the street and he/she discretely avoids any contact.

What happens when issues arise?

Common issues like noise or bad communal behaviour in the neighbourhood or apartment block may (seldom) arise in the Nordics too. What differs a lot is the approach to solve it. Like, they really want to solve things. Effectively and efficiently. As you may know, dialogue, diplomacy and consensus rule the Nordic world. That is the case also when it comes to issues with your neighbours. A funny (and common) incident (especially with foreigners in the Nordics) is when someone has a party. He/she puts a note in the common areas to notify everyone about the party and invite them to join. Only that no-one is invited actually. This is just to make everyone aware of the noise until late. If you know and you are also invited (even fakely), you won’t bother or call the police, right? Smart!

What about being neighbours with the other Nordic countries?

When it comes to international politics, the Nordics are the perfect example. They share a common culture and (to the most part) language and origins. Even though there were two superpowers (rivals Denmark and Sweden) ruling over the others (from Finland to Norway and Iceland), back in the centuries, today things are friendly and peaceful. They are all advanced societies and enjoy a very high standard of living. So, why bother to have any hard feelings from the past?

The best examples are Sweden and Norway. Such good neighbours! The former is a member of the EU, the latter not but a member of the EEA (that is the European Economic Area, something like a more loose relationship with the EU). And then there is also the Nordic Council (established even earlier than the EU, to boost cooperation between all the Nordic countries) that they are both members of. Despite the EU access issue, both countries have found a way to solve common issues like the movement of people. There are approximately 25.000 people commuting between the two countries for work, on a daily basis. Still no issues. Everything runs smoothly. These have the same rights in both countries.

This relationship is built on mutual trust (fostered by cultural ties to a great extent, of course). The countries share over 1,600 km of border. Most of the board crossings are unattended. Even reindeers can roam freely between the two countries (although this is the only matter that has ever sparked a little more heated debate). You see the Sami people and their reindeers live in both countries, at the very north.

Nordic friendship and togetherness, as neighbours, are shared across the Nordic region. And expressed with overwhelming actions, sometimes. In 2017, Norway decided to give a mountain to Finland, as a gift for their (Finland’s) 100th anniversary as a state. Wow! What a big present! Pity, it got stuck in legalities and did not happen. Norwegian PM claimed this would violate the Norwegian Constitution’s article about the country being indivisible. Their intention, however, is what really matters, right?

Fika in Swedish Lapland (Image: Anna Öhlund/