When something needs to get done in Norway, more often than not it is solved by “dugnad”. The word refers to the act of coming together for voluntary work, as well as the spirit to see it through.
Oh, it sure helped to discover large reserves of oil in Norwegian waters. But our politicians haven’t been half-bad at allocating the earnings, ensuring that Norway’s got world-class social services and healthcare, solid minimal wages and reasonable working hours – making us rank consistently among the best countries in the world to live in.
If asked to name the quintessential Norwegian dish, many would opt for “fårikål” – literally meaning “sheep in cabbage”. Every fall many Norwegian households will boil mutton or lamb with cabbage and whole peppercorns, and serve with potatoes.
In Norwegian there’s a word for all the stuff you put on bread: “pålegg”. One of the most popular ones, and the one most intimately tied to the Norwegian identity, is the brown whey cheese – especially that made from goat’s milk. It tastes of caramel with a sharp edge to it. Give it a try.
When Norwegians visits their grandmothers, they expect waffles. A sweet iron baked institution that makes people come together after church, at the flea market or at the occasional neighbourly visit. Norwegian waffles are soft and heart shaped. Squares are unheard of.
The Norwegian Constitution was signed on May 17th in 1814, setting Norway on the path to independence after 400 years of “union” – first with Denmark and then Sweden. Now May 17th is our National Day, with massive celebrations. But if that sounds nationalistic, it’s really not. It’s all about joy, community and fun, and a great experience for tourists as well.
“You are not to think you're anyone special or that you're better than us”. This is the gist of the “Law of Jante,” defined by Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in 1933 – setting words to the unspoken law in Scandinavia to downplay individual expression and achievement. These days, though, many are making a point not to adhere to it.
Meaning snuggling/cuddle/coziness, “kos” is an essential word when trying to understand the Norwegian mentality. The often harsh weather means that Norwegians do everything we can to enjoy staying in. Fireplace. A warm blanket. Fresh pastries and candlelights. And voila, there you have it. “Kos”.
Resembling the Native American tipi, the lavvo is the traditional, temporary dwelling (i.e, tent) of the Sami people. They’re still in use, as nomadic Sami people follow their massive reindeer herds through winter, over the Finnmark plateau in the Norwegian Far North.
Like fossil fuels and salmon it’s one of our primary exports. Like our cold and freezing winters, it’s pitch black. We refer, of course, to Norwegian metal. Early, influential bands like Empreror, Mayhem, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved and Darkthrone paved the way for what is still an important part of Norwegian underground culture and music scene.
Perhaps because of our Viking heritage, Norwegians have long had a thing for the fantasy genre. People dressed as elves and hobbits camped for weeks outside cinemas to secure premiere tickets to “The Lords of The Rings” in the early 2000s. Now more and more people proudly identify with a number of subcultures – from gaming to cosplaying to viking metal.
Norwegians are famously fond of “oval” (i.e., long) weekends, especially because many also have access to a mountain cabin. Given an excuse to take a Friday off (e.g. if it’s “squeezed in” between a public holiday and the weekend), it’s perfectly normal to gather the family, pack the car with good food and firewood, and head to the high terrains.
Acceptance and equal rights for gays and lesbians have come a long way in Norway in the past few decades, permitting same-sex marriages since 2009. Perhaps especially open and accepting is the capital of Oslo, which hosts a large Gay Pride festival every summer.
Despite its modest population size, Norway is actually quite a large country by European standards. The low population density means there are vast areas of untouched nature. You can find yourself alone at a mountain plateau, or by the sea at a remote, arctic archipelago under the northern lights, quietly contemplating life itself.
Known variously as raspeball, klubb, raspekake, komle, kløbb, kumle, kompe, kump(e), potetball, klot or ball, this is a traditional Norwegian dish with as many names as there are ways to prepare it – although it’s really just a potato dumpling. If you’re invited home to someone in South, West or Central Norway, chances are it will be served.
In the farming societies of old, the protestant work-ethic was the norm in Norway. After the second world war, the social democratic labour party took a key role in the rebuilding of Norway, and worker’s rights became a priority. Today, Norwegians generally work short hours, but both men and women usually participate in working life. A flat structure, where bosses eat lunch with their employees and prominent politicians bicycle to work, is a source of pride for most people.
The first Norwegian X Games competition was hosted in Oslo in 2015. The city boasts that it will rank as “the winter sports capital of the world”, and the politicians say they want to present Oslo as “the world's best compact arena for culture and sports”.
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the “tree of life” – connecting the heavens and earth. Viking culture may be associated with plunder and violence, but so too there is beauty there, and genuine insights to take from their experiences and worldview. Many Norwegians now aim to rediscover this part of our heritage.
A traditional Norwegian bender ends Saturday night. Only a few strong keep going the next day. The legendary jazz/punk band Frank Znort Quartet has earned their reputation as party starters for having a concert every Sunday since 1998. Meet up at Blå in Oslo to get on track for what we Norwegians call a “Blue Monday”.
Planning your trip well helps you get what you want and find the experiences you wish for, without risking your hard-earned days off. And if you don't know what you want, we're happy to help you find some ideas.
Norway is large. Far larger than most people realise. We recommend focusing on one region at a time, and coming back to see the rest later. If you only plan one trip to Norway, take your time as you travel; make the journey itself your destination.