After unseasonably mild and snowless weather so far, winter has finally come to Norway. (Side note: I just started watching Game of Thrones (I know, I know) and every time they say the words “winter is coming” I shudder with empathy. In fact, I feel like this should just generally be Norway’s national slogan.)
But! When I came back last month to bare ground, my first thoughts were “Not as advertised, Norway!!!” But we’ve gotten a least a few dustings in the past week, which has brightened up things considerably, and really made the pine forests and wooden houses look picture-perfect. (That would seem a natural transition to a photo, but I actually haven’t gone out and gotten any so far.)
In addition to the snow, the past few days have also finally brought some sunshine, but with that also came some cold temperatures. When I tried to co-commiserate with some Norwegians about the cold, like we would in Boston, I was instead rebuffed with “well it’s about time!” Norwegians really do love the cold and the snow, it’s amazing, but also probably necessary for their mental health. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since being here is that Boston, despite having similar winters, seems to have developed none of the strategies of dealing with them, besides maybe Sam Adams and the Bruins, and the Celtics, and the Patriots post-season (and post Super Bowl) analysis, and the Red Sox pre-season analysis…
In any case, this longing for snow and cold got me thinking about other quirky and charming things about Norway and Norwegians, so I decided to write a blog post about it. N.B. This post is obviously full of generalizations and is in no way meant to put every Norwegian in a box. For example, I have met Norwegians that complain about the cold, and even some that don’t drink coffee.
You may have heard of the Danish concept of “hygge” which has gotten some press recently as the reason Danes are so happy. It’s untranslatable to a single English word, but various attempts have put it at something close to “cozy.” Well, Danes, Norway has its own version of this called “koselig” (prounounced like koosh-lee) and as I understand it, it generally means the same thing, which is anything that is cozy that causes you to feel warm and fuzzy and content inside. One of the things that people do to create this feeling is put candles everywhere, which is really lovely.
But the thing that I find funny is that often these candles are a total fire hazard. For example, the other day I accidentally burned the plump little leaf of a squat succulent over a low lying candle at my favorite coffee shop. I didn’t even notice until the barista came rushing over to move it. Sorry, little guy! And at the social dance where I’m taking classes, they put out candles and mini-candies out on all the tables. It’s also where you leave your coats, hats, and scarves, which could very easily ignite if carelessly put down.
After it gets dark (which is early) many shops and restaurants will put out candles on the ground outside their doors, which draws your eye to the place and does indeed make it look very welcoming. It also could 100% light up a low-hanging skirt of coat. When I asked my friend Nina about it, she admitted that there are many more fires in the winter.
In Norway it is customary to take off your shoes when entering someone’s home, which isn’t so unusual elsewhere, especially during the slushy, gritty seasons. But in Norway you often have to take them off before entering a non-residential space, too, such as the library. In the US it would be quite odd indeed if you had to take off your shoes before entering certain rooms in the library, but here I got admonished for thinking that usage of the shoe rack, with its pile of shoes, was optional.
Norwegians have a much more lax attitude towards swearing in non-conversational situations. There is a weight lifting instructor at the gym who will only refer to the butt or gluteus muscles as the ass or the ass muscles (“squeeze your ass!), which would crack me up every time. Even more hilarious was when my Agroecology class last semester had a guest lecturer in Ecological Sanitation, or essentially environmentally-friendly ways of dealing with sewage in developing countries. You can imagine that in this class that human excrement had to be referenced frequently, and every single time he called it “shit.” It was all I could do to keep from laughing when I heard him talk about composting toilets “With a composting toilet, when a person shits, it goes down…”
One of my most favorite things about the way Norwegians talk is how they give directions, because everything is explained in terms of the sea, the forest, or the fjord. So magical! I had to meet someone in Oslo and they told me to exit the train station “and walk towards the sea,” making the walk across the plaza seem very profound.
That is all for now, I’m already busy in my second semester of school, with a new set of classes, as well as a new job at the Writing Centre, which I am greatly enjoying. I will try to write more regularly though!