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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Part 2 ~ Ten Most Surprising Facts About Norway

Our ten weeks here in Norway are coming to a close!

Last week, I shared some discoveries that have surprised me the most: The generous parental leave policy, low crime rate, safe roads, environmental protections, and the meaning of Janteloven.

And now, before we depart the Kingdom of Norway tomorrow, here are five more: Fjord-to-table food, thrift shopping, friluftsliv, Syttende Mai, and best of all – the people. (Photo Credits: Michael Rowe)

1. The Food!

I know I’m partial, but I love the variety of fjord-to-table food available here. We’ve eaten lots of fish, of course, as well as Norwegian salmon and reinsdyr (reindeer), both very tender.

Favorite items in our Norwegian kitchen

When I was a little girl, my great-aunt Martha used to ship gjetost (also called brunost) to us in America every Christmas.

Gjetost is a slightly sweet, solid brown cheese made from goat and cow’s milk that tastes a bit like caramel. It’s meant to be sliced very thin and served on savory crackers or vafler (heart-shaped Norwegian waffles.) Our grandchildren love it.

You will also find lefse everywhere. This soft flatbread is made from potatoes, flour, butter, and cream and is a favorite delicacy among Norwegian-Americans too. It’s served rolled up or cut into triangles with a sweet cinnamon filling.

Racks of cod drying outdoors in Lofoten Islands

But when it comes to the one food Americans love to joke about, lutefisk? I have not met a Norwegian yet who admits to actually liking this traditional dish of dried fish fermented in lye!

2. Thrift Shopping

Yes, goods here are expensive, and due to high inflation, they are becoming increasingly so in the US as well. My favorite places to shop in Norway are the Fretex (Salvation Army) and NLM (Norwegian Lutheran Mission) shops, which are in every commune (community.)

Norwegian Lutheran Mission thrift shop, Sandnes

Unlike thrift shops elsewhere, which are often cluttered with that fusty used-clothes smell, the shops here are modern, brightly lit, beautifully staged and – best of all – fabulously priced. This is where we have purchased vintage Norwegian handcrafted items as gifts. (The hand-carved plate and klokkestreng (wool bell pull) pictured below were less than $5 each.)

3. Friluftslivlove for the outdoors

Norwegians are known for their love for the outdoors. An oft-repeated rhyme explains their philosophy: Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær (“No bad weather, only bad clothing.”)

When our new friends Justin and Åshild invited us over to dinner, the first order of business was a four kilometer hike up a nearby mountainside, and then we ate. It’s a wonderful way to build up one’s appetite!

Now that ski season is over, we’ve seen residents of our neighborhood propelling themselves along the paved pedestrian and bike paths on roller skis. On a sunset walk last night, we even saw this young man training his team of sled dogs along the bike path!

Small wonder that Norway took top honors with 37 medals at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. An affinity for the outdoors is in the DNA of the people.

April hike up Priekestolen with our kids and grands

4. Dressing up for the national holiday

Today, May 17, is the Norwegian National Holiday, better known as Syttende Mai or Constitution Day. It commemorates the signing of Norway’s Constitution on 17 May,1814, inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution.

Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a representative parliamentary system of government where the King is head of state, and the Prime Minister is head of government.

Courtesy Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Until we arrived, I assumed that Syttende Mai, also celebrated in large Norwegian-American communities in the US, was similar to America’s July 4 celebrations. What’s notably different, though, is that the parades here are of a non-military nature, and everyone dresses in their finest traditional clothing to attend. Fireworks are reserved for New Year’s Eve.

Celebrating early with the grandchildren on their April visit

Norway is a founding member of NATO and the UN, among other international alliances. It has close ties with the EU and the US. It’s the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas outside the Middle East, which accounts for it having the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund (national surplus of $1.5 trillion USD.)

Norway also ranks first in the world’s Democracy Index. Politics here are not polarized, and the residents we’ve spoken with generally respect their government across party lines.

5. And finally, the people

With dear friends the Olsens after church

Last week I wrote about Janteloven, the informal Nordic social code that discourages boasting (making too much of oneself.) I’ve enjoyed sharing what we’ve learned about this beautiful land and its people, but if my words come across as adulatory, I betray my own roots.

With the delightful Omekah family in their home. Dumebi and I worked closely together in women's ministry.

After spending several months here in deep conversations with residents, we’ve certainly become aware of concerns, especially when it comes to the materialism that accompanies prosperity and spirituality.

When I’m a guest in someone else’s home, though, I defer any criticism of their motherland to my hosts. :)

We’re eager to return to the United States tomorrow and pick up the thread of our lives.

As we told our Norwegian church family this past Sunday, though, we’re going home a bit lighter, because we’re leaving a piece of our hearts here.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe


y'all are invited to a couple special events comin' up!


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