People who think of Norway as a cold, dark, isolated place in the far north of the world are in danger of missing out on one of the most beautiful countries in the world. While there is usually a grain of truth to stereotypes, and they can be somewhat instructive, such assumptions can obscure perceptions and build up unwarranted prejudice when taken too seriously. Now, let’s take a look at those filthy-rich blond Vikings…
Norway is famous for its winters, and for good reason: the country’s mountainous terrain and northerly location make it a fabulous place for skiing and winter activities, and Norwegians have a long and proud track record in the Winter Olympics with more medals than anyone else. Norwegians have their fair share of delightfully warm, dry weather too, however. Norway is Europe’s longest country (the distance from the north to the south is greater than the distance between Copenhagen and Rome) so expect to find a lot of diversity. Summers in the south can reach 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and thanks to the warming powers of the Gulf Stream, there are plenty of beaches and ice cream stands to find during the summer months.
Of course Norwegians get cold; they’re humans after all. They just deal with the cold better than many others, not least by taking appropriate measures such as properly insulating and heating their houses, and wearing warming, many-layered clothing. As the famous saying goes: ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ (“Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær“).
See above. Most people walk, cycle or drive, of course, though some people do make use of skis or sleighs to get to school, etc. in the winter without even realising how amazing that is.
This one seems to irk Norwegians the most. While it would be incredibly exciting to have a polar bear pop into your local Norwegian deli every so often, polar bears only live in the wild on Norway’s giant island Svalbard, located halfway between the mainland’s northernmost coast and the North Pole. An estimated 3,500 polar bears live there, and the population is actually rising – great news for an otherwise endangered species. This is not to say that mainland Norwegian wildlife is boring: small populations of brown bears and wolves do exist, and reindeer and moose are pretty common both in nature and on the dinner plate. The majestic moose should be taken seriously – it weighs almost a tonne, moves quickly and quietly, and causes a lot of fatal car accidents. Also, in 2011, one of them beat up and peed on a hunter.
Let’s face it, compared to a lot of other countries, there are a lot of tall, blond people up here. You’ll find plenty of non-blond Norwegians too, though. This idea is tied closely to the idea of Norway as a somewhat isolated, very homogenous country, but Norway also has important historical minority populations such as the Fenno-Norwegians, and roughly 13 per cent of today’s population are immigrants. The ancient indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, the Sami, also play a significant role in the socio-cultural landscape of modern Norway.
Not all of Norway is dark for half the year. While it is true that the sun never rises above the horizon during winter in the north, it also never sets during the summer months, and even so, you do still get twilight-like light or darkness. Although the lack of light during winter can have a psychological impact on some people (Norwegians too), it is also a great time for cuddling up with friends and family to “kose“, the Norwegian form of “hygge“, while the never-ending summer light makes for a really magical, somewhat disorientating experience in its own right. Further south, the sun does rise above the horizon and set every day, although daylight hours are shorter in the winter and longer in the summer in comparison to more southerly countries.
There may be a bit of jealousy involved with this stereotype. The discovery of vast deposits of oil within Norway’s territories in the 1960s transformed the country, and the state’s irritatingly responsible handling of the oil wealth has made Norway into one of the wealthiest nations on earth. The Norwegian population has twice rejected EU-membership, although they do work closely with the European Union, are part of the free movement Schengen Agreement and abide by many of the Union’s laws.
Although Norwegian nature really is astonishing and Norwegians do love their nature, Norway has even more to offer on top of that. Oslo and Bergen are well-known, of course, but many of Norway’s smaller, charming and beautifully-maintained towns are also well worth the visit in their own right.
The further you get from the region, the more often you encounter people who believe that Scandinavia is all the same or even the same country. Although there are many cultural similarities including very similar languages, shared history and a long tradition of cooperation, there are also important differences between the Scandinavian countries, which comprise Norway, Denmark and Sweden (these three along with Finland and Iceland make up the Nordic countries). It’s fine to talk about Scandinavians or Nordics as long as you realise there are significant nuances too.
Most Norwegians (and other Scandinavians) are proud of their fierce Viking ancestors although, for some reason, they tend to focus more on the Vikings’ vast trading networks and skills as explorers and settlers than on the pillaging and looting. With its emphasis on peace and sophisticated government welfare, modern Norway is pretty far removed from those darker sides of the Vikings’ legacy: Norway is usually ranked amongst the world’s most safe and peaceful countries, and this year toppled its neighbour Denmark to take the title of the world’s happiest nation.