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The red, white and blue of the Norwegian flag
The red, white and blue of the Norwegian flag | © Julian-G. Albert / Flickr
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11 Awesome Everyday Things Norway Gave the World

Picture of Danai Christopoulou
Updated: 20 November 2017
Let’s forget about fjords for a second. Sure, Norway is a country of stunning beauty but that’s hardly her only legacy. From the ancient times until this very day, the Land of the Vikings has invented, discovered, and given shape to more things and ideas than you may realize. Below, we’ve collected all the things in your daily life that you have to thank Norway for.

Vikings

Let’s start with the more obvious one: the Vikings. How is an ancient civilization an “awesome, everyday thing,” you ask? Well, just tune in to the History channel (or Netflix) and you’ll have your answer. But the beloved Ragnar Lothbrok family saga is merely pop culture’s latest Viking related craze; our forever fascination with the mighty warriors of the past has inspired countless movies, books, songs, hockey team names, and ill-advised horned helmets sold at souvenir shops. Our advice? When in Norway, visit one of its many Viking-themed museums to separate facts from fiction. Start with the Viking Ships Museum: it will give you a new sense of understanding (and awe) of the ancient race.

Display at the Viking Ship Museum | Courtesy of Vikingskipshuset, UiO
Display at the Viking Ship Museum | Courtesy of Vikingskipshuset, UiO

Slalom

Also known as slalåm, the word was created to describe the ski tracks on a slightly inclining hillside, but the practice of slalom (i.e. inserting poles in the snow that you had to ski around) was a way to prepare skiers of a younger age for more challenging runs—a way to prove you’ve earned your skiing stripes, basically. Slowly, it became just another branch of ski that people participate in, like jumping and cross-country, and since 1936 was a part of the Winter Olympics. But apart from its literal meaning, the word has nowadays come to mean avoiding obstacles in general, or moving on a zigzag route. Thanks, Norway!

Jo Nesbø’s books

The Norwegian writer whose work has been translated into over 40 languages (selling 30 million copies worldwide) is quickly becoming a synonym for “a fast-paced, crime novel.” His most famous character, Harry Hole, is the star of 11 books as well as a recent movie starring Michael Fassbender (you can visit its filming spots all around Oslo and Bergen). The books are easy to read, addictive, and safe dinner party conversation material: so many people have actually read them that you can use them to break the ice in no time. Almost like Game of Thrones, but with less awkward sibling sex.

Cheese slicer

Back in 1925, Thor Bjørklund was frustrated with regular knives’ inability to cut nice cheese slices—so he invented ostehøvel. This patented Norwegian cheese slicer has since been exported to the rest of Scandinavia (and to the rest of the world by way of IKEA), but nothing beats the real deal still produced in Bjørkund’s factory in Lillehammer. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll wonder how on earth you’ve been slicing your cheese without it all this time—and you’ll probably never buy pre-sliced cheese again.

Classic cheese slicer/myseost combo
Classic cheese slicer/myseost combo | © Arnstein Bjone / Wiki Commons

Brown cheese

Speaking of cheese: the reason ostehøvel was invented was brown cheese, and this soft, caramel-like cheese Norwegians are crazy about deserves a special place in your heart. More like a salty fudge than an actual cheese, brunøst is perfect for your breakfast toast, your mid-day sandwich, or even as a sauce for your weekend pancakes. Because of its mildly sweet flavor, it goes really well with jam and berries—just don’t forget to butter your bread first (whole grain bread, preferably), like Norwegians do.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream

We see you, raising your eyebrow quizzically at us: is a painting, no matter how great, really an everyday thing? To be fair, when Edvard Munch created his iconic composition of four paintings titled The Scream back in 1893, he had no way of knowing the internet would love them so much. Andy Warhol is partly to blame here, as he recreated Munch’s lithographs as a screen print in 1984, exposing them to a global audience—so global, they finally achieved pop culture status via an episode of The Simpsons. Today, versions of The Scream appear everywhere on the internet, to the point that there is even a Scream emoji on your phone. Art doesn’t get more everyday than that.

Edvard Munch's The Scream | Courtesy of The Munch Museum
Edvard Munch’s The Scream | Courtesy of The Munch Museum

Trolls

We’re talking about the original trolls, the ones that lurked under bridges, not under social media comment threads. The word itself, that today has come to mean “someone who has a lot of time on their hands and is using it in the worst possible way online,” is actually of Old Norse origin. Trolls play an important part in Norwegian mythology, and wooden carved troll statues have been a traditional gift for ages. They come in all shapes and sizes from big and mean to small and cunning, and the folklore surrounding them is endless—so much so that many Norwegians will insist visitors watch Trollhunter to better understand them. No word on whether this will help you deal with the online kind as well, though.

Thor

The Old Norse god of thunder with his magic hammer has been well known and loved throughout Scandinavia and the Germanic countries, even when most of the population ultimately converted to Christianity. But he really achieved global fame in 1962, when Stan Lee decided to turn to Asgard for inspiration and turn Thor Odinson into a Marvel comics superhero. 65 years, countless comic books, and several movies later, Thor is as recognizable a figure as Spider-Man—and still well-loved by Scandinavians (who are mostly cool with the fact that the role didn’t actually go to a Scandinavian actor, as it should have).

Still from Thor: The Dark World | Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Still from “Thor: The Dark World” | © Jay Maidment/2013 - Marvel Studios, Courtesy of IMDB

Aquavit

Aquavit (also written akvavit) means “firewater” and has been in Norwegian’s cups and glasses since the 15th century. Made from potatoes or grain with a distinct herby flavor and a 37.5% ABV minimum, Aquavit is not for the faint of heart—especially Linje Aquavit. This version of the drink travels to Australia and back in oak barrels, passing through the Equator (Linje, in Norwegian) twice before it’s bottled, giving it a more mature and distinct flavor. So next time you’re raising a glass of Aquavit, remember: your drink is probably more well traveled than you are.

Paperclips

Yes, paper clips are —Norwegianalthough Americans may fight you a bit on this one. Back in 1890, Johann Vaaler, a Norwegian patent clerk, invented the paper clip: a wire with triangular (or square) ends and two component arms. His invention was patented in Germany but, in 1899, U.S. resident William Middlebrook patented the paper clip in its modern shape. So basically it is a matter of debate which country actually invented the ever-present office supply, but since America was discovered by Norwegians anyway (we’ll explain below) we’re gonna give this one to the Land of the Vikings.

Paper-clips | © Katya / Flickr
Paper-clips | © Katya / Flickr

America

The “Land of the Free” was originally the “Land of Wine.” 500 years before Christopher Columbus, Leif Erikson reached the shores of what would later become known as America by mistake. The Norse explorer meant to sail to Greenland, but the winds blew Erikson’s ship off course and it landed in North America instead. Erikson was apparently so taken with the forests there that were ‘”full of grapes” and he named this strange land Vinland, AKA the Land of Wine. The precise location of the place Erikson described as “Vinland’ remains uncertain, but archaeologists found ruins of a Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland in 1963. And although nowadays Americans celebrate Columbus Day, the historical truth is that we have Norway to thank for the U.S.A. Or, occasionally, to blame.