"Norway! A long, cold country almost devoid of people."
— Thomas Hylland Eriksen
"Norway was a kingdom. It shall become one people!"
—Henrik Ibsen:The pretenders.
Once one of the three
lands of the Vikings
, now the land of petroleum. And the Nobel Peace Prize. Norway is also the go-to place for tourists interested in fjords, midnight sun, aurora borealis, cartoon moose, troll figurines, mountains and fish. There are also actual live elks/moose and reindeer. In fact, the road signs that warn against crossing elks (triangular with a black elk silhouette on white background with a red border) often get stolen by foreign tourists that for some reason are fascinated by the animals.
Norwegians display striking amounts of mostly harmless nationalism, which likely grew from the fact that Norway during the late middle ages and early modern period was governed by Denmark, then conquered by Sweden in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars despite having declared independence. Norway only became an independent nation in 1905, when it adopted a Danish prince and his family
, gave them Norwegian names, and made them regents. Has one of the world's oldest active constitutions, dating to 1814, though it does not accurately reflect the workings of the parliamentary democracy in place since 1884, not having been rewritten or replaced to reflect the realities of the political situation.
Pursued a policy of staying outside alliances from independence until the German invasion in 1940. At this time it produced the actual namer of The Quisling
, though it had an active and strong resistance movement. Though the Germans could not be resisted for more than two months, the king and the cabinet went into exile in London and was able to rally much of the very large merchant fleet to the Allied cause, providing vital cargo capacity for the various convoys. There were also a number of Norwegian-crewed vessels and air force squadrons fighting under the British. And Norwegian volunteers for the Waffen-SS fighting on the Eastern front.
A founding member of NATO
, it turned down EEC/EU membership after two referendums, the first in 1972, the second in 1994. In fact, the EU membership question is so divisive that none of the pro-membership parties actually dare to push for another application for fear of the turmoil it would bring. Norway is also (in)famous for being one of the only developed countries, along with Japan, not to have banned whaling.
The "Free Farmer" trope
The idea of the Free Farmers is old in Norway, and has arguably shaped the picture Norwegian have of themselves. The starting point for this is probably the Heimskringla
of Snorri Sturluson, which clearly presents the type. Haakon the Good tried to present Christianity to the farmers assembled at the Trøndelag Thing at Frosta, but was rebuffed by the farmers, who actually threatened the king with withdrawal of support if he didn`t give in. Haakon did. Truly a moment of awesome
for the Norwegian farm culture, and referred to hundreds of years later. At the assembly at Eidsvold, the farmers present craved the rights given to them by Haakon the good, and the assembly agreed. Thus, through constitutional agreement, the Norwegian farmers had greater property rights than any other farmers in Northern Europe.
The Norwegian farm culture was arguably the starting point for both patriotic movements and romantic nationalism later on. Because of the Danish rule, Norway was not exactly urbanized in 1814, and only slightly more in 1905. The Norwegian farm militia made the backbone of the Dano-Norwegian army during the union years, and has shown some examples of historical badassery. Thus, a militia of 500 armed farmers massacred a better equipped scottish mercenary band in 1612, during the Kalmar war. Later, feuds with Sweden
gave the "Norwegian farmer" just renown, not least in the Napoleonic Wars
, when the mostly Norwegian army beat a Swedish invasion force. Twice.
Unlike their Danish counterparts, the Norwegian farmers had the right to bear arms, for the sake of hunting. Thus, they mustered time and again to local revolts when the taxes on behalf of the Danish king became too harsh. And when they did not rebel against authorities, or fought invading Swedes, they fought eachother. During a span of 30 years, a local teacher documented several murders and fights done with knife (and sometimes also axes) in one single valley. And statistics tell it was just as bad in other parts of the country. No wonder botth Danes and Swedes tended to see Norwegians as somewhat wild and barbaric. But the idea of the free farmer was cherished even in Denmark, where "the Norwegian" came to be compared to the noble savage
From the trope mentioned, we also have the delicate balance between center and periphery, which has been central in Norwegian domestics policy for decades. People who live in one place will actually take great pains to stay there if they can, although mobility often is easy.
The current or actually "non-existibng" EU dispute can also be said to owe some points to this fact.
The Language Struggle
National peculiarities include two different written versions of the language (one based on Danish, one based on various dialects), and, thanks to the oil industry, more money than it can spend (Note that the government has been commended by various economists for being disciplined enough to refrain from spending the petroleum income irresponsibly, thus avoiding "Dutch disease"). The language struggle trope is actually in close connection to the "free farmer" as it is their language that were put into writing. And Norwegians have fought over the topic ever since...
The language struggle has arguably been the most popular topic for bickering in Norway. Norwegians talk much about weather, but there is a constant bickering on the subject of correct grammar, to the point that "correct Norwegian grammar" hardly exists. The result is that a lot of "personal" writing standards can be found, as well as a strong will to preserve the existing dialects, who again is debated on correctnes up to eleven
. All in all: Norway is a peaceful country, but this quarrel has made people take to the streets more than once, and at least one prime minister had to resign because of the matter.
The Serfdom Syndrome
Another trope to be seen as "especially Norwegian" (a phrase that is more of a meme than a trope in Norwegian language), is what can be described as a "serfdom syndrome". Though Norway is one of the richest countries in the world by far, with a stable government and political system, and rated to be one of the best societies in the world by the UN, Norwegians still
feel inferior. This is the "serfdom syndrome". The syndrome is probably developed during the union times, when all decisions were made elsewhere (in Denmark
), and repression was more of a rule in the country at large. When finally gaining independence, the syndrome persisted in a self-awareness that goes two ways: Either, Norway is never good enough, or Norway should by all costs not think they are. The trope is mostly to find in the political elite, in what may be considered a reverse kind of national chauvinism. It makes sense in context
Some unusual cultural exports of recent years include music in the genre known as Black Metal, the novel Sophie's World
by Jostein Gaarder
which became remarkably popular worldwide (published in 54 langugages and more than 30 million copies sold) and crime novels by authors like Karin Fossum translated into several languages as part of the vogue for Scandinavian detective fiction.
Probably the most famous Norwegian is the realist/modernist playwright Henrik Ibsen
. Other Norwegians with at least some international recognition include:
- Henrik Wergeland, poet. Known abroad for his engagement in the Jewish cause, as the Norwegian constitution at the time, though liberal, denied all jews access to the country. Wergeland`s intervention changed this. A hero for Norwegian leftists.
- Roald Amundsen, polar explorer best known for leading the first expedition to reach the South Pole back in 1911, beating the doomed Captain Scott.
- Fridtjof Nansen, polar explorer, biologist, oceanographer and diplomat. Travelled throughout the Artic, including a failed attempt to reach the North Pole on skis in 1896. Later in life engaged in humanitarian work, like facilitating the Greek/Turkish population exchange, providing aid to Armenian refugees in the wake of the Turkish genocide against them, and providing relief during famine caused by the Russian civil war.
- Thor Heyerdahl, archeologist and ethnologist. Best known for the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, where he and five others crossed the South Pacific from Peru to the Tuamotu Archipelago in a flimsy balsa raft in order to prove that it was possible for the South Pacific islands to have been originally populated by South American natives travelling in such a fashion. Apparently considered a hero by fans of tiki culture.
- Edvard Grieg, one of the Golden Age's most prominant composers, drawing his inspiration from Norwegian folk music - eventually he earnt himself the Fan Nickname "Chopin of the North". Some of his most famous pieces included Hall Of the Mountain King, ''Morning Mood'' and his Piano Concerto (which is notable for British viewers due to a famous Morecambe and Wise Christmas sketch).
- Knut Hamsun: Neo-romantic novelist, the only Norwegian author besides Ibsen to achieve lasting international renown. Despised in his native country for supporting National Socialism during WWII and still a controversial figure because of this. 2009 sees the 150th anniversary of his birth, and this will apparently be celebrated in various fashions in several countries. Ernest Hemingway supposedly once said that Hamsun taught him to write.
- Vidkun Quisling, fascist politician whose name became a byword for traitor. Had negligible support before the war, and during the occupation even the Germans were apathetic to him at first and only let him form a puppet government in 1942. Executed for treason after the war.
- Varg Vikernes, aka Count Grishnack, the infamous black metaller serving a prison sentence for murdering another infamous black metaller. He and his pals, in addition to already-existing Germanic mythos, are responsible for Norway's reputation in metalhead society as some kind of Grim Up North metal heaven where setting churches on fire is still a fair game.
- Roald Dahl was Norwegian-British. Norway features in some of his books (such as The Witches) and he also wrote fondly about visiting the country in his autobiography.
- Sigrid Undset, Nobel prize winner for literature; her best known novel being Kristin Lavransdatter.
- Phenomena some of the 3rd book takes place in Norway.
- The members of pop group A-ha.
Norway has at least four distinct regions, Northern Norway, Western Norway, Eastern Norway, "the south" and Trøndelag, often set apart from most of the country at large. Inside those regions, there are even more complex distinctions, but let us, for convenience, discuss the regional tropes:
Some notes on culture
- The West, described by Henrik Wergeland as a horse, sure to walk in steep mountainside, but "somewhat wild" in nature. The feeling of egality is strongest here, and the population is arguably known for survival-skills, and being the part of the country least interested in centralization. A movement for "independent west" is sometimes joked about, and the largest city, Bergen, even states that the are "not from Norway, but from Bergen". Nynorsk is largely most used in the area. Iceland is mostly populated from western Norway, and most of the Vikings also originated here, because of the natural contact with the North Sea.
- ''The North", arguably the region with the strongest regional identity, prone to produce singers and authors who empathise their regional independence. ALSO the region with the greatest brain drain, with people in the capital at times handling northerners no better than africans. Lots of internal strife and quarrel, and intense anger over southern interfering. Also known for Viking inheritance and iron age building sites. Sami People live in the north of the north, and there is an uneasy truce between Norwegians and Sami in the area, with some racism involved. While an independence movement was joked about in the west, Northern Norway actually wanted to push through with it, by making a political party.
- Trøndelag, also named "middle" or "central" Norway (Midt-Norge), positioned straight between north and south. Strong self-esteem, and could easily have been the starting point for Norwegian unification. Known for stubborn behaviour. Associated with farming, and animal husbandry. The capital of the region, Trondheim, is one of the most important cities in Norwegian history, and features a large cathedral, called "Nidarosdomen" ("The Dome of the Estuary of the river Nidar"), that was the seat of the Norwegian archpishopric during medieval times. It's also traditionally been the resting place of Norway's medieval Saint-King, Olav the Holy. In modern times, the Norwegian army is sometimes associated with the regional accent, with what is often held to be an unproportionately large number of officers (especially NC Os) coming from the region - it is also one of the more commonly parodied accents in the country. (partl for its palatalization, apocope and vowel-harmony, all of which make it quite distinct, although still fairly easy to understand for an audience) The archetypical (male) Trønder (a person from Trøndelag) is often portrayed with a leather-vest and a prominent (Trønder-)mustache, usually for humourous purposes and in good fun.
- The East, also known as "East-of-the-Mountains" ("Østafjells", although this term actually encompasses parts of The South as well). It is in many ways split between the more urban Greater Oslo Area, around the national capital, and the wider, Eastern areas; traditionally populated by farmers and woodmen, known for a somewhat "slow" approach to things, with a strong sense of local identity, and a history of disputes with the Swedes. This area is historically also the most socially divided of all the Norwegian districts at large. While the farmers in the west tended to live out the principle of equality, oppression was common between the social layers in the east. This was due to the "serfdom contracts", that led to brutal exploitation of the "lower" farmers and outcasts from poorer areas. In consequence, the most radical elements tend to come from this part of Norway, and the Working class literature was especially strong here. Most of the workers moving into Oslo came from the lower social layers in this rural area.
- The Greater Oslo area represents a significant portion of the country's population, but this development is somewhat recent; most of the inhabitants of Oslo were not born there. It is also the area with the largest groups of immigrants. In certain school districts of Oslo, immigrants are the majority. Oslo itself is stereotypically split between the "posh" or upper class west, and the working class, or lower class east. This stereotype is supported by sociological data, and can create a sense of pride, or even shame from belonging to the various parts of the city. People coming from Oslo might tend to actually forget that Norway is somewhat bigger than the capital, resulting in a "Oslo is Norway" meme, and an inborn arrogance to boot. That this part of Norway is "central" is, of course, disputed by everybody else who does not actually live there.
- The South, also called Agder, after a historical pre-Norwegian petty kingdom in the area. Known for a strict religious tendency, a historical focus on piousness, especially in the south-west. The region encompasses much of what is known as the Bible Belt (similar to in the U.S.), along with parts of The West. Known for a somewhat patient behaviour, and steretypically aversed to direct conflicts. The stereotype is sometimes defined as it being impossible to get a Southerner to completely disagree with you, but impossible to make him completely agree with you as well. This is sometimes held in contrast with the more direct and confrontational speech of Northerners. The region has historically been associated with maritime activities, like fishing and warfts, especially the export of timber to the British Isles, which, during the Age of Sail, made the region very wealthy. The regional accent is noted for being the one most influenced by Danish due to its close proximity (just across the Skagerrak strait), but as with anywhere in Norway, regional accents and dialects are highly varied even over small distances. It is currently split between two counties (West- and East-Agder), with the two county capitals having an intense rivalry, though the capital in West-Agder is signficantly larger, it is however, much younger. The inland municipalities located in the heaths and valleys, are in many ways regarded as separated from this conflict, and represent their own stock, with accents that can be very hard to understand for anyone not from there - some of which preserve grammatical elements from older versions of Norwegian that are now gone everywhere else. It is the smallest region in both population and size, as well as being the one to be defined in particular last.
- The Mountains are known for a somewhat quarrelsome stock, in earlier times known for constant bickering and fighting. A couple of hundred years ago the most ax crazy people often came from these areas. Telemark county still proudly presents an axe in their county weapon, while the true badassery seems to come from Gudbrandsdalen, where local farmers singlehandedly beat an army of Scottish mercenaries in 1612, and still boast of it. And if that is not enough, the entire army was massacred afterwards.
- Telemark should be mentioned for another trait. In late medieval times and the early modern, the people here actually kept their own records of every dispute and feud that went on between different farms and clans. The result is that the number of fights and murders written down are higher here than in other places. And the axe in their county weapon is a battleaxe.
There is something called "Norwegian culture", though nobody native to Norway exactly knows how to define it. Not even the Norwegian ministry of culture. There are even some who actually claim that Norway has no culture of it`s own, and that everything is imported. The debate in question is of course related to the Norwegian Serfdom Syndrome as mentioned above.
To be precise, or to confuse even more, there are a number of "partial cultures", immigrant cultures aside. The different sets of thinking are of course mirrored in the many regional stereotypes, but mostly in the folk culture niche. Norwegians are, as a rule, terribly proud of their rural culture, and their national costumes are more diverse than in most countries. Although one can present "the west" as a unit, the same area consists of four counties, each with several distinct dialects, and at least as many different rural ways of traditional dressing. And considering there are 19 counties in Norway, the number of differences are immense. And that is just the costumes. In some areas, differences were found almost from farm to farm (a Telemark joke states that the borderline between "western" and "eastern" dialectal mode goes exactly
through the middle of a bed used by a married couple in the valley of Flatdal, Seljord municipality).
The music and folk dances differ and vary even more. There are at least twelve different ways of dancing the most prominent folk dance, and the sheer amount of fiddle traditions can make your head spin. The hardanger fiddle area, not covering more than an estimated third of the southern Norway, has a collected record of tunes published in seven
volumes, and the editing of this music to print took 30 years! Even so, the editors was not able to cover it all. As mentioned, Norwegians take pains to cherish their folk music and their fiddle traditions, both on regular and Hardanger fiddle. And one should consider the differences in traditional outcome when also considering the total of Norway's population: not over 5 million people, and the most sparsely populated country in Scandinavia (except for Iceland). That`s what a number of narrow valleys do to people: they tend to do things differently. And of course, Norwegian folk musicians don`t agree on anything. But they are as a rule pretty good at what they do.
Of course, Norway has produced a number of authors, playwrights, actors, composers, artists and painters, and has a film industry of it`s own. There is a lot to be said of "Norwegian film" as a deconstructed meme. Norway has also a number of cartoonists, with the Pondus
series as the most known and successful one. In this respect, Norway has a culture like every other nation. But Norwegian bickering
makes it soooo hard to define it.
Norway in fiction
Notable Norwegian Films:
the norwegian flag
- Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt) is Slasher/horror film, set in the mountains of Jotunheimen.
- Dead Snow (Død Snø), commonly known as "Norwegian Nazi Zombies", also set in the mountains.
- Elling (2001) is a film about a man trying to overcome his social anxiety, based on the novel Brødre i blodet (Blood brothers, the English translated titled it Beyond The Great Indoors) by Ingvar Ambjørnsen. It was nominated for an oscar for Best Foreign Film.
- Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (Flåklypa Grand Prix), traditionally shown every year before Christmas, is a puppet film by Ivo Caprino that centers around the quiet life of Theodor Rimspoke, Ludwig and Sunny Ducksworth getting into a race with Theodor's former student turned racing champion, sponsored by an Arab oil sheik. It's popular enough that it has sold more tickets within Norway than the entire Norwegian population.
- The Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren): 2010 mockumentary about Norway's hushed-up troll problem and the specialist hired by the government to solve it.