If you mention Norway to most people, they tend to think of snow and fjords. There is that, of course, but there’s also more—much more. The country lies roughly between the 58th and 75th latitudes North, and the 5th and 30th longitudes East, with Sweden, Finland, and Russia on its east and the vastness of the Atlantic on its west. The northern third lies above the Arctic Circle, and the entire country is as long as from Miami, Florida to just barely south of Baltimore, Maryland, containing roughly the land mass of Florida and Georgia combined. In other words, it’s a less than a day’s drive across the widest part of the country in the south, but a considerably longer trek from tip to tail. Especially given the lack of truly excellent highways in either direction, and the snaky nature of the existing roads, particularly through the mountainous interior.
The country’s latitude and length are also responsible for the extreme shifts in daylight. For instnce, the southern part of the country may experience three hours of darkness during the peak of summer, but the northernmost reaches will have roughly three months of daylight. The same holds true for winter; southern Norway experiences a more balanced day, but Finnmark will see three months of darkness. In the middle third of the country—Trondelag—you can expect just less than two hours of darkness at summer’s peak, and six hours of solid daylight (about 3, flanked on either side by dusk-type light) during the heart of winter. For those of us who come from a relatively balanced schedule of night and day, the shift can be more than a little disconcerting. It’s not unusual to find yourself unable to sleep in the summer, and unable to stay awake in the winter. Even for Norwegians, the lack of light can be problematic, and most larger communities host a light therapy salon or clinic available for those who need a little extra help combatting a winter case of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
The Gulf Stream strokes its way along roughly 75% of the country’s coast, which means that the weather—particularly along the coast—is much more moderate than many might believe. The interior experiences a much cooler clime. The growing season is short for those of us who come from the U. S. South; at three months, I no sooner seem to get things started than the first freeze is creeping up on immature plants.
There are roughly 4.5 million inhabitants—just slightly more than you’ll find in Alabama or Colorado. There are two, government-sanctioned or official languages: Nynorsk and Bokmål. Both are Norwegian, just slightly different flavors. The latter is dominant and somewhat older, and the first is perhaps more prevalent in the south. (There are roughly 600,000 Nynorsk speakers.) The native Sami tribes have their own language (Sami, of course). Dialects rule, and are generally owned with pride—considerably more so than our (American) regional accents. Norwegians have a reputation for being cold, but the simple reality is that they’re a reserved people, and that reserve holds until you get to know them. They have a strong habit of establishing individual privacy barriers, and it’s characteristic that you walk down the street without smile, greeting, or eye contact from strangers.
It’s a fascinating country, and one that prides itself on its natural resources, although—like most these days—it has its fair share of environmental battles. Its primary income is from oil. Taxes are high, unions are strong, and the cost of living is exorbitant. Health care is free, but Norwegians have a saying that you can die in the queue before you get the help you should have. On the other hand, I’ve never seen such an excellent maternity and paternity leave system; mothers have an automatic paid year off, and fathers get a month of paternity leave to be included in that year.
Education is free through college, although students begin having to purchase some of their own books in high school. The educational system itself is radically different than the American system, and it’s my less than humble opinion that the Norwegian students suffer for it at the higher levels. For instance, one of the recuring complaints among students is that they lack the language (specifically writing) skills in order to pass their end-of-course exams. While the government is trying to overhaul the university system in such a way that it falls more on par with the British and American systems, they don’t quite have the governing concepts figured out and things are, for the moment, a bit of a mess. The Fall 2003 semester begins the incorporation of education reform measures at one of the country’s largest universities, NTNU. One of the administrators coordinating the effort noted wryly that students in a number of the areas of study are going to find themselves doing rather a lot more work than had been true in the past.
The Norwegian system of holidays and vacations beats the American system hollow. Norway has five weeks of paid vacation, and even at that rate is still one of the European countries with the least vacation time, falling well behind Germany’s eight (8!) and Italy’s six. It makes sense, then that while most Americans spend far too much of their lives working so that it becomes the thing that the rest of their lives are centered around, most Norwegians seem to have a much healthier attitude about the role “work” should play in one’s life. “Customer service” is still a foreign concept in most shops and service organizations, but that’s changing both as the nature of the Norwegian marketplace changes, and the expectations and demands of consumers themselves change. You won’t find chocolate chips or what most Americans would consider a “normal” broom, but you will find brown cheese, rosemaling, and some of the best winter gear on the market.
Property—while outrageously expensive—is handled differently than stateside and, generally speaking, only the farmers own large (or relatively large) areas of land. Most homeowners own only the immediate land upon which their house sits, in addition to a very small privacy cushion, and the country has taken pains to protect green spaces so that Norwegians and tourists alike can wander through wood and moor without having to worry about trespassing and fences. That ability to experience the great outdoors is both one of the country’s greatest tourism draws and, aside from soccer, one of the most common free-time activities. Norwegians walk. Over hill and through dale, picking berries in the summer months, tramping the moor and birch and pine forests in all weather, being pulled along by the family dog or pushing prams and strollers year round on the streets and sidewalks. Their outdoor activity isn’t restricted to nice weather; in the winter months, when ice is often as much a problem as snow, bicycles take on studded tires and skis and sparks are dragged out of storage.
I once asked my husband how Norwegians could stand to walk in the rain and snow as much as they do, and there was a certain practicality in his response. “If we waited for good weather,” he said, “we’d never get out of the house.” He had a point. The weather is mercurial. While it’s relatively mild along most of the coast and much cooler in the interior, its penchant for shifting is as much a by-word as it is in Tallahassee. Wait fifteen minutes and it may well have changed radically. Summers are rated according to the number of days when the temperature manages to hit or go over 68F. 2002 broke all records with an unprecedented total of over 68 “summer days.”
The country’s third-largest city has recently become home. Its population of 140,000 is much the same as that of Tallahassee, which means that it’s a comfortably-sized city (or large town, according to your own background). And it’s lovely. The city lies on the Trondheimfjord, some eight hours’ travel from the capitol of Oslo which lies in the south.
Founded in 997—1006 years old at the time of this writing—it has a rich sense of history and folklore that’s unusual to most of us who come from the “upstart colonies.”
There are a number of tourist and information resources available, but you may find these pages particularly helpful.
|This site is a comfortable one with general information aimed at the tourist market/audience. English|
|Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway, and this is a good general tourist site for the area. English|
|This site is one of my favorites. It’s a clickable hand-drawn map of Trondheim, and the detail is incredible. You’ve got to see it to believe it. You don’t need to be able to read the language to use the map; just click on the black and white sketch in the left hand column of the site. From there, each click will pull you further into the drawing, or you can use the compass points to shift perspective. In some places, you’ll fine the artist has inserted photos, particularly of the insides of some of the older buildings or historical areas.|
|A Norwegian server/search engine. It’s in Norwegian, of course, but it’s very user friendly. Even if you don’t know the language, you’ll probably have no real difficulty figuring out the process, and searches can, of course, be done for English words and phrases.|
|If you can read the language—or one of those that are very similar (e.g., Danish)—you may want to browse through a couple of Norwegian newspapers. The VG is the largest daily in the country, and has a very casual feel. It’s more serious than Dagbladet, but less dignified than Aftenposten or Adressavisen.|
|The Aftenposten is the regional daily that covers the Oslo area . . .|
|while the Adressavisen covers the Trondheim area.|
|And of course there’s always Dagbladet for sheer entertainment value. This particular daily tends to focus on human interest stories, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, and isn’t above going for shock value on occasion.|
Of course, nothing is complete without a few photos . . .
(Map of Norway used with permission, courtesy of