a cultural lesson: Norway in a nutshell

April 22nd, 2007

Rarely does a song lyric capture a nation's culture so comprehensibly and accurately, than does a fantastic song I just discovered. This text so profusely exposes the conceited nationalism and ingrained beliefs that are so prevalent. It's completely sarcastic, it's funny and it's lovable. And although we know all of these flaws, we still in a way love them.

Erik & Kriss - Lille Norge [little Norway]

For hvem vinner hver gang i ski og skøyteløp. Utvinner olje fra kilder i kjøle strøk. Nasjonalt vil vi fremstå som best, men tjener'u mer enn naboen bør'u helst holde kjeft. Individuelt teller ikke cash og fine damer, men som nasjon kan vi godt skryte av Lillehammer. Karnevalleriet blir som småfisk mot hai, for vi har både fakkeltog og 17. mai. Svalberg er bedre enn milevis med gullstrand. Og hvordan ville verden vært uten Harlem Brundtland. Hva tror'u du Nordmandie var for pyser, for verdenskrigen snudde brått når vi senket Blücher. Og fuck brie, vi har brunost og Jarlsberg. Og alle vet at norsk mjød grisebanker Carlsberg. Litt for stolt. Du kan si hva du vil, for Norge er det eneste jeg ville gå til krig for.

Who is it that wins every skiing and skating competition? [1] Extracting oil from chilly locations. [2] As a nation we want to appear the best, [3] but if you make more money than your neighbor, you had better shut up. [4] Individually, cash and ladies don't count for much, but as a nation we can brag about Lillehammer. [5] The carnival [6] is like small fish to a shark, cause we have both processions and the 17. of May. [7] Svalberg [8] is heaps better than miles of exotic beach. And what would the world be without Harlem Brundtland. [9] Normandy [10] were wimps, the world war turned around when we sunk Blücher. [11] Fuck brie, we have brunost [12] and Jarlsberg. [13] And everyone knows that Norwegian mead [14] beats Carlsberg. [15] A little too proud. Say what you want, but Norway is the only thing I'd go to war for.

  1. Norway has a very strong culture of winter sports and historically is one of the top nations in these disciplines, which is a huge point of pride, especially because they always dominate Sweden, the big brother country.
  2. Norway is a major producer of oil and gas, and one of the leading countries in offshore technology. These natural resources is the generally accepted cause of Norway's newfound wealth dating back to the 1960-70s, before which time the country was in no way prosperous on the continent.
  3. There is an ingrained national belief that "we are the best", probably as an influence mainly of the pride that has come through sporting achievements. Sport is the most highly appreciated cultural branch.
  4. As a social democratic country, social equality is of key interest and Norwegian society is completely dominated by the middle class. Class differences are minor, and differences in income levels are relatively modest between most professions.
  5. The Olympic games hosted in Lillehammer in 1994 were considered a huge success, both because of the recognition the country received as a host for the Olympics, and for the sporting success. The Olympics sparked a very strong, exaggerated, and often tasteless, nationalism.
  6. Obscure reference, but I think it refers to the Rio de Janeiro carnival.
  7. The 17th of May is Constitution Day, signed on this day in 1814. The 17th of May is celebrated each year with televised processions from every town in the country, central to which is a children's procession, where they represent their schools. The 17th of May is the most important national annual event.
  8. A pun. Svalberg meaning "a cool berg" (ie. rock that appears out of water), an obvious reference to Svalbard.
  9. Gro Harlem Brundtland is the most significant political figure of modern time. She was prime minister for a period of 10 years, and an icon for Norway.
  10. Referring to the invasion of Normandy of 1944.
  11. Norway's significance in World War 2 was fairly marginal, so Norway takes great pride in sinking the German navy's great battleship Blücher. This was a crucial historical event in Norway's World War 2 history.
  12. Brunost, a brown cheese made from goat milk is a ubiquitous national food product.
  13. Jarlsberg, a cheese product. The company ran a series of obnoxious tv ads a few years ago, slagging off famous foreign cheese products as silly and pretentious.
  14. Norway has a strong culture of illegally home brewed alcohol, because of the tight control and high tax on alcohol. Mentioned here mead is nowhere near as popular as hjemmebrent.
  15. Danish brand of beer. Denmark also happens to be a former reigning power to Norway, the two countries were in "union" (under Danish kings) for 400 years, up to 1814 (when Sweden took over until 1905).

Lille Norge, landet verden ikke klarer seg uten. Lille Norge. Verdenslandet ligger lengere nord. Lille Norge. Er'u heldig og slipper unna futen, blir du Haltet og kan gjøre det stort. Det er Lille Norge. Fedrelandet selv kongen gjør alt for. Furut værbitt er religion. Du klager alltid, men likevel er glad for. Og skryter at det er typisk norsk å være god.

Little Norway, the country the world can't do without. Little Norway, the world country is further north. Little Norway. If you're lucky enough to escape the tax man, [1] you'll make it big. Little Norway, the fatherland even the King would do anything for. Furut værbitt [2] is religion. You always complain, but you're happy anyway. And bragging about how it's typical for a Norwegian to be good. [3]

  1. Taxation in Norway is known to be high, and this is fairly accepted thing. The government is not shy about introducing new taxes on whatever is deemed unsavory, namely alcohol and tobacco (very high taxes on both), gasoline (to encourage use of public transportation), unhealthy food like soda and candy (called "health tax") etc. VAT is currently at 24%. Despite the high progressive income tax, Norway also boosts a class of millionaires who in large part successfully evade taxes, and get away with various other questionable financial schemes, notably Kjell Inge Røkke (a fascinating case of an industrialist using favorable public opinion, being as he is a self made man, to plead and negotiate for exemption from the authorities). The argument is that if these industrial magnates decided to relocate their companies abroad, thousands of jobs would go lost, and the government would lose the income generated by all the non-executives in these companies.
  2. "Furut værbitt", a quote out of the national anthem that everyone would recognize immediately.
  3. There is a truly tasteless common expression that goes "being good, typically Norwegian".

Å være vikinger sier ikke rent lite. Og sier [du] noe om Bjørn Dæhlie blir det helt stille. Vi har Rosmearie Köhn, hvem trenger paven? Og verden sto stille da Oddvar brakk staven. Julebordkultur som man ikke viker fra, drikke mer enn oss blir som å hoppe etter Wirkola. Bryr meg heller ikke hvem du er eller hvem du kjenner, for Matt Dillon or Robbie Williams are norgesvenner.

To be vikings says a lot. And if you mention Bjørn Dæhlie [1] the room goes silent. We got Rosemarie Köhn, [2] who needs the Pope. [3] The world stood still when Oddvar broke his pole. [4] Christmas table tradition [5] we stay true to. Drinking more than us is like jumping after Wirkola. [6] I don't care who you are or who you know, Matt Dillon and Robbie Williams are friends of Norway. [7]

  1. Bjørn Dæhlie is a very acclaimed former skier whose achievements surpass probably that of any other Norwegian athlete. He's also a very down to earth guy.
  2. Rosemarie Köhn became the first female bishop in the Protestant church, after much opposition from the traditionalists of the church. She had broad public support for her position, and eventually was granted the office.
  3. A hilarious gag at comparing Köhn to the Pope, which also shows a slight distaste towards the Catholic church, dating back to the Reformation.
  4. Oddvar Brå is a former skier who won the World Cup in 1982, during which race he broke his skiing pole. From this developed the term "where were you when Oddvar broke his pole?", which has become part of the language, "where were you when X happened", to mean that X was so important that everyone would remember what they were doing when they heard about X.
  5. The Norwegian Christmas table tradition is a ubiquitous annual event at every workplace. A few weeks before Christmas, any workplace will host a "Christmas table", which is an evening of food, but more importantly alcohol. Norwegian attitude toward alcohol is an immature one, given the high tax, and so when the opportunity arises, people often go overboard. Another famous notion of this is "danskebåten", the ferry to Denmark, where alcohol is sold cheaply, and Norwegian travelers are known to get drunk out of their minds.
  6. Bjørn Wirkola, yet another skier. His discipline was ski jump, a sport invented in Norway. The reference here refers to the warm reception from the audience Wirkola was known to get in his jumps, causing the next jumper to think it would be difficult to follow Wirkola.
  7. "Friends of Norway" is a strange expression used to raise the significance of Norway as a country by connecting it to the names of celebrities. Any celebrity coming to Norway who shows interest and appreciation toward the country has a chance to become a "friend of Norway". This will ensure a warm reception by the press on subsequent visits, thereby creating the impression that Norway is an important place since all these important people visit all the time.

Du ska'kke tro du er noe. Du kan'ke lære oss no'. Æda bæda, janteloven er noe yada-yada. Du ska'kke vise rikdom, men vi har mest i verden. Og gjør du som oss, kan du også bli best i verden. Du ska'kke tro du vet no'. Du duger ikke til no'. Æda bæda, janteloven er noe yada-yada. Drit i forsvaret, åndet vil sloss. Jeg stiller opp med Aamodt og Johan Olav Koss.

Don't think you are anybody. You can't teach us anything. Bladiblah, Jante Law is yada-yada. [1] You're not supposed to show wealth, but we got more than anyone. [2] If you do like us, you too can be the best in the world. Don't think you know anything. You're good for nothing. Bladiblah, Jante Law is yada-yada. Screw the military, the spirit wants to fight. I give you Aamodt and Johan Olav Koss. [3]

  1. Jante Law is a dogma postulated by novelist Aksel Sandemose as a set of rules of social interaction taken very much to heart in Norway. Norwegian society has embraced Jante Law as something to remember as a warning. It means that as an individual you should not be scared to be better than the person next to you, you should not feel like can't differ and excel beyond the norm. The principles or Jante Law describe an innate Norwegian character, which shows how it's natural to be modest, to fit in at all cost. Norwegian society (aside from sports, which is exempt from this) tends to supress excellence (for instance in schools among children) and focuses on "the good of the group" rather than individual achievement. Norwegian schools don't even assign grades until junior high, in the belief that children should not feel inferior to their peers. Norwegian culture is also that of encouragement, and very rarely outward criticism.
  2. Norway consistently ranks as #1 or in the very top in terms of standard of living. This is something Norwegians tend to feel very proud of, conveniently forgetting that it has far more to do with the abundance of natural resources than excellence in science or industry.
  3. Kjetil André Aamodt (alpine skier) and Johan Olav Koss (skater), both highly merited athletes.

Og Kjetil Rekdal fra.. ja!! han scorer. Norge leder 2-1!! Norge leder!! Viva la Norvège! Allez Norge! Vi ha'kke opplevd maken. Og dette vet jeg med fullt hjærte [er fortjent], 2-1 til Norge.
Kjetil Rekdal, from [insert small town]... yes!! he scores. Norway takes the lead 2-1!! Norway takes the lead!! Viva la Norvège! Allez Norge! We haven't seen anything like it. And this I know with all my heart is deserved. 2-1 Norway. [1]

  1. The voice of Arne Scheie, tv commentator. The moment marks one of the top Norwegian sporting achievements, namely the 2-1 victory against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup. It is on par with "where where you when Oddvar broke his pole", the entire nation remembers this night as something eternal (giving way to greater footballing success, which does not seem at all forthcoming). In his commentary, Scheie milked Norway's status as underdog to the fullest, emphasizing that Rekdal (the captain) is from a small city on the west coast (the classic rags to riches story), sinking Brazil the superpower of football.
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1 Responses to "a cultural lesson: Norway in a nutshell"

  1. Marie Bibas says:

    Hi,

    I am just in love with Norway and am enjoying so much all that is published about it. I am also learning Norwegian and the song Lille Norge taught me a lot

    Marie