Your study abroad experience is finite. Do you want to know what aspects of Norwegian culture that you shouldn’t miss while you are here? Always a subjective subject, but perhaps some suggestions can get you started!
But – have you gone nakking yet (once you’ve summited a mountain taking a topless photo – from behind? while I don’t actually know how common this practice is, it was born here in Norway). Perhaps you are already on your way to conquering all of Bergen’s seven mountains. But have you already mastered the art of the ‘koselig’? Read this section for some tips for cultural experiences to seek, inside and outside in Norway:
Get up into the mountains
If you haven’t done it already, you have to start exploring Norway’s mountains. Fjellturer (mountain trips/mountain hikes) are a key part of the Norwegian experience, and kids start this very young. Do not be surprised if Norwegian children and elders surpass your pace if you are new to hiking. Sundays are ‘the day’ for hiking, of course, any day is, but you may notice the mountains are especially busy on a Sunday (especially in decent weather!). If you’re looking for some ideas of where to hike near Bergen, you might want to start here.
Get on the water/fjords
Even if you don’t have some amazing new Norwegian buddy with a boat, there is no excuse for not exploring Norway’s stunning fjords. There are many ferry options that allow you to wander the waterways. This site may give you some ideas of fjords to visit. And it is worth taking a look at Norled ferries to seek out less expensive ways to visit fjords.
Go to a hytte (ski/hike)
The Norwegian hytte (cabin) is definitely a huge part of the culture. Retreating to a cabin to destress and take it easy, and perhaps have a very rustic experience is extremely common, especially at Easter and in the summer holidays. Again lacking a Norwegian pal with a hytte to lend? Never fear, it is possible to rent a hytte for up to 35 people through Sammen, or experience a cabin if you join activities through BSI Friluft or Student Bergen.
Of course if you really want to delve into Norwegian culture, the number one thing that will help is learning the language. There a ton of different resources for learning Norwegian, both ones that are free and those that charge. Take a look here for some ideas of how to get started. If you enjoy learning norsk, or even if you just like charming lingual differences, you can check out these norwegian idioms, or these, or these! I personally love idioms, and I have just this weekend learned a new one: “Vise noen hvor skapet står.” literally meaning show someone the closet, figuratively meaning to put someone in their place.
One tip for getting ‘koselig’ in the upcoming winter darkness, make sure to light a candle or candles when you get home and the darkness outside surrounds you. It is a recommendation from the dean of my (first) master’s programme, and it is probably the simplest but most effective step you can take towards ‘koselig’. Read more about the norwegian word ‘koselig’ and my suggestions for being koselig here.
And while you are indoors being koselig, maybe you need to check out these vital Norwegian cultural watching experiences:
- Nordic Noir: Norwegian crime fiction is so big it has it’s own category. Crime novels, tv shows and movies are huge, especially around Easter time (if you want to know, “why Easter??”, check out this past post to read about easter time and easter crime). Ready to explore some Nordic Noir? You might try authors Jo Nesbø or Karin Fossum among many others.
- Varg Veum: Varg Veum is a literary character created by nordic noir author Gunnar Staalesen. He is a fictional private detective operating in the city of Bergen. He even has his own statue (right near Fisketorget – the fish market), which may let you know how important the crime genre generally, and Varg Veum particularly, is to Bergen. Varg Veum was so popular there were a series of movies released based on the original books. These are… a little ridiculous… and they are also great, both because you can see all the familiar sights of Bergen and enjoy the wanton tampering of evidence that Varg constantly indulges in. (Plus you can enjoy how much the show wants you to think Trond Espen Seim as Varg is the handsomest ever, with lighting that glints off his hair and teeth – så vakker! ;))
- Skam: Skam is an international sensation. Skam is, in some ways a typical high school drama, and in some ways, so much more. At the very least, Skam will help you understand Russ and some of Norwegian youth culture. Skam is also both very fun and very frustrating (I do yell at TV screens when someone is a douchebag, so… yeah, I did that sometimes). If you want to practice your Norwegian, Skam is available on NRK with Norwegian subtitles (so long as you are in Norway currently). If you want to watch despite your lack of Norwegian, there may be a homemade English-subtitled version out there for you somewhere.
- Trolljegeren (Trollhunter): Of course you have to watch this ‘found footage’ mockumentary about hunting the mythical mountain troll. Be careful if you have Christian blood!
- Lundefjell: This is not a Norwegian classic at all, but rather Irish and called Puffin Rock in English. However, if you want a show with relatively simple language to practice your ear for norsk dialect, put the audio on Norwegian and watch this children’s show. The art is also delightful. Available on NRK (sometimes) and Netflix. If you want a more classic Norwegian children’s program, you can try Pompel og Pilt but I warn you, it’s creepy. Read more about this slightly unsettling black and white puppet show about carpenters here.
Remember, if your norsk is still a bit shaky, you can find Varg Veum, Troll Hunters, and a selection of Norwegian films at the public library with English subtitles. To read more about the public library in Bergen, including how to join it, take a look at this post.
It is vital that you watch the following youtube videos to enrich your cultural experience of Norway:
- This is Norway: If you went to the introductory programme you likely saw this quick explanation of Norwegian culture. Well worth reviewing!
- The Cabin (Ylvis): This video gives you a real feel for the Norwegian hytte experience (discussed in the ‘Go to a hytte’ section above). Maybe you will get an idea of what to pack only one pair of pants is necessary ;). The creators of the video, Ylvis, are a fraternal comedic duo from Bergen. You may know them from their surprise international sensation, ‘What does the Fox say’. The success of ‘What does the Fox say’ was apparently a surprise to them, I hear this song was supposed to be the ‘dumbest song in the world’ thrown together at the last minute for their comedy show, I Kveld med Ylvis (this evening with Ylvis). For Ylvis extra credit also check out Stonehenge and the Intelivator.
- Grandiosa Pizza commercial: You may have already heard about Norway’s love of frozen pizza (you certainly did if you watched the ‘This is Norway‘ video), now watch the commercial that proves it unequivocally, and revel in its ridiculous but kinda catchy pop song.
- Shit expats in Norway say: Here is a Canadian stand-up giving a perspective on being an expat in Norway, perhaps there are a few relatable things here.
- Æ, Ø, Å: Another comedy team, Kollektivet (the Collective), gives those of us learning Norwegian this handy way to remember the Norwegian special vowels, while poking (well-deserved) fun at the USA.
- Bergensbølgen (Bergen’s wave): Again, brought to us by Kollektivet, this is a specifically Bergen-related cultural experience. It is entirely in Norwegian, though, with no subtitles. Not to worry! I went through (with a lot of help from my partner, Grim) and provided translations and explanations so you can be in on the joke – and the culture, check out the Bergensbølgen post here.
Join in for ‘traditional’ Taco Friday by getting some Tex-Mex supplies at your local grocery store and cookin’ yourself up some tasty treats. This is considered a very typical Friday activity.
If you are the least bit interested in beer, wine or spirits, you have to explore the Vinmonopolet – if you like wine or spirits, you literally have no choice. If you are interested in Norwegian culture and in spirits – perhaps then aquavit, the traditional Scandinavian drink, is also a must.
Of course, you must also remember to volunteer as a cultural experience, including for these special seasonal culturally activities:
- Matfestival (September): An opportunity to find more Norwegian treats to try.
- Bergen Ølfestival (Beerfest) (September). Delicious annual beer. Read about volunteering for Ølfest here.
- Bergen International Film Festival (BIFF) (September/October): A film festival filled with movies and documentaries from all over the globe. Read about volunteering here.
- Pepperkakebyen (Gingerbread town, November/December): If you are still trying to figure out what ‘koselig’ is, wandering around Pepperkakebyen is definitely experientially ‘koselig’. I highly recommend making a house with a group of friends to submit (it gets everyone in the group a free ticket to see the town). Make sure you pay attention to the submission deadline as it sneaks up on you (in November!) Read about my first experience of Pepperkakebyen here. Read more about the adventure of submitting your own gingerbread house here.
- Lysfestivalen (December): The festival of light, an annual Christmas festival with lots of large torches and singing. 2017 Lysfestivalen is at Festplassen/Lille Lungegaardsvannet (the pond next to Festplassen) on 2. December at 16:00. Or head up to Fløyen and watch people light up a circle around the pond from afar.
- Also in December, try some traditional Norwegian christmas foods such as pinnekjøtt, kålrabi (rutabaga mash) and potatoes, or indulge in some Norwegian Christmas viewing traditions that ironically consist of media from other countries, such as watching the British sketch, Dinner for One, or the Czech film ‘Tre Nøtter til Askepott‘ (Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella), overdubbed by an increasingly enthusiastic (and, legend has it, increasingly drunk) Norwegian. Read more about Christmas in Norway here.
- Borealis Festival (March): An experimental music festival.
- Spot some russ ‘in the wild’ in May. Russ are students graduating from high school, they tend to have very visible outfits on. It is Russ tradition to perform certain challenges. Sometimes you can see them doing things that are entertaining from an outsider perspective. Read more about this cultural mystery here.
- Syttende Mai (17th of May): Yup, it’s in May, on the 17th. It’s the Norwegian Constitution Day and it’s celebrated with concerts and parades. Read more about my experiences of the 17th of May here.
- 7 fjelltur (7 Mountains Hike, May): Looking for a hiking challenge? Join the annual hike of “all 7” of Bergen’s mountains. Or, read about my spectacular failure to do this hike here.
- Bergen International Festival (May/June): a multi-genre arts festival.
- Nattjazz (May/June): One Northern European’s major Jazz Festivals. Interesting in jazz and in volunteering? Make sure to put Nattjazz on your list.
- Bergenfest (June): A giant contemporary music festival.
- Beyond the Gates (August): Metal, especially black metal is hugely culturally important in Norway. Join this metal festival in Bergen and experience some of the metal side of the culture. For more Norwegian metal festivals, click here.
If you have any suggestions for not-to-be-missed cultural experiences in Norway please comment and share below. And stay tuned next month for my bucket list of great places to visit in Norway. 🙂