Peaceful, relaxed, and welcoming, Norway is a rather inconspicuous country nowadays. This is radically different from times when vikings ruled, rampaged, and pillaged. I got the opportunity to interview a Norwegian transplant in North Carolina named Anders Larsen. Born and raised in Oslo, Anders has first-hand knowledge of the country and its people, and with natural beauty and a rich heritage, Norway should be on your list of travel destinations.
First things first, know where Norway is located. “I don’t think many Americans know where Norway is,” said Anders. “I think it’s safe to say that some Americans are Geography illiterate. I’ve even been asked if Norway is the capital of Sweden.” Anders said that the rise in comic book popularity has given Americans a little more knowledge of the country’s history. Many Americans are familiar with the Norse God “Thor” who currently appears in The Avengers film, and many are aware of vikings and their tie to Norway. What most people do not realize is that the names of four days out of the week, Tuesday through Friday, are derived from Norse mythology with ‘Thursday’ literally meaning ‘Thor’s Day’. Also, the Norse were mostly peaceful farmers instead of the savage raiders they are often portrayed to be.
As for the rest of the world’s view of Norway, Anders says, “Other countries seem to have more knowledge about Norway. It is well known that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo each year, and other countries view Norway as a facilitator of deals or a mediator of sorts.” During the Oslo Accords, Oslo was selected to be the neutral meeting place for peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization. But Norway may be peaceful to a fault. “Norwegians tend to hold the view that all people are good and should be treated fairly,” Anders explains. “Norway naively has open arms towards political refugees.” But these good intentions have brought unforeseen problems. Anders says, “It has brought in so many refugees that there are now problems arising. Violent crime was almost non-existent when I was growing up in Oslo, but now there are parts of the city dominated by refugees, and these parts are significantly more violent than the natives they have displaced.” Some Norwegians fear that their culture is being overtaken. This fear translated into violence in the case of Anders Breivik, the man who, last year, killed 77 Norwegians in a show of ultra-nationalism. This is an extreme example as it was the worst act of terror by far the country has ever seen. Despite this case, Norwegians remain peaceful and accepting.
If you’ve ever met a person who was reserved, distant, and private you very well may have met a Norwegian. “Norwegians are not typically outgoing,” says Anders. “They don’t want to be seen as intrusive, and they don’t want to interfere in other others’ business. There’s a reason why Norwegians drink at parties; otherwise, there would be no conversation.” It can take years to get to know your Norwegian neighbor, but once you do, you’ll find that they are warm and have an intense love for nature. Anders explains, “On Sunday afternoons, you won’t find people in church or inside; there will be thousands of people out walking on mountain trails.” Norwegians gravitate towards many outdoor oriented activities because being out in nature has a very calming, almost zen-like affect on them.
There’s a reason Norwegians dominate the Winter Olympics each year. Though they are not born on skis, Norwegian children usually receive their first pair as soon as they can walk. Even before they can walk, children will ride on sleds and accompany their parents while they are skiing. Also, Norway’s weather and climate are very conducive to winter sports. “The winter season is long, and there is usually snow by November each year,” Anders notes. Unlike other countries that endorse the ‘semiprofessional’ athlete who does nothing but train three years before the Olympics, Norway’s Olympians are by and far amateurs. “People come out of nowhere to try out for the Olympics in Norway. They are not professional. They’ve just been training since they were kids,” said Anders. That training has paid off because Norway has won more medals than any other country in the Winter Games. This is extraordinary considering the size of Norway, which is roughly the size of metropolitan Detroit. Perhaps the Norwegians’ big passion for winter sports has compensated for the country’s small size.
“Norway’s geography is stunningly beautiful,” says Anders, and it is one of his favorite things about his home country. “I also like that Norwegians are not so focused on jobs. Norwegians are taxed so much that it doesn’t really matter what they do for work, so they have more of a ‘work to live’ not ‘live to work’ mentality.” The pace is a little slower in Norway, and Norwegians try to enjoy life. “They take vacations very seriously,” Anders said.
Travelers in search of fancy hotels, nightclubs, and theme parks will not get their fill in Norway. On the other hand, travelers who want to experience breathtaking landscapes, enjoy nature, and take life a little slower will be right in their natural element, pun intended.