It’s a fascinating aspect of American life that we celebrate our cultural heritage, whether it is Norwegian, Lithuanian, or Persian, in a variety of festivals. Food features prominently. It is also an easier way to experience another culture when you don’t have the time or money to travel. Sometimes it just whets your appetite to go!
Demonstrating how to make lefse
The Scandinavian Festival, held on one day at the Scottish Rite Temple near Sacramento State University, features many booths with various Scandinavian themed goods. Then in the main ballroom they sell tickets to buy food and have seating to watch the flag ceremony or the fashion show. Many people are dressed in traditional dresses or Norwegian sweaters. All decedents of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, or Finland are welcome, in addition the Sami indigenous people are also recognized as their own nation although they live across Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia.
Two of the people in our group discovered they were Scandinavian thanks to 23 and Me so they were discovering cultural traditions like the food, like the delicious flatbread lefse made with potatoes. I also discovered there is such a thing as Viking reenactment. I sent a photo (see above) to my brother and found out that he reenacts being a Viking for his history classes at the Community College where he teaches. I learned something about my family too!
I heard about hygge (hoo-ga) before I went to Denmark. Every year Denmark and Norway compete for “happiest people on Earth” and a big part of that is attributed to this value for hygge. I was looking for a book on Denmark’s history when I discovered Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge (in English of course). I bought it because I loved the design and thought my daughter would like it.
Wiking is the head of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen where he studies living well. I learned quite a few things about hygge from his book. First, unscented candles are critical to creating hygge, best translated in English as “cozy togetherness” Most Danes use lots of candles, lots of sweets and lots of ham and bacon, washed down with coffee or hot chocolate. The ideal number of people to enjoy this cozy time is 3-4 so it is perfect for introverts. The dress code is comfy/casual and often everyone watches “box sets” (think binge watching on Netflix) or plays board games.
I did find it interesting that the book compares the idea of Danish “hygge” with similar words/ideas in Norway, Netherlands, Finland and even Canada, but ignores Sweden. And yet the one place I experienced hygge was at my University chum Susie’s home in Malmo, Sweden. Whereas my hotel, The Absalon, and restaurants were all about Danish modern design. They were stylish but more formal and un-hygge.
My friend Susie explained the competition between Sweden and Denmark. The Danish are smug about their superiority to Sweden. Swedes don’t seem to spend much time thinking about Denmark. It reminds me of the competition between NorCal and SoCal, with NorCal the Danes with a little bit of a chip and SoCal as Sweden too absorbed with its own business to give the other much thought. Susie and her family explained that they enjoy Friday evening television watching with the family, Saturday family time when children get 10 pieces of candy, and Sunday cozy time with family. It’s a lot of togetherness with family.
Work/life balance is very important to all Scandinavians and remember that when you are headed somewhere in a car. People with children knock off work at 4 and others at 5, so rush hour starts early!
I definitely came home thinking I’d like to incorporate more hygge in my life. And you can too. I was in Avid Reader bookstore in Davis, CA and lo and behold, there was a copy just like mine. So I didn’t have to lug it all over Denmark and England and you don’t have to go to Copenhagen to get the book.
I am visiting Denmark this summer. I found my hotel on Trip Advisor. Thanks to Rick Steves’ I am taking a bike tour in Copenhagen with Mike. My chum Susie from University is going to show me her Malmo, Sweden on June 6–the national holiday to celebrate being Swedish. I have printed the instructions to find hidden Giant sculptures around Copenhagen on a bike scavenger hunt.
I am excited that I am going to be able to see two more Scandinavian countries (after Norway in 2013). Originally I thought I’d get into the countryside and see more of Denmark. Then I realized that second half of my trip involves a lot of travel through England, so enjoying one city more thoroughly and staying in the same hotel is appealing.
I discovered Helen Russell’s humorous memoir Year of Living Danishly at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. I read it to prepare for my trip. The culture in Denmark is similar to Norway in many respects. The author refers to Jante’s Law, which I experienced growing up with a Norwegian grandfather.
Aksel Sandemose outlines 10 rules for living Danishly in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, known as Jante’s Law.
You’re not to think you are anything special
You’re not to think you are as good as we are
You’re not to think you are smarter than us
You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us
You’re not to think you know more than us
You’re not to think you are more important than us
You’re not to think you are good at anything
You’re not to laugh at us
You’re not to think anyone cares about you
You’re not to think you can teach us anything
Some people think it is synonymous with humility and essential to maintaining the egalitarian Scandinavian society. Some people think it is about enforcing conformity. In another memoir, In Cod We Trust, by Eric Dregni, about his family’s year in Norway, he observes, “These ten commandments may have begun as a morality tale of how not to act, but over time these rules were adopted to teach kids not to be self-important narcissists.”
I am curious to soak up as much of the culture as I can for the relatively short time I am there, and to find out more about Jante’s Law.
Reprinted from a 2013 Redesigning 49 post, “Sweater Countries” in honor of Slow TV an Evening of Knitting:
Tevis observed that I always seem to spend the most time in countries that are known for their wool, knitting and sweaters. He is right: Ireland, UK, Peru, New Zealand, and now Norway. Our last full day in Bergen it was pouring rain, so I left Tevis working in the room and I went on a yarn adventure. I started with the yarn shop closest to my hotel. It was well-lit and had great sample projects in the window. Nellfrid, the shop clerk spoke broken English and I said I only knew two words of Norwegian “tak” (thank you) and uffda, although I haven’t heard anyone say uffda. Nellfrid explained that uffda is more commonly shortened to “uff”, like the weather today, uff. I really wanted to buy the yarn for a project in the window for Cameon’s daughter. Alas they didn’t have enough yarn or the pattern. Nellfrid sent me on my way with directions to a bookstore and another shop across town.
“Across town” is about 10 minutes walking. On the way I stopped at the Norli bookstore. It is strange travelling in a country where the bookstores are not a temptation (almost everything is in Norwegian). Good thing because bookstores still abound in Norway. They did not have any interesting knitting books in English, so I ducked out quickly went to the yarn shop in the very touristy section of town that one blogger called “similar to JoAnn’s”. I actually liked the cosy basement full of yarn. The clerk spoke English and she explained that they did not have the full line of Rauma yarn and directed me to Husfliden. This is where I bought yarn in Oslo. Actually, not. The shops look identifical (same goods, type of displays, etc.) But the clerk assured me that they were not related. They had the yarn and the “recipe” I needed (insert sound of cash register). I am going to have an adventure using Google translate. Or I will impose on Susie and trade some services.
Now I was close to the train station and I remembered that there was a good coffee shop there as well as a yarn store called Norwegian Spirit. By now it was pouring. The coffee and chocolate croissant revived me. I also met a delightful waitress Cecilie. The Norwegian Spirit had some ready made traditional sweaters and some others made by the shopkeeper, a textile artist. They also had a recipe book from the original designer for Oleana Knits. (Insert sound of cash register here) That led me to the Oleana flagship store. The factory is just outside Bergen. And wow! The designs and the prices are amazing. While skeins of wool are a bargain, ready made sweaters are not.
I was starting to flag Thought about jumping on the bus and going to the Knitting Factory and Museum but the rain and my soaked feet prevailed. I hit one more store where I was rewarded with a penguin.
I practically skipped back to the hotel–I had such a good day. For a smallish town they have a lot of yarn shops. Nellfrid says knitting is very popular due to the weather.
Tevis was still working hard and I wanted to watch the Tour de France with company. I ventured out again and after a couple of tries I found Finnegan’s Irish Pub. The Pub Man, from Manchester with an Irish mum, loves Le Tour too. He was having all kinds of difficulties opening (no hot water, etc.) However, he was more than happy to set me up with the Tour on television–on the British sports channel so it was in English!–and at one point he locked me in so he could pick up parts. He popped in every so often to find out how the race was going. By the time Kittel won the sprint and the stage the pub was filling with customers. Lovely, lovely day.
Postscript: I have learned the hard way… take patterns in your native tongue when you travel so you can wool shop for projects you know you can complete!
Oh my gosh. I was prepared for several hours watching Norwegian women in a circle knitting. It is so much more dynamic and fun. If we watched live we could have checked in on facebook (Norge Rundt). It is all super quirky fun. Thank goodness for subtitles. Available for streaming on Netflix.
The television host is Rebecca Nedregotten Strand and her enthusiasm is infectious.She and her crew assembled an interesting variety of knitters and projects–from a group knitting a sweater suit for a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and a fashion show of traditional and modern knitwear. As she says in the introduction, “A thread can contain so much. All you need is two needles to create warmth, love and care.”
There are instructional videos scattered through the four hours if you want to learn how to cast on and start knitting. The method is continental style, which I’ve always suspected is more efficient than the American style that I learned.
I heard about Slow TV on a podcast about going slower. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I realize as I watch 4 or more hours of cycling in a morning during one of the three grand tours, I am not completely new to the charms of slow television. If you are remotely interested in knitting you’ll find this entertaining. Other episodes feature train trips.
I dare you to not be charmed by the Norwegians sharing their beautiful country and enthusiasm for traditional crafts. As one knitter said if you are wearing mittens you can only give it a thumbs up.
If you knit (or crochet) and you are visiting Oslo for a day or more, then you have three great options for wool shopping. In Norway, if you see “strikke” on the shop window then it is probably a wool or yarn store as we know it in North America.
If you are cruising the Nordic countries and docking briefly in Oslo, there are two shops within walking distance of the port. The first, Strikkedilla (translated as Knitting Craze) is conveniently located in the Oslo City mall (a highrise next to the main train station). The mall includes a grocery store, so be sure to check out the aisle dedicated to nut butters! The knit shop is the smallest of the three and jam-packed with colorful fun projects children would like to wear.
The second shop is my favorite of the three, Husfliden. It is inside the department store Glasmagasinet at Stortorvet 9. I was a little befuddled at first by this idea of a department store; it was a bit more like a mall without walls. In the basement I found the yarn, buttons, traditional costumes, and many other beautiful textiles. It was a feast for the eyes and fingers. They also offered readymade Oleana sweaters. If you only have time to browse one store, make it Den Norske Husfliden.
If you are taking a day trip to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park, there is a yarn shop a stone’s throw from the metro station (Majorstuen) for the sculpture gardens. I did not spot Tjorven at Valkyriegata 17 right away, so I have included a photo. The clerks were friendly and the yarn lucious. They did not offer any patterns in English (they call them recipes). I realized too late that it would have been smart to look for some patterns on Ravelry before I went shopping. The store clerk showed me a website that has language choices including English. These are the same Norwegian inspired (modern, not traditional) patterns featured in Drops magazine.
There are also two readymade wool shops that offer beautiful, albeit expensive, sweaters and other wool garments. Dale of Norway at Tullins gate 5 offers more classical sweaters and made me want to go skiing. Oleana garments are inspired by traditional Norwegian design updated with a modern twist and a more colorful palette.
One challenge with yarn shopping in Norway is the patterns are almost all in Norwegian, of course. I bought a couple of patterns with yarn to make them, thinking that between Google Translate, friends who speak Norwegian and my knitting experience I could figure them out. Hah! Not yet. When I return to Norway I am taking some patterns that I want to make and then shopping for wool. All of these shops are perfect if you need a tool, or inspiration.
I visited these three shops in July 2013, and I have just checked and they are all still in business. I also used Linda Marveng’s blog post as my guide. She lists additional shops and I visited a few others; however, I am including my favorites here. Linda Marveng is also enthused about Norway Designs, just know that there is nothing knitting related in the shop.
Norway can be one of the most expensive countries to visit in Europe, so I was very pleased to find wool prices a comparative bargain. Shops are both plentiful and the ones mentioned here carry a good variety of quality yarn. It is good to be in a country where a lot of people still knit. There were some awesome patterns, if I only spoke Norwegian.
Pulpit Rock was a real hiking challenge, for me. My son Tevis did not seem to work as hard to reach the top or to descend safely. It is also a mental challenge and I have lots of friends who would be terrified of the edge–especially given the 604 m drop (and no safety rails). When we saw pictures of Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock on Pinterest, all on a sunny day, we agreed it was one of the things we had to do when we visited Norway.
We left on the first ferry from Stavanger. There was only about 50 feet of flat before the climbing began so we were glad for the cool, foggy morning. We shared the trail with hundreds of European girl and boy scouts who were in Norway for a jamboree. It did not take long for this to become a “one step at a time” physical test for me. I found all of the languages, none of them English, oddly soothing as I focused on my ascent. Tevis waited for me at several points along the trail, always looking irritatingly fresh.
The last 100 meters was the hardest. I was so relieved to get to the top and see Tevis waving from the distance. I did not find the edge particularly intimidating; it might have been different on a clear day. We ate our picnic lunch and recovered from the exertion. We agreed that even with the view-robbing fog the effort was worth it.
I did not think I was concerned about the edge at the time, but notice how I am leaning away from the edge and into my son Tevis! I kept remember the stories of people who hiked to the top with their dogs and then stupidly tossing the ball and watching in horror as their dog chased it over the edge. Preikestolen legend or true story? I do not know, I just know that I breathed a little easier for children and dogs as we hiked away from the edge.
Descending was just as challenging, mainly due to the crowds ascending and my overall weariness. It took me 2 hours to hike up and another 2 hours to hike down to the Visitor’s Center.
When I saw the Where’s My Backpack “Travel Theme: Edge“. I immediately thought of Pulpit Rock.