I have had a keen interest with Norway for quite some time now. I think it started when I worked at Concordia Language Villages and was introduced to the Norwegian camp called Skogfjorden. I worked at the Japanese camp, but one year, we had a girl who worked with us who also had worked at the Norwegian camp. The first time I ever heard the Norwegian language was when she read me the Norwegian version of the famous book “Everybody Poops.” It was such a memorable moment for me.
The name Norway as we know it in English comes from the Old English name for it: Nor∂rveg(r), which roughly meant “northern way.” The Norse have two names for their country: Noreg in Nynorsk, and Norge in Bokmål. (I’ll explain the difference in a minute. Keep reading.) It was eventually Latinized as Northuagia, Northwegia, Norwegia, Nortmannus, Norwei, Norwey, and finally Norway.
Norway is located in northern Europe and considered part of the Scandinavian countries. Its western shore touches the Norwegian Sea, which is just east of the North Atlantic Ocean and north of the North Sea (that’s really north!). Just across the Skagerrak Strait on Norway’s southern coast is the country of Denmark. And much of its eastern border is shared with Sweden. However, in the far north, Norway wraps around the northern end of this region and borders Finland and Russia. Norway also includes the islands known as Svalbard (almost due north in the Barents Sea), the smaller island Jan Mayen (in the Norwegian Sea between Norway and Greenland), and the island of Bouvet (in the South Atlantic Ocean north of Antarctica). The Swedish border is lined with the Scandinavian Mountains while the western coast is carved out with fjords and coastal ravines. There are areas that experience permafrost all year round (not a place for me), but the southern portions of the country enjoy some decent dry and moderately warm summers. Norway is a haven for many animals that thrive in the northern climes.
The earliest artifacts of life in Norway were found along the coast. As the cultures and civilizations grew and developed better weapons and tools, they also began to trade (and start fights). Much of their subsistence was tied to fishing and the sea and some agriculture. Starting in the 8th century, the Vikings became the big thing. The Vikings were seafarers who also explored and traded, often with force. In 872, Harold Fairhair (according to tradition) was the one who united Norway and ruled as its first king. From about the 10th century, the Norse philosophies began to give way to Christian ones. During the mid-1300s, the Black Death killed off more than half of the population. Denmark, Sweden (which also included parts of Finland at that point), and Norway entered a union called the Kolmar Union. A little over a hundred years later, Sweden left. Norway and Denmark actually remained together until 1814. Protestantism was introduced during the mid-1500s. Norway was hit with several famines between the end of the 1600s and 1800. The country decided to declare its own independence in 1814 and named Christian Frederick as its first king. This was a period of nationalism that followed this, which was when many of their cultural arts started to expand. During WWI, Norway tried to remain neutral, but Britain picked them for their team. They tried to remain neutral again in WWII, but Germany invaded and picked first. Norwegian forces pushed the Germans back and became allies with the UK and US. Oil was discovered in 1969. During the 1980s and 1990s, Norway’s economy grew through a series of reforms set by conservative policies, and all of their foreign debt was paid off. There were a couple of terrorist attacks in 2011 and I remember watching it on TV. It was done by some crazy dude that looks like the character Silas from The Da Vinci Code (Silas’ picture pulls up if you go to Google Images and search for “guy from Da Vinci Code.”)
The capital of Norway is Oslo, located on the southern coast along the Oslofjord. This city of about a million people (according to estimated 2017 stats) was first settled around the year 1000. However, it wasn’t established as the capital city until 1299. Today, Oslo is a major world city and serves as a center for commerce, government, education, and the arts. Several museums, galleries, and theatres are found throughout this compact city. Not surprising, but winter sports are quite popular in Norway, and there are several venues for skiing, ice hockey, but also for football/soccer.
Norway is the second richest country in Europe. It consistently ranked toward the top of lists of stable, high-functioning countries. Using a combination of capitalism and social democracy, Norwegians enjoy a high quality of life. Public healthcare is free (for the most part), and there are no tuition fees to study at the university level, even for international students (for the most part). Parents even have 46 weeks of paid parental leave (which is about 46 more weeks than the US offers), and the country generally has a low unemployment rate. However, the cost of living is very expensive in Norway (Norway has some of the highest gas prices in the world at over USD$9!), even though there are many corporate headquarters in Norway, and it has a number of natural resources and natural gas.
The Church of Norway used to be the official religion, and the constitution still requires that the king adhere to Lutheranism. Many people are still “affiliated” with a church for its basic rites, but by 2010, those who attend on a regular weekly basis have dropped to an estimated 2%. Roman Catholicism is the second most followed denomination and a number of other denominations are found here as well. As Norway became more diverse in its population, other Eastern religions have also been represented here. Norse Paganism, and that especially of the Viking Age, flourished before the introduction of Christianity. It was forbidden in many areas, but it remained alive in some of its traditions, celebrations, names of people, and names of days of the week.
Norway has two official languages: Norwegian and Sami. And when it comes to Norwegian, there are two versions: Bokmål and Nynorsk. While both are used in education, government, churches, and the media, the vast majority of the people write in Bokmål rather than Nynorsk (which are both only used for written Norwegian). And many people speak a different dialect that differs quite a bit from the written form. Norwegian is quite similar to Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic, and all of these are generally mutually intelligible. Many Norwegians study English as a second language, but some choose French, German, or Spanish instead.
The US state of Minnesota has the largest population of Norwegians outside of Norway. I learned about this when I used to work there during my summers. Many of their traditions and names trace back to their Norwegian roots. You’ll also find a ton of Lutheran churches up there, too. Norwegians have also had their hand at exploring and relocating to other areas too, like Greenland and Dublin, Ireland. The country has certainly contributed to the world of literature, art, music, and politics. I’m pretty excited to learn about some of famous composers, authors, and artists I didn’t realize were Norwegian.
Up next: art and literature