Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hinc illæ lacrimæ...

Hence those tears...

J. Singer Sargent: The Black Brook (1908)
The semester is over. The school begins again in the first week of January with new faces. I have been here in Norway for 5 months now and I have to say I wouldn't have learnt much more than this even if I have made a trip around the world for those 5 months.
I have learnt that in the smaller places in Latvia they don't use house numbers (something I still cannot believe). I have learnt that in Mexico, on the Day of the Dead people make a crazy party with a lot of food (a special bread) and drink for their dead relatives. I have learnt that the national sport in Lithuania is basketball.
And I have learnt sooo much more about myself and people in general!
I'd like to say goodbye from this amazing, memorable semester, these amazing people I got to know in Norway and last but not least, this fantastic year... with two Scandinavian songs!

The first one is a well-known Norwegian folk melody that is sung in Swedish (by for example Agnetha Fältskog!) and in Danish, too!

Hvem kan seile foruten vind
Hvem kan ro uten årer
Hvem kan skilles fra vennen sin
Uten å felle tårer

Jeg kan seile foruten vind
Jeg kan ro uten årer
Men ei skilles fra vennen min
Uten å felle tårer...

And in English (from this page):

Who can sail without the wind
Who without oars can row
Who can leave a best friend behind
Without tears falling as you go

I can sail without the wind
Without oars I can row
But I cannot leave a best friend behind
Without tears falling as I go...

And... it might be as cheesy as it gets... but only because Nyttårsaften (New Year's Eve) is coming soon... and we just have mentioned the gorgeous Agnetha Fältskog... and this song is the non plus ultra of all New Year-songs in Scandinavia...

Thank you, guys! Godt nyttår! Happy new year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

God Jul!

I know it's has been a couple of days since the forth Sunday and even Christmas Eve is over. But borte bra, hjemme best (home, sweet home, literally 'everywhere is good but it's best at home'), I flew back to Hungary for a few days and didn't have the opportunity to post the forth verse (after the first, second and third) of Inger Hagerup's Adventslysene ('Advent lights'; one of the most known Advent poems of the Norwegian literature).

Vi tenner fire lys i kveld
og lar dem brenne ned
for lengsel, glede, håp og fred,
men mest allikevel
for fred på denne lille jord
der menneskene bor.

We light four candles tonight
and let them burn down entirely
for longing, happiness, hope and peace
but most importantly for peace
for peace on this little Earth
where we, people are living.

I was writing mainly about holiday food and some other little pieces of information concerning Christmas but there are so many other things I could have told you about this wonderful time of the year... about carpenters called Andersen... about mice celebrating Christmas... I guess it will all remain for next year. I want to post though one last song that is very popular with children in Norway.

The cover of the first edition of Margrethe Munthe's book with the Christmas song På låven sitter nissen
The protagnist is the julenisse (this is how they call Santa Claus in Norway) who doesn't want to share his julegrøt (rice pudding served with raisins, sugar and cinnamon - a very popular Advent lunch or dessert with Norwegians) with the mice dancing around him.

I wish us all - just like Inger Hagerup - a merry Christmas with longing, happiness, hope and peace... God Jul til alle!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Julemat - Christmas food in Norway 2.

The reason why I love Christmas cakes is that very often there is a whole story behind them. Let's take for example Germany's Stollen. It's a very rich sweet bread filled with different nuts, dried and candied fruits and marsipan, covered with the mix of butter and powdered sugar. In the old days, when people started to make this kind of cake, the rules of religious fastening were much more respected than today. During the Advent time, it was prohibited to eat anything of animal origin, eventhough Stollen tasted much better with the butter on top. According to the legends, Germans had sent a commitee to the pope with a little sample of Stollen - with and without the buttery frosting. After the pope had tried both and constated that the cake tasted much better with butter on top, the Germans had got a permission to make and consume Stollen with butter and sugar on top even during the Advent period.
Well, I doubt that I can tell something like that about all the numerous Norwegian Christmas cakes and cookies, but after last time's Christmas Eve dinner review, I decided to dedicate another entry to Christmas baking.
Let's start with the one that is (in my opinion) maybe the most remarkable. It is called kransekake, meaning 'wreath cake':

They usually consider this cake as something traditional Norwegian but the Danish had a very similar recipe already before their Northern neighbours (the Danes often form a horn out of the rings that they fill with candy - it's called overflødighedshorn in Danish, meaning the Horn of Plenty). The kransekake is not only a Christmas cake - they make it for numerous important occasions: weddings, birthdays, May 17 (the national day of Norway)... As you can probably see, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a cake like this. Traditionally it has 18 rings (this is supposed to bring luck for the bride and the groom on their wedding day) and you have to bake and decorate each ring separately. Then you want to add some ornaments like flags, flowers, candy... If you don't have the time to make it, you can also buy it deepfrozen.

According to the tradition, if Norwegians want to be well-prepared for Christmas, they need to bake not less than seven different småkaker (cookies; literally 'small cakes'). What's more, the proportions are strictly set, too. One third of the baked goods should be iron-baked, one third oven-baked and one third deepfried.

How can something be iron-baked? For the preparation of the goro they use a utensile called gorojern ('goro iron') that will give this crispy cake really nice patterns. The cake man called kakemann is a delicious cake with a hint of cardamom. The decoration is optional, however, it's common to make an icing of chocolat or edible red paint. Also krumkaker is an iron-baked dessert - you use a krumkakejern ('krumkake iron') to give it patterns and then shape it into cones while it is still warm. You can have it either plain or with whipped cream or other fillings. The sandkaker are another type of cake that (in my opinion) is craving for filling, however, they often just enjoy them plain. You need special molds that look like little baskets to give the almond-based dough this special shape.

From left to right: goro, kakemann, krumkaker, sandkaker.
I don't know the actual connection between the berlinerkrans and the German capital, but the berlinerkrans (literally: Berlin wreath) is certainly not the same thing as the Berliner (which is a jam-filled doughnut). It's quite a work to make it (due to its tricky form), but the end result is worth the struggle: many consider this as the best Christmas cookie. The smultringer is more like a doughnut (which for me is rather a Carnival food). For me, honestly, these 'fat rings' (they are baked in fat) are really nothing special. The fattigmann is (according to its name at least) a poor man's cake. I think though that a cake that has brandy and cream in it, and then cooked in fat is everything but poor! The sirupsnipper is a molasses cake that has a whole range of spices and smells so much like Christmas!

From left to right: berlinerkrans, smultringer, fattigmann, sirupsnipper.
Last but not least there is the pepperkake (ginger bread) which has an extra importance in Bergen. The second largest town in Norway has a tradition started in 1991: the children in local schools and kindergartens make gingerbread houses, churches etc. that are put together to a huge ginger bread town. The pepperkakeby of Bergen is the biggest and (according to them at least) nicest ginger bread city of the world. 

Well, the next step would be to pick seven of the småkaker mentioned above and prepare them... or just buy them hjemmelaget (home made) on a julemarked (Christmas market) that can be found everywhere in the December weekends in Norway. 

Anyways, no matter how many types of cakes you make, I wish you a beautiful preparation time for Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tredje søndag i advent (Third Sunday of Advent)

Today is a special day in many Norwegian schools and kindergartens: 13th December is the day of Sicilian martyr St. Lucy. Even though saints play by far not an as big role in the Protestant Church as in the Catholic one, the tradition of St. Lucy's day is very vivid in Scandinavia, mainly in Sweden but also in Denmark and Norway!

St. Lucia
We got visit in the morning from a kindergarten. The children formed a luciatog (literally 'Lucia train': they were standing in a row holding each other's hand) and sung the song Sankta Lucia (you can listen to it here). This was originally a Southern Italian folk song (among others, Elvis Presley sings it in Italian) that has been translated into Norwegian. One girl has been chosen to be Lucia - she wore a wreath made out of lights on her head while the others followed her holding candles. It was charming! After the song had been finished, they gave away cakes called lussekatter. It is an S-formed bun made of yeast dough that has a very typical yellow colour because the most important ingredient is safran. (However, since safran is one of the world's most expensive spices, it's common to replace it with turmeric. I doubt that the kindergarten children gave away the safran version but it was delicious with turmeric as well.)

There are many superstitious traditions in the world concerning 13th December. In Hungary, if you build a three legged chair out of wood and you step on it at midnight, you can see the whitches. In Mexico (I have just heard about it lately) it is forbidden to sew on this day.

Even if this holiday has nothing to do with Christmas, it is a quite important day in the Advent time in Scandinavia. Now that the third candle has also been lit on the Advent wreath, we can read what says one of the best-known Norwegian Advent poem written by Inger Hagerup (you can also read the first and the second Sunday's stanza on my blog).

Så tenner vi tre lys i kveld
for lengsel, håp og glede.
De står og skinner for seg selv
og oss som er tilstede.
Så tenner vi tre lys i kveld,
for lengsel, håp og glede.

We light three candles tonight
We light them for longing, hope and happiness
They stand there and light for themselves
and for us who are there
We light three candles tonight
We light them for longing, hope and happiness...

Luciafeiring - Celebration of St. Lucy's day

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Julemat - Christmas food in Norway 1.

I think I would have been able to write about this topic even a month ago... It's been a couple of weeks now since grocery stores turned into some kind of Christmas food providers. The øl (beer) has become juleøl (Christmas beer), the skinke (ham) has turned into juleskinke (Christmas ham) and even marsipan has got the shape of a pig and the name julegris (Christmas pig - a pig-shaped marsipan dessert. Why exactly pig? I don't know, maybe because pork is the No.1 Christmas food in Norway). Not to mention the myriad of Christmas cakes available in the shops...

Christmas food can depend on where actually you live in Norway. However, the most common dish for Christmas is svineribbe (pork ribs) with crispy skin on top. It has been scandalous with pork this year - in many stores they were selling it for a ridiculously low price to attract customers which led to a shortage on this kind of meat and to the fact that importation is needed to provide the Christmas dinner of Norwegians.
But ok, let's say we've managed to get some in the shop. How to prepare it? Take a look at this video where Ingrid Espelid Hovig (I wrote about her earlier here) reveals the secret of a delicious svineribbe... I think it's worth taking a look at the video even if you don't know any Norwegian - the end result gir vann i munnen (makes mouth water)...

Pinnekjøtt (literally means 'meat on the stick') is the name for dried and smoked ribs of lamb which is also a very common Christmas dinner in many families. Served with potatoes, mashed cauliflower and sometimes Brussel sprouts, it's considered to be a poor man's food.

The dried leg of lamb is called fenelår. You can buy it "ready-cut" but since that's way too expensive, most people buy the whole leg. It's really delicious and tastes very "lamby". People eat it as a snack. This is what it looks like:

Another essential part of many Christmas dinners in Norway is the so called medisterpølse which is a white sausage made of pork. You can also buy the medisterkake which has the form of a meat ball.

Surprisingly, those eating fish on the 24th are a minority in Norway. The Christmas fish is mainly torsk (cod) that they cook until it gets a jelly consistency. This jelly fish (not jellyfish ha ha ha) is called lutefisk. One of my acquintances (a lady who comes from the very North of Norway but currently lives in Kristiansand) was complaining that people in Southern Norway are unable to make good lutefisk but it's so delicious in the Northern part of the country...! Well, apart from her, noone has told me anything good about the lutefisk yet. I guess I will have to make up my own mind about it.

And sist men ikke minst (last but not least): since eating kalkun (turkey) on Christmas Eve is traditional in quite a few countries, there are families who have roasted turkey on their table.

Just a personal remark in the end. Growing up in a family where we always had mushroon soup and bread pudding with poppy seed for Christmas, it's interesting for me to see that the majority of people in Norway have meat on the menu. You can eat pretty much anything here: pork, lamb, turkey, fish... except maybe chicken and beef.

Which one of the dishes above would you want to try? :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Andre søndag i advent (Second Sunday of Advent)

The snow-covered mountains, the Schwibbogen (German candle archs very popular in Norway) and Julenisse (the Scandinavian equivalent of Santa Claus who is, unlike the bishop St. Nicholas (by the way, it's his day today!), is a family man with wife and children) in the windows... Norway is a Winter Wonderland!
However, not only Norwegians can admire the beautiful trees of the Norwegian forests in their city centres but also people of London. Every year Oslo sends a huge evergreen to the largest city of Europe. It's a tradition that started in 1947 and expresses the gratitude of the Norwegian nation for the support of the British during World War II when the circumstances forced the king (King Haakon VII, the grandfather of the present king of Norway Harald V), the royal family and the Norwegian government to exile from Oslo to London. This is what Trafalgar Square looks like in Advent time:

London, 2010

Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland is another lucky city that has been given a Norwegian Christmas tree as a present every year since 1952.
We lit also the second candle on the Advent wreath, so let's see what the poem of Inger Hagerup says after the first candle.

Så tenner vi to lys i kveld,
to lys for håp og glede.
De står og skinner for seg selv
og oss som er tilstede.
Så tenner vi to lys i kveld,
to lys for håp og glede.

We light two candles tonight
We light them for hope and happiness
They stand there and light for themselves
and for us who are there
We light two candles tonight
We light them for hope and happiness...

Two more stanzas to come.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advenio advenire adveni adventum [verb, lat.] - to arrive [eng.]

I think there are Christmas-nations and there are Easter-nations and the base of this statement is purely geographic. Let me explain. I think nothing can be compared to celebrating Christmas in a place where everything is dark, the snow reaches till our knees, people are wearing their warmest søndagstøy (Sunday clothes) and Christmas carol can be heard everywhere... No wonder that many people think that the world's most beautiful Christmas is in the Erzgebirge in Germany (which is also the place of origin of the tradition of the Christmas tree).
On the other hand celebrating Easter in a warmer place where the beautiful spring nature is already colourful and full of life, flowers are slowly opening up... I think it adds to message of Easter.

Ok, in one word: I am in Norway (which I think is a definite Christmas place) and Advent is here! The city lights have been turned on and the juletre (Christmas tree) of Kristiansand is also standing on the main square.

The main square of Kristiansand with our little Christmas market and a beautiful tree from the forests of Norway

The adventskrans (Advent wreath) is very important in Norway, regardless of whether people go to church or not. Purple (as the colour of confession) is a very common colour for the candles also in Norway. The most known Advent poem is without any doubt Adventslysene (Advent lights) written by poet Inger Hagerup that you can often hear on the TV, in schools etc... Each Sunday has its own stanza, this is the one for the first light. (Since I haven't found the English translation, I will try to to it myself.)

Så tenner vi et lys i kveld
vi tenner det for glede.
Det står og skinner for seg selv
og oss som er tilstede.
Så tenner vi et lys i kveld,
vi tenner det for glede.

We light a candle tonight
We light it for the happiness
It stands there and lights for itself
and for us who are there
We light a candle tonight
We light it for the happiness...

Inger Hagerup
To be continued...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Second thoughts about shopping

In my very first entry I was writing about how much I love going to supermarkets in a foreign country. I'm not telling I'm an expert but I think in the three and a half months I've spent in Norway I have got quite an overview about this and that concerning grocery stores. I don't know how to categorize this article, it's going to be a bit about my impressions of Norwegian eating habits, a bit about the Norwegian selection and a bit about my personal taste. Interested? Put your ten-crown-coin into the shopping cart and let's get started! ;)

P. Cézanne: Pain et œufs (Bread and Eggs, 1866)
Bread. I have to say there is a lot of bread being consumed here. Norwegians often start their day with some bread in the morning (or frukostblanding - breakfast mix of cereals or müsli) and continue with self-prepared sandwiches (tipically dark bread with slices of cheese) at around 12. The fact that they get up earlier and prepare their own lunch is a Norwegian phenomenon par excellence, is called matpakke ('lunch box', literally 'food package') and EVERYONE does it. The most popular bread among Norwegians is the so-called grovbrød (rough bread). It is a bit darker loaf, often with mixed seeds on top. You also can get the white, French-type bread that they call løff and of course the knekkebrød (thin, crispy bread). The ultimate knekkebrød-brand is without any doubt Swedish Wasa (the name stands for the Swedish ship built in the 17th century). The traditional Norwegian flat bread is called lefse. They sell it dry so you have to pour water on it and then let it rest for some time before you can put sugar and cinnamon on top (or anything you want) and make it into a roll.
After a decent matpakke lunch Norwegians rush home in the afternoon and have an early dinner around 5 pm which is often spaghetti bolognese or a deepfrozen pizza. If not ten people had told me that Grandiosa is Norway's favourite pizza, then noone. Grandiosa has a brown-haired uncle from Napoli called pizza italiana. They are really far relatives... Not to be mean or anything, all I want to say is that it's not going to be the pizza of your life but since Grandiosa is so big in Norway, it's worth giving it a try.

Fruits & Vegetables. For some reason I always thought markets doesn't exist above a certain circle of latitude and I also counted Norway into that area. However, Kristiansand has a little market on the main square that sells among others at least five types of potatoes, purple and romanesco broccoli - a thing I've never even heard about before. I did not have high expectations concerning fruits and vegetables in Norway but I never had a problem with finding what I needed. And the fact that a big percentage of fruits and especially vegetables was actually grown in Norway is pretty impressive - we are talking about a land that has an arable land of about 3% of its total area.

Frida Kahlo - Viva la Vida (1954)
Milk products. Tine is the name of the biggest Norwegian company specialized in dairies. Some of their products: 1. Milk that they promote with the modest slogan Kanskje verdens fineste melk (Maybe the world's best milk). Well, maybe. Anyway, I love the fact that you can buy here milk in 1.5 liter cartons. 2. Cheese (ost) in every possible colour (hvitost: white cheese; gulost: yellow cheese; brunost: brown cheese). Brown cheese is a Scandinavian specialty, a product that Norwegians miss when they go abroad - some sugar is added to the cheese in the process of making which gives it a slightly caramelish taste. You can decide yourself whether this is good or not in case of cheese... I'm not sure. You can also find it under the name Gudbrandsdalost - Gudbrandsdalen (Gudbrand valley) is the area in the North of Oslo. 3. Piano: you can find under this name a big variety of ready made puddings and other desserts of jelly consistency. This is not my cup of tea either but it seems to be popular served with vanilla sauce. 4. Biola: sour milk (plain or with different fruits) that is supposed to be super healthy!

Chocolate & Snacks. It's worse than a crime - it's a mistake... if you don't try Norwegian chocolate! Of course the end of the phrase after the three points doesn't belong to the famous quote of Foucher, it was added by me but there is one thing I warmly recommend - try the Norwegian milk chocolate if you can... it's really delicious (more about the topic is coming up!). The love for liquorice might not be that surprising (it's like that in the entire Scandinavia) - it is called 'Turkish pepper' here (tyrkisk pepper) and they usually have it salty and strong. You can also buy chocolate with sweet liquorice. This is not as big though as in Iceland (they are the proud inventors of this great mix) where every second chocolate plate or candy bar has liquorice in it. I don't really want to write about chips since it's quite universal but it might be interesting that they have their own brands (for example Maarud or Sørlandschips from Kristiansand) and often don't sell anything but those.

In every shop there is a candy bar where you pay per kilo. Candy is called godteri or smågodt in Norwegian.
Before I finish it for today, I want to share with you a little video that has been a hit for a while now on the Norwegian television. Tine (you know, the milk company) has made 4 nice TV-commercials. Variations on a theme: Why is important to have sufficiently calcium? Check out one of them and pay good attention to the music! ;)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tatt av kvinnen

First of all, I apologize from Norwegian author Erlend Loe - this entry is not going to be about him. However, the title of his 1993 book Tatt av kvinnen gave me the idea to create this entry. Tatt av kninnen means literally Taken by women, it has been though translated into English with the title Gone with the Women (Tatt av kvinnen rhymes perfectly with Tatt av vinden which is the Norwegian title of Margareth Mitchell's Gone with the Wind). After my little fashion palmares not so long ago I have got completely hooked on this idea of creating lists and I was thinking why not to create an interesting little something with some women who mean a lot to the Norwegian nation. I tried to establish an interesting list by choosing women with very different professions.
Just some thoughts before we start: this is absolutely no ranking and the list is not exclusive at all, these are just the ladies from whom I've heard first since I came here. And one more thing: I omit royalties with intention. (It's not their turn...yet!)

A. Modigliani: Portait of a Girl (1917-18)

Grete Waitz
Let's start with an athlete. Grete Waitz, also known as the Norwegian queen of running was the winner og the 1983 world championship of marathon running (among numerous other great results). Diagnosed with cancer in 2005, Waitz is very engaged in the fight against cancer as one of the founders of organization Aktiv mot Kreft. There is an Adidas collection available inspired by her. Some of her advice (taken from this video) before you buy new running shoes: it's best to change your shoes after 100-150 Norwegian miles (approximately 1000-1500 km) and don't be afraid to put your shoes into the washing mashine on a light program in case they start smelling a bit after some hardcore workout on the treadmill!

Grete Waitz (

Rosemarie Køhn
The first time I've met her name was actually in a book about how to bake bread where she was talking about her Easter bread recipe. Eventhough she was not born in Norway, being the first female Lutheran bishop in Norway (for 13 years, between 1993 and 2006) and the second one in the whole world, she is and important woman in Norway. She is also the author of theological books and a Hebrew grammar (that she taught at the university in her younger years).

Rosemarie Køhn (

Ingrid Espelid Hovig
Every country has a doyen in certain things. You know, the 'ultimate'. If you ask a Hungarian about the doyen of music instruction, the answer will probably be Zoltán Kodály (his method is still used from the UK til Japan). If you ask a Romanian who the doyen of gymnastics is, they will most likely say Nadia Comaneci (she got the first perfect score on the 1976 Olympics in Montréal in the history of gymnastics).Well, if you ask a Norwegian who is the doyen of food and cooking in Norway, the one and only right answer is: Ingrid Espelid Hovig! This charming 80-year-old lady used to work for NRK, the Norwegian broadcasting corporation as the chef of Fjernsynskjøkkenet (TV-kitchen) and I bet almost every Norwegian family has at least one cookbook from her at home. Her latest book Livretter (Lifesavers) is a cooperation with Eyvind Hellstrøm, the leading chef in the only restaurant in Norway (Bagatelle) that actually has two Michelin stars!

Ingrid Espelid Hovig (

Mari Boine
Putting an artist on the list is maybe not fair since there are a lot of female artists in Norway but I chose Mari Boine because she is the most famous Norwegian singer who sings in Sami. You might know that Norway has a Sami population that speaks Sami - an official language in the country that is not related to Norwegian. Mari Boine is the proud owner of the Nordisk Råds Musikkpris that is one of the most prominent prizes a musician can get in Norway. And just to close it down with something different: Boine is at the moment the artist with the highest income in the country... ;)

Mari Boine (

Siri Tollerød
22-year-old stunning beauty, Norway's most known supermodel. Born and discovered in Kristiansand, Tollerød resides at the moment in New York. This young lady has everything that the fashion industry requires at the moment: a great thinness, a tall forehead, a relatively big distance between her eyes and the capacity to make amazing editorial shots! And the best: she was photographed for a campain of the Environmental Justice Foundation in order to draw people's attention of the horrible fact of child labour on cotton fields. If you are curious to see how comes that Siri is so lucky with her genes, check out this video of her and mother Aase!

Siri Tollerød

I had a great fun writing this entry. I hope you have also enjoyed 'being taken by women'... And since we started from Erlend Loe, I can't wait till being able to read something from his oeuvre. From what I've heard, he is hilarious!
But now... I am off to read Ole Brumm (Winnie the Pooh). This is what I can.

At the moment... :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Schola ludens & Co.

It turned out during a smalltalk with my Chinese mate that school in China starts every day at 7 and lasts till 5. I was petrified to hear this but I didn't have to wait much for the next schock. What's more, there are often classes of 50-60 students in Chinese schools. Of course I had a clue about the size of the Chinese population, but for some reason it never came into my mind how hard it must be to arrange the education of this many people. When a teacher is together with sixty 13-year-olds in one room who started their day at 7 and it's already 5, I can't imagine how things like this do not happen:


Anyway, this interesting little piece of information gave me the idea to write a little about schools in Norway. I think it's worth starting with the kindergarten since I'm sure the Norwegian barnehage shows some major differences compared to the kindergartens in many other countries. The respect of nature is crucial in Norway and you can never start it early enough - there are kindergartens (or at least I've heard about one) that misses one wall in the room where the children are sleeping after lunch. This way they have a better access to fresh air. But this is by far not the most hardcore thing. There are kindergartens (they call them naturbarnehage) that don't have buildings at all. There might be a little shelter with some chairs in it but children are outside during the whole year, regardless of the weather. Being in the nature is a very essential part in the education in Norway. I can't count on my fingers how many groups of little guys I have seen eating their sandwich and drinking chocolate milk while I was walking or jogging in the forest close to my place. I can't help but smile when I see the two kindergarten teachers, one in front, the other one at the back holding a long rope and the children on the two sides of the rope, holding it.

Porcelaine figurine made after the drawing of M. I. Hummel

Approximately at the age of 6, kids start elementary school (grunnskole). It is obligatory and divided into two parts: barneskole (the first 7 years) and ungdomsskole (the last 3 years). Children are evaluated with notes only from the 8th year on (6 is the best, 1 is the worst). Nature plays an important role here, as well - they go out regularly and have 'open-air' classes. Again - this is not something they do when the weather allows it, they do it regularly. They also have a thing called skolefritidsordning (SFO). This is not free (in fact, it's quite pricy...), but these are organised spare time activities where children can play, do their homeworks etc. The most important thing in Norwegian schools is that children feel safe and comfortable. The no. 1 purpose is not learning information by heart. School has become more like a compass that helps children to use the numerous sources of information that is available these days.
Practice is treasured more than theory. I think it's really cool how many different practical things are taught for kids here. You can for example learn how to make a haircut or how to cook a dinner (my husband who spent two years in an Oslo elementary school in his younger years, still mentiones once in a while the great moussaka they made in cooking class :)

After 10 years of grunnskole, they can go to high school that is called videregående skole (or vgs). It's not obligatory, however, the biggest percentage of kids do finish it. Here you have to make a choice. You can either choose practical sudies (if you want to be a carpenter, hair stylist or so, in this case you have generally 2 years theory and 2 years of practice), or you can go for the theoretical studies which prepares you for your further studies. This takes 3 years and in the end, you get the so called studiekompetanse (I guess it is some kind of a high school diploma) with which you have the right to enter a college or a university. After kids finish vgs, there is an event called Russ in the first half of May. It's a long celebration where students wear special Russ cloths and organise all kinds of crazy programs. I've never seen in myself but I can't wait till May to see it with my own eyes and be able to write about it more!

The marks at the colleges and universities are similar to the American way. Students are evaluated with letters where A is the best and D is still pass while E and F are not satisfactory.

Just to close down this chapter, if you are curious to see a Norwegian university, I am posting a short video about the University of Agder (where i am studying currently) made for a video competition for students. Oh yes, and one more thing: I am everything but high profile but you might see me in the video for a short while sitting in the school canteen in the beautiful green lopi (Icelandic knitwear) handmade by my mother-in-law. :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

A majestic announcement

It's just going to be a short one.

Finally it happened. I've already expected it, but maybe not this early. 8th November 2010, Kristiansand, Norway: it has been snowing the whole day, the first real, white snow.

A new record has also been set: I have never seen so many ladies wearing this type of boots of Danish designer Ilse Jacobsen on one single day:

And the reason (or at least two of them) why I love Norwegians: it has just started to snow but I have already seen a boy carrying a snowboard (!) and a girl going to school... on quad (!!!).

Even if one swallow does not a make a summer - welcome to Norway, General Winter!

G. Arcimboldo: L'inverno - Winter (1573)

Friday, November 5, 2010

The tomato soup that is worth a little Michelin star...

What can you eat in an average Norwegian university canteen? To tell the truth, I don't know. But what can you eat in a Norwegian canteen that happens to be the country's best? Well, this is something I know. Follow me on my tour in the kantina of the University of Agder in Kristiansand which is (according to the polls) the best student eatery in Norway! :)

Andy Warhol's canned tomato soup from 1964.
The Kristiansand canteen is not just a restaurant - it's a café, a shop and a last but not least, a place to be at the same time. There is always something going on, if no guitarrist guy is playing and singing in front of the eating spectators (like a couple of weeks ago), then there are smoothie samples given away or you can vote for the student parliament and get some vafler (waffles) in return (for some reason, Norwegians are obsessed with waffles that are usually served with chocolate or strawberry sauce).

The canteen has a small shop that makes me feel all the time being at a gas station. It sells milk products, different pålegg (everything that you can put on top of a slice of bread), delicious ice cream from the brand Hennig-Olsen (Norway's favourite ice cream factory that dates back to 1924), chocolate bars (for about 150% of the supermarket price) and newspapers. The shop has a little soup bar as well, where you can choose among 3 types of creamy soup every day. This is actually where I eat most of the times and the decent taste is just one of the reasons. Hungarians eating soup as a starter every single day of the year, once in a while I just get a craving for it. The best soup I've had here is without any doubt their Mexican tomato soup.

But let's leave now Méjico and move up to the North - at the next window (Stekeri) you can get some nice juicy American food like cheese or bacon burger or fried chicken with French fries that you can take away in paper boxes. At the beginning it was weird for me to see this kind of food at the university, since fast food is practically taboo in Hungarian schools. There is no doubt about the fact though that Ronald McDonald can come very handy if you need some instant blood sugar raise between two classes...

Yes, you can buy hot dog here, too. They call it pølse. (The photography of Robert Frank, 1958)
You can usually choose between two or three warm dishes at the Varmeri. If you prefer cold, there are nice sandwiches and pastry at the Kjøleri, Smøreri and Bakeri. The most unique sandwich I've tried is the one with shrimps - white bread with raw shrimps (you can buy raw shrimps in the supermarket, you have to remove the head and the hard shell yourself - it's not for the weak...), on top they put some mayonnaise and lemon slices. Being a hopeless sweet tooth, I will write more about pastry in Norway later on.

However, the most amazing part for me is the salad bar. I've never tried it myself since it's quite pricy but I decided to treat myself with a nice box of salad after my first exam. Just to mention the things that are not that common in a student canteen: Garbanzo beans, quinoa, brown rice, black and green olives, couscous, Indian red lentils, sundried tomatoes... and so much more! If you only want to snack something, last but not least, you have a café called Kaffegalleriet where you can enjoy beautiful viennoiseries, freshly made smoothies, soft ice cream and almost more types of coffee than in Italy...

This is what it's not like: Potato Eaters (1885) - an early van Gogh, no sunflowers, no bright yellows

All in all, this canteen makes me feel to be at a nice airport rather than in a school. The only difference is maybe that crowd actually feels good here. I love how you can meet people easily, how you can enjoy a warm meal or a steaming hot coffee while listening to the raindrops knocking on the huge windows or have a smoothie and a delicious ice cream while letting the sunshine in through them.

Anyways, for me, a real school restaurant is and always will be my elementary school's canteen in Hungary with the good old vinyl tablecloths, shouting canteen ladies and some unedible yet unforgettable dishes that have been connected to my childhood til the end of my life...

Vel bekomme. (Bon appétit.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

"What a strange power there is in clothing..."

I would like to start by making it clear: this is everything but a fashion blog. However, I don't deny having a great interest in fashion, clothes and accessories and being a girl, I can't help but love observing the selection of the different klessbutikker (clothes stores) and the style of (especially) girls and women in Norway. The quote in the title is the thought of Isaac Singer and our point here won't be to analyse the interesting relationship between clothing and society. No, it's going to be more down to earth. But the reason why I chose this phrase to be the title is simply that I really like it. I have got the idea to collect five of the most typical features in causa fashion I have noticed since I came here to Norway three months ago. Some of them will be rather autumnal, some on the other hand can appear all-year-round. I will try to be short and objective so that it will be readable also for men... :)

1.  Pearl ear clips. Everyone (literally everyone!) has these. Not only in white but in several other delicate shades as well and in numerous sizes. Many women tend to think that pearl earrings go exclusively with the little black dress but Norwegian ladies are not shy to wear them even with sporty outfits. 
  J. Vermeer: Girl With A Pearl Earring (17th century)

2. Knitwear. Knitwear is en vogue, and not just the traditional patterns of the great Norwegian knitting (strikking) but also fashion stores have a great selection of knitted dresses and pullovers. There are numerous Norwegian brands that have knitting as their main profile (e. g. Dale of Norway). The biggest adventage is without any doubt the warmth of a great pullover made of wool (ull). Against cold feet you can buy ullsokker (woolen socks) and even ullsko (woolen shoes). This is what a typical Norwegian Mariusgenser (Marius pullover, the picture says it all - it had its golden age in the 70s...) looks like:

It is charming and keeps warm, if it is raining though, which is quite often the case in Norway, you want to wear something waterproof above it. Check this out:
3. Rainproof clothing. There is not much to explain here. Three years ago it was raining for 80 days non stop in Bergen, you can't just afford to wait inside till the rain has gone... :) I have seen several shops in Kristiansand specialised in rainproof clothing and one of my first purchases in Norway was actually a pair of rainboots. As far as I have seen, the two most popular brands to wear on a rainy day are Helly Hansen and Bergans of Norway, both of them selling outdoor clothes and equipment and having a long tradition in Norway. They also have a special rain hat which looks like a fishing hat made from rainproof material. I've just learned recently that it is called sydvester. Eventhough Norwegians don't mind at all looking sporty, there is a great market for beautiful, feminine rainproof jackets and high heeled rubber boots, too.

Not everything is bad about rain... Breakfast at Tiffany's

4. Footwear. Some types of footwear that can be seen very often in Norway: jogging shoes as streetwear, overknee boots (it never can be too long!), UGGs (also for men!), sailor loafers, Chuck Taylors and shoes of this type:

5. Hair plaiting. Girls here often have the so called French braid hairstyle on the side. For me, this is so Norwegian! Absolutely adorable, hippie but elegant at the same time! And the best: they dare to wear it for the everydays, too!

So this was my fashion journey in the style of Norwegian ladies. I truly believe that a big percentage of girls in Norway have at least one element from our little Top 5 list above. I don't think Norwegians are that much of fashionistas but I do think they have taste and they managed to create a great balance between being stylish and being practical. I can't wait to see what do they wear in the biggest kuldegrader (minus degrees)! Because, as they keep telling: Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær! (There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What is going on in Norway in October?

Well, slowly but surely shops have started to sell pepperkake (ginger bread), julemarsipan (Christmas marzipan), kakemann (or Julemann; Christmas man made of dough with a red-coloured sugar hat) and other Christmas specialities, we gave a warm welcome to Ingvar Kamprad who has finally arrived all the way from Sweden (IKEA opened up its 6th store in the country in Kristiansand), the mornings are starting to get darker and colder, but apart from these, some other things happened in the last some days that are worth talking a little more about.

Last Sunday (24th October) we had a national charity campaign called TV-aksjon, organised by NRK which is the national broadcasting corporation in Norway. It has been organised every year since 1974, always in one of the last weekends in October. This is a day when every single door in Norway has been knocked on and people can donate money for a good purpose, this year they could support political refugees. There are numerous TV-programs on the state channel so that everyone is up-to-date about what is going on. Of course not only households participate but many organisations and the government itself and this year, the country donated the amazing sum of over 204 million crowns (approx. 35 million USD/25 million EUR/21 million GBP). This is actually the third biggest amount of money that they have managed to collect in the history of this campaign.

Anyways, it has been knocked on the doors not only last but this weekend, too... Eventhough the tradition of Halloween in Norway is very young, there are some 'trick or treat' kids out there and it's getting more and more popular to have parties at home. The Halloween parties a la norvégienne are quite close to what I have in mind about US Halloween parties – at least the one I attended had a lot of artificial blood and spider net all over, several salty and sweet pumpkin based dishes and spooky ghost story telling at midnight.
Growing up in Hungary I got used to the fact that 1st of November is a holiday (in the sense of the word that you don't go to work). Well, it's not like this in Norway. I guess All Saints (or as it's called here Allehelgensdag) is not that important in a traditionally Protestant (Lutheran) society where saints don't have an as big meaning as in the Catholic Church. So the first time in my life, I will go to school on a 1st November tomorrow. It feels quite a bit strange.

And last but not least... Yesterday a 23-year old Stavanger girl, this year's Norwegian Miss World contestant got chosen to be the 5th most beautiful woman of the world in China. Gratulerer, Mariann Birkedal. I hope that with the help of your beauty you can someday make this world a better place.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farger - Colours

I have always been interested in colours and what they represent and what they are used for in different cultures and languages. This short list of the colours in Norwegian gives a little taste of what exactly I mean.

Hvit (white)
Hvitløk (white onion): garlic. I don't really know the exact biological relationship between onion and garlic but I do think it is funny how certain languages bind together onion and garlic, for example Norwegian (onion: løk – garlic: hvitløk) or Hungarian (onion: hagyma – garlic: fokhagyma), while others don't (English; French: onion: oignon – garlic: ail; Spanish: onion: cebolla – garlic: ajo).
Hvitost (white cheese): semi soft cheese that is (despite the name) yellow... see gulost below.
Svart (black)
Svarteper (Black Peter): this is the way Norwegians call the card game Old Maid and this can be used to describe a person with a bad hygiene as well. I guess it is rather playful. I have also seen the expression Nysjerrigper meaning curious Peter. This is a sort of association for kids interested in the world and eager to know more about it
Svartalv: a demonic figure in the nordic mythology. This is actually everything I know about it at the moment but I am pretty sure I will write later on more about this and other mythological creatures like the trolls or the Huldra.
Svartsynt (black-minded): being a pessimist. Nice and simple!
Rød (red)
Rødlista (The Red List): Also Norway has its own red list where they enlist animals and plants that are endangered in the country. Some examples: otters, blue whales, bears, grey seals, wolves, narwhals...
Rødbete (red beet): beetroot. Sugar beet is called hvitbete (white beet).
And if someone doesn't have a red øre on him (ikke ha en rød øre på seg), it means he doesn't have a single penny. (Hundred øres make one Norwegian Crown (NOK). Today there are only 50-øre-coins in Norway. You practically dont get anything for 50 øre, Norwegians often dont understand why it even exists.)
Blå (blue)
blåmandag: a Monday when you dont work. I am not sure where this is coming from but you have the expression blue Monday (blauer Montag) also is the German language. It might have something to do with the fact that to be blue in German (blau sein) means to be drunk. Or with the fact that to be blue in English means to be sad... Isn't it interesting?
Gul (yellow)
gulost (yellow cheese): semi soft cheese. In the supermarket you often see both hvitost and gulost, to be honest I dont see any difference and Im not sure Norwegians do. My guess is that it is a question of where you live.
Den gule presse (the yellow press): I don't think I have to introduce this – yellow press means the tabloids. This expression also exists in English. However, more interesting is the fact that I've already seen for example prensa rosa in Spanish which also stands for tabloids but means pink press.
Grønn (green)
The expression på Guds grønne jord (on the green world of God) means something like in the entire world (said in a much more dramatic tone...:)

This was just a short selection, I hope the readers learning Norwegian managed to learn the name of the colours by the end of the article! Can you give me some similar examples in your mother tongue? ;)

N. B.: Oh yes, and one more thing: orange (the colour) is called oransje in Norwegian, although they don't use this name for the fruit (that is called appelsin).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The days of the week

For the native speakers of numerous languages spoken in Europe, the name of the days in Norwegian might not be that surprising. The days of the week (ukedager) conserve the old Norse mythology, the religion of Germanic tribes before christianity.
First, the grammatical pattern for the days: (på) mandag – on Monday (can work both with and wothout ), mandager – every Monday. And now let's look at the list:
Mandag: Monday. The day of the moon (måne).
Tirsdag: Tuesday. The day of Tyr. He was the son of Odin and the god of victory in combats.
Onsdag: Wednesday. The day of Odin (also: Wotan) who is the main god in the Norse mythology. He had an eight-legged-horse called Sleipnir who was able to go around the world in just eight steps. Some years ago, I was lucky enough to visit one of the footprints of this remarkable horse: Ásbyrgi, the magnificent canyon in Northern Iceland that recalls a huge horseshoe with its form. Anyways, back to the weekdays: it's quite interesting that for exemple in German and in Icelandic, Wednesday is simply called 'the middle of the week' (Mittwoch and Miðvikudagur). I do not know why, a possible answer might be that Germans and Icelanders were simply too afraid to pronounce the name of the great Odin.
Torsdag: Thursday. The day of Tor, the son of Odin. Tor is the god responsable for the weather. He was imagined as a god with a hammer that he threw down to the earth when he was angry. Eventhough the hammer always came back to him, it created a thunderstorm with lightnings on the earth. That's the reason why Norwegians say if there is a thunderstorm: Det tordner. Just like in German: 'Donnerstag' and 'es donnert'. The name Tor and its female version Torunn are still very popular in Scandinavia.
Fredag: Friday. The day of Freya. She is the only goddess that was eternalised in the days of the week and is associated with love, flowers, beuty. She travels through the sky on a chariot driven by her two cats. Both in Iceland (Freyja) and in Norway (Freja) you can find a brand producing sweets and chocolate attracting people with the name of this goddess. (And both barnds are absolutely worth trying...) Pay attention: don't get confused – fridag means 'day off'.

Freya, the Beautiful with her cat

Lørdag: Saturday. The day when people washed themselves and their clothes.
Søndag: Sunday. The day of the sun (sol).
Helg is the Norwegian word for weekend. It means 'holy' and in Norway, weekends are holy: all the biggest shops are closed. My advice: when in Norway, do as the Norwegians do... forget about the stress of the everydays and go out into the nature with your friends and family in the weekends. I think it's actually wise to do anywhere...
And finally, here is a nursery rhyme in Norwegian, translated from English (Monday's child):

Mandagsbarn får vakre øyne
Tirsdagsbarn blir lett på tå
Onsdagsbarn får perletårer
Torsdagsbarn får langt å gå
Fredagsbarn gjør alle glade
Lørdagsbarn blir sjelden trett
Søndagsbarn får den største gaven, alle dyder under ett.

Friday, October 1, 2010

First thoughts about shopping

If you want to start a blog about your everydays in a foreign country (in my case Norway), I think it's smart to dedicate the first entry to shopping food. Not just because this is one of the first differences you have to face abroad but also because these pieces of information can be useful anyone (I remember myself being lost all the time in every supermarket during my first some weeks in Kristiansand) and also because I think supermarkets are like a mirror of the lifestyle and in some extent the culture of a country.

Well, let's follow the golden rule of journalism (Only bad news are good news...) and start with bad news: Norway is an expensive country. This applies for pretty much everything, particularly meat (kjøtt) and alcoholic beverages (alkoholiske drikke). Norwegian families who live close to the Swedish border often drive there to do the weekly shopping. It's also common to take the ferry to Denmark in the morning and return with a car full of kjøttdeig (minced meat), kylling (chicken) and biff (beef) and of course øl (beer).

The good news on the other hand is that after some time (and after some bad moments caused by some very bad buys...) you will have a certain experience where what to shop.

You can find many elegant grocery stores in Norway like Coop or ICA where they often have good offers. Anyways, if the fanciness-factor is not that important for you, there are some other adresses I would recommend. According to locals, the cheapest places to shop are Rema1000, Rimi and Kiwi, the youngest supermarket in the country with its shrill light green colour.

Rema1000 (or Rema Tusen) is based in Trondheim and the first shop with this name was opened up in 1979. Since then Rema has kept the initial concept – the interieur is consciously simple, almost warehousy without any effort to create luxury.
I was very interested where the name comes from and I was quite sure that 1000 has something to do with money (especially since I saw their slogan on their plastic bag: De smarte sparer tusener – something like Smart people save thousands). The word Rema is actually (just like IKEA or Haribo) an acronym made from the founders name Reitan and the word mat, the Norwegian equivalent for food, while 1000 stands as a reminder for the period when the shop only sold exactly thousand different products.
Although the number of products has heavily increased, the concept of simplicity and the name remained and the recipe seems to work – Rema is today the biggest supermarket chain in Norway.

All the advice I can give is to be uptodate concerning good offers and then buy as much as you can, to avoid processed food (it really pays up in Norway if you make everything from scratch – even if you live alone! Btw. you should avoid processed food anyways...It's bad for you!) and maybe to learn these phrases I have collected. They might come handy ;)

Kan du hjelpe meg? (Can you help me?)
Jeg bare ser./Jeg vil bare kikke litt. (I'm just looking around.)
Vil du ha kvitteringen? (Would you like to have the receipt? - This is a common question you hear in Norway when you pay, if you say no, they will not print it or throw it away for you.)
Kan jeg ha ei pose? (Can I have a plastic bag?)
Jeg vil betale med kort. (I would like to pay with card.)
Jeg vil betale kontant. (I would like to pay cash.)
Hvor mye koster det? (How much does it cost?)