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.)