Saturday, June 4, 2011


Fresh shrimps are sold out. Norwegians love them on a slice of bread with mayonnaise, fresh salad and dill, they squeeze some lemon on top... Removing the hard shell together with friends and family and colleagues is a Norwegian social event par excellence.

Reker (shrimps)

The trash can exclusively for disposable grills is full. In Norway the nature is everyone's. You can walk anywhere, pick berries and mushrooms, even cut down a Christmas tree... However, the biggest activity of the sommer months in the forests is grilling. And since they already recycle everything, why not recycle disposable grills in a separate trash can?

There are more cars in front of the zoo as in front of IKEA. Ingmar Kamprad tried to turn shopping into a pleasure... however, right now there is no summer offer that possibly could be more tempting as a fun day with Julius the monkey in the Kristiansand zoo. You can even spend a night in Kardemomme by (Cardamom Town), a theme park built exactly like the illustrations of Thorbjørn Egner's famous children's story When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town. This zoo is so nice that not only people but also animals seem to have a great time there - they are populating which makes it possible for the zoo to export animals. This is actually quite unique.

Summer is on in Norway. And this is their No. 1 summer song. The everyone-knows-it-by-heart-sort of song.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Happy Easter, Monsieur Poirot!

I apologise for being absent for a while... it's been busy lately and I have to say I am very happy for it: I got a job a month ago.

Apart from this, there are some other things that have changed in the past weeks. The snow has disappeared from Kristiansand city and spring has finally arrived. For me as a Central European, winter was unbearably long, dark and cold... Anyways, before I give up my winter whinings definitively, I would like to share one last winter story that happened to me on a cold February evening.

Alphonse Mucha - Spring
We got a dinner invitation to a friend who lives in Posebyen (the old town of Kristiansand), in one of these charming little white houses I was writing about here. It was pretty cold but still I didn't understand why our host had to put three oil radiators in the middle of the living room. Well, it happened for a reason. His place didn't have any heaters on the wall. A home in Norway without any heaters. Excuse me??? Apparently there were no built in radiators in the whole house.
So if you want to rent a place in the summer time, even if it's sunny outside and the birds are chanting, you want to make sure heaters are included otherwise you'll be surprised some months later... :) What a funny thing.

I'm quite stunned actually that not everyone is fed up with winter yet. This crazy little nation of Norwegians tends to say that the last time of the year where you can go skiing is Easter time. They call it påskerenn. Indeed, "Norwegians were born with skis on their feet". Some weeks ago I started to have the impression though that this statement is craving for clarification. Norwegians were born with skis on their feet... yes. But also a crime novel in their hands.

After the lent has started, all the libraries and book stores have turned into some kind of crime novel supplies advertising Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Unni Lindell, Camilla Läckberg, Stig Larsson etc... Påskekrim is the name of the phenomenon and it started in 1923 when publisher Gyldendal advertised the crime novel Bergenstoget plyndret i natt (Bergen train looted in the night) of Jonatan Jerv in some daily papers with huge headlines, giving the impression that the Bergen train really had been looted in the night which scared many people having relatives and acquintances on the train.

Påskekrim in an Oslo book store
Now this is what I call marketing... Book stores really seem to make a profit out of this little local tradition. However, a crime novel would be probably the last thing that comes into my mind when I think about Easter.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Moods of Norway-experience

Kristiansand, 3rd March, 2010 - The Norwegian fashionlabel Moods of Norway opened its biggest store in the world. The brand was not unknown in the town, it could be found in some other stores and I remember I almost purchased a pair of navy moon boots like these in December, in the middle of my deepest winter-desperation... :)

The idea of the label was born in the village of Stryn, Western Norway by Simen Staalnacke and Peder Børresen. The third founder, Stefan Dahlkvist joined the team a little later. Alone their slogan "Happy clothes for happy people" was attractive but knowing the fact that the Norwegian landscape and urban lifestyle have been inspiring them and being passionate about everything local, I couldn't wait until I finally have the chance to check out the store with my own eyes.

The proud founders
I think I haven't been to a clothes store before where the inner enterieur played such an important role. Imagine that after some steps in the forest (mushrooms, a rabbit and a huge white milk can in the shopping window), you enter a cosy hytte (= a little cottage in the middle of nowhere, the more nomadic the better. Something utterly Norwegian). The furniture is old, used and welcoming. Not antique but more like the style of the 60s or 70s, something that makes your grandma's place cosy but for some reason you don't really appreciate in your own place. And since a real hytte does not have water in it, feel free to step in the wooden outdoor toilets - however, strictly to be used as changing rooms! Wow... chapeau!

The collection is colourful and has very different pieces. Not to be offensive or anything but Norway being particularly famous for its gender equality, I wouldn't have minded seeing a bigger female collection (it's awesome as it is but still...:). There were some really nice things for the ladies and I could see some children's wear as well but for me, the most interesting part of the collection was the men's wear. I really liked the different suits (all had a nice and unexpected twist) and it was cool to see all the magenta and turquoise - black shoes with a turquoise sole - how cool is that??? Actually I might want to purchase something in these shades because I got scared I (= lover of sober colours, greys, blacks etc.) may radiate the message toward the world that I am not a happy person... :)

Oh, and I wanted to save the best for last. The key piece of the store (that I think expresses the whole Moods of Norway-philosophy) is a huge pink tractor in the middle of the store. It's also the sign of the label that appears on many of the pieces of the collection - I usually don't like wearing the sign of a label (why should I advertise them for free???) but this tractor thing is sooo far out there that I can't help loving it.

The pink tractor
I think a pink tractor is kind of a slap on the face of all the fashion snobs in Milan or Paris making people unhappy (cf. slogan of Moods of Norway) with their statements.

Or wait... not a slap. A snowball. Yes, I think it's rather a snowball into their face. That's more like Moods of Norway.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What is Norway like?

Kastrup Airport, Copenhagen, Denmark. December, 2010.

We have just arrived in Copenhagen. There are still a couple of hours until our connection flight to Kristiansand is leaving. We decide to kill the time in the inner town of Copenhagen. We want to take the train and are standing in the queue in front of the automatic ticket machine. Three out of the five machines are not working.

There is a Danish boy behind us. He seems to be in a hurry... he is checking his watch every 10 seconds. He tells us he wants to go to Helsingor. A train to Helsingør leaves nearly every 15 minutes. We offer him to go first. He refuses it kindly, looks at the automats not working and adds somewhat painfully: "It's not perfect, it's not Norway."

This is what Norway is like. Perfect.

Or... isn't it?

Klien, Erica Giovanna: Locomotive. 1926.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Eurovision 2011

After Belarus-born Alexander Rybak's winning Fairytale of 2009, Norwegians put their trust into Stella Mwangi, a 24-year-old Kenyan girl, winning the national final on 12th February in Oslo. It's not completely unheard that a country wins twice or three times in years so close to each other but we will see. The song contest will take place in Düsseldorf, Germany in the middle of May.

Good luck, Norway! Voila, the song:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Excuse me... could you repeat it?

If we are talking about learning a new language, there is one sad fact we had better accept: there are lucky people and there are less lucky ones. Kató Lomb, the famous Hungarian polyglott who had learnt 17 languages without having spent a longer periode of time in a foreign country, claimed that she did not believe in such thing as a language talent. Well, I would feel quite a bit uncomfortable to write down that I disagree with a person of her grandeur, but I do dare to put down that I guess we all can feel (or could at least in high school) that certain people have fewer (or, if you want, more) difficulties at reaching the perfect score at a grammar test than the average.

I have been in Norway for a little bit over six months now and I am quite happy with what I know in Norwegian so far. In this entry I would like to write a little bit about what I think we can do in order to be more successful at acquiring a language. (The tips are maybe easier for those who are lucky enough to spend some time among native speakers but of course I hope everyone can benefit from them.)

1. Forget the 'pronounciation doesn't matter'-attitude. Why should you? The answer is easy: because it does matter. You might hear here and there that having a foreign accent sounds cute (I was told once that German spoken with French accent is erotic for German ears...), but in my eyes such a compliment is definitively to be avoided on the long run. It's tiring to listen to someone who is not easy to understand and (to be honest) it's hard to take someone with a harsh accent seriously...

2. Turn on the television. It has thousands of benefits... I often play this game: take a piece of paper and try to write down as many new words that you hear on the TV as possible - within (for example) 10 minutes. Try to watch different shows, this way you can have a great little vocabulary about numerous domains.

Houndstooth pattern is called hundetannsmønster in Norwegian. Not an important word, but who knows... I might need it one day. Something I've learnt from the television. The painting of Pete Nawara.

3. Listen to music. Local music is a great topic of conversation with the locals. Music is great to learn some new words, however, it might not be this helpful with the intonation (because of the singing).

4. Go to the library. There are so many things I can be grateful for, thing that only happened because I go to the city library every once in a while... I bought used books on sale, I found CDs and DVDs I have always been interested at and I got a member of a French club. I remember having asked a lady in the library not so long after I arrived in Kristiansand about the most widely read children's book authors in Norway. I got a few names and started immediately to read shorter stories. I think if you read something that the locals heard as bedtime stories from their mums back in the days... it's a bit like sharing a common secret... having a piece of them. I might be wrong but I do think it's a good way to get to know them better, to get closer to them.

This is where the magic happens - The main library in Kristiansand

5. Try to find the logic. If you already know a language that is somehow related to the language you want to acquire, don't hesitate to take a closer look to that relationship! Just one example: what is z in German, is often t in Norwegian (bezahlen - å betale; Zahn - tann). Since I speak German and German and Norwegian are not far away from each other, this little game became almost like a habit and it's as much fun as a riddle!
Let's make an exam now: Look at the words 'night', 'milk' and 'eight' in French (nuit, lait, huit), Spanish (noche, leche, ocho) and Italian (notte, latte, otto). Can you see it?

6. Pay attention to the differences. Let's take the word 'book'. In French: le livre (masculin). In German: das Buch (neuter). With this knowledge in my pocket I was almost 100% sure that 'book' in Norwegian is neuter, or, if for some weird reason not, than masculin. Well, guess what: in Norwegian the word bok is feminin... All I want to say with this is that you should watch out for the differences between the new language and a/the language you already know.

7. Avoid people from your own country. It might be funny to read this but there is some truth in it. In the beginning it's easier to be among your fellow countrymen but the language learning process is much slowlier this way...

You might feel like this at the beginning, but being with locals is worth gold if you want to learn a language.

 8. Look at every situation as a potential source of learning. Don't underestimate anything, you can learn something new even through buying a hot dog or asking the way.

9. Challange yourself. I think it's a great thing if after a while you are already capable to read and understand the articles about the latest plastic surgery of Donatella Versace in the tabloids, but how about you go one step further and challange yourself with something more difficult? Don't underestimate yourself, don't be afraid of trying something that you think you are not good enough for.

10. Change is gold. Don't always watch to the same TV show, don't always listen to the radio program with the same guy, don't always read just one magazine. It's important to listen to both men and women, young and old, perfect speaking TV hosts, farmers living in villages, 'too cool for school' teenagers using slang... etc. This will make your vocabulary and language skills in general sooo much more versatile!

11. Paraphrase. This is a fancy expression for describing a term with different words. If a word is missing,try not to look for the English equivalent. Explaining a word is a bigger effort but don't break the communication and you avoid by it the automatic switch to English.

It's worth trying hard!
+1. And last but not least: Don't forget to give yourself compliments. Don't overdo it, though. You don't need to buy yourself a Maserati right on the first day when you survived in the post office without switching to English. But never forget that learning a new language needs a lot of effort and endurance and even if you are struggling in the beginning, keep in mind that most people appreciate very much if they hear a foreigner try hard to speak their language.

Don't give up and keep on telling yourself as a mantra: Discere non est vitiosum, sed ignorare. (Ignorance is shameful, learning is not.)

Lykke til! (Good luck!)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The official 2011 press photos of the Norwegian royal family

New official photos were published of the Norwegian royal family in the end of January on their homepage. The amazing photos are available as posters in the current issue of Norway's biggest weekly magazine Se og Hør. The shots were taken by noted Norwegian photographer Sølve Sundsbø.

Check out this and other pictures of the photo shoot here (by clicking neste bilde). Beautiful! What do you think?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Top 5 interesting facts - Kristiansand

We got a letter in the mail approximately 3 weeks ago. It was an invitation to the city hall in Kristiansand for all the people who moved to Kristiansand for some cake and coffee where all the new citizens could meet each other. I think it was a really nice gesture! The mayor presented his city in a very nice, 'mayorlike' way - he talked business, culture, education... He didn't mention any of the following things. No wonder... mayors don't talk about lead paint and monkeys. Luckily, bloggers do! Enjoy these interesting pieces of information that I've learnt about Kristiansand since I came here 6 months ago!

1. The centre of Kristiansand is called Kvadraturen - a name due to the quadratic structure of the inner town (that can be seen here). The city was founded in 1641, under the Union of Denmark and Norway by king Christian IV. The quadratic structure was a signature city plan of the king. The charm of Kvadraturen in Kristiansand is in a big extent due to the wooden houses painted entirely in white - buildings that characterize several streets of the neighbourhood. However, white has not always been the dominating colour. In the old days, white was the sign of being well-off. Paint was not something everyone could afford so people just tried to paint white at least one side of their house. Houses entirely white only started to be more common after the introduction of the lead-based paint.

White houses in the centre of Kristiansand

2. Kristiansand is the birthtown of the woman that will be the next dronning (queen) of Norway, Mette Marit. She and Crown Prince Haakon (the son of King Harald and Queen Sonja) got married in 2001 and are now a happy (and very popular) family with their children, 7-year-old Ingrid Alexandra (who will be one day the Queen of Norway), 5-year-old Sverre Magnus and 14-year old Marius, a son from Mette Marit's previous relationship.

31 August, 2010 - Mette Marit and Haakon in Grimstad, after the opening ceremony of the new campus of the University of Agder (The first royalties I've seen so far! The photo was taken by my friend Pauline - merci!)

3. Kristiansand (and the Sørlandet region) is traditionally considered to be the most conservative region in the country where people are the most religious in the country, the so-called bible belt (Bibelbeltet) of Norway.

4. Kristiansand is the place in the world with the biggest Beat Art collection outside of the US. The collection is to be seen on the walls of the University of Agder and the Cathedral High School and was donated to the university by Reidar Wennesland, a doctor from Kristiansand who was a personal acquintance to many of the Beat artists. The Beat art was the not main stream art of the US in the 50s, rebelling againt the ideals of the US society of the time. I think having Jay de Feo's two roses on the wall of your classroom is pretty major! :)

One of the pieces of the precious collection - Jay de Feo's The Wise and Foolish Virgins (Kristiansand Cathedral School)

5. The Kristiansand Dyreparken (zoo) with its 650 000 visitors per year is an important tourist attraction for the entire country. The best known inhabitant and mascot of the amusement and animal park is Julius, a male chimpanzee. Abandoned by his parents in his young years, he got to live with a human family and developed different skills - he learnt for example to drive a car and started to make paintings...


Friday, January 21, 2011

"Don't think you are anything special."

I sometimes have the impression that there is nothing you can not learn from books these days. After Dale Carnegie's works, there have been published a great number of different self help books about issues like how to be happy... how to be more efficient in school... how to become a better story teller... how to spare money... and how to act in a different culture than yours. I think books from this last category have a dubious character - it definitely has a certain charm to discover the intercultural differences yourself but in given situations a list with things to pay attention to on it, can be lifesaving...
I don't want to get into all my personal culture schocks that I have experienced since July (I might want to do it later) but there is one thing I was thinking about a lot lately. It's a bunch of rules (I would say 'unwritten' but they are very much 'written', indeed) that were put down by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandelmose in a 1933 novel. The rules are the following:
  1. Don't think you're anything special.
  2. Don't think you're as much as us.
  3. Don't think you're wiser than us.
  4. Don't convince yourself that you're better than us.
  5. Don't think you know more than us.
  6. Don't think you are more than us.
  7. Don't think you are good at anything.
  8. Don't laugh at us.
  9. Don't think anyone cares about you.
  10. Don't think you can teach us anything.
Don't think you are anything special. YOU. Capisci? - Thank-you for these rules, Aksel Sandemose
After I was first confronted with the rules, I didn't really know what to think. Bragging is not cool, obviously, but I think there is a gyllen middelvei (happy middle way) between for example rule no.1 and being big-headed. However, whenever I was asking my Norwegian aquintances about the importance the Janteloven (because this is what it's called, Jante Law in English), everyone was unanimous about how important it was in society. No wonder, it appears in the upbringing of children from very early on.

In fact, the Jante Law is that important that in 1994 (which was the year of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway), author Inge Eidsvåg introduced the three main Norwegian values that characterizes the life of Norwegians maybe the most and one of them (among equality and respect of nature) was moderation - a notion that includes Janteloven as well. The 'law' has the strongest position in Norway and Denmark (I don't know so much about other countries in Scandinavia, but for the Icelanders I was talking to about this, was the Jante Law completely unknown).

I think these rules are in many ways not very conform with what the 21st century craves from a person so I was not particularly surprised to hear that a so-called Anti-Janti (Anti-Janteloven) exists stating the exact opposite rules - it is hanging on the wall in many Scandinacian homes as a trial to break free, as a rebellion against this hommage to sweet mediocrity.

I think it definitely pays up to think sometimes that you are something special. (Anne Geddes meets van Gogh)
So for those planning to come to Norway or Denmark without wanting to purchase a cultural guide to Scandinavia - get prepared! And not just because this is what you have to expect from the Norwegians. Also (and more importantly) because this is how you have to act yourself. When in Rome... do as the Romans do.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What now, Maria Amelie?

I think I mentioned earlier on my blog that I made a short trip to my home country Hungary before Christmas. We flew through Kastrup airport, Copenhagen and while waiting for the flight to Norway, I got myself a Dagbladet (one of Norway's biggest tabloids) and found out that the Norwegian of the year 2010 had been chosen: 25-year-old Maria Amelie.

Maria Amelie
Årets nordmann (Norwegian of the Year) is a prize that was founded in 2007 by weekly Ny Tid (New Time). According to the magazine, the idea of the prize was born after an email received by the editors saying that only 'ethnic Norwegians' can be Norwegians, those having any different background, can never be Norwegians, not even if they have Norwegian citizenship. There are four people (four women, actually) who got the award so far and two out of the four were not born in Norway...

Maria Amelie (née Madina Salamova) was born in the former Soviet Union (in the Kaukasus, North-Ossetia) and came to Norway as a teenager in 2002 with her parents as an illegal immigrant. The family failed to get a residence permit, however, they decided to continue their stay in the country without any documents. Daughter Maria Amelie was everything but lazy in these eight years: she picked up a fluent Norwegian, got several jobs and even got an MA from the university of Trondheim and was involved in organizing different festivals as a volunteer. In September 2010 she went high profile and her first book Ulovlig norsk ('Illegally Norwegian') got published where she described her life as an illegal in the country with the aim to open people's eyes and draw the attention to the often hopeless situation of immigrants living in Norway without any papers.

Maria Amelie, reading from her book Ulovlig norsk
13th January 2011, Maria Amelie got arrested after her lecture at the Nansenskole in Lillehammer (Nansen School, Norwegian Humanitarian Academy - named after Norwegian humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen). By the way, 2011 is Nansen-year in Norway... She is accused of working black, using false identity and being in the country for a long time, despite the fact that there is nothing in Russia that she needs to be protected from.

Already on the very same evening, people went out to the streets to protest against the laws that allow this to happen and trying to find the ways for the young author to stay in the country or at least to come back as soon as possible. However, it can take up to several years, given the fact that she doesn't have any papers to live legally in Russia, either. A group on Facebook has been established to set her free, 'liked' by over 88 000 people just within a few days.

Friday evening, Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg declared on a television interview: laws apply to everyone equally. Maria Amelie is at the moment in Trandum refugee center near Oslo... waiting for being sent back "home" to Russia. It can happen any time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cold. Colder. Norway.

Despite the fact that my sixth month here in Kristiansand started a couple of days ago, there are some issues that I have simply failed so far to get used to. What might these be? Surprise, surprise... here comes the weather monster! But instead of complaining about it (which, I admit, I am very good at...), I decided to collect some of the things that help us to resist the challenges of the Norwegian winter (e. g. walking on the streets...) and that I have first experienced here, in Norway!

1. Selskinn (seal skin)
The ultimate winter boots in Norway can be seen here. However, there is more...
I don't think I would ever encourage someone to wear seal, I am more green than that. I'm sure though that the fact that sealskin has a major role in the traditional Inuit clothing, is for a reason... I was pretty surprised when I first saw a pair of sealskin boots on the streets of Kristiansand, and later on it turned out from a conversation with a salesperson in a shoe store that the boots made entirely of seal skin by the Norwegian brand Topaz is warm, long-lasting and very popular among Norwegians! And I have to say, the red shoelaces are a real fashion statement!

2. Wear ull (wool)!
A knitted woolen pullover can turn being outside even on the coldest day into a doable mission! I have already written about wool in Norway here where you can read about the Mariusgenser (Marius pullover). Another important notion in terms of classical Norwegian knitting is the Setesdalgenser (Setesdal pullover) that has a rich tradition and if you imagine a Russian wearing a fury ushanka and a German wearing leather pants, than you definitely want to imagine a Norwegian wearing a setesdalsgenser!

3. Spikes
It became clear already in November that when in Norway, cold is not necessarily our No. 1 enemy... I sometimes tend to have the impression that Norwegians (at least in Kristiansand) have somewhat given up the fight against mother nature and don't seem to mind that walking on the streets is very dangerous on certain days because of the thick and shiny ice cover. However, if the streets have not been made rough enough, you can make your shoes rough - by attaching a sole with spikes on them. The same applies for your bikes - if you want to use it in the winter, too (like many Norwegians do) switch to piggdekk (spike tires). It can be lifesaving. However, you had better remove it after the ice has melted... otherwise you will experience how it is for a train on the concrete. ;)

An ice trooper from 1948... :)

4. Cross country skiing
Skiing is a sport that is as Norwegian as it gets. 'Slalom' is a Norwegian word (slalåm) and they even have a city called Skien. I might be wrong but I see a connection between the name and the sport... Cross country skiing is even more popular in the country than alpine skiing ('skiing' in Norwegians is called gå på ski, literally 'walking on skis'). Norway is the most successful nation at cross country skiing in the history of the sport on the Winter Olympics. It's not just an excellent exercise but can be used as an efficient way of transportation. On a proper winter day, you can see people cross country skiing even in the inner town of Kristiansand!

Norway's Petter Northug - No. 2 on the ranking of the International Ski Federation

5. Try to make the most out of it
In the end, you can't make it go faster, so try to enjoy it and do things that you usually don't do in the summer time: gløgg (spicey mulled wine), roasted almonds, pepperkaker (crispy ginger biscuits), the beautiful white landscape... It's going to be over soon. And then, after the white, the hvit vinter (since, as they say, Norway has two seasons), it comes the other one... the grønn (green) vinter... :)