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... :)