As you probably know very well by now (especially if you have been reading my blog for a while or follow me on Instagram), I grew up by the fjords of Norway. Living where other people holiday has its perks, and it also has its downfalls. In my village alone, we get thousands of visitors a day in the high season, and it’s easy to see why travellers are so fascinated by the beauty of this country. But that’s not what this post is about.
Through my years of living abroad and travelling a lot, I have met loads of people and made some great friends who have all seemed to be quite interested when I tell them about my life in Norway. Things that seem completely normal to me would have other people in stitches laughing, or just staring at me as if I was mad. Like that time my friend Amy from Wales and I had the following conversation:
Lisa: “A moose walked into a bank once.”
Amy: “…yea? And then what?”
Lisa: “No, it really happened.”
While Amy thought this was the beginning of a bad joke, I was actually sharing an anecdote from something that had happened in Norway a few years earlier. From time to time, you’ll see these funny moose stories in the Norwegian news (when you are not seeing them as warning signs along the road).
One day Michele from The Intrepid Guide told me that I had to write a post on all these funny things that you only understand if you grew up in Norway, or more specifically, by the fjords. That was last summer, so it’s only appropriate that I am publishing this over 6 months later. Long live procrastination.
So here you have some of the things you’ll only understand if you grew up (or live) in Norway!
Read this next: My step-by-step guide to planning a perfect Norway trip!
This post has been published in Norwegian here.
18 Things you’ll only understand if you grew up in Norway
You’ll quickly find that there isn’t a common theme to the list below, and I’m sure you’ll be quite surprised by some of the items on it! If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments! In short, these are all things I’ve actually spoken to my friends abroad about, only to find that these things are not common at all (outside of Norway). I hope you enjoy it!
Visiting Norway some time soon? Don’t miss my ultimate Norway travel guide (it has everything you need to plan your trip, seriously)!
I’m starting with the craziest of them all, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoy telling people about this Norwegian tradition. In short, “Russetid” means “Russ time”, and it describes a period from around the 1st of May (or a few days earlier) to the 17th of May, which is our National Day. During these 3ish weeks, you’ll find loads of 17-19-year-olds running around wearing similar trousers, mainly red, black or blue (with red being the most common). I’ll explain these trousers shortly.
When you graduate high school, or Videregående, in Norway, you are nicknamed “Russ” (don’t ask me where the name comes from), and you celebrate this during your “Russetid”. You order custom-made trousers (mostly comfortable dungarees), in a pre-determined colour depending on your program of study.
If you went to high school for “common studies”, which basically prepares you for university, you wear red trousers (“Russebukse”). If you chose a practical field of study, such as studying to become a carpenter or an electrician, you wear black trousers. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really have that many appropriate photos from my Russ celebrations to share (my friends would kill me), but I did manage to find one to illustrate what the trousers look like!
The letters spelling out “Lisa” on my leg was actually cut out from the fabric of an old jean jacket I had when I was little that my mum found, and everyone get’s these iron-on stickers to decorate their Russebukse with. In addition, we will write on each other’s trousers throughout the period, so in the end they look quite worn (you are not actually allowed to wash them, but more on those rules below).
What’s so crazy about the Russ period is that it’s basically a hall pass to party for 3 weeks without any adults saying a thing (because they did exactly the same when they were Russ). There’s drinking almost every day, and yes, we still have to go to school. Of course, you shouldn’t drink at school, but we still managed to make it interesting. You see, the Russ period brings with it something called “Russeknuter”.
The Russeknuter are tasks and challenges you have to complete during your time as a Russ. They are, of course, not mandatory, but everyone still does them. Most schools will have around 120-150 of them, and there are certain levels you can reach depending on how many you complete. At my school, we earned “Silver” by completing 75 out of 120 or so Russeknuter, and my friend and I vowed to manage this. When we did, we got to dip the tassel on our graduation/Russ caps in silver paint, to show off our achievement.
The Russeknuter can be quite crazy, and many of them are sexual or alcohol-related, or just really embarrassing. Here are just a few examples of tasks we had to complete during our 3 weeks as Russ;
- To camp outside our teacher’s house overnight and make them breakfast in the morning
- To finish a bottle of wine in 20 minutes
- To chug a beer with two tampons in your mouth
- For 2 guys only; walking into a petrol station hand-in-hand, buy a cucumber and condoms, then ask to use the restroom
- To drink a bottle of beer without using your hands
- To wait for several cars to stop for you at a zebra crossing, then lie down and roll across
- To follow someone at the grocery store, and pick out the exact same groceries as them, speaking loudly about each product
- To wear loaves of bread as shoes for a whole (school) day
- To pretend to be James Bond for a whole (school) day, humming the theme song and rolling into classrooms
- Run into a classroom during class wearing hoods and masks, and kidnap a desk
- … and loads more!
Being Russ is such a fun time, and you only get to do it once. Ask any of your Norwegian friends to tell you about it, and you’ll have them talking for hours. This is definitely something you don’t find anywhere else in the world!
#2 Public transport by the fjords
The first time I told my friends about the school boat at home they thought I was joking. But it’s a fact when you grow up by the fjords that it’s often quicker (and easier) to get from one place to another by boat. When I was 16 we had to move out of home to go to high school (there are not enough people in my village for it to have one on its own). Getting to Sogndal by bus would take 1,5 hours including a 10-minute ferry ride across the fjord. Getting there by boat was a 40-minute ride. Easy choice.
Speaking of ferries, you have to get used to them. Travelling from Aurland, where I grew up, to Volda, where my best friend lives (in one of the most beautiful areas of Norway), takes you on 3 ferries along the way. Missing one sucks, but luckily they run quite often. In many rural areas, particularly around the fjords, it’s simply cheaper to use ferries than build bridges.
If you are planning a trip to the fjords, and you’re curious about the logistics of it all, don’t miss my custom-made Norway itineraries!
Side note: The photo above is of the Fredvang Bridges, one of the reasons I say you should visit Lofoten in winter!
#3 Tunnels. Loads of them.
Another fjord-specific item, yet you’ll be surprised to find some impressive tunnels in the cities as well (such as Operatunnelen, which runs under parts of Oslo). Some tunnels in Norway even have roundabouts in them!
Norway is very mountainous, and in order to get somewhere, we need to get through (or around) these mountains. The solution was tunnels. Shit loads of them. By March 2018 there were actually over 800 kilometres of tunnels in Norway, and we are still working on improving them (and probably building more). The majority of the tunnels are found in Sogn og Fjordane (the county where I grew up) and Hordaland (the county where I live now), both counties making up what we call Western Norway.
In fact, in order to get from Bergen to Flåm you have to drive through over 35 tunnels during the 3 hour drive!
Most tunnels took years and years to build, and so some places in rural Norway didn’t get connected until quite late. The Gudvangatunnel, which connects my village to Voss and Bergen (the nearest major city) wasn’t built until 1991, for example, and before that you could only get to Bergen by boat or driving the (realllyyyyy) long way around. The Lærdal tunnel, which connects my village to destinations in the other direction, wasn’t opened until 2000. Which takes me to the next item on the list.
#4 Speaking very differently from your neighbours
The neighbouring village to
mine Aurland is called Lærdal, and the tunnel connecting the two villages is actually the world’s longest road tunnel (24,5 kilometres long, to be exact). That’s about 20 minutes of driving through the mountain in order to get to our neighbours. There is, of course, a long and windy road taking you over the mountain to get there, but this road gets covered in so much snow every winter that it’s not possible to plow it all the way. So for a large part of the year, it’s closed.
This means, that unless you travelled by boat, we couldn’t reach Lærdal easily in the winter until 2000, when our beloved King Harald (who famously called the Queen of Norway a troll in this video) opened the tunnel.
This is the answer as to why the dialects in Lærdal and Aurland are distinctly different from each other, in spite of our close geographic proximities. And it is the same for many rural areas in Norway, who were only recently connected.
#5 Misspelled street names (and a lack of them)
Fun fact: my village didn’t get street names until I was in high school. And the street name we eventually got is so ridiculous that most people I speak to on the phone from Oslo struggle to spell it. It’s ‘Ryggjakyrkja’. So yeah.
Amongst other fun (and difficult to spell) street names in Norway you’ll find Erling Skjalgssonsgate in Oslo (near Zahlkasserer Schafts plass, try saying that 5 times fast), Pissvasshøgdavegen in Porsanger (translating this one is NSFW), and Engkvenveien in Hana.
#6 Watching Cinderella in Czech on Christmas Eve, finding a hidden almond in your porridge and winning a marzipan pig
These are just a bunch of the many fun and loved traditions we bring out for Christmas in Norway. We have all grown up watching the same, old, Czech version of Cinderella, dubbed by the same actor several decades ago. Our parents serve rice porridge with an almond hidden in it, and the person who finds the almond wins a pig made of marzipan (the best prize ever, of course).
Curious? This whole post is dedicated to our hilarious Norwegian Christmas traditions!
There really isn’t a good English word for this, and I didn’t even realise this was a specifically Norwegian thing until I went to Lofoten with Michele and she thought I was lying when I said we remove them every summer. In short, these are sticks we put along the side of the road before each winter, so we can see where the road ends when the snow starts falling. Also, it helps the plow trucks determine where to go as well.
When there is a lot of snow, all you’ll see are the tops of the ‘Brøytestikker’ sticking up from it. It is loosely translated to “plowing sticks”, and yes, they are removed every summer (using a very funny car with a mechanic arm that grabs them as it drives past slowly).
The Brøytestikke is the orange/red stick you see in the photo of me trying to get down from that rock gracefully (I didn’t).
This one is so ridiculous I don’t even want to waste my time writing about it. But it’s still important to understand it if you ever want to understand us Norwegians, and it’s definitely something you only understand if you have grown up in Norway. Basically, Janteloven is a fictional “universal law” written in 1933 as part of a novel. According to Wikipedia, it’s a “code of conduct”, which is quite accurate as it has greatly affected the social norms of Norway (and Scandinavia). It goes a bit like this (loosely translated):
You’re not to think you are anything specialJanteloven, Aksel Sandemose
You’re not to think you are as good as we are
You’re not to think you are smarter than we are
You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are
You’re not to think you know more than we do
You’re not to think you are more important than we are
You’re not to think you are good at anything
You’re not to laugh at us
You’re not to think anyone cares about you
You’re not to think you can teach us anything
Imagine growing up with this ingrained into society. No wonder none of us like bragging.
Basically, Janteloven (or the Law of Jante) is the universal understanding that you shouldn’t show off or believe that you are better than anyone else. It is the reason I have had to work hard on my mindset to be proud of my achievements as a full-time travel blogger (I still get embarrassed and awkward when Norwegian people ask me what I do, as I never want to come off as bragging for telling them that I am literally living my dream).
Are you planning a trip to Norway and wondering what else you need to know about before you go? Here’s my complete guide!
#9 Not understanding the concept of “snow days”
Okay, so this one kind of goes against the idea of this post, as I should be focusing on things you actually understand when you grow up in Norway, not what you don’t understand. But this is a concept I’ll never get.
When I studied abroad in Wales at 17, I remember waking up for school one morning, only to find my host brothers listening to the radio listing up schools in the area. When our school was named, they cheered and ran around the kitchen like mad. Apparently, we were having a “snow day”. I looked outside, and there was literally 2 inches of snow there.
I remember being happy when I woke up to snow in Norway, not because we didn’t have to go to school, but because my brother and I could race to school on our snow racer (school was downhill from our house, getting home was worse).
Fast-forward two years, and I was studying Law in London, only to find that my lectures had been cancelled because one of my professors claimed to be “snowed in” due to the inch of snow that had fallen over night.
Imagine if we were to drop everything and cancel all plans the second it started snowing in Norway. Our country simply wouldn’t function. So the whole concept of snow days is just so foreign to us.
Visiting Norway in the winter? Don’t miss my complete Norway winter packing list.
#10 Learning to ski in between your parents’ legs (or on a leash)
It’s said that Norwegians are born with skis on their legs, a saying that comes from the fact that we start skiing very young. As in, when we are 3 or 4 years old. But unless you have a small slope in your backyard (like some people do, my sister included), you can’t just let a 4-year-old set off in a major slope. So, Norwegians have some nifty ways of making sure kids learn to ski.
One way of learning when you are quite young, is simply skiing with an adult, in between their legs. They’ll simply grab a hold under your arms, and set off down the slope. You quickly learn the ropes, as you are forced to follow the adult’s lead (literally, as your skis can’t really go anywhere other than where theirs go).
Another way of learning to ski before you can set off on your own (which I did at 7, rather late, to be fair) is in a kind of harness that is strapped around your chest. It has two long leashes that your parents can old on to. That way, they can steer you in the right direction, and stop you when needed, yet you get to truly experience how amazing it is to ski down the slopes.
#11 Not speaking to each other
Norwegians are masters in not speaking to each other on public transportation. Firstly, we’ll never sit next to someone else on the bus if we can avoid it (if you do pick a seat next to someone we assume you are either foreign or a psychopath, so be warned).
If we have no choice but to sit next to someone else on the bus or train, we’ll make a big show of not making a big show at all. They may get a nod, and then we’ll sit in silence for the rest of the ride. And if you are in the window seat and it’s time to get off, we have developed a special skill that lets us notify the person next to us that we are getting off without ever exchanging a word.
#12 Building houses for our bins and mailboxes
If you’ve been to Norway, you’ve likely seen tiny houses in front of people’s (actual) houses, containing their rubbish bins, and sometimes their mailboxes. This is something I’ve never really thought of as a specifically Norwegian thing, but I’ve realised that it isn’t actually very common in other countries.
Basically, the weather we get in the autumn and winter can be harsh. It’s not uncommon to have to go outside the day after a storm to go look for your rubbish bins if you haven’t tied them up first, which is why the houses are such a great, permanent sollution.
#13 Road closures for any and every reason
If you grew up by the fjords, you’ll know that nature can be a fickle thing and that tunnels can be even worse. Tunnel fires, land slides, road works, bad storms, snow, even floods. There are countless reasons why the roads close, and it’s something you always have to be prepared for. That’s why I always advise anyone visiting Norway to stay up to date on the Norwegian Road Directory website before and during their trip.
Another struggle you’ll know is real if you grew up by the fjords is tunnel works. There’s always a tunnel that needs to be fixed or upgraded, which can lead to hours of closures, every night from 8pm to 6am for years on end. I’m not annoyed, you are.
Remember how I said we love skiing? Well, we love it so much that ski resorts make skiing tracks for cross country skiing, and light them up so we can use them in the dark. As you may know, winter time in Norway is very dark, with only a few hours of daylight in most places (and no daylight in some). But, nothing will keep us from an after-work ski session, and so we developed “Lysløyper”, which literally translates to “Light track”.
#15 That no summer is like a summer with 24 hours of daylight
Regardless of where in Norway you grew up, you will have gotten used to quite a distinct difference in the light from winter to summer. Due to Norway’s geographic location, you can head up north to experience the midnight sun in the summer, but you can also experience brutal winters with just a few hours of daylight. In Aurland we don’t see the sun for around 3 months from November to February, and unless you have a trip booked, the chances of getting Seasonal Affective Disorder are high. But the summers in Norway make it all worth it.
There is nothing quite like the Norwegian summers, where the sun doesn’t even set in some places. Down by the fjords, we have almost 24 hours of daylight, with the only interruption being a “dusky” light at around 3am. It’s absolute bliss, and you’ll notice that you don’t need as much sleep as usual, and that everyone is happier, always.
Trust me when I say that you need to experience summer in Norway at least once in your life.
If you are visiting in winter, and hope to see the Northern Lights (and get a photo of them), here’s my guide to Aurora photography with a GoPro!
Us Norwegians love hiking almost as much as we love skiing, and you are very likely to find us in the mountains most of the time. Hiking in Norway is very popular, and many Norwegians will spend their weekends and days off going up various mountain tops. Once at the top you’ll not only find stunning views and calm serenity, but also an old mailbox somewhere containing a journal. Once Norwegians reach the top of a mountain, regardless of how local it is or how many times they’ve been there, they have to sign the book so everyone knows they were there. Otherwise, it was like we weren’t, right?
This one is a little tricky to explain, but basically, it’s a Norwegian tradition to watch crime shows and read crime books during Easter. Påskekrim literally translates to “Easter Crime”, and it’s almost as if we automatically become crime detectives once Lent starts coming to an end (not that we practice Lent in Norway, but you get the point). Crime series such as Poirot and the Night Manager will be scheduled to air during Easter, and even our milk cartons will have riddles and ‘whodunnits’ for us to solve during breakfast. It’s like we transform into a nation of Sherlocks.
Having a cabin in the mountain is the ultimate dream for any Norwegian. If you don’t head out of the city and up to your “hytte” to go skiing for Easter, are you even Norwegian? Having a cabin and spending time in it is a tradition as old as the country itself (I’m sure), and the more traditional, the better. People still build new cabins styled to look like old ones, keeping all wooden interior intact. Even if the cabin has Wifi and central heating, from the outside it’s always best when it looks like it was built by your grandpa.
There you have some things I could think of that only Norwegian people can understand. Growing up in Norway sure is special, and I’ll admit I didn’t realise just how special until I started travelling myself. Experiencing other cultures, meeting people from all over the world, and sharing stories from my childhood has given me a whole new understanding of just how unique some of these things are.
Did you know all of these, or did any surprise you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And I’d love it if you could pin this post for others to enjoy!
Want to read more of my Norway posts? Here they are!
- Hilarious Norwegian Christmas Traditions
- 23 Reasons you should visit Lofoten in winter (with photo proof)
- The ULTIMATE Norway travel guide (down to how much you should tip in Oslo)
- The most beautiful places in Norway to visit before you die
- 30+ fun things to do in Oslo
- The only packing list for visiting Norway (in winter) you need