USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘norwegian’
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Proverbs

Norwegian Proverb

“So, literally translated, what we say is, ‘It’s not only only, but but.’ It’s literally a sentence that means, ‘You’ll be fine.’ Which, it means that, okay so what you are up to is not easy, but it only is what is. So you shouldn’t care too much.”

 

This Norwegian phrase sounds much like our own, “It is what it is.” Their term, however, seems to go a little further by saying that, while you can’t change what’s happened, it’s going to be fine. The term “It is what it is” has more of a defeatist connotation to it. Like nothing good is coming out of it. But this Norwegian version puts a positive outlook. Like, “Yeah, this suck now and you can’t do anything about it, but you’ll still come out all right.”

The source recalls hearing this from his friends in high school. In fact, the example he gave me of when he’d use it had to do with school. Someone got a D on a test once, and he remembered telling them this phrase in response. I know when I hear, “It is what it is,” it makes me angry because it’s like the person is telling me there’s no hope and there’s nothing I can do. But I feel like this phrase is far more reassuring. It sounds like more of a kind remark.

I wonder if that says something about Norwegian culture. Perhaps are they more optimistic as a society than we are? I’d probably have to hear more of their proverbs and sayings to really know, but it already sounds like they’re more hopeful than Americans.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Don’t Jump the Gun” in Norwegian

“Okay, so it’s this thing, and it’s literally translated, ‘Don’t sell the bear’s pelt.’ Is that what it is? Pelt is fur? Yeah, ‘Don’t sell the bear’s pelt before it’s shot.’ It literally means, like, don’t celebrate until it’s happened. Don’t, don’t, don’t jump the gun. But in Norwegian we say that about hunting and bears. *laughs*  So yeah, it literally, but yeah that’s one term.”

 

The source talked about this proverb with particular passion because he really likes it. He says he tries to live by this proverb so that he doesn’t get too far ahead of himself. The source is a filmmaker, so he has a lot of grand ideas, and he says that if he sells the bear’s pelt before it’s shot, there’s a chance it’ll bite him in the butt later because he may not always be able to come through with his projects. He says it’s better to celebrate step-by-step than assuming you’re going to be successful the entire way.

I very much like this proverb as well, particularly because we don’t have one like this in the US. Or at least, I’ve never heard one quite like it. I know I’ve heard the sentiment before from my parents, but I think the phrasing is pretty unique. The message is also great. What does it say about Norwegians? Perhaps that once, their egos were large, so they have to weigh down their pride using proverbs like this.

This proverbs speaks to patience and wisdom. Also, the fact that it phrases in terms of bears is interesting. It makes it even more uniquely Norwegian. You wouldn’t get this proverb in, say Cuba for example or Peru even. Because those countries don’t have bears. For Norway, though, bear hunting is huge. They need the pelts for making clothing and blankets to protect from the cold, which gets awful in Norway for half of the year.

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gross Norwegian Food

“So we have this little tradition in Norway where we eat lye fish. Do you know lye? Do you know what lye is? So lye is a liquid obtained by leeching ashes or strong alkali. So you literally put a fish in ash and you let it rot. Then you leave it in the ash or lye until it becomes so fermented that all that’s left is the part of the fish that doesn’t serve any function, the jello that’s only there to make sure that the rest of the body stays where it should be. And that’s what you eat. Once a year. For Christmas, primarily. And you eat it with so many things on the side that you disguise the taste of the fish. So like, the whole point is you use as many small dishes as you can. You can’t just eat the fish because the fish tastes horrible. And we all agree that it tastes terrible, but we all keep eating it because it’s tradition. It comes from Lofoten. It comes from way up north. It comes from a way of preservation. So it was back in the day when we didn’t have refrigerators or anything like that. They could put the fish on lye. And then that would… You know, it rots, but you can still eat it. It’s like, yeah, it works. It’s called lutefisk.”

 

Lutefisk sounds like an absolutely awful dish. It seems the source felt that way about it anyway. He recalls eating it every Christmas ever since he was little. No one enjoys it, his family merely does it out of tradition. The tradition, like he said, stems from old times when fish couldn’t be preserved in refrigerators and whatnot. So instead, people would preserve fish by keeping it in ash.

It sounds like this dish wasn’t invented intentionally. Ash was probably used to preserve other things, and they had no idea the effect it would have on fish. They probably preserved the fish in ash or lye for a couple of days, came back, and seen a whole different product than they were expecting. I’m surprised it’s still around though, considering the method of making it and what it actually is. Must be a very strong tradition for people to still be eating it today.

People probably hated it back then, too, but like the source said, with enough side dishes, the fish could be forgotten. It probably allowed ancient Norwegian peoples to still take in some kind of protein during the heavy winter months, along with whatever nutrients they got from the harvest.

 

For more on this recipe:

Legwold, Gary. The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition. Minneapolis: Conrad Henry, 1996. Print.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Proverbs

Behind the Clouds the Sky Will Always be Blue

My informant is a friend and sophomore student at USC from Norway. She lived for the majority of her life in Norway before moving and living in Thailand, Dubai, and Namibia until she attended college. Having lived for over a decade in Norway, Norwegian is her primary language.

 

“Bak skyene er himmelen alltid blå…this one translates to um… ‘behind the clouds, the sky will always be blue’ meaning that there’s always something positive in everything depending on how you look at it.”

 

This proverb immediately reminded me of the American saying “every cloud has a silver lining”. I find it very interesting that many cultures share a saying that embodies the belief that you always have to be able to see the good in a bad situation. My informant had a relatively difficult upbringing as a child in Norway. As an infant her parents had to keep her in a dresser drawer instead of a crib because they could not afford one. The extended period of hardship that she endured while a child and the position that she is in now (a successful student at USC) demonstrates a cultural belief in staying positive and continuing to look on the bright side even when things are looking bad.

Proverbs

Han får gå lenge barfot som venter på å arve en annen mann’s sko

My informant is a friend and sophomore student at USC from Norway. She lived for the majority of her life in Norway before moving and living in Thailand, Dubai, and Namibia until she attended college. Having lived for over a decade in Norway, Norwegian is her primary language.

 

“And uh, there’s one more that I like—Han får gå lenge barfot som venter på å arve en annen mann’s sko that translates to ‘you’re going to have to walk barefoot for a long time if you’re waiting for someone to pass you down their old shoes.’ This basically means that eh…you won’t get any—anything for free in life and that you have to work for what you want.”

 

This particular proverb seems like one that would ring true with many American ideals. It essentially states that you have to work for anything that you really want in life, otherwise you’re just going to end up waiting for something that may never come. This particular saying was one that my informant hears frequently throughout her life and instilled the belief that you cant just be passive and wait on life to drop opportunity on your doorstep, you actually have to put in conscious effort and work for the things that you truly want most.

Proverbs

The Old Goats Have the Hardest Horns

My informant is a friend and sophomore student at USC from Norway. She lived for the majority of her life in Norway before moving and living in Thailand, Dubai, and Namibia until she attended college. Having lived for over a decade in Norway, Norwegian is her primary language.

 

“De gamle bukkene har de stiveste hornene, which, this basically means eh…it directly translates into ‘the old goats have the hardest horns’. Meaning that eh…the older you get the wiser you get.”

 

Analysis: This proverb speaks to a relatively universal idea that age brings wisdom. It is widely accepted in many cultures that the older members of the community are the ones that are most respected and have the most knowledge. My informant told me that her parents used to tell her this when she was younger in instances where she was impatient, made poor decisions, or was acting “smart”.

 

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Traditional Christmas Dinner – Lutefisk

Informant: “My family for Christmas, we eat lutefisk. Which is cod soaked in lie. It’s cod soaked in lie and then you cook it, and its this gelatinous thing that is, its indescribable, and anybody coming into the family has no idea what’s going on, like why are you serving this for Christmas dinner. But you put it on mash potatoes and you mash it in there and you put drawn butter on top and its good, but if you eat it by itself, it is like, I don’t know, its absolutely disgusting. They cook the cod in lie because you were in the Midwest, these were all Norwegians who fled Norway, and you didn’t, I mean there was no where you could really fish, I mean you could ice fish or whatever, but these were all people that grew up with an abundance of fish in Norway and here they are in the middle of the Midwest with no fish, so they would transport this cod from the east coast. But to keep it OK  they would keep it in lie, which is you know a poison, and that’s how they would keep it and transport it.”

 

Interviewer: “And it’s safe to eat?”

 

Informant: “Yeah you cook it and eat it, with lots of butter, it’s very good. It looks like no fish you have ever eaten; I mean it is like see-though, gelatinous fish.”

 

Interviewer: “Why on Christmas?”

 

Informant: “I don’t know, but there are these huge lutefisk dinners in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I mean like people pay like 50 bucks to go have a lutefisk dinner.”

 

Interviewer: “How was it to have this tradition be apart of your yearly Christmas experience?”

 

Informant: “Well I mean for me I grew up with doing it, so it is very traditional, it is like how we felt like we were connecting with our heritage. It is important to carry it on. Like this year , my aunts were like oh, lets do something different, lets do like lobster or something like that and all of my generation was like ‘No, were are doing lutefisk,’ because to us that is like the traditional Christmas dinner and we want it. Regardless of the fact that nobody else would ever come to your house and eat that. That’s it yeah.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged mother with three boys. She grew up in Minnesota with a large family in the suburbs of Minneapolis. As stated in the interview, the informant grew up eating lutefisk for Christmas and she associates the food with Christmas dinner.

Lutefisk is a traditional dish from the Nordic Countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland and has been carried over to Nordic-North American areas of Canada, the Finnish community at Sointula on Malcolm Island in the province of British Columbia, and the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

Lutefisk is made from cod, and to make it, the skin and bones need to be removed, then the fish is salted and hung to dry for several weeks until it hardens. Then, it should be soaked in lye for several days. (Merriam-Webster: Lye – strong alkaline liquor rich in potassium carbonate leached from wood ashes and used especially in making soap and for washing). According to the informant, lutefisk can be served with gravies, green peas, mashed peas, (boiled, baked or mashed) potatoes, meatballs, lefse, gravy, mashed rutabaga, white sauce, mustard sauce, melted butter, syrup, or cheeses, though they usually serve it with mashed potatoes and butter.

I think this collection really emphasizes how people can become attached to their traditions even if they don’t necessarily like them. The informant is determined to continue to have lutefisk dinner on Christmas because she feels that it ties her to her heritage and it is an important tradition for her, even though she considers the fish itself to be “disgusting,” .

Plate of Lutefisk

The informant sent me this picture of Cream of Lutefisk soup after our interview

Interestingly, Lutefisk is present in many different popular culture genres, for example in movies and music. A movie was released in 2011 called “The Lutefisk Wars” directed by David E. Hall and Christopher Panneck about: “A rural frozen food delivery man is mistaken for someone else and ends up in the middle of an ancient feud between two Norwegian Mafia Families” (IMDb). There is also a music band called Lutefisk which released an album in 1997 called “Burn in Hell Fuckers.” Lastly, a parody song concerning lutefisk called “O Lutefisk, O Lutefisk” was created by Red Stangeland to the Tune of “O Tannenbaum” by Ernst Gebhard Anschutz.

Movie Cover

The Lutefisk Wars. Dir. David E. Hall and Christopher Panneck. Perf. Ken Baldwin, Haynes Brooke, and Regan Burns. Sojourner Pictures, 2011. Film.

Album Cover

Lutefisk. Burn in Hell Fuckers. Bong Load Records, 1997. Audio CD.

Customs
Game
general
Kinesthetic
Musical

Norwegian Nursery Rhyme

The informant related an activity she did with her children.

When I was a real little girl, My grandpa used to put me on his foot like this and hold my hand. [She crosses her legs at the knee and holds her hands at about knee level as though holding the hands of a toddler.] He was Norwegian and he would sing: “Ah ria ria runken. Hasta netta blunken” [phonetic transcription] [She mimes bouncing the child every other syllable.] I have know idea what it means.

I find it interesting that the informant remembers and passes on this piece of folklore despite not knowing even what it means because, even though she does not speak Norwegian, she is sentimentally attached to the rhyme.

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