Long gone are the giant, wolf-hide draped axe-men that my school-given knowledge of Norway led me to expect. I didn't see any berzerkers, and was not asked to quaff mead or beat the Gods in an eating contest once, despite having been there nearly a week. Raping and pillaging were conspicuous only by their absence, and the only shield-bedecked longships you can find there today are in museums.
The thing that first struck me about Norway is that it is more civilized than the UK in almost every way - toilet flushes work better, heated floors are standard, mixer taps work, there's a cheese-slicer (which the Norwegians invented) in every kitchen, the milk cartons have a handy transparent indicator on the side so you can see how much is left, ikea style and lamps are everwhere, there's no violent chav culture, the people are more trusting - the mailboxes for a whole street are all together, and not locked, yet people don't steal each other's mail like they surely would in most parts of the UK.
The example to the right, I'm reliably informed, is not some druidic relic from ancient days, but was put there fairly recently, probably after a committee had a talk about it.
Quite why they decided on this particular spot, high in the mountains amidst the glaring white isolation of the tundra, I don't know. Square polo, nowhere to go? Stick it up in the endless whiteness of the tundra!
This shouldn't work, but amazingly, it seems that it does. The wooden houses of Norway are warm and comfortable, despite the unforgiving weather.
When Norwegians go for a holiday in Norway, they leave their wooden houses nestled amongst the mountains and head out for...smaller wooden houses, nestled amongst much bigger mountains!
Here's a view of some of the highest mountain peaks in Norway - the photo really doesn't convey the sense of scale - these things are huge:
The towns are clean, most of the buildings are easy on the eye, and you get a sense the people really care about these things, unlike in the UK, where the architecture and poor standards of cleanliness accurately reflect the "can't be bothered" culture.
A sign of the Norwegians' understandable pride is the number of Norwegian flags dotted around the place. These seem to say "I'm proud to live in this beautiful country". Of course, there's a few British flags dotted around Britain, but these seem to say "I'm an overweight racist who always wears football shirts", which is not quite the same thing.
They used to say "the sun never sets on the British Empire", and that wasn't far from the truth - there was always a part of it where the sun was up. The British Empire isn't quite what it used to be (I blame the decline of tea-drinking and the increasing use of coffee), but perhaps Norwegian summers can take over its duties in the phrase.
The sun literally never sets on the Norwegian summer. Its quite odd - bright daylight right up to 10PM or so, and even at 2AM its still quite bright...it never really feels like its night time at all.
Unfortunately, the price for the extra daylight in the Norwegian summer is paid back every winter, which has only brief glimpses of daylight followed by darkness that covers most of the day (and all of the night). If you don't have SAD, spending a winter in Norway should give you a fair chance of developing it. But hopefully when the Norwegian summer comes along, you'll be cured again!
The Norwegian language is a total mystery to me, as a staunch monolinguist (i.e. an Englishman). Although I can't understand (or correctly pronounce) a word of it, many written words of Norwegian do bear an uncanny resemblance to English words given a bit of a Scandinavian polish (a couple of accent marks, extra Ks and some vowels juggled around a bit).
This does give the strange impression that the people responsible for these words were just writing in English but striving to convey a Scandinavian accent. One example of this is the Norwegian version of the Kit Kat called Kvikk Lunsj, which means, as you might have guessed, "Quick Lunch". See, I told you about the extra Ks!Although most of the Norwegians speak English rather better than many English natives, for some reason sign-writing duties seem to be passed to the individuals with the worst grasp of the language:
I fought the glacier...and the glacier won
All True Facts: Norway
Norway is actually the flattest country on Earth, but was dramatically redesigned by King Olaf the Modeller in the late 16th century. The famous mountains are hand-carved from polystyrene (you can see proof of this - the white bits near the tops are where the paint has come off due to wind and rain erosion. The mountains are repainted every spring, but by winter the violent weather will again have started revealing the white of the polystyrene as it tears off the paint).
as you can see, the harsh wind and rain up in the mountains has eroded large areas of paint!
Fox's Glacier Mints are made from glaciers that crushed Viking peppermint farms in the 1200s, saturating the ancient ice with a strong minty flavour.
Norwegia cheese is made from bits of Norway, mined from the Fjords, causing their current depth. Norwegia literally means "wedge of Norway".
The country was saved from an attack by thousands of evil spirits in the late 80s, by 4 guys with special backpacks. In gratitude, the Norwegians decided to incorporate the logo of these intrepid Ghostbusters into their language as an extra character - ø /Ø, which is pronounced "ur".