There is more to Norway and Norwegians than
meets the eye. Outwardly the country is the most sparsely populated in all
of Europe with less than 25 percent of the land inhabited and more than 75
percent of it a vast stillness of barren mountain ranges. Outwardly
Norwegians appear to be a literate, calm and homogeneous people, with
conformity appearing to be the key to their way of life.
Yet the Norwegians were the first in Europe to recognize the potential of
water-powered electricity and in 1891 installed in northern Hammerfest the
first hydroelectric plant in all of Europe – while the rest of Europe lit
their candles and kerosene lamps. As early as the 700s, when the rest of
civilization was still nascent, Norwegian Viking ships set out to far off
coasts of the Arab world and even North America, to explore, to trade, and
to plunder. Stone Age carvings visible throughout Norway on mountainsides
and rocky strata are said to be more than 4,000 years old and depict a
vivid way of life with images of the sea and the land and even well-drawn
Even today, with little more than 3 percent of the land arable, Norway has
an efficient mechanized system of agriculture, a bustling industry in
forestry and fishing products, and a merchant shipping fleet that is one
of the largest in the world. And while much of the rest of the
industrialized world concerns itself with problems of pollution, Norway
exports an increasingly prized resource: pure spring water.
Norwegians freely admit to being hooked on sports and physical fitness and
to being avid readers – there are said to be three times as many daily
newspapers in Oslo as in New York. They also admit that alcoholism is one
of their oldest problems. And while they enjoy parties after skiing,
skating, sailing, or mountain climbing, there is sure to be at least one
guest abstaining from alcoholic drinks in order to drive the others home.
For in Norway impaired driving carries the stiff penalty of jail term and this is strictly enforced. Special government stores
dispense alcohol at high prices and close for weekends. Perhaps it is a
spark of the old Viking fire that accounts for the Norwegians openly
adhering to the letter of the law, while many of them quietly make good
use of a still hidden in the cellar!
And while 96 percent of the population profess to the Lutheran faith,
complete with the celebration of Christmas, Easter, confirmation
ceremonies and parties on the fifteenth birthday, examples of still older
beliefs are much in evidence. Dotted throughout the rugged countryside are
gnarled and grotesque rock formations which the Norwegians – only slightly
hesitantly and more than half-jokingly – will tell you are fossilized
trolls. Many inexplicable events are quietly attributed to the varying
dispositions of the mischievous trolls inhabiting the rocks and trees
throughout Norway and there are few who would dismiss their existence
completely. There is scarcely a Norwegian family that would not set out a
plate brimful of creamy rommegrot for julenisse, the Christmas troll
dressed in a red cap and sporting a white beard. With a full belly on
Christmas Eve, he is not so likely to play tricks on the family the rest
of the year.
The Norwegian's apparent contradiction between the inner and outer self is
an ancient trait. Although daring and violence seemed to characterize the
Viking abroad, at home he organized things – special meeting places where
village grievances and disputes could be heard and settled. This
surprisingly democratic system was in existence before the 600s. And while
the Viking held the belief that to fall in battle meant a place in
Valhalla with Odin in the afterlife, he also clung to a firm belief in
ragnarok, "the final confrontation between Good and Evil," and the
accounting of man's deeds.
But it is history as well as ancient cultures that have molded the
Norwegian lifestyle. The flamboyant era of the Vikings ended in 1066
followed by almost 500 years of internal strife, domination by Sweden and
Denmark in ill-fated unions and finally the Black Plague which reduced the
population. Pressure from the German Hanseatic League controlled
Norwegian trade for almost 200 years, while the Danes ruled and taxed the
people and spread the Lutheran faith.
Finally, toward the end of the 1700s, with her population increased, her
economy strengthened, and a resurgence in rich peasant art, Norway adopted
English manners and culture and stepped towards independence.
The democratic constitution was signed on May 17, 1814, and is celebrated
today with children's parades and a buoyant sense of freedom just as
though "the ink were still wet on the paper."
Wherever Norwegians have emigrated, they have adapted themselves quietly
into the community, retaining their Lutheran faith and their love of
sports, everywhere their calm natures and gentle strength pervading their
lifestyle. Unquestionably their long historic struggle with the elements
of nature and their life in a vast quiet country have left them with a
deep sensitivity to the concerns of others as well as a personal need for