POPULATION: 4.3 million
LANGUAGE: Norwegian in two forms: Bokmål and Nynorsk
RELIGION: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway; small numbers of Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Muslims, and Jews
Norway is part of the region known as Scandinavia. Scandinavia includes Norway together with its neighbors Denmark and Sweden, as well as Finland and Iceland. Norway is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean for most of the country's length, on the southwest by the North Sea, and directly to the south by the Skagerrak, an arm of the North Sea. To the east, Norway shares a long border with Sweden, and for a short distance in the north with Finland and Russia.
Most Norwegians live within a few miles (kilometers) of the sea, which has played a pivotal role in their country's history. Norway's great Viking era took place during the ninth century AD , when the Vikings (Norse explorers and pirates) extended their territory as far as Dublin (Ireland) and Normandy (France). Their leader, Harald Fairhair, unified the country around the year 900, and King Olaf converted the Norwegians to Christianity. The Vikings were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a feat accomplished with Erik the Red's voyages to Iceland and Greenland. Erik's son, Leif Erikson, landed on the coast of North America in the year 1001. Norway's long period of union with Denmark lasted from 1380 until 1814, when the Norwegians adopted their own constitution. Their short-lived independence ended as Norway was united with Sweden under one head of state until 1905. That year marked Norway's peaceful secession and installation of its own monarchy. Since Norway, long a subject people, had no royal family of its own, it chose Prince Carl of Denmark to become the new nation's first king, as Håkon VII.
Norway remained neutral during World War I (1914–18), but was invaded by Germany early in World War II (1939–45). Norwegian resistance to German occupation had severe consequences as the Nazis attempted to destroy the underground movement. The Norwegian merchant fleet played a vital role in aiding the Allies. Although it lost half its fleet, the country recovered quickly after the war.
Although Norway joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960, it rejected membership in the European Community (EC) in 1972, and decided against joining the new European Union in 1994.
Norway stretches across the north and west of the Scandinavian peninsula. It is a long country with bulges at the north and south, while its midsection is as narrow across as 3.9 miles (6.28 kilometers) at one point. It has an area of 125,051 square miles (323,882 square kilometers)—roughly the same size as the state of New Mexico. Norway is the longest country in Europe and one of the most mountainous: only one-fifth of its total area is less than 500 feet (150 meters) above sea level. Almost one-third of the country lies within the Arctic Circle. The sun shines almost round-the-clock at the height of summer in mid-June, but in winter there is very little sunlight in mid-December. Overseas territories claimed by Norway include the Svalbard islands and Jan Mayen island (both in the Arctic Ocean), Peter I Island (off the coast of Antarctica) and Queen Maud Land (a wedge-shaped piece of Antarctica itself).
Norwegian is a Germanic language closely related to Swedish and Danish. There are actually two forms of Norwegian, both of which are considered official languages and can be understood by all Norwegians. Bokmål , the more common of the two, was developed from Danish during the nineteenth century, while Nynorsk grew out of nationalistic impulses at the same time. Nynorsk is a combination of rural dialects intended to be a distinctly Norwegian language, one not influenced by Danish. Today, Bokmål is mostly spoken by people living in cities and towns. Modern linguistic experts have proposed a third form of Norwegian, Samnorsk, that would simplify language use in Norway by combining elements of Bokmål and Nynorsk.
Norwegian mythology originated from the ancient religion of the region. The chief god, Odin, lived in a walled city called Valhalla and was escorted into battle by nine warrior maidens called the Valkyries. Norway has a strong tradition of storytelling, and its folklore is full of odd, sometimes grotesque, creatures. Probably the most famous creatures of Norwegian folklore are the trolls—large, powerful, grotesque beings. Some trolls are considered friendly, while others delight in causing harm to human beings. Trolls appear as mascots, in Norwegian place names, in folk art, and in many folktales.
Many Norwegian folktales portray a nearly senseless world; a world in which people never quite know what is going on.
"Silly Men and Cunning Wives" is one such tale:
One day two wives were fighting over who had the silliest husband. Both of them bragged that they could get their husbands to believe or do anything. They decided to put their husbands to the test.
One wife went home and waited for her husband, Master Northgrange, to come home from the woods. When he did, she put on quite a show, saying he looked like he was at death's door with an illness. The man said he felt fine, but his wife put on such a show of it that he began to feel ill. He took to bed and fell into a stupor, during which his wife laid him out for a funeral and then put him in a casket.
The other wife waited for her husband at the loom, pretending to spin the finest linen when actually none was there. When her husband, Master South-grange, came home, he told her she was crazy to sit at a loom spinning nothing, but his wife laughed at him and said she was making the finest linen in Norway, so fine it could not even be seen. The man laughed at first, but because his wife worked so long and so hard producing a suit for him, he came to believe that the fabric was so fine it was simply invisible to him.
The next day Master Northgrange's wife let it be known that there would be a funeral for her husband. She told everyone that he had died during the night. Master Southgrange's wife told her husband of the tragedy and suggested he wear his new suit to the service. On their way, they attracted quite a lot of stares because Master Southgrange was stark naked. Mistress Southgrange assured her husband they were stares of envy for his fine suit. When they got to the cemetery, Master Northgrange peered out of one of the holes his wife had drilled in the coffin and saw his friend walking with no clothes on and started laughing out loud. All the men carrying his coffin jumped in horror and dropped the box, spilling Master Northgrange onto the frozen green earth.
Afterward, the two men realized what their wives had done and they took their revenge. If anyone wants to know what that revenge was, the tale says, he or she had better ask the woods trolls.
Norway's official religion is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway. While 90 percent of the population are members, fewer than 20 percent are regular churchgoers. Norway also has small numbers of Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Muslims, and Jews.
Constitution Day on May 17 is the Norwegian day of independence and commemorates the anniversary of the day in 1814 when Norway declared independence from Denmark. It is celebrated with parades and other gala events throughout the country, often with traditional folk costumes. Midsummer's Eve on June 23 is another major holiday. It marks the longest day of the year and is celebrated with bonfires along the country's lakes, rivers, and fjords (narrow inlets of the sea, bordered by steep cliffs). Celebrants continue eating, drinking, and dancing throughout the night. All Saints' Day is celebrated on November 1, but Christmas (December 25) is Norway's major winter holiday. On Christmas Eve (December 24), families celebrate with a traditional festive dinner that often includes pork and cabbage. Afterward they sing carols around the tree, which is decorated with white candles, and open the Christmas presents. Traditionally, the Norwegians perform a thorough housecleaning before Christmas, which actually extends until January 2, the end of the holiday season. Other religious holidays include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and Ascension Day (all in the spring).
Although Norwegians are not particularly religious, the overwhelming majority of parents have their children christened as infants. Norwegian children are permitted to play unsupervised, as the crime rate is very low and even the larger cities provide safe environments.
Most teenagers go through confirmation, the primary rite of passage for young men and women in Norway, at approximately age fifteen. One of the most important events in the school life of Norwegians is high school graduation, which is celebrated in a unique way. Graduates spend their final weeks of school wearing Russ gowns (gowns made of a coarse reddish brown cloth) and engaging in all sorts of public pranks, including parading down city streets and disrupting traffic and spray-painting mildly insulting rhymes about their teachers on sidewalks outside their schools. Military service is required for males starting at the age of nineteen.
Norwegians are a hard-working and self-reliant people, with an independence fostered by their harsh climate with its long, dark winters. Emotionally reserved, they avoid direct confrontations in their relationships with other people. They are courteous and polite, and their social encounters are marked by repeated handshaking, by both men and women. Norwegians are also known for their hospitality, especially during the Christmas season. Guests in a Norwegian home do not touch their drinks until the host offers a toast using the word skål (pronounced "skawl").
Norway has one of the highest standards of living in the world, enhanced by the discovery of petroleum and natural gas in the Norwegian section of the North Sea in the late 1960s. Norwegian houses are typically of stone or wood, with one or two stories. City-dwellers often join into a housing cooperative called a borettslag (BOOR-ehts-lahg), from which they rent apartments.
Norway's state-supported healthcare system covers most medical expenses for its residents. Average life expectancy in 1989 was seventy-six years, up from fifty-two years a century earlier. Like those in other industrialized nations, Norway's leading causes of death include cancer and heart disease. As the average life span of Norwegians has increased, a shortage of nursing and retirement homes has developed.
The typical marriage age for men is twenty-five to thirty, for women twenty to twenty-five. Norwegian families are getting smaller, and it is not unusual for women to decide not to have any children. The parent or parents of one spouse generally live with the family, often in a separate suite of rooms in the house or they may live in a separate apartment nearby. Husbands and wives generally share decision-making responsibilities. The divorce rate, while low, is rising, with incompatibility and alcoholism cited as the primary causes.
Norwegians wear modern Western-style clothes for casual, business, and formal wear. At festivals, one may still see traditional costumes. Women's costumes include high-collared white blouses with embroidered or plaid bodices and ankle-length skirts, often in blue or red. This outfit may be completed by a hat of lace or other fine cloth. Men wear broad-brimmed hats, white shirts, colorful embroidered vests with dressy buttons, and tight, black knee-length breeches with white hose and silver-buckled shoes.
Norwegians eat four meals a day, of which the main one is middag (MID-dahg), a hot meal usually eaten between 4:00 and 6:00 PM . A typical middag meal would be fish served with boiled potatoes and vegetables. The remaining meals are cold meals featuring the typical Scandinavian open-faced sandwich, called smørbrød (SMUR-brur) in Norway. These consist of ingredients such as cheese, jam, salmon spread, cucumber, boiled eggs, and sardines, served with bread and crackers. While fish is often served in mildly flavored forms such as fish loaf and fish balls, the more pungent smoked salmon ( røkelaks; RUHR-kuh-lahks) and aged trout ( rakørret; RAHK-uhr-ruht) are popular as well. Commonly eaten meats include mutton and meat balls. Lingonberry jam is a popular accompaniment to meals, and for dessert one may be served fresh berries, cream pudding ( rømmegrøt; RUH-muhgruhrt), or fruit soup. Potatoes have been a very important staple in the Norwegian diet since the 1800s, when the church urged people to plant them to help put an end to hunger during the long winters.
Coffee and aquavit, an alcoholic beverage, are the most commonly served beverages. Norwegians, like their Scandanavian neighbors, are some of the world's largest per capita consumers of coffee in the world. Norwegians generally drink it black.
Norwegians also are one of the world's largest consumers of chocolate. On average, Norwegians consume 17.6 pounds (8 kilograms) of chocolate a year.
Norwegian Christmas bread is a staple of the holiday season. Cardamom seeds and candied citron may be difficult to find; try the local health food store. If they do not have any, they will probably be able to tell you where you can get some, or offer suggestions for replacements.
Literacy (the ability to read and write) is nearly universal in Norway. School is required between the ages of seven and sixteen. Because of its concern with equality, Norway's national government develops a curriculum that is followed nationwide.
After the age of sixteen, students choose between vocational and college preparatory training. Higher education, which is free, is offered at four universities (Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen, and Tromsø) and a number of other institutions. About 1 percent of the population is enrolled in postsecondary schooling. Norway currently has a shortage of higher education facilities, especially vocational ones, which limits the number of students who may be admitted for post-secondary education.
Norwegian literature begins with the Sagas and Eddas of the medieval Vikings, written in the language of Old Norse and found mainly in Icelandic texts. Norway's most illustrious writer during the period of Danish rule was the eighteenth-century playwright Ludvig Holberg, whose comedies are still performed in Norway and Denmark (and to whom the composer Edvard Grieg dedicated a suite of pieces). Norway's liberation from Danish rule in 1814 marked the beginning of the country's modern literary tradition. Its most famous author is the playwright Henrik Ibsen, whose works of realism and social criticism—including A Doll's House, An Enemy of the People, and Peer Gynt —are known and performed throughout the world. Other prominent nineteenth-century authors included Henrik Wergeland and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (a 1903 Nobel laureate). In the twentieth century, Knut Hamsun's novels explored social problems, and Sigrid Undset—who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1928—por-trayed the Norwegian past in sweeping historical novels, the most famous being the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter.
In the visual arts, the painter Edvard Munch—known worldwide for his famous painting The Scream —pioneered expressionism in Norway during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Gustav Vigeland is known for his sculptures. Norway's most famous composer is Edvard Grieg, who during the nineteenth century incorporated elements of Norwegian folk music, culture, and history into his compositions.
Children under the age of fifteen are prohibited from working in Norway. Those under eighteen are not permitted to work at night or to work overtime. The government regulates other aspects of employment law as well. It requires four weeks of paid vacation each year, limits the number of hours employees can work in one week, and offers generous parental leave (with full pay) to new parents. Women are granted thirty-three weeks of maternity leave at full pay.
The economy of Norway provides most of its citizens with a comfortable, relatively wealthy lifestyle, regardless of career choice. Norwegians can also expect a lifetime of full social benefits paid for by the state.
Much of Norway's formerly agricultural employment has shifted to both small industries (paper, textiles, and food and beverage processing) and larger ones, such as shipbuilding, shipping, and North Sea oil development. Today only about 20 percent of the population is engaged in farming.
Skiing, once a means of transportation, is now the national sport. Children learn to ski at an early age. Downhill, cross-country, and slalom skiing are all popular. Other winter sports include iceskating and bandy, a game similar to hockey. Soccer (called "football") and tennis are popular summer sports.
Norwegians enjoy many outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing (including ice fishing), hiking, boating, and white-water rafting. Watching televised competitive skiing and speed skating events is a favorite pastime. Many people take skiing vacations in the mountains during Easter week. Summer vacations are often spent either in cabins in the mountains or in the area between the cities of Stavanger and Krageroe in the south. The fjords there are sheltered from the wind and sea, and vacationers enjoy swimming, sailing, relaxing on the sandy beaches, and viewing waterfalls.
Norwegian craftspeople turn out knitted and woven goods, and wood products including utensils, bowls, and furniture. Another leading craft is the production of traditional Norwegian costumes. Folk dancing and singing are enjoying a revival and are practiced at festivals throughout the country.
Traditionally, heavy drinking and the resulting alcoholism have been Norway's most important social problem. Since the 1960s, drug use has been a significant problem as well. Drugs have not been legalized in Norway, and liquor and wine are only available through state-operated liquor stores.
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