Monday, October 30, 2006

Words you should know in my country – Norway

By the time you have finished reading this, your entry into Norwegian social life should be a smooth one, as I will give you a basic understanding of our culture and warn you against some common semantic pitfalls.

For instance, my Pakistani-Norwegian boss still cracks up every time a shop keeper asks if he needs a “pose” (bag), which means “fart” in Punjabi. My Somali friend was for a long time appalled at what he thought was Norwegian hostility: People kept asking him to “get lost.” Little did he know that when they said “takk,” they actually meant “thank you.” Numerous exchange students have been tricked into ordering “morrabrød,” an expression that translates logically as “morning bread,” but that unfortunately instead means “morning woody”.

Another thing one should be wary of is the importance of pronouncing “kj” and “skj” correctly. Say that you want to talk about a chain of some sorts, a necklace for instance. You want to pay a compliment and say: -I like your “kjede.” Now, if you pronounce your “kj” sloppily, as kids these days increasingly do - causing hysteria and claims of phonetic decay from the adult population - you end up saying “skjede,” which at best means “sheath”, but more commonly refers to something completely different, and as a result you compliment her vagina.

Embarrassments aside, what is typical Norwegian? Well, for one thing we spend fortunes on refurnishing and decorating our homes. I read somewhere that at any given time 20% of Oslo’s inhabitants are “på flyttefot” (on the move) - restlessly searching for the next upgrade in comfort level, however minuscule. I think the reason for this is that we are forced to spend so much time indoors, and thus like our homes to be “koselig.” There is no word in English that “koselig” adequately translates to, but imagine cozy times ten: Snuggling up under the blankets with a cup of hot cinnamon/vanilla chocolate and freshly baked brownies, the room illuminated by scented candle lights, and Nick Drake playing in the background. That’s the definition of “koselig.”

When someone has fed you, the minute you put down your fork you MUST say “takk for maten” (thanks for the food). Saying “takk for meg” (thanks for having me) as you leave is not quite as crucial, but still a sign of appreciation. I myself yearn desperately for the English language to incorporate these phrases. I tend to get so confused that I end up saying nothing at all and spend the night ruminating over my lack of manners. Sometimes I have to fight the urge to run back and finish my duties as the courteous guest.

Along with our Scandinavian neighbors we drink tons of “kaffe” (coffee) and the average Norwegian reads more “aviser” (newspapers) than anybody else. Admittedly, Norwegian newspapers are crappy, so one should not be misled into thinking we are an intellectual people.

Norwegians wear more thongs than any other women on this planet. According to statistics, Norwegians also have more one night stands than people of any other country. So, I guess a useful phrase for visitors would be: ”Vil du pule?” (wanna’ copulate?) Luckily, Norway has a very low HIV prevalence. We do, however, have what can almost be described as an epidemic of Chlamydia, but this is a disease that is easily cured. A couple of pills and you’re good to go.

No country donates as much foreign aid per capita as Norway does. Every year we glow patriotically as the Nobel Peace Prize puts us in the spotlight. We are eager to market ourselves as the world’s primary exporter of peace. At the same time, Norway is the sixth largest arms dealer of the world, top-ranking per capita. Norway has sold weapons to Turkey and contributed to the escalation of the Iraq invasion by supplying the US, Great Britain and Australia. Parts of weapons produced in Norway have indirectly ended up in Israeli hands. Thus, another word you should know in my language is “hykler” (hypocrite).

On a lighter note we also have fun words like “navlelo” (belly-button lint), and a descriptive term from my dialect, “hjælimillom,” which refers to the cold spot on the mid-torso when your sweater slides out of your pants.

If you’re still not tired of the language lesson, try saying this tongue twister:

Takpapp, veggpapp, papp og papir

(Roof cardboard, wall cardboard, cardboard and paper)

Takk for i dag.

(Class dismissed) 

8 Comments:

Blogger Michael Carøe Andersen said...

Wow an exhaustive and very cool walkthrough of Norsk.

takk for den mentale "maten" :)

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norway must be a great country to live! Every country should be responsible with the society, and Norway it´s an example!

5:34 PM  
Blogger Tonje Brustuen said...

Well thank you! We do have some of the criteria that would apply to a "great country".

But that just brings the responsibility to try harder, I think..

5:21 PM  
Blogger Rebelde said...

I agree with Diego, it must be a great country to live with all the one-night-stand thing going on, althought you probably have to speak the language :(

5:59 PM  
Blogger Mo said...

Is it true that the Norwegian for a vacuum cleaner is something like "stoor sooker" (not sure about the spelling)? We always found that a really descriptive name. Quite a few Scottish placenames which are derived from old Norse and in Scotland stoor means dust. So that would make it a "dust sucker".

9:44 PM  
Blogger Tonje Brustuen said...

Oh, no. You're even more popular if you don't speak the language. That just adds to the charm..

Vacuum cleaner is "Støvsuger". Interesting. Is there a lot of dusty places in Scotland?

10:38 PM  
Blogger Mo said...

Well I was nearly there! The Scottish rain tends to soak up the dust.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't agree at all that Norway has 'crappy' newspapers and wish most Norwegians did not feel the constant need to tear themselves and their country down.
That IS Norwegian and foolish. I've lived there, worked there and visit often (last mo. for ex.) and think I can comment.
Massachusetts norge-elsker

2:24 PM  

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