Emily C. Skaftun

(skŏf • tŭn) n. A writer of speculative fiction.

Tag: norway

Peer Gynt at Gålå mixes fantasy with reality

High in the Norwegian mountains is a legendary theatrical experience worth the journey

Photo: Bård Gundersen / courtesy of Peer Gynt Festival
The natural setting is as much a part of the play as the actors and musicians. Characters enter and leave on boats and wade into the water, they chop trees apart, and of course they do it all no matter the weather.

The curtain cannot rise because there is no curtain, no proscenium arch, nothing but grass and a beach flanked by two shaggy hillocks between us and Lake Gålåvatnet. We are gathered here in the Norwegian wilds outside Vinstra to go on a journey with a character called Peer Gynt.

On and off the page
Peer’s journey begins just down the hill. He’s a farmboy with a bad reputation and a penchant for tall tales. The well-known opening line of the play is from his mother, Åse, who yells, “Peer, du lyver!” (“you’re lying”). He proceeds to spin a wild tale about riding a reindeer, which riffs on Norwegian folktales, and like a folktale cannot possibly be believed.

So it figures that his travels would run him afoul of powerful trolls and powerful forces that would dog him to his dying day.

The character on Ibsen’s written page is an enigma. He is a liar, and he is a loser. A big-talking charlatan whose answer to the trouble he gets himself into is to run away. Yet he is also a lucky man, and one who might be a sympathetic or even tragic figure. I found I couldn’t get a grip on the guy on the page, so I was eager to see what version of the man would step onto the stage.

Mads Ousdal, in his last year as Peer, didn’t step so much as gallivant, bursting onto the grassy lakefront and even onto a bench-like barrier between the audience and the stage with gymnastic moves and pelvic gyrations, as the band played eerie strings. Throughout the show Peer veered from excitement to a few tender moments to the character’s dominant emotion, spittle-flecking rage.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Mads Ousdal as Peer Gynt entered in an athletic, swaggery burst of personality that brought the action very much to the audience’s lap.


No Norwegian? No problem
Of course, much of the blame for the spittle lies with Henrik Ibsen, who wrote Peer Gynt 150 years ago this year. The language of the play is complex and rhymes to the beat of a different drummer, and it is clearly more than a mouthful at times.

But fear not, English speakers. The festival provides brief introductions to the play in English and German, and also offers an audio guide in those languages. Rather than step on Ibsen’s language with a word-for-word translation, the guide simply gives intros at the beginning of each scene. A word of advice though: one does have to keep the device engaged. I confess I took it off at one point and became hopelessly unsynced from the audio summaries. Thank goodness I’d read the script!

A range of dates to celebrate
Norway’s most famous playwright was inspired, during his time in the Gudbrandsdal valley, by the tales of the real Per Gynt, who’d lived across the way from him some hundred years earlier. He was a liar too, but in a more gentle way—a spinner of tall tales who entertained his neighbors in a pre-television world so thoroughly that his legend persisted for generations.

The Peer Gynt Festival was first celebrated in Vinstra in 1928, the 100th year since Ibsen’s birth. The second festival was held four years later in 1932, 200 years after the birth of the historical Per Gynt. After a long pause, the festival started back up in 1976, 100 years after the play’s initial premier in Christiania (Oslo). In the early days, the festival was mostly just a party, an occasion for “moonshine and harmonica,” as one local resident put it. In 1989 the play was first performed on the shore of Gålåvatnet.

With so many historical events to mark, the festival can find a reason to make every year special, but they are determined to mark the play’s 150th birthday with the respect the occasion deserves.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The version of the production that I saw used costumes to great effect. The trolls had a lot of greenery about them, as one might expect, but they were also covered in trash, making them somewhat more urban—not to mention modern—creatures than what Ibsen probably had in mind. Later in the play, we were visited with mental patients armed with selfie sticks, and even dancing soldiers in camo fatigues.

The many incarnations of Peer
For the first 25 years of the festival, the play’s production remained largely unchanged. When attendance started to drop off in the early teens, they realized it was time for a change. There was nothing wrong with the original production, all those who’d seen it assured me. But like The Phantom of the Opera, there eventually comes a time when everyone who was going to attend has. What to do then?

The festival brought in a new Artistic Director, Erik Ulfsby, to remake the production. “Peer Gynt is like a big house with many doors,” he said. “I’ll do other doors than those done earlier.” The set was rebuilt, and the audience moved closer to the water. The music, partially from Grieg’s score, was modernized to de-romanticize Peer Gynt.

This is the play I saw. If Ulfsby’s goal was to make Peer’s journey more real, then he succeeded with flying colors. The reality of the play was one of my main takeaways. I’ve done a little work behind the scenes of plays in the U.S. and here safety is always a primary concern. So I was stunned to see actors doing things like waterskiing or hacking all the branches off a tree with an axe, let alone running and jumping about on rain-slick surfaces or jumping into lakes half naked. Yes, I was told, Mads had injured himself a couple of times. Never too severely.

A Peer for the future
2017 is another year of changes. Director Sigrid Strøm Reibo’s vision for the new production is to emphasize the long journey Peer undertakes. The title role will be split for the first time at Gålå, with father and son actors Jakob and Nils Ole Oftebro sharing the part. Though both are well-known actors in Norway, this will also mark the first time the two have been in a play together.

We will meet 25-year-old Peer in the 1960s and follow him until the present day. Details of the new production are of course as yet unknown, but we have also been promised a new approach to both the music and the musicians and “new tableaus and pictures that audience will not expect.”

Crazy as it sounds, I am seriously considering making another trip back to Lake Gålåvatnet to see how the interpretation of this timeless classic changes from year to year.

Photo courtesy of Peer Gynt Festival
The artistic team for 2017: Mask & Costume Designer Helena Andersson, Director Sigrid Strøm Reibo, Composer & Musical Director Simon Revholt, and Scene & Costume Designer Gjermund Andresen.

Notes on actually being there
The experience of Peer Gynt at Gålå is like if Broadway theatre and camping had a baby. High-quality performances in a rustic—yet hyggelig—setting.

My main words of advice are these: dress warmly. Wear all your layers. Yes, it’s August. No, it probably won’t be warm. Yes, it might rain, and no they won’t stop the show. For us it started to rain in Act I, and there was a mighty rustle as we in the audience all donned our ponchos. I had as much clothing on as I physically could, including a lot of borrowed items. If you won’t have anyone to borrow from, pack well.

Also, make a night of it! The performance itself is one thing, but there’s also dinner to be had before the show, in big heated tents strewn with cozy sheepskins. There are picnic benches outside if the weather permits. Bringing in outside food or beverage did not seem to be counter indicated, so I recommend it. At the intermission, get some coffee and a pastry. At the end of the night, if you’re up for it, hit up “Varm mat og etterprat,” a discussion with people involved in the play that also comes with soup, back in the tents.

But wait, there’s more!
The play runs for two weekends, with at least seven performances (and quite probably more added as these sell out). But you don’t want to miss the one-time-only “mountain concert” on the final Sunday. High atop another mountain you can nestle into the heather and relax with the view and incredible choral and instrumental music. For me this was a magical day—the only really sunny and almost warm day of my week in Norway. Your mileage may vary, of course.

This event cannot sell out, as I am assured that the mountain can handle it. Bring a picnic blanket and your matpakke or buy snacks and beverages from the many stands that pop up along the way, or have lunch at the charming Hotel Rondablikk and enjoy a hike around the area.

For more info on visiting the Peer Gynt Festival or to buy tickets, visit peergynt.no.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Two ways to rush through Oslo

You can see more than you think on a short trip to Norway’s capital—even while smelling the roses

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

Photo: Nancy Bundt / Visitnorway.com / Vigeland-museet / BONO
Frogner Park, a must-see in any Oslo trip.

With so much to see in a fascinating place like Oslo, you may think it best to budget a week or more in Norway’s capital city. I can’t argue with that thinking, of course, but the reality of traveling is that we can usually not spend as much time anywhere as we’d like (except for airports. We spend far too much time in those).

The first time I visited Oslo it was for one day, an afterthought squeezed in between uncooperative train and flight schedules. The second time I hoped would be more leisurely, but I ended up with just over two days! Still, one can see a lot in a short visit if properly armed and motivated.

For armaments, you’ll need an Oslo Pass and a map. If you’re privileged enough to have a smartphone that actually works in Norway (no, I’m not bitter at my cell phone carrier. NOT AT ALL.), there is an app for all of that, called Visit Oslo. I’m sure it works wonders. For those of us who find ourselves suddenly in the last century with regards to personal technology, a physical Oslo Pass and map will do just fine. You can pick these up at most hotels, and also at a visitor’s office at the train station. They’re available in 24-, 48-, and 72-hour versions, and the clock doesn’t start running on it until your first use. The Oslo Pass also comes with a pocket-sized paper guide to everything it offers. Which is an incredible amount! Between attractions and public transportation, it’s a real bargain.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The finished statues in Vigeland Park are pretty great, but in the Gustav Vigeland Museum (park-adjacent) you can explore what it took to make them—and see examples of the sculptor’s other works.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The finished statues in Vigeland Park are pretty great, but in the Gustav Vigeland Museum (park-adjacent) you can explore what it took to make them—and see examples of the sculptor’s other works.

On that first trip we arrived late in the evening, found some food, and wandered on Karl Johans gate and down to the Opera House before heading back to the hotel to plan our attack on the next day. The goal: to see as much as possible.

We started by taking the ferry (included!) from the Oslo Harbor in front of the Rådhus over to Bygdøy, where you’ll find a cluster of museums. If you’re into boats, this is the place for you: the Viking Ship Museum is there, along with museums hosting the Fram and Kon-Tiki (and Ra). They are all rather small museums, and all included in your Oslo Pass.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The Fram is just one of the famous Norwegian ships clustered in Bygdøy. But it is one of the more impressive, and you can even go on deck.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The Fram is just one of the famous Norwegian ships clustered in Bygdøy. But it is one of the more impressive, and you can even go on deck.

Next to these is the famous Norsk Folk Museum filled with brown farm buildings with grass roofs. You will probably want to spend a little more time here, to take in the living history demonstrators who bring the place to life, by, for example, offering you lefse baked on the medieval hearth in a farmhouse.

I’m pretty sure we did all of this before lunch.

After that, we took the boat back and walked toward the t-bane (subway), which allowed us to spot half a dozen points of interest at least enough to point at them. Ooh! The palace! Right here in the middle of the city, you say? Neat!

We took the subway to the Munch Museum, which is also pretty small—but mandatory if you’re into art at all. “The Scream” is in the National Gallery of Art, but since it was a theme Munch returned to over and over, there is also a Scream at his museum—the exhibit does change, but this seems to be a constant. After all, that is really what people are coming to see.

We hopped back on the t-bane and went to Frogner Park, which contains Vigeland Park, which is also mandatory. I don’t care how short your visit to Oslo is; go see the creepy iconic work of Norway’s best-known sculptor and take selfies with the statues.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun From the top of Holmenkollen you can see all of Oslo, looking shockingly far away.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
From the top of Holmenkollen you can see all of Oslo, looking shockingly far away.

Our last stop on that visit was all the way up to Holmenkollen, the ski jump that looms over Oslo like the launch pad for a spaceship. It hosts a small museum of ski jumping and of course the view from the top of the jump, which is to say the view of all Oslo.

Our assessment was that we’d seen the crap out of Oslo. Not bad for a day’s work.

My second visit, I was on a mission: to research articles like this one, yes, but I also had meetings in various parts of the city that disrupted the flow of my sightseeing. One thing I discovered early on was that, even though it was theoretically the height of the tourist season (early August), things close early. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and there wasn’t much happening in the center of the city. Many attractions are closed on Sundays, or on Mondays, so plan your route with that in mind. Save parks for the evenings, at least when long summer daylight allows. Because for some reason, everything else closes at either 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Nils Anders lets out his angst in Marina Abramović’s sculpture, intended as a frame for the scenery of Munch’s “The Scream.”

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Nils Anders lets out his angst in Marina Abramović’s sculpture, intended as a frame for the scenery of Munch’s “The Scream.”

I started with Ekebergparken, a new sculpture park on the east side of town. One of the area’s claims to fame is that it is the view Munch used for “The Scream” and other of his works. Marina Abramović’s sculpture, a frame at the edge of a platform, gives you the chance to be your own Scream. You will have to hike a bit to get there. Yes, farther than you think. Make a left at Tony Oursler’s “Klang,” an A/V hobbit house wall (described by the park’s website as a “video grotto”), and eventually you will get there, even though it doesn’t seem like it!

My first full day in Oslo looked something like:
• wander Karl Johans gate from Stortinget to the palace
• head toward the harbor but instead run into the Ibsen Museum and decide to stop
• meeting
• find myself at the Nobel museum and decide why not?
• by-appointment viewing of Emanuel Vigeland’s mausoleum (more on this in another article, I promise!)
• wandering, dinner

And my second day went:
• Gustav Vigeland’s museum
• Frogner park
• meeting, other meeting
• Munch Museum
• realize that there’s still time to get to the National Gallery, so go
• wandering, dinner

On both days the theme was one of being able to see more than I’d expected to. I wouldn’t be certain if there was time to properly see something, like the Ibsen Museum. But having the Oslo Pass emboldened me to give it a try—I knew it wouldn’t cost anything more if I needed to come back again, and I also never worried about spending money to visit a museum only to stay for a short time. Aside from E. Vigeland’s mausoleum, the Oslo Pass covers everything I did.

Also, and I say this with no disrespect, these are not overly large museums. Even the National Gallery’s permanent collection is possible to get through in an hour, and it has a more impressive Munch collection than the actual Munch Museum—not to mention other Norwegian artists. So maybe it’s not a museum to shock and awe visitors, but I find that a refreshing change of pace from one that takes all day, or many days (I’m looking at you, Louvre) to see properly.

That will perhaps change in the coming years. Three new museums are set to open soon—a new National Museum, which will combine the current National Gallery and History Museums, a new National Library, and a new Munch Museum in a whole new location (literally—the location is currently water in Oslo’s harbor). In the years after that, the expanded Viking Ship Museum will also come online.

So if you’re inclined to rush though Oslo, my advice is to rush to Oslo first, before its museums grow too big to handle.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær?

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun As it turns out, I really don’t take a lot of photos when it’s raining. So here’s a shot from the relatively “nice” weather before the rain started at the Peer Gynt performance. I was concerned that that woman on the left was going to die, since she was wearing at least four fewer layers than I had on and was already shivering. Hanne Maren, right, is fully bundled up, and she spent most of the evening inside a tent.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
As it turns out, I really don’t take a lot of photos when it’s raining. So here’s a shot from the relatively “nice” weather before the rain started at the Peer Gynt performance. I was concerned that that woman on the left was going to die, since she was wearing at least four fewer layers than I had on and was already shivering. Hanne Maren, right, is fully bundled up, and she spent most of the evening inside a tent.

I knew right away when I stepped off the plane that I’d made a mistake. Skirts and tank tops had no place in my luggage for this trip to Oslo and the Gudbrandsdalen valley in August.

I thought I had planned so carefully. The weather forecast showed some rain for my trip, but temperatures in the 60s—not my preferred beach weather, but not so dissimilar from the old school “summer” Seattle had been experiencing. I packed the sort of clothes I’d been wearing. I very carefully prepared a special clothing plan for an outdoor event in the mountains: long underwear, a wool sweater to be acquired in Norway, and waterproof outer layers. It’s the mountains, yes, but it’s still summer, I thought. How cold could it be?

A Norwegian relative of mine shared a quote with me, of uncertain origin: “Norway has two winters, one of them white and the other green. The green one is the worst, because they don’t use the fireplace.” Whoever said it, that was exactly the phenomenon I experienced. In Oslo hotels the boilers are off, so forget about heating up your chilly room.

Put on more clothing! Norway is like a frugal father telling his kids not to touch the thermostat. The phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” is bandied about so much that it’s a Norwegian cliché, but do people really believe it? The unseasonably chilly weather (yes, even for Norway!) was a frequent subject for conversation, so I ended up asking a great many Norwegians their thoughts on the truth of the truism.

It was hard to find many who would speak out against their country’s weather. The final tally came in with eight firmly agreeing with the saying, four admitting that there is sometimes bad weather, and three weaseling away from the question by saying that it’s really both. For example, Ingrid, a Norwegian working in the U.S. Embassy, said immediately that there was bad weather. Her reasoning: she’d been biking into work and had forgotten her rain pants, and when she got in water literally poured out of her shoes.

“So if you’d been wearing your rain pants it would have been okay?” I asked.

Indeed. So whose point had she just proven? Camilla from Visit Lillehammer neatly summed up a sentiment I heard repeatedly: “There is bad weather, but there is also really good clothing.”

Kate from Norwegians Worldwide was adamant that the saying was true. She said she’d been camping during rains that had closed roads with their resulting floods and thought, “It’s a bit wet.”

Cecile from Lillehammer’s stunning Art Museum was the most outspoken in supporting the existence of bad weather, but qualified it by saying she wasn’t a very typical Norwegian. Typical Norwegians, she told me, wear very sensible clothing. Her style is, predictably, more artistic.

Even in the mountains at Lake Gålå, where actors perform outdoors in all weather, often wearing what I would consider very “bad” clothing, I couldn’t find anyone to condemn it. “The weather is part of the performance,” said Reidar, who dies in the play and must lie still on the often-wet ground. Another performer talked about adapting one’s performance to match the surroundings, making motions bigger.

I have nothing but admiration for these stalwart souls who embody the theatrical cliché “the show must go on.” I sat in the audience, wearing an additional four layers over and under the careful plan I’d made, wrapped in ponchos and a loaned woolen blanket, and found it mildly distressing when it started to rain. It rained steadily for the rest of the show, at least two hours during which not one of the actors let on that there was any kind of weather, despite being at times shirtless, often barefoot, sometimes wading into lake water I can’t imagine was much above freezing.

International developer for the festival Hanne Maren, who did say, “I’m starting to feel there is something wrong with that saying,” tacitly admitting to the existence of bad weather, denied that that evening’s rain qualified. It had been a nice night, she said. It was a balmy 12 degrees! (Celsius, of course). What was I complaining about?

I’d often thought there was an element of victim-blaming to the saying about bad clothing. It seems to say, “Oh, you’re cold? Should have been wearing a better coat.”

But perhaps it’s even more accurate to say that it’s a bit classist. I had considered buying rain pants for this trip, but the high price tag put me off. Hanne Maren loaned me a pair of hers, saying that you should never buy something for a trip, but only if you really need it in your life. But then how is a person to visit a place like Norway? For some, “bad” clothing is the only kind they can afford.

So what is the answer? For me, I think there’s quite a lot that counts as bad weather—hurricanes and tornadoes leap to mind. But barring weather warranting a Red Cross response, I’m willing to entertain the notion that there is some level of clothing out there that would make it all okay, or even enjoyable. I simply haven’t found it yet.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

On the “untranslatable”

Photo courtesy of Maren Eline Nord, Nittedal, Norway Three grads take part in Norway’s russefeiring, the traditional high school graduate celebration that coincides with the national day, in 2014. There is no corresponding thing in America, so we have no word for it.

Photo courtesy of Maren Eline Nord, Nittedal, Norway
Three grads take part in Norway’s russefeiring, the traditional high school graduate celebration that coincides with the national day, in 2014. There is no corresponding thing in America, so we have no word for it.

Last fall an article started to go around, written almost exactly a year ago for Matador Network, called “10 untranslatable Norwegian terms” (matadornetwork.com/notebook/10-untranslatable-norwegian-terms). A quick search will turn up many such lists, all with different words and terms, in basically every language you can think of.

It’s true, of course, that translation is an imperfect art. A language is about more than just words for the things we can all agree on (cat, dog, car, etc.); it’s innately tied up in the way the culture that uses it sees the world and therefore reveals things about that culture. Just think of the old chestnut that the Inuit have dozens of words for snow.

In particular, though, I was troubled by this list, which was:
Skjerp deg
Kos(elig)
Glad i deg
Takk for sist
Marka
Faen
Pålegg
Tøffelhelt
Takk for maten
Russ

I don’t claim to be an expert on the Norwegian language (I’ve only been learning it for two years!), but to call some of these untranslatable seemed like a stretch to me.

Judging from the comments section on the article, I’m not alone. Collectively, folks with knowledge of Norwegian and English can translate all of these, though they might not agree on how.

I’d argue that the list falls into three main categories: words that don’t translate literally but have pretty clear parallel meanings in English (skjerp deg to “sharpen up” or even “watch yourself;” faen to a different f word; glad i deg to “I like you”), phrases that literally translate but aren’t used quite the same (we wouldn’t say “thanks for last time” to greet someone, but it’s not a hard concept to grasp), and words that we don’t have in English because the thing it describes isn’t big in the U.S. (we’re not as into open-faced sandwiches as our Nordic cousins, so we don’t talk about pålegg—though I’d also like to suggest “toppings” as a simple translation—and we just don’t have Russ at all).

And then there’s takk for maten. Does the author of the list really think that we don’t say “thanks for the food” in English? I am not inviting him to dinner.

Underlying quibbles about whether these words are really translatable or not is something deeper, I suspect. Because when you come down to it, English has a word for almost everything. Perhaps not a common word, but with over a million words to choose from (twice the vocabulary of the next most verbose languages) you can bet most concepts are covered. And if it isn’t covered already, English has no problem with simply annexing words from the nearest unwary language. I predict that the Danish version of kos, “hygge,” will one day be in English dictionaries.

I think what’s really being celebrated in these lists is the culture underneath. A list like this one tells me that the author thinks Norwegians, when compared to English-speakers, focus more on finding joy in simple pleasures, are more frugal in their use of the word “love,” give thanks more freely, feel closer to nature, and curse less inventively.

Whether or not that is true, it speaks to something. As our world gets smaller, as people from all over the world are able to talk to each other, to be influenced by each other’s cultures, to eat each other’s cuisines, and generally to “melt,” it’s easy to feel that the differences between peoples and places are wearing away. The downside of a global melting pot is that what makes cultures unique can start to fade, and even though the opportunities and advantages coming with globalization are huge, that loss is scary.

Is our insistence that some things cannot be translated a reaction to this? I see it as a way of asserting the uniqueness of a culture, though perhaps not the most constructive way. Do we need these barriers? To me they feel dismissive: “You wouldn’t understand; you’re not Norwegian.” Would it be threatening if we did?

What word would a Norwegian use to describe that feeling?

This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Following the king for a day: eight observations in no particular order

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Press passes make me feel so official!

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Press passes make me feel so official!

1. The king is super punctual. I don’t know if the trains run on time in Norway, but the king certainly does. I was given a fairly detailed press schedule ahead of time, with some non-standard times (7:29 p.m.?). I was thinking of it as more of an estimate, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t dead accurate.

2. Covering an event as official “press” is boring. I vaguely remembered this from my meager experience pretending to be a journalist (don’t tell anyone, but I am not really much of a reporter), but it reminded me even more of being on crew for a theatrical production—a lot of hurry up and wait. Some of this waiting could have been avoided if I’d known just how entirely punctual the king was, I suppose.

3. Hanging out with the press is even more boring when they all speak a language you’re still just learning. The bus ride to and from Tacoma with the Norwegian press? Nap-inducing. Of course, everyone on the bus could speak English, but also of course they chose not to. Don’t mind that woman in the last row. She’s just napping and definitely isn’t interested in your conversation.

On a personal note, this made me realize just what a long way I have to go with Norwegian. I’m getting close to being able to read and can almost understand simple Norwegian sentences spoken by Americans, but a busload of real Norwegians? Forget it. A word here and there. Pathetic.

4. Journalists are on the same team. You hear about cutthroat reporters trying to get a scoop, and I’m sure that’s the case for certain kinds of stories, but at least on this beat there was a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. However, I could see this being a problem, because…

5. Journalists who travel together all get the same perspective. I’ve read a bit about how this happens, especially on foreign beats, with war correspondents, etc., but sitting in that Norwegian press bus unable to understand the words I could easily see how this happens. When all members of the press are at the same press conferences, shooting photographs from the same angles, typing up their notes while chatting over sandwiches, how different are their final stories going to be? Not very, would be my guess.

6. If there are professional photographers covering the event, unless you too are one, don’t bother trying. Okay, I got a couple of usable shots with my borrowed camera that I barely knew how to use, but I got access to many more by asking the pro photog from PLU to share his shots with me. I got the shots for this week’s story through the Norwegian embassy from the royal press secretary. My time onsite would have been better spent taking notes.

7. Women will never advance in many fields as long as the shoe gap remains in place. The male reporters, photographers, and organizers all wore basic men’s shoes: decent looking and functional. The women all wore heels. There was a lot of walking, including times when we needed to almost run in order to get around a building to the next photo op. Guess who got there first? Kine Hartz, from the Norwegian Embassy, had a little pair of flats in her bag that she switched into a couple of times when things were slow, but the heels always came back out. And switching shoes also slows a person down. What if sensible flats were the accepted norm for woman too?

8. Norwegian VIPs are more “just folk” than American ones. All over the PLU events security boundaries had been set up, all of which the Royal Palace staff wanted to move closer. We were constantly waved closer in, in a way impossible to imagine for, say, President Obama.

The previous Sunday, at Seattle’s Syttende Mai celebration, I found myself at a table with Thorhild Widvey, Norway’s Minister of Culture, and this seemed perfectly natural. Our leaders and politicians don’t seem quite so approachable, and it’s a shame. One gets the sense that even though Norway is a rich and powerful country, it’s also kind of a small town. Or at least I get that sense, as I watch the king laugh and joke with students and reporters alike.

This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Kvikk Lunsj v. Kit Kat: A comparative analysis

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun I decided to see how Kvikk Lunsj and Kit Kat stacked up, literally and figuratively.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
I decided to see how Kvikk Lunsj and Kit Kat stacked up, literally and figuratively.

Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly

Around this time last year I learned of the Norwegian Easter phenomenon that is Kvikk Lunsj. It seemed that the country went wild, yearly, for this… what was it? I’d never heard of it.

The name threw me at first. It’s a lunch thing? Like maybe an energy bar?

Coworkers scoffed at me. I did more research, turning up photos. Oh, it’s a Kit Kat!

I was informed, by many sources, that I was wrong. Kvikk Lunsj was far superior to Kit Kat. Not even in the same league. That seemed likely, given what I already knew about the relative quality of American versus Norwegian chocolate. I set out to see how the two candies stacked up.

I think it’s pretty clear that in packaging, Kvikk Lunsj wins hands-down. Its cheery red, yellow, and green design is bold and much more appetizing than Kit Kat’s orange (and I love orange). The label is simpler and cleaner.

But Kvikk Lunsj’s advantage doesn’t end on the outside of the packaging. Inside it has “Søndags-turtips,” a description (på norsk) of a hike in Norway. (Which I can almost read; hooray for a year of Norwegian classes!). This is obviously far superior to Kit Kat’s… foil.

At first glance, they remain remarkably similar. The Kvikk Lunsj looks slightly larger, just slightly in every direction, than a regular-size Kit Kat bar. Both are divided into four wafery sticks, but Kvikk Lunsj wins the design competition with Freia’s bird stamp outclassing “Kit Kat” in the chocolate’s embossing. Okay, initial points go to Kvikk Lunsj.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun At a glance, the candies are remarkably similar, inside and out.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
At a glance, the candies are remarkably similar, inside and out.

The ingredient lists for both are similar, with predictable variations and, one assumes, higher-quality ingredients used in Norway. This last one is pure speculation, of course. No points awarded in this category.

Is Kvikk Lunsj healthier? Of course the serving sizes aren’t the same on their nutrition facts labels, making an apples to apples comparison tricky, but… no. Gram for gram, the Kvikk Lunsj has more protein, but also quite a lot more fat. Points to Kit Kat for health, shockingly.

Taste is, of course, the most important factor in a candy bar. For my money they were close enough to the same as to be almost indistinguishable. However, one thing both I and Molly (whom I roped into my research) noticed was that even though the Kit Kat appeared to have more chocolate covering it, the Kvikk Lunsj tasted a little more chocolatey. For Molly, this made the Norwegian version the clear winner. I’ll go ahead and give Kvikk Lunsj those points.

So all things being equal, it looks like Kvikk Lunsj is outclassing Kit Kat. But things, here in the U.S., are rarely equal. You may not have a handy local Scandinavian store, like I do, where you can pick up a Kvikk Lunsj. Or even if you do, you may find the price a bit of a shock. Mine cost $3.50, versus the Kit Kat’s buck or so price tag. I get it. Importing things from Norway isn’t a cheap proposition. And the Kvikk Lunsj is slightly larger. But it’s not so much larger that three Kit Kats isn’t a lot more.

So here is my Easter recommendation for you (and I realize this is sacrilege to some of you): Buy one Kvikk Lunsj. Unwrap it; eat it; enjoy it. Save the wrapper. Then, anytime you feel the need for a Kvikk Lunsj, wrap the saved packaging around a Kit Kat bar—it’ll fit. Tell yourself that what you’re about to eat is really a Kvikk Lunsj. Save $2.50.

Happy Easter!

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Tomato, tomat, tómatar

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons
You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

It’s been a while since I worked in education (teaching composition to mostly indifferent first-year college students), and even longer since I was a student in the full-time sense, so today when I think about education I think about language. You see, about a year ago, having begun work at something called the Norwegian American Weekly, I started learning Norwegian.

I never picked up much beyond “tusen takk” and “klem” from my Norwegian family, and when I’d tried as a kid to take Norwegian classes I quit as soon as my parents let me, because it was boring and irrelevant.

Or so I thought, right? I couldn’t have known then how relevant it would later become to me.

At various points I have flirted with languages—French, Bahasa Indonesia, American Sign Language—with very limited success. Weirdly, none of those felt very relevant to me either. Today I feel confident in exactly three hand signs: “thank you,” “awkward,” and “bullshit.” I don’t suppose this will be very helpful in conversation with a deaf person.

Even on the brief trips that I took to Indonesia and France, I got little use out of my very limited language skills.

Fast-forward to about four weeks ago. I was in Iceland, hooray! On one of our first lunches we went to Hamborgarafabrikkan, and as I was staring at that long word something clicked, and I exclaimed to my friends (probably much too excitedly), “It’s the hamburger factory!” On the matseðill, many words looked familiar. And not just words like tómatar, that any rube could puzzle out, but also things like rauðlaukur, which seemed similar enough to a norsk rødløk to mean red onion.

Of course the English version was printed on the other side of their menu (which deserves a whole story in itself), but I was amazed how much even my limited Norwegian allowed me to read (simple) things in Icelandic.

It’s these kinds of connections that make learning relevant, of course, but also fun. If only my English students could have found my lessons on proper apostrophe use as exciting! But perhaps they found it more challenging to find examples of this in their daily lives to relate to.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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