Jesus is a mannequin and other observations in Norway

Jesus is a mannequin

Lutheran Jesus from my childhood; Warner Sallman, 1942.

            Growing up, I shared a room with my sister.  On the wall of our bedroom was a framed picture of Jesus, holding a lamb and surrounded by a flock of sheep.  We were not a religious family, but we were baptized Lutherans, and my mother insisted that we attend Sunday school.  That particular picture of Jesus is what you might expect to find in a 1960s west coast Lutheran community.  He had long straight brown hair and a beard, and a kind but pale face.  I now believe that Jesus looked quite differently from that drawing and that the surrounding valley would not have been so lush and green, and even the sheep may have looked differently.  Never the less, this is the image of Jesus that I grew up with and remains in my mind to this day.  That is why, while strolling the shopping district of Oslo with my brother last September, I was immediately struck by the large photo in the window of the H&M department store.  There was my version of Jesus, modeling a coat and scarf in Oslo.  I recognized Him immediately.  Leave it to the Norwegians to use my Jesus to advertise the new Fall line of H&M jackets.

Barbie wears a Hardangerbunad

On my travels, I like to bring home souvenirs to remind myself of my trips.  My brother and I had been in Norway for over a week visiting family and on the road most of the time.  Since it was September, most of the shops in the small towns were closed, and I had no souvenirs other than my photographs.  I was suffering from a severe case of souvenir deprivation at this point, which luckily my brother recognized and made an effort to alleviate.  It was our last full day in Norway as we drove into Oslo and it was a Sunday evening.  Not good for shopping. We pulled into the Bygdøy peninsula just a few minutes before the Norsk Folkemuseum closed.  The carved wooden fjordling pony on the shelf of the museum gift shop was beautiful.  It was hand carved and the likeness to the live fjordling ponies of Norway was incredible, and I wanted it.  Unfortunately, like most of the handmade items in Norway, it was expensive.  Too expensive.  Exhibiting extreme willpower considering I had not shopped for a week, I set it down, and settled for a hand embroidered wool scarf, which I am now very glad I bought.  It is beautiful and useful.  It was a more reasonable 500 Norwegian Kroner, approximately $80.  (Norway did not join the EU, and uses the Norwegian Kroner.)  Everything in Norway was expensive, except the clothes in the H&M store.  The scarf purchase eased my shopping mania, but I still wanted to look around for something else.  My brother and I walked the Oslo shopping area and spotted a typical souvenir shop, in all its tackiness.  With the light waning and the shop getting ready to close, I quickly scanned the shelves.  That is when I saw her.  It was Barbie, in a Norwegian bunad.  OK, it wasn’t the real Barbie made by Mattel, but she was a close relative of the same size and shape, with long blond hair, and looked too cute in the Norwegian Hardangerbunad to pass up.  So I paid the 300 Kroner as the shop closed and walked away satisfied.  My brother went home with five rocks collected from a rocky beach along the North Sea Highway on the southern shores of Norway.

The hand embroidery on my wool scarf, design by Irene Haugland.

Traditional Norwegian Rogaland damebunad

Norwegian roads are built by trolls

            As first generation Norwegian children, we grew up with Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, and believing in trolls.  We played with troll dolls sent from Norway, and my mother still has a wooden bowl decorated with carved troll heads.   My first trip to Norway in the early 1980s triggered a lifelong fear of tunnels.  My only explanation for the roads and tunnels of western Norway is that they must be built by trolls.  They are the scariest tunnels on earth.  Many are just dark holes cut into the rock with rough walls, no lights, and gravel surfaces.  The longest tunnel we drove through nearly thirty years ago was seven miles long.  In 2000, Norway opened the longest road tunnel in the world between Lærdal and Aurland.  It is 15.2 miles long.  On my most recent trip to Norway, we did not drive through the longest tunnel, which in photos appears to be lighted and doesn’t look quite as trollish as I remember from the 1980s.  But there still remain plenty of tunnels in Norway that look as though they could have been built by trolls.  During our 2009 drive, at my request we looked for routes with the least amount of tunnels, but avoiding them completely was nearly impossible.  I still become apprehensive when driving through tunnels, and this is magnified 10 times in Norway, but I haven’t actually seen a troll yet.  We seem to have at least one in our family lineage though.  At one time my Uncle Arvid, in describing one of his elderly aunts to me and my siblings, said of her “She vas a troll.”   


Norway is the Promised Land

            It is true.  In 2009 Norway was voted the #1 best country in terms of quality of life, life expectancy, literacy and economy.  Norway held that position for six consecutive years from 2001 to 2006.  (I don’t know what happened in 2007 or 2008).  This ranking was released by the UNDP, United Nation Development Programme.  I find myself agreeing with quite a lot of the findings.  My relatives all seemed happy and healthy, with jobs, access to medical care, long maternity leaves, and retirement care.  One relative works in the oil industry, the source of much of Norway’s wealth.  Norway is ranked as one of the richest countries in the world.  As a tourist, Norway is expensive.  The rental car, fuel, food and hotels were priced higher than in other countries I have visited.  We rented a diesel powered VW Golf, which got surprisingly good fuel economy, thank goodness.  The cost of filling the fuel tank of this small vehicle was over $100.  (We purchased the diesel in Kroner per litre, which converted to about $8 to $10 per gallon.)   The fuel economy was so good though, that we only had to fill it twice to drive from Oslo to the west coast and back again.  Public transportation is available in many places, and everyone walks.  We also observed that the people were all of normal weight with very little to almost nonexistent signs of obesity.  My brother and I counted exactly four people in 10 days that could be considered overweight.  We did not see fast food drive-ins, but we did see people outside enjoying the parks, and many men pushing baby carriages; so many in fact that I remarked on it to my brother. 

While traveling, most of the dinners we bought cost us about $100 for two, and hotels were routinely $200 to $300 per night.  We made it affordable by sharing all our costs.  The people we met were friendly and helpful, and nearly everyone spoke English.  Visiting with my cousin and her children, they told us that English is taught in the schools beginning in the 1st grade, and lasting through graduation.  We got lucky with the weather, enjoying many sunny days, despite it being September.  I recommend traveling in Norway if you wish to experience beautiful scenery, friendly people, and good food.  But don’t forget your VISA card, because they don’t take Euros or American dollars, but I do think they’d take your American Express.

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