Great outdoors at the ‘cultural core’

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After a week of media debate over what comprises the core of Norwegian culture comes an answer based on 17,000 votes and 500 proposals submitted by the readers of the country’s largest newspaper: Norwegians thrive best when they’re trekking through the country’s great outdoors.

Enjoying the great outdoors in Norway ended up as the most highly-ranked factor in newspaper "Aftenposten's" hunt for the core of Norwegian culture. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Enjoying the great outdoors in Norway ended up as the most highly-ranked factor in newspaper “Aftenposten’s” hunt for the core of Norwegian culture. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The debate itself was criticized for being set in motion by a conservative politician allegedly worried about the effect of immigration on Norwegian culture, and by newspaper Aftenposten and other Norwegian media eager to simply stir debate. They did seem to strike a nerve, though, as the debate took off both through the traditional and social media.

Aftenposten then decided to run a series of articles entitled Jakten for norsk kulture (The hunt for Norwegian culture), inviting readers to send in their thoughts on the issue. It resulted in a story in Sunday’s paper claiming that being outdoors in the fresh air, either on skis or in hiking boots, and then returning to a modest cabin (hytte) is “the most Norwegian of the Norwegian.”

The news came just as temperatures plummeted all over Norway and more snow fell, raising prospects for more skiing or at least another mid-winter weekend trip to the hytte. Temperatures dropped in some areas on Sunday and Monday to as low as minus-30C, making any extended time outdoors a challenge even for the most hearty Norwegian.

Tom Sørlundsengen, age 49, personified what the most readers proposed with their vote: That the Norwegian notion of happiness lies in roughing it a bit amidst Norway’s spectacular scenery. Sørlundsengen posed with his dogs on skis as he returned to his small hytte (cabin) in Åstadalen in Ringsaker, Oppland County,  after yet another trek through nature. He said he spent around 100 nights in 2011 at the hytte in an area that’s been his family’s favoured holiday area for four generations.

“This is how I want things to be,” he told Aftenposten. “No electricity, no water or sewage systems.” Just a small wooden hytte with a crackling fireplace, peace and quiet outside and endless views.

His place isn’t far from Sjusjøen, an area that’s exploded in recent years with construction of more and more cabins offering every form of modern comfort and roads to the front door. That’s fine for some, maybe even for most these days, but those voting hung on to a romanticized version of Norwegian “heritage and identity” that has nothing to do with running water and stylish conveniences.

An ‘original home’
Nina Witoszek, a Polish-born professor and research leader at the University of Oslo who’s been observing Norwegian culture for years and is often cited in local media, listed 10 main facets including what she called “an erotic nature-patriotism.” She also claimed that the nature and Norway’s much exalted outlying areas are “the original home” of Norwegians, as opposed to the cities although urban culture and lifestyles have also exploded in recent years.

Norwegians also firmly believe that the forests, the mountains, the sea and the fjords can solve psychological problems, according to Witoszek. “Folks in Norway use the nature to overcome a crisis, folks in New York use a psychiatrist,” she told Aftenposten. It has to do with tradition and history, she asserted, “there’s gorgeous scenery everywhere and it’s very accessible. Natural surroundings have also dominated Norwegian stories and pictures. In that way, the nature has also become a part of the national identity.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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