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Enjoy & Learn


Vikings, fjords and trolls

Somewhere, there is a country where people don’t have curtains and leave the bedroom light on all night, just in case a lost wanderer knocks at their door looking for shelter. Somewhere, there is a land where people leave their cars unlocked, with the engine running, at supermarket parking lots while they go shopping. Somewhere… Not so far away. Kongeriket Norge. Better known as Norway.

People

It is said that Norwegians themselves are the country’s greatest asset. Not only are they hospitable, friendly and kind, they are also rich and very, very proud that they are who they are. And no wonder. With the per-capita GDP of over 40,000 dollars, inflation of less than 2% and only 4% unemployment, Norway has been ranked by the UN as the world’s top country to live in for the last three years running! Ethnically, the 4.6 million Norwegians are Germanic, although in the far north there are communities of Lapps (Sami) who first came to the area more than ten thousand years ago. In recent years, Norway has become home to increasing numbers of immigrants and foreign workers from various parts of the world, who now total over 300,000. Famous Norwegians include the dramatist Henrik Ibsen, painter Edvard Munch and composer Edvard Grieg. Contemporary Norwegians are open, outgoing people who enjoy hiking in the mountains, cycling and doing winter sports, even though the vast majority (over 75%) live in cities.

Location

Norway is situated in the western part of the Scandinavian peninsula. It extends about 1,770 km from the North Sea along the Norwegian Sea to more than 480 km above the Arctic Circle; the farthest north of any European country. Nearly 70% of Norway is uninhabitable and covered by mountains, glaciers, moors and rivers. The hundreds of deep fjords that cut into the coastline give the country an overall seafront of almost 20,000 kilometers–half the diameter of the Equator. In terms of territory, Norway is Europe’s sixth largest country, but the density of population is only 14 people per square kilometer. Its capital and largest city is Oslo, with well over half a million inhabitants. Other major cities include the beautifully located “capital of fjords”–Bergen (half the size of Oslo), as well as Stavanger and Trondheim (with almost 200,000 inhabitants each).

Language

The Norwegian language (Norsk) has two varieties: Bokmål and Nynorsk. The former developed from written Danish and evolved into the Eastern Norwegian dialect. The latter–literally New Norwegian– was created by Ivar Aasen, a 19th-century linguist, who compiled a number of native dialects from the western part of the country. Bokmal is more widespread; it is spoken in Oslo and other larger cities. Nynorsk is used by approximately 15% of the population. Curiously enough, there are about 20,000 native speakers of Sami, the Lapp minority dialect, which is still an official language in six Norwegian municipalities. Norway is in the top rank of nations in the number of books printed per capita, even though Norwegian is one of the world’s smallest language groups. In fact, the language is getting more and more popular among foreign speakers who plan to live and work in Norway. For instance, FELBERG offers courses in Norwegian in some of the school’s branches across Poland. It is said that every Norwegian speaks English, though. Indeed, language education is very important in Norwegian schools. The ratio of young Norwegians who speak fluent English is practically a hundred percent these days. This may be further helped by the fact that foreign films are never translated or dubbed on Norwegian TV!

History

Norwegians consider themselves descendants of the Vikings. Most Europeans see those infamous Norsemen as cruel robbers who once traveled the seas and ravaged foreign lands, but for Scandinavian people the Viking period (9th to 11th centuries) was one of glory, expansion, and for Norwegians–national unification. They say their ancestors in horned helmets don’t deserve the bad press–they were also peaceful merchants who civilized numerous northern lands (including Iceland and parts of modern-day Scotland and Ireland). It was the Viking monarch Olaf III Haraldsson who began converting the Norwegians to Christianity in the 11th century. Nowadays, next to trolls and fjords, Vikings are among the most recognizable images of Norway. After 1442, Norway was ruled by Danish kings, then it was united with Sweden. Norway’s current king is Harald V, but his reign is purely symbolic and ceremonial. Recently, an important debate was held over Norway’s membership in the European Union. In the 1994 referendum, voters rejected seeking membership for their nation in the EU. As a consequence, Norway is a neutral country that, e.g., has not adopted the euro as its official currency.

Tourism

Everybody should visit Norway. It’s a country of incredible natural diversity, far-flung and unspoiled, reaching above the Arctic Circle but with a surprisingly mild climate in the south. It owes its immense tourist potential to the legendary fjords, wild mountain ranges, herds of reindeers grazing in the vast fields, and above all–the breathtaking space it offers. A fjord is a valley formed by glaciers and filled with the sea to form a steepwalled inlet. Norway’s largest fjord (Sognefjord) is almost 200 kilometers long! UNESCO has included all Norwegian fjords on its World Her itage List, and National Geographic has ranked them the most popular of all World Heritage sites. The infrastructure in Norway also helps develop tourism. The scale and size of Norwegian roads, bridges and tunnels is hard to rival anywhere else in Europe. The country has more than 90,000 km of freeways and as many as 102 airports. The world’s longest solid-rock tunnel is in Norway and it’s 25 km long. Even though the country boasts 4,200 kilometers of railways, it might be a good idea to do some hitch-hiking there: the drivers are reputed to be so helpful that you won’t be waiting long for a ride.
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