Below, some snippets of interview questions I asked different Norwegians I have met since visiting. I’ll label them with the last three letters of the Norsk alfabet: Æ, Ø, and Å.
Æ is a hunter/trapper/expedition guide who mainly lives in Svalbard.
Ø is a waitress from Tromsø who studies in Edinburgh.
Å is a fisher and IT expert from near Oslo who travels extensively.
Have you ever seen a troll?
Æ: A what?
Å: Well, there are different kinds. Forest trolls, Mountain trolls, and Sea trolls.
Sea trolls? Where have you seen a sea troll?
Å: In the sea… Were you expecting a different answer?
Have you ever seen a polar bear? And where?
Ø: In Tromsø, yes.
Æ: There are more polar bears than humans in Spitsbergen.
How many tourists do they eat every year?
Å: It depends, usually, on their hygiene.
Ø: Or on how well they tip.
What’s the strangest question or interaction you’ve had with a tourist or foreigner?
Æ: So many. One was about the midnight sun. Someone asked me which sun is the midnight sun. He got kind of angry when I said it is the same sun. It was as though he didn’t believe me, that it couldn’t be possible. I really didn’t know what to say…
Å: Sometimes people ask me if we have salt water in the fjords. You can guess where these people were from.
Å: (laughs) Good guess, but unfortunately, no.
How long have you waited outside, in the cold, to see the Northern Lights?
Ø: When you do see them, you feel so stunned that you completely forget how long you’ve waited.
Why are all the rorbu (fishing huts) red?
Æ: Tradition. Red is a very cheap color. We used to use blood, so it was quite plentiful.
Å: You see some that are white these days, but white is an expensive paint. So if you see some that are painted white, usually they are still red on the sides and in the back.
Ø: Red is a pleasant color for most Norwegians. Plus, lots of us are colorblind anyway.
Why are they always made of wood? Why not make them from rocks?
Æ: Well, they are usually on stilts, and you can’t made rock stilts that are light. Also, it is easier to keep wood warm than stone.
Ø: Wood burns, of course, so if you run out of fuel for your fire you can just start burning some of the walls.
Å: Wood houses are used to throw off the trolls. The Mountain trolls and many Forest trolls are made of stone, you see, and during the rutting the season the males will mount large rock piles, sometimes. So, we make our homes out of wood. That’s also another reason we paint them red, and there’s often sod and grass on the rooftops to further disguise them.
(A note for my friends the Clarkes: apparently some trolls leave a white stone outside their cave, and that means that it is a swinger troll cave.)
Why do Swedes make fun of Norwegians?
Æ: Do they?
Ø: They don’t understand our language, but we understand theirs, so… that probably has something to do with it.
Å: We’re better at everything. Just jealousy.
Who is more shy? Norwegians, or Finns?
Ø: Finns are more withdrawn. But Norwegians are more shy.
Æ: When we drink, we say skål, and everyone says skål back, and then we drink. When Finns drink, they say kippis, and then everyone is paralyzed. They don’t know… should we drink? Or should we say kippis back? It is a sure way to stop a party.
What is the most Norwegian thing you can think of?
Å: Eating reindeer with aquavit at the end of a fjord.
Ø: Hiking in Honnigsvåg to the top of the world. Or, feeding the sea eagles.
Æ: Finding a remote island in the fjords with some trees, some moss, maybe a spring, no electricity, no running water… and build a hytte on it.