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Examples of Bunad, a form of traditional clothing used in Norway during celebrations such as constitution day and weddings. Comes in many variants unique to each geographical area of Norway.

Norwegian Words With No English Equivalent

I am a Norwegian married to an American for the last 10 years, over that time you start noticing that sometimes there are words and concepts which really cannot easily be translated. There are often related to particular aspects of the culture as well as the nature and geography that goes with the language.

Dugnad

This is a popular word in Norway that is used in a lot of context and which has very positive connotations in Norway. Dugnad roughly means communal work. It is voluntary work done together with other people. It is something that happens in a lot of context. Socialist ideas have been very influential in shaping Norwegian societies since the 1930s. The emphasis in socialism is the communal spirit of doing things together for the common benefit of everyone in the community.

Dugnadsånd

Roughly translates into the spirit of working together for a better community. By many considered a typical Norwegian thing. The welfare state itself is by many Norwegian considered an enormous dugnad by the whole Norwegian population. It is the whole population working together for the betterment of the whole country.

Matpakke

Literally translates to food pack. To give some background: Norway is and has always been a thinly populated country. People live far apart. The rugged terrain means that people have for a long time lived far away from each other in isolated valleys, in a fjord, a forest glade etc. Life involved being out in nature far away from civilization working e.g. chopping timber in the big Norwegian forest, hunting or shepherding sheep. For that reason people usually had to bring packs of food with them.

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A classic matpakke wrapped in paper. Shows slices of traditional Norwegian cheese “brunost.”

Pålegg

Norwegians eat a lot of sliced bread. We love bread and we have a lot of variety of freshly baked breads in our grocery stores as well as a multitude of different types of flower to bake your own bread.

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Slices of bread with different kinds of “pålegg.”
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Norwegian kaviar from a tube.
  • Makrell i tomat, this comes as can of mackerel fish in tomato sauce. Yes we actually spread it on top of a slice of bread. It is sort of a staple for kids. Most Norwegians kids would have eaten this in pre-school, school trips etc.
  • Fish pudding. Often comes in the shape of thick sausage. You cut slices of it and put it on your bread. It is made of fish but kind of looks like mozzarella cheese.
  • Spekeskinke dry-cured ham. Not sure how known this is in anglo-saxon countries. I can’t remember seeing it when abroad. In Norway we have whole sections in the grocery store devoted to variations of this.

Faste plasser

Literally translated means fixed seating or fixed places. It means when an area where people usually sit and that each person has a place they usually sit at. Say you get into a place and sit down on somebody’s place. They might come over and say: Hey, there are “faste plasser” here! It does not really mean something by law or rule, but rather something by convention. Like people have been coming to a particular place over longer time and started using the same seating arrangement each time.

Døgn

A word that means the day plus the night, the whole 24 hours. This is a word I really miss in english, because in english one often have to say “,day” about the same thing but that is frequently ambiguous. You don’t know if the person means just the part that the sun is up or also the night part. You could use it to say: I was awake a whole døgn. If you say that you were awake the whole night, it may not be clear whether you slept during the day.

Døgnflue

A Døgnflue is a kind of mosquito that just lives for 24 hours. However usually we use the word in fixed expressions to refer to something that is a short fad.

Døgnvill

Døgnvill means you don’t know what part of the 24 hour day it is. It is the feeling or state of losing a sense of what part of the day it is. This needs more explaining otherwise it sounds like a really odd word. Norway is very far north which means the length of the day and the night will vary a lot through the year. In northern Norway the sun never sets in the summer. In some parts it is as if it never rises. E.g. in the town of Rjukan, the sun cannot be seen at all through the whole winter. You live in darkness. These conditions can make you døgnvill. In particular people visiting the northern parts of Norway during summer can easily become døgnvill, losing sense of what part of the day it is because the sun is up all night. It is not totally uncommon that you may get invited for dinner at the middle of the night, because people often don’t divide the days up in the normal way during summer months.

Kram snø

The kind of snow that is really good for making snowballs and snowmen. It is a bit wetter than powdery snow, but not as wet as what I would call wet snow.

Silkeføre

The word “føre” refers to driving conditions in Norwegian. But it is a more broad term word. Føre is not just the driving conditions of a car, but also for bikes, people hiking, sledding or using skis. “Silkeføre” could be directly translated to silk driving conditions. It refers to the conditions when you go cross country skiing and it is very pleasant and smooth to ski. You skis slide very smoothly in the piste. A Norwegian who have been out skiing and is asked what is was like may reply ecstatic that it was “silkeføre”.

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A perfect day for skiing with “silkeføre.”

Seter

There is a Norwegian fairy tale which a lot of people even outside Norway has heard about called “De tre bukkene bruse,” in english translated into “the three billy goats gruff.” In the english version it says: “Once upon a time there were three billy goats, who were to go up to the hillside to make themselves fat.”

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A Norwegian seter in the hillside.

Stabbur

Traditional farm building for food storage. These are built on top of four poles to keep the food away from animals.

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The building on poles is a stabbur, specifically made for food storage in rural Norway, before the advent of ice boxes and fridges.

Barnehage

A place that looks after children before school age, Not an entirely unique concept. It encompasses child care before school age. So it would constitute day-care, pre-school and kinder-garden.

Utmark, Innmark and Villmark

“Innmark” is the part of the land dedicated to farming and animals. The areas utilized by humans. “Utmark” is the area outside: forests, lakes etc. It is not quite the same as “Villmark”, which would most closely relate to the English word “Wilderness”.

Friluftsliv

Just like you have words for various sports like soccer and tennis, “friluftsliv” described activities you do outdoors. It literally translates into “free air life”.”Friluftsliv” encompass hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain climbing or just about anything you do outdoors. Big sports stores in Norway such as XXL will have big sections dedicated to “friluftsliv” selling tents, sleeping bags, fishing rods, knives, rifles, storm kitchen etc, boots, jackets etc.

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Allemannsretten

Connected to “Friluftsliv” is “Allemanssretten,” which is the name of a principle enshrined in Norwegian law that all Norwegians have a right to free access to Norwegian nature. It applies to Norwegian “Utmark.” It gives you the right to camp and hike in Norwegian nature.

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A typical Norwegian beach area. Rich individuals will often try to build close to these areas to turn it into private property going against the principle of “Allemannsretten”

Dille

An obsession, something you are really into doing.

Koselig and Hyggelig

These are two related words. In later years there has been various books writing about the Danish concept of “Hygge,” but it is a word that exists in all Scandinavian languages. Not entirely sure if “koselig,” exists in Denmark but it is a related term. There is even a related term in the Netherlands called gezellig. All of these mean a pleasant and comfortable ambience. Sort of cozy. The difference I feel is that, I would describe “hyggelig” as the atmosphere when you sit at home eating a nice home made meal together with your close friends or family.

Sofakrok

Literally the inner corner of the sofa. It is however a concept. It is used in various fixed expressions such as: sitting in the “sofakrok.” This is considered the most pleasant and cozy part of the sofa.

Søndagstur

In Norway there is a long tradition for hiking on sunday. “Søndagstur” translates to “Sunday walk,” but in English this is a rather meaningless expression. In Norway Søndagstur is almost the equivalent of going to church on Sunday. It is a holy institution. Even to this day I feel slight guilt over not taking a long walk on sunday. That is sort of what you are supposed to do.

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Sunday walks in my childhood would usually end up at this old manner, F15 which today has been converted to an art gallery and cafe.

Matauk

This basically means increase your food supply through some kind of foraging. It could be picking berries, mushrooms, fishing and hunting. Here understanding Norwegian conditions helps understand the existence of this word. As a low density country with lots of wild nature, going out to pick berries, mush rooms, fish etc has long been a traditional way for Norwegians to increase their food supply over whatever they get from shopping in the store or farming.

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Example of Matauk, picking blueberries in the Norwegian forrest. To the left you see a berry picker that allows you to pick faster than you can do by hand.

Byløve, Festløve, Restaurantløve

These are slightly related words all being compound words ending with “løve” which means “lion” in Norwegian. Translated literately these words are “city lion”, “party lion” and “restaurant lion”. These words refer to people who enjoy various aspects of urban life. Sometimes the words are used a bit interchangable.

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The natural habitat of a “city lion.”

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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