What does it mean?
This is one of the beautiful but rare occasions when stereotype and reality perfectly align. In Norway, the country of salmon, the expression en glad laks (‘a happy salmon’) refers to a cheerful, lighthearted, positive person.
A possible English equivalent is ‘happy camper’.
Du er en skikkelig glad-laks, du! – Aren't you a real happy camper!
If you’ve lived in Norway for long enough to understand the many different dialects, then imagine a sea-ridden northerner – en vaskeekte nordlending, as Norwegians would say – saying: Jo, han Olav, han er ein ordentlig glad laks – Oh, that Olav, he’s a real happy-go-lucky person.
Why would this person say that about Olav? Well, because Olav lives in the far north, with heavy winds and a lack of sunlight in the winter, but still manages to stay happy. Olav – like the salmon – is cheerful and lighthearted.
A not-so happy salmon caught in a net on the Norwegian coast. Photo: AFP
Where does it come from?
According to Norwegian language guardian Språkrådet, the expression — originally Swedish — draws on the salmon's nature as “ein sprek og livleg fisk” – ‘an agile and lively fish’.
The first time the expression appeared in Norwegian literature was in famous author Jonas Lie’s Sang ved Bollen (Song by the Bowl), in 1876.
If you want to watch the most fantastically Norwegian cliché of a video you have ever seen, check out this clip called En glad laks ('A happy salmon') from the website laksefakta.no (salmonfacts.com).
In it, Lise Marie (who incidentally looks like a real glad laks) asks:
Gjør laksespising deg til en glad laks? Does eating salmon turn you into a real cheerful person?
Five people, presented as 'the Gjerde family', collectively scream:
JA! – YES!
Lisa Marie then spends about three minutes showing us how the Norwegian salmon is produced, before concluding:
“The Salmon is healthy, which makes us healthy too. And when you're healthy, you can't help becoming happy. A happy salmon.”
So there you have it.