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Norwegian expression of the day: Nattbad

Norwegian expression of the day: Nattbad
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
It's a traditional Norwegian summer activity packed with cultural quirks.

What does it mean?

Nattbad, ‘night bath’, is what Norwegians say when referring to the activity of going for a nightly swim.

Why do I need to know it? 

Although it there is an English term for ‘night swim’, nattbad is, to Norwegians, a concept packed with cultural lessons.

People tend to think about Norway as an icily cold country where outdoor activities are limited to skiing and ice-skating. But in the summer it gets comfortably hot(tish) and a nattbad can be a deliciously refreshing activity. 
 
There are few things Norwegians dread more than being inside when the weather is nice (“nice” to us means not rainy and above 18C). We love being outdoors, especially in the summer. 
 
To many Norwegians nattbading – ‘night bathing’ – is a number one favourite activity in the few weeks the weather permits it.
 
 
In a highly secular country with few major religious traditions left, nattbading resembles an almost sacred ritual. When the clock strikes late but it’s already light outside (we have very few hours of darkness in the summer), Norwegians of all ages – although mostly young and mostly drunk – flock down to the sea, throw their clothes on the nearest bush or rock and jump into the cold water. 
 
So don’t be surprised if you at the end of a party in Oslo or any other southern coastal city hear someone shout:

Tid for nattbad! – ‘Time for a night bath!’

With time, nattbad has even turned into a verb:

Skal vi nattbade? – ‘Shall we go for a night swim?’ 

A sign of true integration

If you’re ever invited to a nattbad by a sober Norwegian, you will know that they genuinely like you. You are in

And that’s not an easy feat, as Norwegians tend to be picky when choosing friends and can sometimes act practically clan-like, shying away from people they don’t know.

If however, the Norwegian who invited you was not sober, I cannot guarantee that it was you and not the alcohol that warmed their hearts.

Oops!

Just FYI, nattbad is not the same as nakenbad (also a concept). While nattbad just refers to having a swim at night time, the nakenbad means ‘naked bath’, in other words you’re going skinny dipping. 


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