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Ten Norwegian words you need to learn to understand Norway

The land of brown cheese, fjords, midnight sun and people who will voluntarily go outside in -20 degrees. Here are 10 Norwegian words you need to know to understand Norway, Norwegian culture and its people.

Ten Norwegian words you need to learn to understand Norway
Photo: Seth kane on Unsplash

Dugnad

Dugnad, the most Norwegian word of all, and indeed Norway’s ‘national word’ has been a point of curiosity for many outsiders and is of fundamental importance to Norwegian way of life.

It means help or support, and refers to communal work, a custom that can be dated back centuries. As Norway from the old days was a farming and fishing community, dugnad was traditionally a way of getting help with bigger tasks such as haymaking, roofing and housebuilding, and was rewarded by a big meal. It is in some ways a community insurance scheme whereby you help others for free, so that they will help you during your time of need.

Today, dugnad means unpaid voluntary work for the benefit of the whole community, and is particularly common in sports teams and schools (so take note if you have children). During the Covid-19 pandemic it was also often used by politicians to get people to stay at home and accept restrictions for the ‘greater good’ of the community, showcasing just how important this term is to Norwegian culture and morale. 

Hyttetur

If you live in Norway you are guaranteed to have heard of the hyttetur, or ‘cabin trip’ as it translates to. Every weekend and school holiday Norwegians from across the country pack their skis, bags and Kvikk-Lunsj chocolates and drive to their cabins, usually in the mountains, by the sea or near a forest, for relaxation and fresh air.

Certain cabins have no water, which is considered ‘idyllic’, and where guests have to go outside to a little outhouse to use the bathroom, usually identified by a heart on the door. The key term here is hygge, and the more hygge you can create, the better the hyttetur. Therefore rustic architecture, scenic landscapes, wood on the fire, snacks and board games are key. In later years hytte has also come to mean holiday home and has expanded to also include more luxurious cabins with all amenities available and no toilet in the woods. The choice is yours!

Nistepakke/matpakke

If you are not from Norway, you might have noticed that most Norwegians don’t eat a hot lunch, which is common in many other European countries. In Norway people instead bring a nistepakke, also known as matpakke, into work, school or on their skiing trip. In other words a packed sandwich, usually wrapped in paper with the choice of pålegg (toppings) which can consist of meat, brown cheese, white cheese, paté or jam.

Children bring their own matpakke to school, and when Norwegians go hiking, skiing or any other outdoor activity, it is common to bring one too in your backpack alongside a Kvikk-Lunsj chocolate, the ‘hiking chocolate’. It is also linked to Norwegian manners, so remember to say takk for maten (thank you for the food), even if you brought it yourself, as this is equivalent to the English ‘please and thank you’.

Utepils

The utepils is a national holiday in itself: The day you can have your first beer outside without freezing to death. The treasured utepils directly translates to ‘outdoor lager’.

As soon as temperatures rise above 10 degrees and birds chirp in the trees, Norwegians hurry outside in the sun to enjoy their first beer of the season. After many dark winter months, the utepils is basically like the first ice cream of the year, but for adults, a traditional rite of passage. You know spring is underway when you see queues of Norwegians gathering around pints, often still wrapped in blankets, despite temperatures so cool most people would prefer to still be wearing stockings. But it is sunny, so you must go! Though it continues all year, the first of the year is extra special and one Norwegians treasure. There is no excuse, because ‘come on, it’s sunny’.

Kos/hygge

An atmosphere of warmth and wellbeing when you feel at peace and able to enjoy simple pleasures and being in the moment can be referred to as kos or hygge. Most have probably already encountered the latter word after it was popularised by a series of books on Danish culture in the mid-2010s, notably The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. 

READ ALSO: ‘Hygge’ is now an English word

Hygge and kos are also integral to the Norwegian way of life and are manifested in most things: kveldshygge (evening hygge, often watching tv with the family on the weekend with snacks and candy), hyttekos (at the cabin), peiskos (cosying up to the fire) and someone exclaiming “Så utrolig koselig” (basically meaning, “how lovely and cosy”).

When Norwegians enjoy themselves they will say “jeg koser meg”, or “I am having a nice time”. A word that always has a positive connotation. Perhaps it is how Norwegians manage to get through six months of little to no sunshine without losing their minds. 

Friluftsliv

If Norwegians are known for anything it is probably their love for the outdoors. “Norwegians are born with skis on their legs” we say, and multiple phrases in Norwegian stem from their love for nature.

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” (det finnes ikke dårlige klær, bare dårlig vær) or “outdoors, never angry” (ut på tur aldri sur) are taught to children as soon as they can walk, and weekends are often spent outside doing some sort of outdoor activity or sport, whether that be ice skating, skiing, hiking, running or camping.

All of these things are gathered in the term friluftsliv, directly translated to “outdoor life”. Friluftsliv is a core social, political and cultural value in Norway, and hard to translate without losing some of its value. Therefore friluftsliv is best as described as ‘physical activity in open spaces during leisure time to experience diverse environments and foster experiences of nature’. Because nothing is more important to Norwegians than nature and the great outdoors.

Solsnu

The equinox or Winter Solstice in Norway is called Solsnu or vintersolverv, and is perhaps more important here than anywhere else as it marks the day where we finally start moving towards longer and lighter days and begin to depart the cold winter days that have long surrounded us. From the old norse days solsnu was one of the biggest holidays in Norway for this reason, though it was later replaced by Christmas. The vikings used to celebrate it with a big feast and sacrifice, while after Christianity arrived in the 1300s it was manifested in the St. Lucia celebration known from Sweden. A celebration of light and hope for warmer and longer days ahead. 

Harrytur

In Norway thousands of people cross the border into Sweden every year to shop cheap alcohol, candy and snus (chewing tobacco), a so-called harrytur. In Norwegian harry is slang for tacky, but we all do it. In fact it financially sustains a number of Swedish border towns including Strömstad, popular among Norwegian shoppers. Perhaps it is due to the high alcohol prices in Norway or tasty Swedish sweets, but you are likely to encounter the harrytur during your time in Norway.

Eplekjekk

A quirky term that is indeed very Norwegian. It simply means cocky, confident or being a little bit too sure of yourself, and would by some be defined as rather typical Norwegian behaviour. Directly translated it sounds like silly children’s slang as it would mean ‘apple handsome’, but perhaps that’s the charm of the word. Simply put, being eplekjekk is the idea that you are the best, even to the extent of arrogance. After all, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said in 1992, “It is typical Norwegian to be best”… eplekjekk or confident, up to you to decide!

Bunad

Many Norwegian men will say that a bunad is the most beautiful thing a woman can wear, and Norwegian culture and art has influenced and been influenced by Norway’s national costume the bunad for centuries.

The national dress exists in many various colours and designs and usually tells a story about where the wearer, or his or her family, is from. In total there are more than 450 different bunad designs in Norway, and approximately 80 percent of Norwegian women own one. The bunad has its roots in 19th century national romanticism, which included an interest for folk costumes not only in Norway, but also in neighbouring countries Denmark and Germany. However, the impact has been more lasting in Norway, where the national costume is still very popular. It is perhaps the aspect of Norwegian cultural heritage that hones the most pride, and the costume often cost thousands of kroner to make as it is all hand-embroidered and decorated with silver. Today it is a celebratory outfit usually used at weddings, baptisms, confirmations and Christmas and not least, the Norwegian National Day on May 17th.

READ ALSO: Here’s how to choose the right bunad for Norway’s national day

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MONEY

How and where to get the cheapest fuel in Norway

Norway is leading the pack when it comes to the sales of new electric vehicles. In fact, nearly 60 percent of all new car sales in this country are electric. But for petrol and diesel car owners who have yet to make the switch, knowing when and where to find the cheapest fuel can end up saving you thousands of kroner.

A petrol station in Norway in 2021. Refuelling your car is a pricey business in the Nordic country, but there are ways to limit costs.
A petrol station in Norway in 2021. Refuelling your car is a pricey business in the Nordic country, but there are ways to limit costs. Photo by Malik Skydsgaard on Unsplash

Why is it so expensive to fuel up?

Fuel – gasoline, petrol and diesel — is an expensive monthly bill for many. Norway typically has some of the highest fuel prices in Europe. The at-times sky high prices are mainly due to taxes on fuel imposed by the government, as well as the usual international market factors.

The Norwegian Competition Authority or Konkurransetilsynet recently stated that it is perhaps now more important than ever before to be aware of the ever changing fuel prices.

We have registered price differences of 2-3 kroner in the same local area. There is undoubtedly money to be saved by following along,” said Marita Skjæveland, deputy leader of the Norwegian Competition Authority’s energy section to broadcaster TV2.

The average price to fuel up between the months of July to October this year was 18.8 kroner per litre (2.26 dollars or 1.94 euros). 

READ ALSO: Five things that are becoming more expensive in Norway (and why)

Does it matter which day you fuel up?

As of writing, routinely fueling your vehicle on a specific day of the week will likely no longer save you money. 

“We see that the players in the market still raise prices two to three times a week, but that it happens on different days from week to week,” Skjæveland told TV2. The competition analyst added that by the end of the year, fixed price increases may also happen over the weekend. As such, it’s important to stay updated not only on the weekdays, but on the weekends as well.

Previously, Sunday evenings and early on Monday mornings used to be known as the cheapest time to fill your vehicle’s tank with petrol or diesel.  This is now a practice of the past. 

Where can I find cheap petrol prices online?

Hunting for the cheapest fuel prices in Norway is quite common. It’s also a normal discussion to have with your neighbours and colleagues. So don’t be worried about appearing ‘cheap’ if you want to talk about the high price of fuel. Or share which local petrol stations you have noticed to be less expensive. 

You can check Facebook for groups that are committed to informing the public on where to find the cheapest petrol stations. 

For Oslo and its surrounding areas, you can try here, and if you live in or are driving through the south of Norway, check here.

Drivestoff is an app designed to compare prices of petrol stations you will drive by on your journey so you can plan ahead to get the cheapest fuel. You can find more information and download the app here.

You can also save money by looking for a queue of cars at a petrol station. Yes, it may be just busy. But oftentimes, a queue is a signal for cheaper petrol prices. 

Memberships and credit cards can save you money on fuel

If you’re in the market for a credit card, look for one that might save you money on fuel. Credit cards such as 365 Direct and Flexi VISA will give you good discount options at all petrol stations. If you have a particular station you always fill up at, such as a YX, you can sign up for the company’s credit card to receive discounts on fuel. 

There are also benefits to be had if you sign up for a credit card or a drivstoffkort or “fuel card”.

A drivstoffkort is a special credit card which you use to pay when refuelling your vehicle. The cards generally only work at the stations run by the company to which the card belongs. Different deals and types of card are available, depending on the company.

Specific deals on credit card and drivstoffkort discounts can be found (in Norwegian) here

You can sometimes use membership cards with grocery stores or real estate organisations to give you discounts on fuel. For example, the Coop Medlemskort will save you 45 øre when filling up at Circle K petrol stations. Trumf kortet, which is associated with the chains Kiwi, Meny, Joker and Spar, gives you bonuses when you fill up at Shell stations. OBOS members receive a 27 øre discount on petrol and diesel at both Statoil and 1-2-3-Automat stations. 

Where can I get the lowest priced petrol?

Petrol stations in Norway are extremely competitive. There is no one company that is known to sell gasoline or diesel cheaper than the others

Like many other goods, fuel prices around Norway will rise and fall with demand. Typically, fuel stations located in mountainous towns or areas that heavily rely on tourism will have more expensive fuel. If you’re on holiday in such a town or area, and can wait to fuel up when you get to a more trafficked motorway, it will likely save you money. 

Petrol stations that don’t have employees on location tend to be slower at increasing their prices to match the competition. So if you know you’ll be passing by an ubemannet or “unstaffed” petrol station on your trip, it may be cost-effective to wait and fill up there. 

Consider how much time you want to invest

Joining the hunt for cheaper fuel may not be for everyone. It is time consuming, and admittedly hard to achieve due to the ever-changing prices. If you are not dependent on your vehicle for your daily commute and don’t often drive long distances, fueling up at your local gas station may be the best choice. 

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