Norwegian word of the day: Matpakke 

The humble 'matpakke' may be a simple word to learn, but the daily tradition gives a big insight into Norway.

Here's why you need to know about the humble matpakke. Caption Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash / Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

What does it mean? 

Directly translated, this means “food package”. What it actually means is packed lunch. It applies to any meal you bring with you to work, pack for your kids to take to school or take on a hike. 

However, while it may mean packed lunch, it’s typically referring to the traditional bread with some kind of pålegg combo and accompanied by some sort of fruit or veg. Pålegg in itself is a unique and almost untranslatable word. It means “on-layer” but refers to anything you’d put on top of a slice of bread. 

This encompasses everything from smoked fish to peanut butter and cheese and meats. To learn more about pålegg, click here

The slices of bread and spread are normally separated with matpapir (food paper) to stop them from making a mess and sticking together. 

Why do I need to know this? 

The matpakke is a part of many Norwegians’ daily routine. Some would even go as far as to call it a tradition or rite of passage. 

Many will have the same packed lunch over and over again with little variation. Why Norwegians do this isn’t clear, and as Norwegians aren’t overly impressed with my habit of combining butter and mayo on the base layer, they may take exception to me asking. If you do know, get in touch! 

One explanation for this may be that eating out in Norway is expensive, meaning many are unlikely to head out for a warm lunch most days. 

Another explanation is that for all of Norway’s work-life balance and generous salaries, the typical lunch break is only half an hour. 

And our final theory, would be that Norwegians may not have the stomach for a full hot meal as they tend to have lunch rather early.

Use it like this

Jeg har pakket to matpakker til oss for turen i dag.

(I have packed two lunches for our trip today.) 

Hva har du på matpakka I dag? 

 (What do you have on your packed lunch today?)

Lise, skal du være med å spise lunsj I kantina I dag? 

(Lise, are you coming to eat lunch in the canteen today?)

Nei takk, jeg har med matpakke.

 (No thanks, I have my packed lunch) 

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Norwegian expression of the day: Katta i sekken 

If you've bought something online that's completely different to what was advertised, this Norwegian saying should help sum things up. 

Norwegian expression of the day: Katta i sekken 

What does it mean?  

Katta i sekken means “cat in the bag”, unlike the English expression where having something in the bag is great, you don’t want to find a cat in your sack, metaphorically speaking. 

The expression describes a scenario or situation where you’ve bought something that is different to advertised, underwhelming, or if you’ve been ripped off and paid way more than the item is worth. 

It’s used as a verb, for example, Å kjøpe katta i sekken, (To buy a cat in the bag). Also, note that it’s typically the slang katta that’s used rather katt, or katten. 

The term dates back to the middle ages, and a possible origin of the phrase is the story of Till Eulenspiegel, where a cat is sewn into a rabbit skin and sold as a hare. 

Several languages use the term or have their own version of the expression. However, some languages will refer to a pig in the sack, like Swedish, while others use cats as metaphors for the unwanted item. In English, the closest expression is “A pig in a poke.” 

What about ‘letting the cat out of the bag’? 

This term can get confusing in its similarity to “letting the cat out of the bag, ” which means revealing a secret. In Norwegian this is: katta er ute av sekken. 

You may hear someone say something like Fikk du med deg det Vilde sa? Jeg antar katta er ute av sekken. This means: Did you hear what Vilde said? I guess the cat’s out of the bag.

Therefore, if you hear someone talking about cats in bags, it’s best to pay close attention to ensure you’ve listened to the expression correctly. 

Use it like this: 

Jeg kjøpte en telefon på Siden det ikke fungerer, kjøpte jeg katta i sekken.

(I bought a phone on Since it doesn’t work, I bought a cat in the bag).