“Do you wear wooden shoes in Norway?”
“Do you have cars in Norway? Are they made of wood?”
“What kind of dangerous animals do you have there? What do you eat? What do you wear?”
These are just a sampling of the questions a shiny-eyed group of children asked two of our Danielson students recently when they visited the local charter School of Choice as part of a Christmas Around the World series being taught in their geography class. The boys and girls took turns standing and reading their questions from white index cards and the far away country of Norway moved a little bit closer.
In west central Minnesota, we have a special bond with Norway. When this class of 30 elementary students was asked by show of hands, how many were at least part Norwegian, more than two thirds of the hands went up. Many of their great and great-great grandparents had immigrated from Norway and the students were primed with interest in their two visitors. Rebekka and Raquel sat on tall stools at the front of the classroom and passed a microphone between them, smiling as they answered the barrage of eager questions.
We learned that a typical Norwegian Christmas meal, eaten Christmas Eve, might consist of salty lamb ribs, boiled potatoes, a spiced Christmas Tea, a carbonated raspberry punch, and many, many kind of cookies. Of course, there would be lefse, but making it is the job of the grandmothers and not many young people have ever made it. Most Norwegians have Christmas trees that they decorate with tiny Norwegian flags and a few hang lights outside their houses, though not as lavishly as here in the U.S.
The children also heard about King Harald, but their fairytale images of him were dashed when they were told he is mostly a figure-head leader, and the real leading of the country is done by prime minister, Erna Solberg, who is more like a president. In Norway, they don’t elect a person, but a party--choosing not from two, but six political parties. Every four years, the elected party then appoint its own people to positions in government. Other special facts we learned about Norway’s culture included the following: It rains nearly every day, year ‘round, in Bergen. The ocean is pretty cold to go swimming in. Fjords along the coast are awesome. Snow-covered mountains are only minutes away from large cities in the valleys and most Norwegians enjoy skiing. There are squirrels in Norway, but no one ever sees them. (What?! Invisible squirrels?!) Norway has a poisonous kind of snake, and also spiders. Norway has reindeer. (Do they fly?!) Norwegians celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Syttende Mai, their national holiday.
If there was natural interest in the similarities of the Norwegian girls’ families, schooling, pets, and hobbies, students were equally fascinated by the cultural contrasts: Norwegian students begin to learn English in first grade and most of them can speak a total of three languages by graduation. The idea of a sun that never goes down in June and winter days with only a couple hours of dim light is hard to imagine. They wanted to know if Norwegians go to church. The answer was “Yes, but going to church every Sunday in Norway is not that common.” Raquel spent eight years in Mali with her missionary parents when she was little, and also some time in France. Both she and Rebekka are very active in their churches and youth groups. But in Norway, it is considered impolite to talk about religion and many Norwegians feel it is a personal matter that should be kept private. Church attendance is higher among older people, bu that is beginning to change in recent years with young people returning to the church and even going out as missionaries to other countries.
After an hour of animated questions, Raquel and Rebekka delighted the children by singing a song and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian. The class was spellbound. They swarmed around the two teens as they attempted to leave the classroom, wanting to see them up close and thank them (tusen takk). The world became a little bit smaller and a whole lot friendlier for some young people yesterday.