Thursday, July 30, 2009

Goodbye, John.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts so I can say today was one of the toughest days I've ever had in the nine years I've spent at Sons of Norway. I posted a while back about our CEO, John Lund, announcing his retirement. Well, today was his last day at the office. You could feel it in the air that there was something different about today. There were a number of sad faces, more than a few tears and a lot of reminiscing.

As I stood in his office, this afternoon, trying to find my own words for goodbye, all I could think of was the many fond memories I have of working with John. After spending nearly a decade working for him, there's more stories and memories than I can count, but as I stood there shaking his hand and saying goodbye they all came rushing back to the forefront--as if they happened yesterday. That made it tough. Real tough. He's been a great leader, mentor and friend over the years.

I know the company is in good hands for the immediate future with Eivind Heiberg as our Interim CEO, but I'm gonna miss John.

If anyone else would like to share a story or memory about working with John, or wish him well in his newly minted life of leisure, please do so in the comment section of the website.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Day 10

Today was the 10th day of the Norwegian Experience for this year's winner, Judy Gray. The trip is almost over and on Friday Judy and her sister will make their way back to the U.S. However the fun isn't over yet.

I only spoke to Judy for a few minutes about her day, so today will be a shorter post.

The original itinerary had Judy and her sister cruising through the Hardangerfjord and Eidfjord, two of the most scenic areas of Norway. However, thanks to happy accident, our winners wound up having an even better experience when they accidentally got on the wrong bus, which took them to a boat going on a Sognefjord cruise!

Judy told me that they had a great time and the folks from the cruise line were so good to them. From what I heard after Judy discovered the mistake, she offered to pay for the difference in cost between the two cruises, but they wouldn't let her pay. The purser also put them on the Flam railway to get back to Bergen free of charge.

I gotta say, it's nice to hear about people taking care of people like that. It doesn't come as any surprise to hear about that kind of hospitality in Norway, but its still refreshing.

Ok, that's all for now. More later about Judy's last day in Norway and then we'll probably have one more post next week once Judy is home, with some final thoughts.

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Norwegian Experience: Day 9

After speaking with Judy it sounds like she had another awesome day in Norway! Yesterday was her 9th day in Norway and even though her trip is coming to a close, there's no sign of slowing for this year's Norwegian Experience winner!

The first half of the day consisted of a guided walking tour of Bergen. According to Judy, her guide, Solveig Mohr, was one of the best she's encountered in her time in Norway. The walking tour included visits to tourist mainstays, Haakenshallen, Mariakirken, Koengen (where Bruce Springsteen recently played an outdoor concert), the Bryggens Museum, and some more off-the-beaten-path locations.

Haakonshallen (Haakon's Hall) is the Royal Hall of Bergenhus Fortress and is the largest medieval secular building in Norway. The hall has played a significant role in Norwegiuan history. In addition to being the center of Norwegian politics in the 1300's, it was also the location of King Magnus Lagabøte's marriage to a Danish princess, which thrust Norway into years of conflict with Denmark (but that was more due to Magnus' kidnapping of said princess than the marriage itself). Judy told me that the sheer size of the structure was unbelievable and awe-inspiring.

Next Judy and her guest/sister were taken to Mariakirken (St. Mary's Church), a 12th century church that is the last remaining of 12 that were built between the reign of Olav Kyrre (1066–93, traditionally 1070) and the end of the twelfth century. It played a part in the story of the famous Birkebeiners because Mariakirkien was also where the Berkebein party sought refuge when under attack from a peasant army in the late 12th century. Had Mariakirken not played this role, the Birkebeiners may not have been in a position to preserve the course of Norwegian history by saving the child-king Haakon Haakonson. Who knows?

One of the things that Judy enjoyed most was a tour of the Bryggens Museum of Bergen. This museum display archealogical finds from the remains of a series of fires that ravaged this part of Bergen at different times throughout history.

From there, Judy's tour guide took our Norwegian Experience winner off the beaten track and into some lesser visited areas of Bergen. According to Judy, "these included some back-alleys and hidden areas where one can find some of the most interesting shops!" The tour guide, Solveig "shared many stories about the locale that really added to the local flavor and made the trip so fun!"

After their walking tour it was time to visit Mt Floyen. When I asked Judy to give me a one-word description of her trip to Mt. Floyen, she immediately responded with "Spectacular!" Judy and her sister stayed for lunch and ate fresh seafood at the Floyen Folkerestaurant, which has one of the most breath-taking views in all of Norway.

The afternoon was spent back in the Bryggen area, where Judy and her sister retraced their steps back to some of the boutiques and shops they's eyed earlier in the day. Judy shared with me that she was on a quest for trolls. "REAL trolls," she said, "not those cheap plastic ones they try to pawn off on tourists." Judy was looking for, and found, real Henning family trolls. She said she found the matching pair of old man and old woman trolls she was looking for.

Judy and her sister finished off their day with a nice dinner and then it was back to the hotel for some rest. Sounds like they had a full day, huh? I can't wait to hear about what they've done today. Check back later for more updates!

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Day 8

Yesterday was a fun day for Judy and her guest as they spent Day 8 of their Norwegian Experience in Stavanger and Bergen!

They were up by 5:30 am to catch their Flaggruten (express boat) that would take them from Stavanger to Bergen. The Flaggruten is a phenomenon that is somewhat unique to coastal countries and is their answer to Greyhound Express buses. Only with nicer accomodations and waaaaaay better scenery. Upon their arrival in Bergen, Judy and her guest disembarked the ship for an auto-tour of Bergen.

Thanks to the amazingness of Borton Overseas, our traveling duo were picked up in a Janguar and taken on a personally guided tour that included all the major sightseeing stops in Bergen, including Edvard Grieg's summer home, a local Stave Church and the posh neighborhoods that overlook the harbor and bay.

The Edvard Grieg House, which is now a museum dedicated to the renowned composer and called Troldhaugen, houses a number of exhibits that bring history to life. It's a definite must-see for anyone who is traveling through Bergen.

The Stave Church that Judy visited is called Fantoft, and is a reconstructed version of a Sognefjord church from around 1150AD. It's had a rough, but interesting, history having been disassembled and moved piece by piece from Sognefjord to Bergen, only to be set ablaze by some pagan, black metal enthusiasts, turned into and album cover, then rebuilt once more.

After that, Judy checked into her hotel, the beautiful Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret. One of Bergen's newest and most fashionable hotels, Havnekontoret is an amazing hotel in the heart of Bergen's historic harbour-front district. The property is also one of the city's most recognizable buildings with elegant, neo-baroque architecture.

According to Judy, from her room she can almost see the famous Torget i Bergen (Bergen fish market) and her room also looks out onto a shopping district, where she and her guest spent the rest of the day enjoying some shopping and more sight-seeing.

Sounds to me like Judy is having an amazing time! I'll be checking in with her later this afternoon, so come on back soon and see what she has to say about today's experiences!

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Days 6 and 7

I just got off the phone with Judy and let me tell you-- she's had a whirlwind of a weekend! Where to start...where to start...the beginning sounds about as good a place as any, don't you think?

When we last left our deft adventurer, Judy was preparing to leave Lillesand for Stavanger--a drastic change in scenery to be sure. On Saturday Judy and her sister boarded a bus, saddened by having to say goodbye to Lillesand, and rode through some of the most beautiful, mountainous areas Norway has to offer.

Once they arrived in Stavanger they were treated to yet another street fair! If you remember, Judy and her sister were treated to a street/art fair while in Lillesand as well. Just between you and me--I'm beginning to wonder if Borton Overseas hired a group of performance artists to follow Judy around Norway, putting on art fairs and food festivals at each of Judy's stops? They're the most amazing travel partners I've ever had the pleasure of working with, so I wouldn't put it above them.

Back to Stavanger--after spending the afternoon walking around, taking in the sights and smells of everything that was going on, it was time for dinner. With so many food booths to choose from, I hear that Judy had a hard time picking one (she was even offered a moose burger!). In the end, dinner comprised some delicious hand-made lamb balls in pasta, with a divine dessert of Rommegrot. Rommegrot is one of those Norwegian delicacies that, similar to Lutefisk, you either love or detest. Me, personally, I love the stuff. Put some butter and brown sugar on it and its heavenly!

OK, on to Sunday! Judy and her sister were up early yesterday for their Lysefjord excursion. This trip would take them by bus and boat into some of the most scenic areas of Norway! Their bus wound its way through picturesque farm lands and past scenes of traditional Norwegian traditional in fact that there was livestock everywhere...even places it shouldn't be, like the middle of the road! No fear animal lovers, thanks to the quick reaction of their bus driver, the tour narrowly avoided hitting a a few sheep who had wandered away from their grazing land.

Once all that excitement was over, it was the perfect time for something a little more serene, like Øygardstølen (the Eagle's Nest).

After that it was time for the cruise portion of the trip. Judy commented many times on the dramatic difference in the scenery. This part of her trip was much mroe mountainous (say that three times fast) than the rolling hills she'd seen earlier. The boat cruise took the visitors past waterfalls, Fantahola (the vagabond cave) and then the entire group was treated to an unexpected show when some base-jumpers took the plunge not too far from the ship! After that it was time to head back to shore.

Now for most folks this would have made for a full day. However this year's Norwegian Experience winner is apparently a robot, because even after all this she and her guest still had enough energy to go to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.

Get it? "energy" and "petrolium"? I made some funny, right? Oh nevermind...

Judy told me that the museum is pretty awesome. It has a lot of different interactive displays and its a great place for families. One of Judy's favorite installations was a simulator of a Norwegian oil rig's control room. You get to work it as if you were running a real rig! Very cool, indeed.

Ok, after THAT part Judy and her sister got a tired and decided to call it a day. What a day huh? I gotta tell you, hearing all these great stories from Judy really make me wish I were in Norway right now! Hey don't forget to check back later as I recap her expereinces from earlier today!

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Day 5

I spoke with Judy today and she's still having an awesome time in Norway! As mentioned earlier, Thursday was mostly a travel day, though Judy and her sister had a chance to explore Lillesand when they arrived. According to Judy, "due to the hour everything was closed, but we still had time to look around and figure out where we wanted to go the next day when everything would be open."

After their exploration, they checked into the beautiful Lillesand Hotel Norge for some rest and relaxation. The hotel is smaller, maybe 25 rooms, and Judy and her guest had a nice room on the second floor, with windows that looked out onto the hotel's courtyard.

Then, on Friday, Judy spent the morning exploring some more and shopping at the places she'd scouted out the night before. Then around mid-day it was time to get ready for a coastal cruise, which would take Judy and her guest from Lillesand to Kristiansand and then back again. As a part of this cruise, the boat navigated the Blindleia waterway, a notoriously difficult passage, contrary to what Wikipedia might say, due to it's narrowness--sometimes shriking down to less than 10 meters wide. It sounds like a lot of space, but imagine trying to fit a 100 person cruiser that's about 8 or 9 meters wide through that passage. According to Judy, "there were times when the captain had less than a few inches on either side of the boat and he had to keep watching the depth-finders while getting us through the narrows." Sounds exciting!

As if the day hadn't been full enough already, when Judy and her sister got back on dry land in Lillesand, they found themselves in the middle of a full-scale art/craft fair. Never one to turn away from a fun experience, Judy took it all in in the afternoon/evening. Apparently the streets were full of people and there was definitely a festival atmosphere to the whole thing. I can't wait to see photos from this part of Judy's trip!

Ok, so that's all for now. There'll be more on Monday, covering Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Check back in the late afternoon for more!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Tipping in Norway

Since today is a travel day for our Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest winner, Judy Gray, there isn't much to report from her trip. However, the other day I was speaking with Judy and she asked me if there were any guidelines for tipping while in Norway. She didn't want to be seen as one who throws money around, nor did she want to be considered overly cheap; either way being perceived as "the ugly American". I must admit I wasn't sure what the protocol was for tipping situations, so I went to the best source around for topics like this one and asked our Cultural Advisor, Colin, to weigh in on the matter. Here's what he had to say:

Tipping is one of the most common sources of culture shock for Americans traveling in Norway. Generally speaking, leaving a service gratuity is not expected in Norwegian restaurants, which usually include a service charge in their bills. In some cases, leaving a tip can even be perceived as an insult, as though saying “I know you don’t make enough money, so here’s a little something extra for you.”

You’d think that not having to tip would be a godsend – especially since you’re already paying steep Norwegian prices for everything – but I can’t stand it. In American culture, leaving no tip says that you are extremely dissatisfied with the service you’ve received. I’ve had some pretty awful service experiences, and although I’ve tipped short (10% or less), I’ve only stiffed a waiter once in my entire life. Even though I know better, every time I leave a table in Norway without tipping, I can’t help but feel like I’ve insulted the waiter for no reason.

To make things more confusing, in some circumstances, tipping is acceptable. The book Living in Norway: A Practical Guide (Palamedes Press, 1999) has this to say about the custom:

Restaurants add service charges into bills, so you should tip only if the service has been superior. Most cloakrooms and left-luggage rooms post fixed charges (avgift) for their services, but some do not, so you must ask what is expected. Porters at airports will tell you their charges upon request. Taxi drivers, barbers, hairdressers and others who provide personal services do not expect tips, but you can round off a bill upwards to the nearest NOK10 if you feel you have been well served. Doormen usually expect tips for services provided, such as for calling or hailing a taxi. Rates vary widely, by location – city or town – and by service – hotel or entertainment, so your best guide to tipping tradition is to ask someone who has been to the place before. (p. 84)

The authors are right on (at least, according to my experience) about taxi drivers and barbers, and although I’ve never stayed in a place with a doorman, I’m sure they know what they’re talking about there too. But even though asking straight out is probably the only reasonable solution to an awkward and potentially embarrassing situation, I have a feeling that Norwegians, known for being somewhat conflict averse, might not tell you directly that they expect to be tipped. I’ve experienced this in Norway, and even here in Minnesota (sometimes people will tell me “you can leave a tip if you want to” which is just a polite way of saying, “please tip me.”) I would amend their last piece of advice, and say that you should ask someone who is from the place, preferably a native Norwegian, or at least someone who’s lived there a long time, rather than another foreign tourist, who’s likely just as confused as the rest of us.

Since we’re on the topic, here’s a quick, interesting piece about tipping in American culture. Drawing on a large body of social science research, the author argues that the amount we tip has very little to do with the quality of service. Instead, he contends, it has to do with whether or not we like the server and how much we want them to like us. If this author has it right, I wonder what the absence of tipping says about Norwegian society?

Has anyone else got any thoughts when it comes to tipping in foreign countries? If so, leave a comment and share with the readers. Make sure to check back tomorrow for more from Norway!

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Day 3 Hadeland Glassworks

I just got off the phone with Judy and she and her sister, whom she brought along as her guest, had an awesome time today!

Today was the day they spent at Hadeland Glassworks, touring the facility. Judy gave me a play by play account of the day and I must say I'm a bit envious of everything she got to do.

The day started out with gorgeous weather and a light breakfast at the hotel before Judy and her sister were picked up by a private car and taken on a scenic drive to Hadeland. During their hour-long drive they moved through lush farmlands, past the Mjøsa and Randsfjorden lakes and into the idyllic surroundings at the southern tip of Randsfjord. On the way there their driver and guide, Harald, helped pass the time by pointing out a number of interesting sights.

Once at the Hadeland Glassworks, Judy and her sister were met by "Tommy" their Hadeland guide. He first took the pair through Hadeland's museum, where they viewed pieces that dated back to the mid-1800's. During this part of the tour, Tommy also talked about the history of the communities that surround the glassworks.

Historic Hadeland glass

After that Judy and her sister were taken to the glass-blowing facility where they watched some blowers prepping glass for the master-blowers by heating the glass and adding the necessary colors. They watched as master glass blowers made a series of display plates and spun textured bowls. If that wasn't cool enough, next Judy and her sister got the chance to blow their own glass pieces and make a couple of original creations! They each made a unique, colored drinking glass as a souvenir to bring home as a reminder of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Then, while they waited for their glasses to cool, they were treated to lunch. Judy was expecting to eat in the general cafeteria, but we had other plans for her and her guest. Thanks to Borton Overseas and Hadeland Glassworks, the Norwegian Experience winner and her guest were treated to a private three-course lunch that included a fruit appetizer, a main course of fresh salmon and potatoes and then a luxurious lemon mousse for dessert.

Following that Judy was presented with a Hadeland gift certificate, again courtesy of Hadeland Glassworks and Borton Overseas, for some shopping in the Hadeland gift shop! She told me that she picked up a number of very nice pieces, including some ornaments. So, if you're a friend of Judy's, you might want to be extra nice to her when she gets home if you are hoping to get one of those gorgeous ornaments!

After that, it was time to pick up their one-of-a-kind glasses from the cooling room and say goodbye to all the wonderful people at Hadeland Glassworks.

Overall it was a great day for Judy--in her own words "This was another once-in-a-lifetime experience that we had at Hadeland! Just watching the blowers make masterpieces before our eyes and then giving us the opportunity to make our own--it was amazing! This trip has been so wonderful and I've only been here three days! I can't wait for more!"

We're glad Judy and her sister are having such a great time. If you want to keep up-to-date on what Judy is doing in Norway, make sure to keep checking back here, or you can subscribe on the right-hand side and recieve all new blog posts in your e-mail in-box.

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Norwegian Experience: Day 2

Sorry about the missed post yesterday, but by the time Judy and I were able to chat it was the end of the day. However, that means today will be a two-fer because I'm posting yesterday's activities right now and later today I'll hopefully have more updates to share about today's trip to the Hadeland Glassworks. I can't wait to hear all about it, but in the meantime here's a recap of her activities yesterday.

Tuesday started off with a light breakfast at the Hotel Continental, after which Judy and her guest were picked up by a private car and taken on a guided tour of the city. Over the next four hours their tour guide, Lisbeth Linbach, showed them some of the best sights Oslo has to offer. First they went back to the harbor, this time touring the east side and gazing at the opulant private yachts in their moorings.

From there, the motor-tour took our Norwegian Experience winner down to Akershus fortress, the castle originally built in response to an assault from Earl Alv Erlingsson of Sarpsborg in the late 13th century and designed to protect Oslo from further attacks. From there it was on to Oslo City Hall, which is, among other things, home of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Next, Judy's guide took them into an area called Gamle Oslo, which means "Old Oslo". Old is no misnomer, either--in times when present Oslo was named Christiania, this area was called Oslo. The area has a number of points of interest. It's the home of the Edvard Munch Museum and Oslofjord.

From there Judy and her guide made their way to the Oslo Opera House, the Old Seaman's School and Vigeland Park. Judy and her guest made their way through the park on foot, spending time being amazed by the world famous sculptures. When I asked Judy about her favorite she thought out loud about a number of sculptures, including the Angry Baby, the Bridge and the Main Gate. In the end she told me her favorite was tied between the Fountain and the Monolith. Judy followed this up by telling me "the size of these sculptures is so impressive! It's really hard to imagine one person could do so much in 14 years. I mean, I know he had assistants and craftsmen to create the final sculptures, but he created each one himself, first."

After Vigeland Park, the only thing left for the morning was to visit the Vikingskipshuset (Viking Ship Museum). From everything I've heard it's an amazing place and a must-see for anyone traveling in Norway. It's claim to fame is that, as its name indicates, the museum houses three ancient Viking ships, found in archealogical excavations. The Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune ships, all found in burial mounds in Norway, are on display for visitors to take a trip back into distant history.

Did I mention that Judy and her guest did all this before lunch? A couple of hard chargers, I tell ya.

Anyhow, after lunch it was on to the Nobel Peace Center where Judy discovered something that I find to be exceptionally cool: an interactive book with projected illumination. Check out a vide of it here (middle video). Actually all the videos are great because they show how technology is being used to inform and educate in a whole new way. According to the website, the Nobel Peace Center officially opened on 11 June 2005, as part of the celebrations to mark Norway's centenary as an independent country. Since then, the Nobel Peace Center has been educating, inspiring and entertaining its visitors through exhibitions, activities, lectures and cultural events. The Center is financed by private and public institutions and its main sponsors are Telenor, Hydro, Orkla and Yara.

Judy had a full day, I think! She ended her day with a scrumptuous dinner at the Theatercafeen, one of the amazing restaurants in the Hotel Continental. A full day indeed.

Ok, so that was day 2--I'll hopefully have an update from today's trip to Hadeland later this afternoon. Check back for more!

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Norwegian Documentary Nominated for Emmy

While we wait for another update from Norwegian Experience winner, Judy Gray, I've got a blog post from Cultural Advisor, Colin. Enjoy!

Last week the documentary Belarusian Waltz, co-produced by a Norwegian company, was nominated for an Emmy in the category “Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming.” The film focuses on Alexander Pushkin, a performance artist from Belarus, a former Soviet nation often described as “Europe’s last dictatorship.” Pushkin’s frequently provocative art is aimed at satirizing and protesting the Belarusian regime and its Stalin-esque leader. The film also portrays Pushkin as a bitter, angry man, whose hatred for Russians drives him to spurn his own daughter.

Belarusian Waltz was broadcast in America as part of the PBS documentary series POV. The film was produced by Piraya Film, a Norwegian company based in Stavanger, in cooperation with a number of other international production firms. Producer Torstein Grude called the nomination “fantastic” and looked forward to the increased attention the piece would receive.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Norwegian Experience: Day 1

Well, I just got off the phone with Judy and it sounds like the last 24 hours have been very busy and very fun!

She flew out of Seattle yesterday at 6:45 p.m. and didn't arrive in Oslo until around 3:30 p.m. today. After taking time differences into account, that's nearly 12 hours of traveling. For most that would be a pretty grueling trip, but as the winner of the 2008 Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest, Judy and her guest passed the time flying in SAS' Business Class.

After arriving in Oslo, a chauffeured car picked them up and whisked them to the famous Hotel Continental in the heart of Oslo. Then, after checking in, Judy and her guest made their way to the Oslo Harbor and walked along the pier, taking in the sights and sounds of the evening.

Judy had this to say about her time walking around Oslo "It was so wonderful walking down the street, the people were so nice and we felt so comfortable and safe!"

Sounds like she's having an awesome time so far. Tomorrow we'll hear all about Judy's morning tour of Oslo and her afternoon of leisure. Make sure to check back every day for updates!

The Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest is a joint venture between Sons of Norway International and its partner Borton Overseas. The contest is open to all Sons of Norway members who sign up a new, dues-paying member between January 1 and December 31, 2009. A winner will be drawn at random in January of 2010. For more information about this year's contest, visit or click here.

Norwegian Experience 2009: We're off and running!

As you may have read in Viking magazine, this year’s Norwegian Experience Recruitment Contest was Leif Erikson 2-001 member, Judy Gray. The reason I bring this up is because today is Judy’s first day in Norway! As I write this, Judy is probably checking into her hotel and getting ready to spend the next 12 days exploring Norway and enjoying the experience of a lifetime!

We’ll be checking in with Judy later this afternoon to see how her first day went and following up with her every day or two after that, but in the mean time here’s some excerpts from an interview I did with Judy after she’d been informed about winning this year’s contest. Enjoy!

Why did you join Sons of Norway?
My underlying reason is because of a pride in my heritage: my grandparents on my mother’s side came from Norway. I remember my childhood listening to my Grandma and Grandpa talk about “the old country” and seeing their movies after they returned home from a few trips to Norway to see my Great-Grandmother and sisters/brothers still living in Norway.

Also, my aunt (my mother’s sister) has been an active member for many years; she also worked in the office as a volunteer from 1995 to 2007. At a family gathering, she said she was getting tired of working; so I said I would join the Lodge and take her place in the office. Since that time, all but one of the other “office ladies” also retired; so I was elevated to a position of office manager and had to recruit other people to work in the office. It took over a year, but we have a talented, dedicated group now.

What do you like best about Sons of Norway?
I certainly enjoy the fellowship of the members. As one of the younger members (at 62, mind you!), the VERY active members who happen to be in their 80’s and 90’s are inspirations to me to keep active in my retirement years. One of my favorite new friends just turned 101 last month.

Have you ever been to Norway before?
Yes, I went to Norway in 1994 with my aunt, cousin, and her two sons. We spent about three weeks in Norway and a week in Denmark. We made a giant loop from Oslo through Hamar and Lillihammer to Trondheim, then to the Molde/Sundalsora area before arriving in Bergen and Lysekloster. We did all that traveling by car – so we were able to do a lot of visiting of family members along the way. From Bergen, we took the bus back to Oslo, visiting Voss, Flam, and the beautiful areas along the way. Family members took us to the various sights in the city of Oslo, as well as areas along the fjord on the east side (Drobak and Vestby) and the west side (Drammen, Horten, and “the end of the earth.”)

How did you find out that you’d won the contest?
The International President Dan Rude called me at home in the evening to tell me the great news. It was quite a surprise!

This contest is open to anyone who recruited at least one new member last year. How many people did you recruit?
I recruited and sponsored four new members for Leif Erikson 2-001 lodge last year.

How has it been working with our partner Borton Overseas, our partner in the Norwegian Experience?
I have been working with Linda McCormick over at Borton. She helped us plan our itinerary and has been fabulous to work with. She has made some great suggestions – which are greatly appreciated.

What are you most looking forward to when you travel to Norway?
Returning to Oslo and Bergen, seeing new areas along the southern coast (Kristiansand and Stavanger), experiencing the beauty of more fjords and waterfalls, and meeting and enjoying the company of Norwegians. As soon as the exact dates are set, I will contact a few of the people we visited 15 years ago – hoping to be able to see them once again and renew our connections.

Any last thoughts?
I still can’t believe I won such an INCREDIBLE trip. I am so grateful to the Sons of Norway for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Norway Day occurs every May in San Francisco and is a great festival that celebrates our beloved Norwegian culture and heritage. This year, however, the festival had a very special Sons of Norway twist.

Mary Beth and Carl Ingvoldstad, two of our favorite members and Secretary and President, respectively, of Vikings of Lake 6-166, were honored in a wonderful and unique way – they renewed their wedding vows in a traditional Norwegian wedding ceremony!

The lovely couple, above, adorned their Gudbrandsdalen area bunader for this occasion, as did their attendants. Mary Beth was lucky enough to wear (for the day) a silver Trondheim wedding crown, which, aside from the weight, I gather was a fantastic experience.

Congratulations to Carl and Mary Beth!

To see more pictures of their vow renewals, click here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Allemannsretten – the Freedom to Roam

Today we've got a great language post from Cultural Advisor, Colin about the word "Allemannsretten." Enjoy!

For all the similarities between Norwegian and American culture, I am perpetually fascinated by the differences, sometimes small and sometimes gaping, that I occasionally stumble across. One of the most interesting to me is the Norwegian concept of allemannsretten (ALL-eh-mahns-ret-en). Literally meaning “everyman’s right,” allemannsretten is also called “the freedom to roam” in English. Simply defined, allemannsretten makes it legal in most cases for people to walk through any piece of undeveloped private property without first obtaining the owner’s permission. You can even camp on someone else’s private property for one night, provided that you’re polite and stay at least 150 meters away from any buildings. In the US, we call this trespassing – I’ve been told that in some states it’s actually legal to shoot people for it – but in Norway (and a few other countries in Northern Europe) it’s a common law tradition that’s been around for a very long time.

Allemannsretten is not unlimited. Norwegian law makes a clear distinction between cultivated land (innmark) and uncultivated land (utmark). The law defines cultivated land as “farmyards, plots around houses and cabins, tilled fields, hay meadows, cultivated pasture, young plantations and similar areas where public access would unduly hinder the owner or user.” Pretty much anything else is considered to be uncultivated land. Cultivated land can be crossed on foot when the ground is frozen or covered with snow, although not during the period between April 30th and October 14th. What’s most interesting to me is that the law explicitly states that travelers making use of allemannsretten have to behave themselves. All users are expected to leave the area in the same condition they found it, and property owners have the right to eject campers, hikers or sunbathers who are being annoying or causing damage. You can read the entire law, in English, here.

While not exclusive to Norway, I first explored the concept during my first visit to the country several years ago. I was on the island of Stord, in Western Norway, traveling with relatives to visit some ancestral farms. This was mid-May, so between the jet lag, the excitement of being in Norway, and the near-constant sunlight, I was finding it very difficult to sleep. One night, long after my relatives had gone to bed, I decided to make the most of my insomnia by walking from downtown Leirvik, where we were staying, into the hills outside of town. There’s a network of well-traveled trails there, and I soon I found myself enjoying a pleasant stroll through the silent forest, alone in the stillness of the seemingly eternal Nordic twilight. I walked what I considered to be a moderate distance, probably just a few kilometers, when I came to a map. There I saw that my only reasonable options for getting back to the hotel were to backtrack or to cut through the woods, bushwhacking off of one trail to get to another. I never backtrack if I don’t absolutely have to (lots of my stories start this way) so off I plunged into the brush, remembering what I had read in my guidebook about allemannsretten.

This plan worked…moderately well. I could not have known that the backwoods of Stord are an excellent environment for a particularly thorny variety of holly, which covers the forest floor like rows of razor wire. (I could not have known, that is, unless I’d been paying more attention, as the holly bow is used as the sole motif of the community logo, which was in evidence all over town.) As I plowed through the undergrowth, the vicious little shrubs slashed my bare arms and legs, even drawing blood, but, being stubborn, and more or less surrounded but the stuff, there was nothing to do but keep going through it. Eventually I came to a particularly vast stand of holly, and decided to go around it, even though I could see this would take me close to the edge of the forest near some houses. I knew that at the forest edge I was still protected by allemannsretten, but given the late hour, I was very eager to avoid attracting attention to myself, so I decided I had better run until I was clear of the houses. Alas, I looked over my shoulder at the wrong moment, tripped, and landed face first in a huge holly bush. As I painfully extracted myself from its prickly embrace, I looked up and saw that I was in full view of the owner of a small house who, by happenstance, was clearly wide awake and working on some sort of carpentry project (evidently I was not the only one having trouble sleeping). The midnight carpenter looked up and regarded me, now covered in mud, lacerated and deeply embarrassed, with a look of weary disdain. Much to my relief, he simply shook his head and went back to work. Allemannsretten may obligate property owners to tolerate hikers, but it doesn’t force them to save anyone from their own stupidity. A valuable lesson.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

O’Horten: Here’s a … Who?; New Film by Bent Hamer

Today we have a blog post from Nichole, our membership coordinator, about a Norwegian film that's just come out in the U.S. It's of special interest to me because I have had the pleasure of meeting the director, Bent Hamer, on a few occasions and got to spend a bit of time with him back in '04 or '05 when he was here in the Twin Cities to film Factotum. He was an interesting guy for sure, so I'm super excited to see what he's doing now.

Summer heat getting to you? Take respite in a cool movie theater and explore Norwegian culture! In theaters now (at the Edina Four in Minneapolis; across the country here) is a contemporary Norwegian film by Bent Hamer, a Sandefjord native. Best known for Kitchen Stories (Salmer fra kjøkkenet) and the American independent film Factotum, Hamer once again meets with some critical acclaim on O’Horten, his fifth feature length film.

Described in News of Norway as a “delightful mixture of melancholy and comedy,” the film follows train driver, Odd Horten, as he prepares to embrace a life after retirement. It also features a unique soundtrack, composed by Norwegian John Erik Kaada, well known throughout the country for his work for films.

Have you seen it? Well….thumbs up or down?

Monday, July 6, 2009

More from Kvinesdal Coming Soon.

As you may have noticed there haven't been too many updates from the Kviesdal Emigration Festival. Unfortunately, we had some technical difficulties, which hampered our intentions of posting even more video from the event. However, once our traveling ICEO is back in the office, I'm hoping there will be plenty to share.

Until then, enjoy this video of a street musician in Oslo.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kvinesdal Emigration Festival: Day 1

Today's events for the Kvinesdal Emigration Festival include a Grand Re-Opening ceremony for the Lister Emigrants Museum. Here's some video of Mayor Omland og Thoralf Haugland at the ceremony. Here's some video of Toralf Haugland opening the festivities.

Then, in about an hour or so (9:30 p.m. Norway time) there is going to be a get-together of Sons of Norway members who are in town for the celebration. I may get a report afterwards, so make sure to check back in a few hours to see if we have more info about todays happenings.

Kvinesdal Emigration Festival: Prelude

Today is the beginning of the Kvinesdal Emigration Festival being held in Kvinesdal, Norway. Sons of Norway's Interim CEO, Eivind Heiberg is over there now preparing to give a welcome speech. I've had the good fortune to have seen an earlier draft and it's going to be great. I believe he's going to talk about Norway and America's strong relationship and how emigration has created a bond between the two countries and intertwined their modern histories together.

This, I think, is a very unique experience for modern countries like ours. I mean, even in this age of globalism, there is still an overriding sense of isolation amongst first world countries, making them more business partners than brothers and sisters. Thanks to our shared histories, U.S. and Norway, however, have a relationship more like the latter than former. Definitely something worth celebration, don't you think?

Uh...ahem...[quietly steps down from pulpit]

Anyhow, this is a very unique and special festival. I'm glad Sons of Norway is participating. I spoke with Eivind yesterday about his experiences so far and as of last night he'd had dinner with Toralf Haugeland, one of the main organizers of the festival, and some film makers. I guess that in addition to a good meal they discussed the possibility of our acquiring some new, hard to get, fils for our media lending library. That'll be very cool!

In the mean Eivind sent some video of the Utsikten hotel. Here's some video of the hotel itself. Then, in this video and in this one, too, you can see why the hotel is call Utsikten (translated to English means "the view").

Ok, more later about today's festivities, including the grand opening ceremonies for a new wing on the Listes Emigration Museum.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Språk og kultur / Language and Culture

Today we've got a great post from Cultural Advisor Colin Thomsen, wherein he discusses the meaning of the Norwegian word, nærgående.

nærgående (adjective)
prononunciation: nair-GO-en-eh

There’s no way to sum up the meaning of the Norwegian adjective nærgående with just one word in English. To say that someone is nærgående is to say that they are a little obnoxious, too personal, or too interested in other people’s business. The person who tells you their whole life story in line at the supermarket? You could call them nærgående. The nosy neighbor who asks how much you paid for your new car? Nærgående again. Translated literally, nærgående means ”close-going” and the fact that it’s used to describe such people shows that in Norwegian culture, it’s polite to maintain a little more personal distance than what most Americans are used to. While Americans are generally accustomed to making small talk with total strangers, that’s much less common in Norway. For example, while many Americans (especially Midwesterners) are known for greeting strangers passing on the street, the Norwegian custom is to walk by without saying a word or exchanging a glance. Even clerks and waiters – to make a broad generalization – rarely go out of their way to chat with their customers. But it’s not that Norwegian society is unfriendly, it’s that the standards of when it’s appropriate to be friendly are a little different. If you meet an acquaintance on the street in Norway, the general expectation is to stop and have a fairly involved conversation. For Americans, to tell a friend “we should get together some time” doesn’t necessarily call for making a plan. For many Norwegians, it sounds like an invitation. Friends and family are treated with special attention in Norway, and if you’ve ever spent a holiday with Norwegian relatives, you know what that means. And that’s not nærgående at all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Production has Started on a History Channel Documentary about the Kensington Runestone

I just got confirmation that there is a new documentary, focusing in part on the Kensington Runestone, in production over at the History Channel. According to reports Committee Films, along with a crew of about 30, spent the day at Kensington Runestone Park recently – filming the story of the Kensington Runestone.

From what I understand about the documentary, the main story revolves around a new theory that the Kensington Runestone may have been a coded message related to the Knights Templar, rather than Viking explorers. Apparently stones with similar markings have been found on the east coast and across the Atlantic, implying that there may actually be something to the authenticity of the artifact.

Supposedly this documentary is even speculating that if the Templars are behind the Runestone there may be a chance that they also brought the Holy Grail over with them.

Yeah, I think it’s a stretch, too. But whatever, if researchers can prove the stone is actually from the 1300’s as has been posited, then it’s one more example of pre-Columbian exploration of the new world. An idea that science has been slow to recognize as both possible and probable.

What’s that? You aren’t familiar with the Kensington Runestone? Oh, well here’s the skinny:

The Kensington Runestone is a slab of greywacke covered in runes on its face and side which, if it is genuine, would suggest that Scandinavian explorers reached the middle of North America in the 14th century. It was found in 1898 in the largely rural township of Solem, Douglas County, Minnesota, and named after the nearest settlement, Kensington.

Depending on who you ask, it could be a 19th century forgery or an important archaeological find from the 14th century. Those who ascribe a Scandinavian origin to the stone claim it shows evidence of obscure medieval runes and intersecting word forms that would have been unknown to potential forgers in the 1800s. These advocates tend to be enthusiastic but often lacking in professional credentials (Viking-origin proponent Keith Massey holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Erik Wahlgren taught). Interested professional archaeologists, historians, and Scandinavian linguists generally question the stone's provenance.

Here's a good video on the Runestone and some info on its possible link to the Knights Templar. Anyone have any thoughts on what the Runestone could be? Share them in the comments section.