After moving abroad, or moving further south in Europe, I have noticed my friends’ stereotypical image of Norwegians. Believe it or not, but most people I meet have never met a Norwegian (before they met me), or in fact been to Norway. However they sure have a stereotype about Norwegians. We are, according to the majority, a funny little bunch of blond hikers with bad manners and woolen sweaters. I guess this fits pretty well with our perception of ourselves, though I still try to nuance this somewhat simple stereotype by promoting Norway as the most beautiful country in the world, full of adventure and “exotic” destinations. I share pictures here and there, recommend articles about the mountainous landscape, tell about the never-ending summer nights and northern lights, “lefse” with cinnamon and sugar and cheap flights. I persuaded some friends to take the trip, who came back very satisfied. But they had a couple of questions related to the Norwegian country and culture after the visit: Beer prices, liquor monopoly and the typical Norwegian outhouse, also known as “jakes” or “shithouse”? And not to mention that the outhouse is usually decorated with pictures of the Norwegian royal family?! I figured the outhouse phenomenon needs to be discussed, since it once again was the topic of conversation during lunch at the office.
The beer prices and the liquor store issue I explained by awkward references to Norwegian tax policy and EU-membership as well as with some anecdotes about Norwegian drinking culture, so it went rather smoothly – they just nodded and thought it sounded reasonable. Explaining the outhouse phenomenon, on the other hand, was worse… How do you explain the phenomenon where sports fanatics gladly pay visits to the outhouse, often accompanied by others? And in addition, these “bathrooms” have photographs of the royal family on the wall? I tried to explain, without success. I’ve actually heard that magazines were used as toilet paper as there was a lack of toilet paper during and after the World War II, and that the royal family “cultivate” Norwegian shithouse-walls as it was disrespectful to wipe with a picture of the king. Trust me; this did not help me and my already irrational explanation on Norwegian toilet culture. However, after laughing our heads off during unusual conversations about composting and royal portraits, my colleagues were finally convinced that an outhouse “visit” must be the most romantic toilet experience one can have in life. All that was needed was some pictures of Norway’s finest outhouses with stunning views and/or furnishings (and an assurance that modern toilets are to be found in most living areas)…
After reading this you must be convinced to pay Norway (and the outhouse) a visit next year! Right?
And do you know what? Recently there was a competition about Norways nicest outhouse! Have a look and get inspired!