This month has been a cold one. In fact, it’s the coldest January Minnesota has seen in a hundred years and despite our warm and cosy apartment, I’m beginning to feel like I live in a freezer. It was last week that the winter blues caught up with me and, over the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make these next few months (because it’s normal to still have snow in April here) simply better. While I don’t expect winter to become any easier and while I may still loathe scraping ice and snow off my windshield each morning, surely there are ways to make this season more enjoyable. After all, there’s nothing like a fresh layer of snow to make the sleety streets clean and turn the view from my window into a snow globe revelry.
More specifically, I’ve been remembering the snowy semester I spent in the tiny ski town of Lillehammer, Norway, and considering how very different Norwegians approach the bitter cold. Yes, these people are descendants of the Vikings and likely more stoic than you and me, but their winter lifestyle is also imitable and, in fact, very doable. However, before you accuse me of reporting through rose-colored glasses, I’d like to point out that although the months I spent in Norway were magical, many moments were far from idyllic. A night out with friends meant an hour walk home regardless of weather conditions. Trips to the ATM were inevitably depressing as the American dollar paled in comparison to the Norwegian krone (that latte will cost you nine dollars thank you very much) and, in my experience, Norwegian students could be hard to befriend.
Still, when it comes to snow and ice, Norwegians know how to live fully. Never once did I hear them complain about the temperature or wind chill or echo the refrain “why do we live here?” How do Norwegians live well during the coldest months of the year? Keep reading.
#1: They drink strong coffee. Before ever stepping foot in Norway, my love for coffee was strong and up until a week before crossing the Atlantic, you could find me in my green apron, whipping up frappacinos and venti peppermint mochas like it was my job (because it was). I preferred my grande nonfat latte with a splenda and whip cream to a boring cup of black coffee, but when I arrived in Lillehammer, that changed. The kaffehus in town kept things simple, serving rich coffee, the occasional latte, and espresso. No syrups, no artificial additives. Study after study has confirmed the immense health benefits of drinking black coffee and the Norwegians are taking full advantage.
#2: They know how to dress. There is an expression in Norway which states that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing and whether stopping by Kiwi for groceries, walking to class or hitting the slopes, Norwegians are careful to dress appropriately. They don’t just wear good boots and a down jacket, but wear hats, mittens and scarves, too. This year, I’ve been better about taking the extra two minutes to appropriately bundle up when taking Audrey outside or heading to work and it really does make a critical difference. After all, if your head and limbs aren’t covered when it’s fifteen below zero, of course you’re going to freeze.
#3: They get outside. Unlike me, Norwegians don’t stay inside bemoaning the chill and waiting for spring. Rather, they take full advantage of winter activities be it sledding, skating or, the national favorite, skiing. We all know that staying active wards off depression and winter weight gain, but Norwegians specifically seek to stay active outdoors. Being in nature is a shared national value and while Oslo has its share of fantastic theaters, museums and restaurants, most Norwegians spend their weekends in the country, appreciating the views and simplicity of an afternoon on skis. Cultivating a love of the outdoors is so important that many parents opt to send their children to outdoor kindergarten. In Norway and in other Scandinavia countries like Denmark, it’s also not uncommon for mothers to meet a friend for coffee and leave their sleeping little ones outside in the stroller. Clearly, learning to live in the cold starts early and it seems to be working.
#4: They eat well. Forget freezer meals, canned soup and fast food. Norwegians eat whole, natural foods to fuel their days and since leaving Norway almost five years ago, I can still remember their insanely delicious milk, fresh fish and cheese and when I occasionally find gjetost, my favorite Norwegian cheese, in Minnesota grocery stores, I know it’s going to be a good day. Compared to the flavorful Greek diet, the Norwegian diet may be quite simple, but there is something deeply satisfying about the taste of real food free from added preservatives and chemicals.
#5: They are social. Just like Norwegians don’t let the weather detour them from getting outdoors, they also don’t let the cold impede their social calendar. On any given night in Lillehammer, Norwegian youth were getting ready to go out dancing or meet up with friends for an impromptu house party. Of course getting together with friends and spending time with family is important to us in America, but how often are we simply too exhausted at the end of the day to get out and do something? Unlike the States, Norway seems to have achieved a truly healthy work/life balance on a national level. Most Norwegians work 35 hour weeks and most shops close at the late hour of five o’clock, nearly forcing individuals to slow down and enjoy evenings free from running errands. On Sundays, shops in Lillehammer shut down completely and knowing I wouldn’t be able to pick up forgotten milk or a last minute meal, I became better at planning, effectively eliminating a great deal of unnecessary ‘busy-ness.’ This undoubtedly slower paced lifestyle took a good month to adjust to, but allowed me to focus on what actually mattered, like chatting with friends over a bottle of red on any given night of the week.
#6: They get on with it. My beautiful blue-haired friend from Oslo is Doctor Who’s number one fan. She works in a book store, has a not so secret crush on John Keats, was recently made an Aunt and has a penchant for designer handbags. She anticipates the first snow fall with childlike excitement and, regardless of the forecast, she lives her life with giddiness and joy. Sure, the limited daylight of the winter months isn’t ideal, but Maddy never lets the weather hamper her life and this, above all, is why Norwegians thrive in the winter.
Fortunately, there’s some Norwegian blood in me, but I’m still from Minnesota and still prone to complaining about the weather, but there is no reason to put good living on hold until the warmth returns. Coffee mug and skis in tow, I’m going to survive this winter.