Being Polite in Norwegian

Posted on 26. Apr, 2015 by in Leisure, Traditions

In Norway, as elsewhere in the world, things like greeting and shaking hands are a sign of good manners. (Photo by Aidan Jones at Flickr, CC License.)

In Norway, as in many other places in the world, things like greeting and shaking hands are a sign of good manners. (Illustration by Aidan Jones at Flickr, CC License.)

Last summer an avis (newspaper) article about Norwegians being uhøflig (impolite) shocked me into writing … this blog post one year later! :-) I’ve thrown away the paper, but it still bugs me that anyone could come up with such tull (nonsense, bullsh*t). Most Norwegians I’ve met are very kind and høflig (polite)! True, Norwegian has no proper word for please. There are, however, other remedies:

takk (thank you) is used much more than in English. You say takk for maten (thank you for the food) when you’ve eaten, takk for sist (thank you for the last time) when you meet somebody again, takk, i like måte (thank you, likewise) when someone wishes you well, takk som byr (thank you who’s offering) when someone’s offering you something (edible), takk, det var snilt av deg (thank you, that was kind of you), tusen takk (thousand thanks), takk skal du ha (thanks, literally: thank you shall you have), takk, takk (thank you, thank you)! It can also be nice alternative to please: Et pizzastykke, takk! (A slice of pizza, please!)

unnskyld (I’m sorry) or unnskyld meg (excuse me): Unnskyld, kan du vise meg veien til Frognerparken? (Excuse me, can you show me the way to Frogner Park?) Unnskyld meg, men du har spist rømmegrøten min! (Sorry, but you’ve eaten my Norwegian sour cream porridge!)

dessverre (unfortunately) and beklager (I’m sorry): Beklager! Vi har dessverre ingen lefser igjen! (Unfortunately, we’ve got no lefser left!)

vær så snill (”be so kind”) is probably the closest you get to please: Kan ikke du kjøpe den største bamsen i butikken? Vær så snill!!! (Can’t you buy me the biggest teddy bear in the shop? Please!!!) Hjelp meg, er du snill. (Help me, please.)

There are certainly many other ways of showing høflighet (courteosness) in Norwegian. All this talk about being nice, however, has me wondering: What are your experiences from Norway like? Were people kind, polite, rude or something in between? Share your stories in the comments section – please! :-)

Going short

Posted on 31. Mar, 2015 by in Vocabulary

Photo by Ralph Daily at Flickr, CC License.

Photo by Ralph Daily at Flickr, CC License.

OMG! OK, it’s forkorting (abbreviation) time. LOL. :-) BTW, YOLO, so let’s get down to it:

osv. = og så videre = ”and so further” = etc.: Vi må betale eiendomsskatt osv. (We’ve got to pay property tax etc.)

osb. = og så bortetter = osv. in Nynorsk Norwegian.

f.eks. = for eksempel = for example: Vil du til Nordnorge, kan du reise med f.eks. Hurtigruta. (If you want to got to Northern Norway, you can travel with the Hurtigruta ferry, for example.)

obs = observant = please note: Obs! Husk å kjøpe kålrot. (NB! Remember to buy swedes. [Vegetables, not people from Sweden!]) – Obs! is also the name of a Norwegian retail chain.

bl.a. = blant annet/blant andre = among other things: De besøkte bl.a. Trysil. (They visited Trysil and other places.)

kr = kroner = Kroner: 5 kg poteter kr 20. (5 kilo potatoes 20 Kroner.)

el. = eller = or: Kaffe el. te. (Coffee or tea.)

inkl. = inklusive = included: Høyfjellshotell inkl. frokost. (Highland hotel, breakfast included.)

mfl. = med flere = ”with several” = and more (persons): Til 17. mai skal kongen mfl. holde tale. (For May 17th the king and others will deliver a speech.)

kl. = klokka = o’ Clock: Moroa starter kl. 10. (The fun starts at 10.)

m.a.o. = med andre ord = in other words: Hun var m.a.o. full. (In other words, she was drunk.)

ca. = circa [SEERkah] = approximately: Det tok ca. en time å komme ned. (It took [us] more or less an hour to get down.)

o-løp = orienteringsløp = orienteering (a sport where you run to find hidden controls in the wilderness).

stk. = stykk(e) = piece. Prisen er 30 kroner per stk. (The price is 30 Kroner a piece.)

PS Of course, there are many other forkortinger, f.eks. in the realm of matlaging (cooking): Bruk 2 ss mel og 1 ts sukker. (Use 2 tablespoonfuls of flour and 1 teaspoonful of sugar.)

Norwegians Speak Dialects

Posted on 15. Mar, 2015 by in History, Language, Politics


Fish village. (Photo by This Pilgrim’s Progress at Flickr, CC License.)

”I don’t understand people who speak Nynorsk Norwegian, why can’t they just switch to Bokmål Norwegian?” Now and then, readers ask such things. I’ve written about the nynorsk/bokmål split before. Of course, it may still be confusing for new learners of Norwegian. So, I’d like to set the record straight as simply as I can:

Norwegians speak Norwegian dialects. They write Bokmål Norwegian or Nynorsk Norwegian.

In other words, nobody really ”speaks” Nynorsk or Bokmål! :-)

They’re just two different ways of putting down what Norwegians say and think in writing. Think about someone from Yorkshire who’s speaking a traditional Yorkshire dialect of English. When writing an e-mail, she’ll probably write it in Standard English. The same thing happens in Norway, except that everybody speaks a dialect and has two choose between two ”Standard Norwegians” when firing off that e-mail!

Admitted, some Norwegian dialects – especially in Bergen and in the Oslo area – are very close to written bokmål, so some people will say that they do ”speak Bokmål”, even if that is not entirely accurate. And some nyhetsopplesere (news presenters) and skuespillere (actors) do ”speak Nynorsk” in their jobs – but switch to dialect when they get back home. (Just like people at the BBC maybe don’t speak BBC English with their families…)

As I’ve shown you before, Bokmål and Nynorsk are quite close to each other – after all, they both represent Norwegian! (Just think about how Americans write color while Britons write colour.) The differences boil down to a handful of token words such as jeg vs. eg for ’I’, as well as some variations in vowels and inflections:

Bokmål: Jeg liker ikke eplebiter i grøten. (I don’t like pieces of apple in the [my] porridge.)

Nynorsk: Eg liker ikkje eplebitar i grauten. 

Every Norwegian has to learn both ways of writing in school. 8 % of the people enrolled in the Norwegian army in 2014 said nynorsk was their main målform (”language variety”), so bokmål is clearly dominant. Still, many people speak a dialect that’s closer to nynorsk. To these people, bokmål feels a bit foreign, while nynorsk feels a bit closer to the heart. In social media such as Facebook, many Norwegians avoid the ”language conflict” entirely, trying to write in their local dialect instead!

Many Norwegian kommuner (municipalities, ”townships”) have chosen an official målform, while some are ”neutral”. This map should tell you why many people associate nynorsk with Vestlandet (Western Norway):

Red = bokmål; blue = nynorsk; grey = neutral. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC License.)

Red = bokmål; blue = nynorsk; grey = neutral. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC License.)

Why are there two ”Standard Norwegians”?

In 1814, Norway left a political union with Denmark (only to enter a new union with Sweden). For four centuries, Norway had been ruled by Danish kings. Old Norwegian (which was almost identical to Icelandic) had died out as a written language, and people were writing their documents in Danish instead. The hunt for a new Norwegian writing system began…

• Knud Knudsen wanted to write Norwegian as spoken (by the upper clases) in cities like Oslo, where the dialects had been most exposed to Danish. This led to the (gradual) creation of bokmål. (And now you know why Danish looks so similar to Norwegian!)

• Ivar Aasen wanted to write Norwegian as spoken (by farmers, fishermen…) in the rural districts. He travelled around in the countryside, collecting words and expressions from many dialects who had been less influenced by Danish. From this cocktail he created nynorsk.

Got it? :-)